The Assignment

 

 

 

 

This came about as a challenge from the moderator of a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea fanfiction group.  The trick was to come up with a way to get Lee Crane on Seaview if Captain John Phillips had not been killed in "Eleven Days to Zero."  Thanks, Steph, for a most intriguing and fun challenge. 

 

 

 

Alternate Universe to an already alternate universe..... 

 

"The Assignment"

 

 

Commander Lee Crane, captain of SSN Devilfish, lay on his stomach at the top of the bluff and watched the horizon through small, but high-powered binoculars.  The time of pick-up had been vague.  Sunset. He would have preferred something more specific.  However, it was something that was unavoidable.  His contacts told him that everything changed when their government's secret police caught wind of the operation.  How many times in the recent past had that happened, Crane mused?   The other side was getting very good at this game and the odds were becoming harder and harder to overcome.  This time, it was supposed to be the simple reconnaissance of an ultra secret nuclear fuel processing facility, along with the smuggling out of a defecting scientist.  Simple....   No such critter, Lee thought wryly.  The only thing that had been right was the fact that it was a fuel processing facility.  It was also a weapon testing, weapon building and a weapon stockpile facility.  It didn't help that one of his contacts was a double agent and this was a set-up to capture a high-ranking American Naval officer.  For what reason, Crane didn’t want to guess. However, he was most gratified at the disappointed look on the face of the so-called defector when he learned that Lee was not as high a mucky muck as they had hoped for. 

What did they expect-- Admiral Harriman Nelson?  Lee smiled at the memory, even though there was very little humor in his thoughts.  Several of his contacts had given their lives to make sure that he was not captured and he was going to make damned sure that the film they gave so much to obtain ended up doing the most good.  Even if it were only used as blackmail, the film would be delivered.  Now if his pick-up people would show up.  Pick-up, deliver the goods and get back to his real job--that of captain of one of the finest, quickest nuclear attack subs in the fleet. Of course, he reminded himself with a grin, he was somewhat biased.  His XO, Ron Walker was probably chewing nails and perhaps spitting them into the bulkhead by now.  No contact for the past several days, the second ONI mission in three months.  Crane had literally heard Ron’s teeth grinding together in frustration when the assignment was tossed in his lap. Lee sighed as the sun sank below the far off ocean horizon, golden red and turning the sea and clouds the same color. 

He turned the binoculars behind him, wondering at the prickling of warning that he was getting between his shoulder blades.  That little warning system of his was not often wrong.  He hadn't heard or seen anything, but the fact of the matter was that Crane knew someone or something was behind him, or searching for him.  With stealthy deliberation, the submariner cum spy slipped through the brush that fringed the top of the bluff and began a slow descent that included the use of boulders and small crevasses to hide his escape.  There was scant cover on the narrow beach below, but if need be, he would swim out toward his rescuers.  He would not be captured; of that he was determined.  Lee made it halfway down before he dislodged any rocks. That small bit of noise brought instant retribution and bullets bit into the rocks and soil, peppering him with gravel.  Crane guessed where the marksmen were and dodged behind several rocky outcroppings.  No need for being overly stealthy until he got closer to the bottom of the bluff; speed was more important now.  He slipped in and out in the shadows of the waning daylight until he reached the bottom.  There he only had scrub brush and darkness to hide his activities and Lee knew it wasn't enough. 

With a quick touch to make sure his package was secure, Crane raced as low to the ground as he could toward the surf.  The booming of the breakers was almost loud enough to cover the sound of gunfire, but the spurting of sand told him that his passage was noted. Fear lent extra speed to his feet and he quickly reached the waterline, only taking a couple of steps before diving into the churning surf. A slight sting in the calf of his left leg told him that he had been nailed but thankfully, the distance plus the water made it much less damaging than it could have been. Of course, he had been briefed about this part of the world and there were sharks that would love to make a meal of him. He continued swimming underwater, only grabbing quick breaths of air before diving below again. The surf shoved against him, trying to force him back toward the shore, but Crane pushed on, desperate, and finally the flow of outbound waves told him he was beyond what little reef/breaker existed on this shoreline.  

