Contingencies

by Sherlockette

 

 

 

 

 

****Tuesday, Sailing Day

 

Seaview, the world’s largest submarine and the pride of the Nelson Institute of Marine Research, rocked ever-so-gently in the water of her underground berth. It was nearing high tide, sailing time, and last minute preparations were underway for her latest mission, one that would take her and her crew off the coast of Monterey, California, to study turbidity currents in the submarine canyons there.

Chip Morton, Seaview’s executive officer, stood at the chart table reviewing the duty rosters for the pending mission. Looking up from his clipboard he nodded to Lee Crane, his friend and the captain of the boat who was standing in the nose observing the activity in the control room. Chip was on the verge of advising his captain that the crew was aboard and ready to answer bells, when the intercom blared.

“Mr. Morton, this is Nelson. Report to my cabin at once!”

Chip picked up the nearby microphone and responded quickly in the affirmative, though the slight scowl on his face revealed his true feelings about the summons. Lee shrugged his shoulders and motioned for Chip to proceed and the blonde immediately headed up the spiral stairs towards Officers’ Country. The exec knocked crisply on the admiral’s cabin door and after Nelson’s grunted “come” he entered. He was momentarily surprised to see two flag officers standing in the cabin but he quickly came to attention just inside the open door. “You asked to see me, sir?” 

“Yes, Commander, close the door.” Turning to the tall middle aged officer next to him Nelson made the introductions. “Admiral Mandel, this is Lt. Commander Morton. Commander, Admiral Mandel from OPNAV.” Chip gave a polite nod and a “sir” to the new man. He then turned back to Nelson and awaited his instructions.

“Let’s get down to business. Admiral Mandel has been conducting a security audit of Seaview for the CNO and has detected some irregularities. In light of the information he’s given me, I am going to have you stand down from this cruise. Collect what you need from your cabin and head out so we can sail.” The junior officer was stunned by the directive, but with the exception of a twitch of his upper lip he managed to control both his expression and his response.

“Sir?”

“Do I need to repeat myself, Mr. Morton?” growled Nelson.

Chip stood with his mouth open slightly as if to speak but realizing there were no options open to him he snapped to attention. “No, sir. Will there be anything else, sir?”

Nelson shook his head.  

Despite Nelson’s more relaxed attitude towards such things on his submarine, Chip saluted both men then he turned sharply on his heel and left the cabin, pulling the door closed behind him. Before rounding the corner where his own quarters were located he glanced over his shoulder and to his dismay both admirals had stepped into the corridor and were watching him intently. Bristling at the unwarranted scrutiny the blond continued to his cabin where he packed a few personal items into his small sea bag, donned his jacket and grabbed his cover from the closet shelf. He took a deep breath before once again stepping into the corridor. It was no surprise that the admirals were standing there waiting.

With Admiral Nelson shadowing him Chip briskly made his way back down the corridor, towards the bow and down the spiral stairs to the observation nose. He kept his gaze straight ahead until he passed Lee. He then paused and turned around to speak but upon catching a glimpse of the admiral over the captain’s shoulder he changed his mind and moved towards the ladder to the deck hatch.

Once the blond was out of sight the admiral stopped by the chart table where the captain stood with his arms crossed and a perplexed look painted on his face.  

“Admiral, what’s this about?” Lee asked softly.

Nelson stepped closer and lowered his voice.  “I’ll explain later, Lee. Get us underway as soon as Mr. Morton has cleared the gangway.”

Lee nodded reluctantly and was about to turn towards the bow when the admiral reached out and grabbed his arm. “Once we’ve cleared the channel, institute radio silence.” Nelson then released his hold and hurried towards the aft hatch of the control room leaving a confused Lee Crane staring at his back. 

Through the nose windows Lee watched Chip depart. He was shocked and angered to see his friend and exec being searched, then escorted off the dock by two members of the shore patrol. Snatching up the microphone on the chart table he ordered the crew to prepare to get underway then summoned his second officer, Lt. Bob O’Brien to the control room. O’Brien arrived within a minute and stood beside Crane and the captain motioned for the lieutenant to follow him out the aft hatch into the corridor. He then quietly informed him that he would serve as acting as XO on the cruise.

O’Brien raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Aye, sir. Is something wrong with Mr. Morton?” 