Lee ventured to pause long enough to surface and reconnoiter while getting more air and he saw dark figures on the shore.  He couldn't hear them, but he knew by the gestures that the leader of the pursuit team was shouting out commands.  Now if his contacts were near, if he could hold out, if there were no predators, if he was very, very lucky....   With a sigh, Crane pushed such thoughts from his head and began stroking along the surface.  If I get out of this one, I am going to tell ONI to shove it out the aft torpedo tube the next time they come calling, he thought. But then that was his thought during every difficult mission since he had been assigned to the Devilfish.  Those thoughts, after a certain period of time became so much flotsam until the next mission. Still, this was getting ridiculous and he had to tell them to use some other messenger boy for these types of things.  He had to spend a bit of time on his boat and with his crew. Living without imminent danger of death was nice, too. He swam a bit farther and then reached inside his shirt to pull out the small life vest.  Slipping it on he began to blow into the tube to inflate it. He only filled it halfway, not wanting to impede his swimming efforts. 

Then with the sound of the breakers behind him, Crane heard something he had dreaded.  It was a motor.  They had too quickly brought out a pursuit craft.  He let the air back out of the vest and tried to determine from which direction the boat was coming.  It wasn't easy but it seemed to be from the northern shoreline.  The secret police must have had someone on call in case this very thing happened. Good thing he hadn't tried to hide up that way on the shore.  He'd have walked right into them.  As the boat closed on him, Lee took a couple of quick breaths and then a deep one.  It was then that the skiff began firing.  He started to dive, but immediately realized that the bullets were firing well over his head.  They were firing at the shore. Could this be the rescue crew sent to pick him up?  Lee remained ready for either contingency.  It was almost fully dark now and he could barely make out the approaching craft.  He activated the small homing device that he had been assured would only be picked up by his contacts. The small boat suddenly slowed and approached, even while sporadic gunfire erupted from shore. 

"Captain Crane?" a voice hissed. 

"Who is it?" he responded in a low voice.  "Identify!"

"Captain John Phillips.  SSRN Seaview."

Seaview?  Crane almost choked seawater in his shock. He had been told that a more secure vessel was coming to pick him up, but Nelson's boat?  Couldn't get more secure than that!  "Yes, Crane.  Am I glad to see you!  But I think they're going to pull out the big guns, so to speak, so let's get the hell out of here!"

"Yes, sir," another voice responded and he felt a hand touching his shoulder.  He reached for it and was soon on board the small skiff.  The seaman who had helped him aboard revved up the motor and the little craft surged straight out to sea. 

"How did the captain of an attack sub end up playing spy on the other side of the world?" Phillips asked with a slight bit of humor in his voice. 

"The same way the captain of the largest research sub in the world ended up picking up said spy, Captain," Lee replied with a soft chuckle.  "By the way, I have a feeling they won't be letting me go that easily.  They may have a chase boat of their own."

"Duly noted, Commander."  He handed a towel to Crane then he spoke into a small transmitter, reporting the success of their rescue mission.

Lee barely heard the sound of another engine over the roaring of the one in Seaview's zodiac. Then he heard the soft popping of guns over both motors.  A bullet whizzed over his head.  He saw the dark shape of the Seaview's captain searching the darkness for the source of the gunfire and he grabbed Phillips by his life vest.  "Hit the deck, Captain!" he shouted, jerking the man down.  Phillips resisted his efforts for a brief instant, even as more popping told of increasing gunfire. Then Crane felt something slam into his back and the world spun into total darkness. 

 

===================================

 

Crane woke slowly, wading through groggy, muted pain messages as he struggled to figure out where he was. Memory returned in muzzy particles like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle defying him to put them into some semblance of order. Finally, he remembered what had happened on the beach and wondered if he had been captured. Soft voices gave him the assurance that he had not. They were in English; blessed Navy-speak English. That meant….

"Captain Crane?" a slightly familiar voice called to him across his gauzy awareness. Who was the speaker? "Captain?"

"Wait a minute, Admiral. Let me check his vitals before you try to have a conversation," another, this time—unfamiliar voice said.

Admiral? Seaview! He was on Seaview. The familiar voice was that of Admiral Harriman Nelson, his commanding officer on Nautilus. "Admiral," he mumbled as he slowly opened his eyes to a sickbay that was half again as large as the one on Devilfish and a man who was several years older than his CMO, Lt. Ken Billings. He was on his left side, pillows behind his back and shoulder propping him up. His right shoulder and arm were bandaged and immobile.

"Captain Crane, you are a very lucky man. The bullet has put you out of commission for a while, but no permanent damage. More than I can say for the skipper," the man, presumably Seaview’s CMO, told him, mumbling the last. "I am Dr. Jamieson," he added.

Crane noticed someone else in a rack across the room from him. That someone looked very familiar, but was hooked to several machines and bandaged heavily. Then he registered what the CMO had said. "Captain Phillips?"

"Took a bullet in the chest. He’ll live, but he bled quite heavily." Jamieson finished checking Lee over and nodded. "Good. Your vitals are all back to normal levels. How’s the pain?"

"Nominal," Lee answered, still trying to figure out when Phillips had taken the bullet. Then another person came into view and Lee recognized Admiral Nelson. He tried to sit up, but Nelson laid a hand on his chest and shook his head.

"You lay still, lad. That was quite an experience you’ve had." He cocked his head to one side and smiled softly. "When did you get involved in espionage, Lee?" he asked.

"Four or five years ago, after I was transferred off Nautilus, sir." He hedged, knowing full well, the exact day, month and year that ONI had called him into their service.

Nelson nodded. "Yes, I remember them wanting to train you for ONI even when you were on my boat. I told them no, but not sure exactly how I worded it."

Crane blinked in surprise. "They did?"

"Don’t look so surprised, Commander. You have been eyeballed since you finished sub school. Don’t know why, you’re too damned fine a sub commander to be jerked around the world being a spy."

"I’m sorry about Captain Phillips, Admiral," Lee changed the subject, embarrassed by the praise from someone he admired as much as he did Admiral Nelson.

Again, Nelson nodded. "Patterson told me that you had warned him and tried to pull him out of harm’s way during the pick-up. Only the fact that John was wearing a life vest saved him at all. I appreciate your efforts, Lee."

"But he’ll be all right?" the injured man asked.

"He went into severe shock, which caused heart failure," Jamieson said matter-of-factly, returning to Crane’s rack. "Thankfully we were able to revive him, but I can’t be sure of the extent of trauma until we arrive in port. That will be another several days." Lee just sighed. "The admiral has told me of your reticence to spend time in sickbay. I trust that you will follow my instructions explicitly and if you do, you may be able to recuperate in a cabin in another 24 hours."

Lee nodded and relaxed against the pillows. He wasn’t aware when he fell asleep.

 

======================================

 

The doctor was as good as his word. Crane was shown to the guest quarters by the COB, one Curley Jones, and allowed time to settle in. Even as he was visually checking out his accommodations from the relative comfort of his decent sized bunk, he heard a knock at the door. "Come in," he said automatically.

The door opened and a blue-eyed, blond-headed young officer poked his head into the room. "Welcome aboard Seaview, Commander."

Lee grinned, happy to see such a welcome sight as his friend from the academy days. He had noticed the taciturn and resentful glances of some of the men he had passed in the corridors and it had fed his guilt over the skipper’s injury. Phillips had still been unconscious when Crane had been released from sickbay. "Commander? Come on, Chip, we aren’t in the control room during a war maneuver."

"How you feeling, Lee?" Chip Morton asked.

"Well…."

"Okay, you don’t have to work on excuses this time. I’m just glad we found you and got you here in one piece," Chip said with a quick smile and a wave of his hand. "What the hell are you doing, letting ONI get a piece of you? There are only so many chunks to go around." The intense blue eyes perused him meticulously. "Still the overachiever, I gather."

"Not fair, Chip," Lee sighed. "They needed some unknown on the first mission and, well…."

"You don’t know how to say no for the ones following," Morton finished for him. "Someday, you’re going to have to decide and say no to them or to sub command. Can’t do both."

"I am not on ONI’s full time payroll," Crane replied testily.

"I know that, Lee. You have a sweet command. I would think you would like to keep it."

"Only thing sweeter that I could think of would be this boat."

Chip’s smile broadened as he pulled a chair up to Lee’s bunk. "You can say that again, brother!" When Lee didn’t say any more, he continued. "What do you think of her so far?"

"I am impressed, but then I have only seen the inside of sickbay," here he gave a slight grimace of distaste. "And some corridors and this guest cabin. Are you sure this is the guest cabin or the captain’s quarters?"

"VIP guest. You are a visiting captain, you know. But the captain’s quarters are a tiny bit larger and better fitted for the skipper of the boat."