“I don’t know, Bob.  I’m as in the dark about this as you. I’ll take us out. Revise the officer’s watch assignments and inform me when you finish.” 

The drama being played out in the control room did not go unnoticed by the duty crew; in fact, each and every member had at least glanced up to see what was happening. It was certainly not commonplace for the exec to leave the boat at sailing time and the fact that he wore his jacket and carried his bag and cover meant he was not likely coming back. After a stern look from the captain all heads dropped but while every man looked busy that didn’t mean he wasn’t thinking about the situation and looking forward to hearing the scuttlebutt at evening mess.

Lee snapped out the series of orders to move his boat out of her berth and into the channel then he raised the periscope and performed a 360 degree scan. He continued to watch as Seaview cleared the breakwater then gave the order to dive. Soon the boat was submerged, cruising at ninety feet and moving at one-third speed. After verifying with navigation that they were headed on the course that Chip had plotted and programmed into the computer two hours earlier, he turned the conn over to O’Brien.

With a full head of steam Lee headed towards Officers’ Country. He knocked twice rapidly on the admiral’s door before entering and closing the door behind him. While Lee typically felt quite comfortable in the confines of the admiral’s cabin, he now stood stiffly at the door.

“Admiral, what is going on?  Why did you relieve Chip?”

Nelson pointed to a chair.  “Sit down, Lee.”

The captain hesitated then sat on the edge of the chair opposite the admiral and awaited his explanation. Irritated at being questioned Nelson fumbled with his cigarette pack, pulled out one and lit it. He then took a long drag and leaned back in his own chair.

“You are aware we were undergoing a security audit by OPNAV?”

Lee nodded. He and the admiral had been informed of the surprise audit just three days prior to the cruise. As Lee understood it, the audit was intentionally kept secret from the other officers and the crew and was intended to determine Seaview’s fitness to carry out a highly sensitive military mission.

“Based on the findings of that audit Mr. Morton was determined to pose a security risk for this cruise.”

Lee was incredulous. “That can’t be! You know him. He has a high clearance level, nearly as high as you or I. He has never given anyone a reason to ….” 

With the wave of his hand Nelson called a halt to the expected litany of accolades for their first officer. “I know, Lee, I know. However, I received some information from the auditor about Mr. Morton’s actions during preparation for the cruise and it was enough to warrant having him stand down, at least until I can check out his allegations. In the meantime, we have more pressing matters.” Nelson stood up and after stepping over to his safe he opened it and pulled out a large envelope marked top secret. He then removed several documents from the envelope and handed them to the captain. Lee read every word of the material before handing it back. His jaw was clenched and he made no immediate comment. 

“So as you read we are to assist a defector from The People’s Republic in locating sensors that were planted in our own waters under our noses to spy on our naval operations. Only someone who helped build and install them will be able to help us locate and remove them.”

“Yes, sir,” answered Lee without conviction.

“The sensors are supposed to use some of the most advanced hydrophone technology known. It has something to do with specialized noise filters…”

As the admiral expounded on some of the technical aspects of the mission Lee studied his face. He could easily tell by the extra stress lines and dullness in his eyes that Nelson was tired. He didn’t want to add to the OOM’s burden but he still had responsibility for the safety of his crew and the mission held substantial risk. So, despite his concern for the older man he was forced to play devil’s advocate and ask some very pointed questions. “Sir, how did we find out about these sensors?”

The admiral ground out his cigarette in the desktop ashtray then cocked his head. “The defector, a man named Volz, walked into the American Embassy in Mexico City and claimed he had some information for our CNO . Of course they didn’t believe him and thought he was just some nut but he was picked up by the federal police for questioning. Someone thought his story might have a grain of truth to it. That person contacted OPNAV and here we are.”  

“Admiral, doesn’t it seem a rather strange thing for us to be asked to do, to allow a defector aboard Seaview, especially one from the People’s Republic? You know we don’t have the best track record with that type of mission.”  

Nelson’s anger flared and he shot up from his seat. “We will because someone placed high tech listening devices in our own backyard, to spy on us!” A few moments passed in silence before finally, and in a much calmer tone, Nelson sat back down and finished his answer. “Who better to help us than the person who designed the equipment and who better than us, and Seaview, to do the job?”