"I am very impressed, Chip."

"Maybe I can take you on a tour?"

Crane started to slip off the bunk in happy anticipation, but Morton shook his head, chuckling at the same time. "Uh uh. Not today. Doc would have both our hides on the sickbay wall if he found out you were roaming the corridors when you’re supposed to be resting and recuperating in your cabin. Tomorrow will be soon enough."

Settling back, Lee growled, "Some things don’t change. All right, I’ll be good. But you promised—tomorrow!"

Chip stood up. "Tomorrow for sure. After breakfast. I’ll be off watch and can give you a good tour. Maybe Doc will allow you to have breakfast in the nose. The admiral sometimes does that when the watches work out."

Lee’s eyes widened. "You’re kidding, right?"

"Nope, not kidding." His friend seemed to be enjoying himself. Then a call came for the XO to return to the control room. Morton headed toward the cabin door. "I will ask Admiral Nelson if we could do that. And Doc, too. The view is spectacular."

"I’ll bet," Lee muttered as Chip closed the door behind him.

 

But Morton was as good as his word and with Crane in a borrowed officer’s uniform, sans the insignia, he found himself sitting on what was lovingly called "the front porch" eating breakfast and chatting with Chip and Nelson. Little made its way to his mouth as he found the gaze out the multiple windows extraordinarily spectacular.

"Food’s getting cold, Captain," Nelson said with a slight chuckle. "Cookie will be insulted."

"Uh? Oh, sorry, sir. I can’t help admiring the view."

"When you finish touring the rest of the boat, you can give me your complete and unbiased opinion of Seaview," the admiral said, taking another puff of his cigarette. "At least have some coffee. You seemed to live on it when you were assigned to Nautilus."

Crane felt his cheeks color and he took a bite of eggs to hide his discomfort. "How’s Captain Phillips?" he asked, further masking his embarrassment.

The mood immediately turned somber. "Doc says his vitals are good, but he still hasn’t awakened. Of course, Doc says that is just as well. Means that John’s body is getting some healing rest. We won’t know until we get back to port, which will be sometime tomorrow, if all goes well."

"All goes well, sir?" Lee asked, wondering what had been going on while he had been out of it the past couple of days.

"They’ve been searching for us and since we’re supposed to be strictly a research vessel, we’ve had to keep a low profile," Nelson replied matter-of-factly. "I would have loved to head directly for Pearl, but we’re not supposed to be out in this region and Washington doesn’t want this little foray and our part in it to become public knowledge."

"Yes, sir." Crane knew that such evasiveness was delaying the time it took them to get Captain Phillips back to a fully equipped hospital, but it didn’t do any good to say anything about it. He had been forced to take similar actions and while he didn’t like it, when he had injured men to consider, there had been nothing he could do about it. Everyone understood the risks.

Later that same day, resting in his cabin, he pondered what he had seen. This boat had everything his sub had, and more. His opinion of Admiral Harriman Nelson had increased ten-fold. While not downplaying his present billet, he couldn’t help but think of what it would be like to work on a submarine the likes of this one. It was astonishing! Lee was content that he had been able to be aboard her and see what she was like. He sat quietly during one of his required rests, listening to the movement and sounds of the spectacular boat. The admiral and Doc had given him leave to roam freely, provided he didn’t interfere with ops, since they were still on alert. Lee planned on doing as much ‘sightseeing’ on his own as he could. He wanted to see how this so-called civilian boat operated and how she differed from a regular Navy sub like his own Devilfish.

After lunch, he visited the control room, trying to stay as unobtrusive as he could, while taking note of all the operations. He paused at the sonar station, peering over the sonar man’s shoulder. The seaman did no more than glance at him and then kept his eye on the sonar screen, which showed a contact in the upper quadrant. Each pass showed it slightly closer. To Lee’s eye, it had the makings of another submarine. Whether a drone or manned, he couldn’t tell. "What do you make of it?" he asked quietly, his mind and body reverting to command mode. That tingling between his shoulder blades had returned. Another person appeared beside him and Crane knew instinctively who it was.

Chip didn’t say anything for a moment, but when the rate didn’t answer, he murmured, "You were asked a question, Kowalski."

"It’s regular, Mr. Morton." At Chip’s quick glare at the rate’s omission of Lee, Kowalski quickly added, "Commander. I believe we’re being tailed again."

"It’s gaining. Must be running about two, three knots faster than we are. I bet if we kick it up and begin evasive maneuvering, they’ll kick it up, too," Lee observed. Kowalski glanced at both men, his eyes measuring.

"I believe you’re right. This’ll be the third time this has happened. We have outmaneuvered the first two very easily," Chip replied.

Lee had a very bad feeling about this one. "I think they were feeling you out the first two times." He turned enough to see the nav chart on the charting table. "We’re not that far from the west coast, are we?" At Chip’s nod, he continued. "If the Republic is wanting us—or rather me and my information, they have to do something quick. I think that contact now is their big gun."

"Only one way to test it, Captain," Chip responded. He checked the charts and then picked up the mike. "Engineering, bring her up to full speed." He turned to helm. "Course 224, bring her down to 400 feet." Several affirmative answers and then it was quiet as the two officers watched the screen.

Lee was pretty sure he knew just what was going to happen. Sure enough, the contact followed them as they made their descent. Their tail was catching up more rapidly, too. As tempting as it was to say anything, Lee kept his mouth shut.

"Evasive maneuvering, dive, dive!" Morton called out.

About that time, Admiral Nelson rushed into the control room. "Another one?" he asked.

Morton nodded. "Captain Crane seems to think this one means business."

Nelson murmured his assent. "I suspect he’s right." He turned to Crane. "Do you have any information on what they might be sending after us?"

"I hear that they do have some smaller, but faster attack subs, Admiral. Some of what’s on that film I brought out has proof of that. I also believe that they would prefer to capture Seaview, but as you know, they wouldn’t hesitate to destroy us if they can’t capture us. They tried to do it when you were on that mission to the Polar Regions."

"Yes. We were lucky then and went below their crush depth. I have heard, though, that they have been working on drones that can go as deeply as we can, perhaps deeper."

Lee nodded. "Yes, sir. So have I. I saw one, but I’m not sure that’s exactly what this is."

Chip continued to watch the screens and give orders. As fast and maneuverable as the Seaview was, this other boat was more than keeping up with them. It fired two torpedoes and while the Seaview managed to easily evade them, Lee felt the next time would be closer. It was. Two more came from closer range and it was only Seaview’s incredible speed and maneuverability that they evaded that strike as well. The torpedoes hit a nearby rock formation. Seaview leveled off and then dived again when they reached a trench that allowed them greater depth. The enemy continued on their tail with dogged determination. Seaview fired one torpedo, then another, but the enemy easily destroyed them both. The next two enemy strikes were averted only with the discharge of an electronic decoy. As it was, the shock wave almost knocked them off their feet. They were approaching the lower limits of the sub’s known capabilities. The enemy not only remained on their tail, but also moved closer. Lee wracked his brain, trying to remember what he had seen and what he had been told about that secret installation and about the Republic’s experimentation with undersea craft. He moved closer to his former classmate and spoke softly. "Admiral, Commander, I think I may have a possible solution. I have seen some of the specs of their latest subs."

"If you do, spit it out," Nelson commanded.

"If I have misjudged Seaview’s capabilities…."

"As the acting captain, I will countermand," Chip cut in tersely. "You have the conn, Commander."

Nelson said nothing, only nodding.

Lee jumped to the plotting table. "Status, now!" he ordered. Kowalski and two others began giving him figures. "Navigation, plot in the following course and speed and stand ready." Almost instantly he gave the course changes. There were gasps at his drastic action, but no countermand. He grabbed the mike. "Missile room, ready four aft torpedoes, set at five second intervals, ten degree deviation on each one. Course heading oh-oh-three; two-impact detonation and two at fifteen-second-timer detonation. Tell me when you’re ready, preferably two minutes ago." The response seemed like it took eons, but Lee was sure it was only a couple of seconds. He was impressed but too busy and stressed to acknowledge anything. "Fire! When the last torpedo is away, fire another decoy." He heard the soft and very minute shudder of torpedoes away and when the third one had fired, he ordered the helmsmen. "Now! Full speed!" The Seaview changed course just as the last torpedo was away and again, Lee was impressed, but he shoved that aside for when they were safe. He grabbed on to the back of charting table as the boat made a sharp up-bubble ascent.

"Incoming! Impact with decoy—now!" a rate, Patterson—Lee remembered, shouted.

Despite the warning, the shock wave was close enough to still throw him and many of the control room crew to the ground. He felt the burn of pain in his injured shoulder, but ignored it as best he could, grabbing for something with which to pull himself up. He never made it. A shout of warning and then there was another shock wave, the booming of an explosion through the hydrophones that Patterson had jerked off at the first shock wave. Crane was thrown against one of the consoles and his vision and consciousness wavered and danced. He lay on the floor stunned, trying to gain breath and equilibrium.

As though in a fog, he heard a distant voice. "Lee! Are you all right? Lee!"

Then there was another voice, strong, loud and insistent. "Damage control, report!"

Lee recognized the latter voice. Chip. The former was the admiral. "I’m all right, Admiral," he said shakily. "I’ll be okay. Is everyone all right?"

"If we aren’t right now, we will be," Nelson said with conviction.

Lee blinked a couple of times and everything came back into focus.

"I pretty much knew what you had in mind, Captain. I knew that Seaview could do what you wanted her to do. It was the enemy that was the unknown factor. You did a fine job, Lee."

Crane would have enjoyed the glow of Nelson’s compliment if he didn’t hurt so badly. His head throbbed and his arm was on fire. Still, he slowly pulled himself upright with Nelson’s help. At an order, two seamen jumped up and helped him to sickbay. Doc said nothing at his arrival; he only shook his head and rebandaged Lee’s shoulder. The rest of the trip was uneventful, as though the Republic knew it had sent its best and had failed. They docked in Santa Barbara two days later, making repairs while at just less than full speed. Lee was of two opinions when the sub arrived at its home base. He was glad to be able to return to his own command and yet, he was sad to be leaving this grand and glorious lady. She was a submariner’s dream come true and Lee slightly envied Chip’s assignment on her. It would be worth the loss of regular Navy status and advancement to serve on something like Seaview. Lee was grateful for the opportunity to test his skills on this Grey Lady and serve, however briefly, with Admiral Nelson again, and with Chip Morton.

 

=============================

 

Crane sipped the fresh coffee and leaned back against the wardroom wall, closing his eyes and letting the weariness seep through his limbs. He had been back on board Devilfish for two months now and in those months they had been on three training maneuvers and spent a month patrolling along the Republic’s coastline. They had been attacked once and chased another time, the Republic claiming that the sub had been within the country’s territorial waters. That one was a joke. While almost every country recognized three miles as the boundary of territorial waters, the Republic claimed that ten miles was. Whenever anyone came within that so-called territorial limit and were discovered, hot pursuit followed. Lee had to smile that Devilfish had been within the ten miles almost the entire month and had been detected only twice. But it had been hell on everyone’s nerves, even while they gathered important information. Thankfully, there had only been a few minor injuries, easily taken care of by the CMO. They were a few hours out from Hawaii.

"Tired, Skipper?" Ron asked.

"Mmm," was all Lee said for a moment. Then, "Glad we’re heading for Pearl and some R & R. That is unless SUBCOMPAQ has something else up their sleeve."

"Yeah, Becky is waiting for my call. It’ll be good to hear her voice." Walker paused. "Still think you should have taken a bit more time after that ONI mission," Ron muttered. "Then you wouldn’t have started those exercises half-healed."

Crane opened his eyes and glared at his XO. Then his features softened and he grinned. "And let you have all the fun?"

"Let’s face it, you can’t peel yourself away from your job, whether it’s the boat or something else the Navy wants you to do," Ron said warmly. "You’re married to the Navy."

"I’ve got girlfriends."

"Yes and they jump ship when they see how much time the Navy demands of you," countered the XO. "Still…." Lee glared at him again and Ron stopped. They sat in companionable silence for a while longer and then Walker got up and headed out of the room. "Coming, Skipper?"

"No, Ron, you and Mark are perfectly capable of bringing us in. I’m going to do a bit of that relaxing that you rate so highly."

"Aye aye, sir," the XO said with a soft chuckle.

Closing his eyes again, Lee felt the boat slow, then maneuver into its slip. He heard the engines power down, felt the slow rocking of the sub in its pen and felt even more lethargy steal over him. Just a few more minutes, he thought.

But that part of his plan was postponed by the arrival of one of the crewmen. "Captain?"

Lee sat up and gave his attention to the young seaman. "Yes, Gunny?"

"These came in for you, sir. Courier was waiting for us at the dock."

Curious, Lee took the envelopes and looked at them. One was an official Navy dispatch, and he wondered what they were up to now. Crane looked at the second one and couldn’t tell from whom it had come. The third was from the Navy department, too, but not stamped urgent. He opened the official letter first. He looked up and saw Gunny still standing there. "That’s all, Gunny. Thanks." The young man nodded and left. Lee unfolded the letter and scanned it. Sitting up straight in shock, he read through it more slowly. THE DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY HAS APPROVED THE FOLLOWING REQUEST. ASSIGNMENT TO SSRN SEAVIEW, EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY. ACCEPTANCE WILL REQUIRE TRANSFER TO RESERVE NAVY STATUS, ALSO EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY, NO LOSS OF RANK OR PRIVILEGES. REPLY BY 7/15….

The rest was contact information. Crane gazed at the paper in shock, feeling the letters waver and dance on the sheet. He realized that his hand was shaking and he forced himself into a semblance of normalcy. The second letter from the Navy was asking him to suggest a successor to Devilfish. They were pretty sure of his decision, weren’t they, he thought wryly? A stabbing of guilt came when he thought of the possible reasons for the request. John Phillips had died. That was the only explanation. The third letter had no return and had been hand written. Crane recognized the handwriting as something he had seen before, but couldn’t place it. He opened it up and read:

Lee, I hope that this doesn’t come to you before the official Navy dispatch. I made the request and wouldn’t take no for an answer. I saw how you worked on Nautilus and I had confidence in you that day in the control room of Seaview. You were born to captain the Gray Lady and I think you realized that, too.

I also know how you think. Do not feel guilt over Captain Phillips’ injuries. He is going to have an almost full recovery. Back when this was all in the building stages, I almost had to strong-arm John to be Seaview’s first captain, as he had been determined to retire even then. This incident just gave him the excuse to step aside after so ably breaking the Gray Lady in. He can enjoy time with his wife and grandchildren now. I had hoped that someday you could come aboard and captain my boat and now that you have shown your skill and capability, that time is now. I sincerely hope you accept my offer.

Sincerely, Harriman Nelson.

Lee heard footsteps and knew it was Ron. He continued to stare at the letter from the man he had first feared and then come to admire so much. To serve aboard Seaview. To captain her. He almost couldn’t breathe.

"Don’t tell me that the Navy is sending you stateside…." Ron’s voice trailed off when he saw the non-responsive shocked look on his CO’s face. "Lee?"

Finally Crane looked up. "I’m sorry, Ron. This was just such a shock."

"What?"

He handed the official letter to his XO. Several of the other officers came in and seeing the look on their OM’s face, stopped and stared, saying nothing.

"Oh, Lord, you have died and gone to heaven. What a dream! You must have really impressed Nelson while you were on board. Congratulations, Skipper!" Ron turned to the others.

"I haven’t accepted it yet," Lee said softly. But in his heart he knew that he had accepted. He would be leaving this boat for Seaview. No amount of posturing would change that.

"What? Come on, Lee, what sub commander wouldn’t give his right arm, first born and both legs to command Seaview? If you don’t accept this you’re…."

Crane’s look stopped him. "I would be taking over for a man who was seriously injured rescuing me." He remembered the looks on the faces of some of Seaview’s crewmen. But then he was just rationalizing. He DID want that position. The new man always came in under the shadow of the former commander, good or bad. He looked at the faces of the men around him and realized just how much they had come to mean to him. All of them, from the XO on down to Gundersen, the newest member of the crew. That was his only regret. He would miss them.

"Seaview, Skipper? Oh, wow! Congratulations!" Lt. Mark Cavanaugh said loudly. "We’ll miss you, sir, but Seaview…? Wow! Congratulations. You deserve that boat." The other men were equally raucous.

Lee gazed up at Ron Walker. "I have also been asked to suggest a successor for my position here and while that is usually supposed to be someone from off-boat, I am putting your name down, Ron."

It got quiet and then Ron said softly, "Thanks, Captain. This is a good boat and a great crew."

"Indeed it is." Lee got up and picked up his mail. "I guess I need to send in a reply. They did say ASAP." And with a suddenly jubilant heart, Captain Lee Crane headed for the radio shack.

 

 

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