Lee reached around and rubbed the back of his neck. “Sir, we didn’t plan for this cruise to be a military mission. We don’t have the right equipment or information or…”  

“Sort of like some of your ONI missions, Lee?” deadpanned Nelson. “You know our crew is among the best trained in the world and can solve just about any puzzle. If it makes you feel better I’ve also done my research and made sure certain items were placed aboard that might be useful to us later. The Navy is also sending us one of their best sonar technicians to assist and we have a couple of days to plan our strategy before we pick up Volz.” The admiral pounded his fist on the desk. “Don’t you see, Lee? We have no choice in this! We have to put a stop to them and see exactly what their capabilities are!”

Lee stood from his chair, and with his arms crossed and a hand to his mouth he began to pace slowly back and forth. After three laps of the room he stopped, ran a hand through his hair and turned back to face Nelson. “Admiral, who vetted this Volz and what did they find out? Can we trust he will tell us the truth about the instruments or their locations? Can we trust these devices even exist and this is not some wild goose chase? Maybe he’s setting us up!”

“Our defector was pretty talkative once he knew he would be allowed asylum. He gave OPNAV the general location of the arrays and explained in some detail about the design of the devices. The sensors are still active and ONI is watching the scientist collecting the data. That’s why we’re maintaining radio silence; we don’t want to disrupt the trail until they catch all the players.” Nelson paused, noting the grim look on Lee’s face. “We have no guarantees, Lee, but it is our mission so I suggest you familiarize yourself with the area.”

Lee had to admit much of his anger stemmed from Chip’s sudden absence rather than the mission itself so he reined in his emotions and studied the chart the admiral had open on the desk. It covered a large group of seamounts between southern California and the Hawaiian Islands , a busy corridor for ships, including submarines based in San Diego . That fact made Seaview’s mission a critical one.

Nelson scratched some numbers on a piece of paper then tossed the note on top of the chart. “We won’t have exact coordinates for the devices until Volz is aboard. He said for his own safety he wouldn’t give us specific locations until we were in the area but those are the coordinates for the rendezvous. He and the sonar tech will board from a cruiser at 2130 hours day after tomorrow.”

“Aye, sir.” Lee stepped over to the door and grabbed the knob then stopped and spun back around. “Sir, you know I wouldn’t want anyone but Chip as my exec on any mission, especially one this risky. Does his dismissal mean you believe he is working for the People’s Republic?

The four-star let out a loud breath. “Serious allegations have been made against him. Those allegations must be thoroughly investigated. I will withhold any judgment until then and I suggest that you concentrate on the mission. Do you think you can do that?”

After being summarily dismissed, Lee slowly walked the corridor towards the control room. He couldn’t shake the feeling that once again Seaview and her crew were pawns in someone’s political game. He only hoped they were as prepared as the admiral seemed to think they were.  

 

****Tuesday, Sailing Day

 

Chip Morton was escorted by the shore patrol to his car, which was parked in the lot nearest the motor pool. He quickly tossed his bag in the trunk and climbed in but when he failed to start the car, the SP tapped on his window. “My orders are to see you off the property, sir.”

Chip had been a part of Nelson’s dream practically since the beginning so though the guard’s words were muffled by the glass barrier between them they cut the conscientious officer like a knife. Sensing it would be useless to argue, the blond fired up the engine and in less than a minute he was driving through the front gate. He hoped it wasn’t for the last time.

Chip arrived at his condo a few miles north of the Institute, pulled in the drive and just sat. He was at the same time confused, worried and angry. He had never been disciplined severely or been under a cloud of suspicion for misconduct and he didn’t like the feeling. Where do I go from here? Seaview is going to be gone for at least three weeks and none of this is going to be resolved until the admiral gets back. I guess I could go to Chicago to visit my folks. No, there might be legal issues. Damn it all!  In frustration he pounded the steering wheel with his fist, hitting the horn by accident. The sudden noise interrupted his train of negative thoughts and he got out of the car and went inside.

The officer went straight up the stairs to his bedroom suite and dropped his cover on the dresser and his keys on the valet. It was a simple science mission, just up the coast. There were no overt threats to Seaview. There were no visiting scientists or politicians to cause complications. Why didn’t I trust my instincts when things still didn’t seem right? Shrugging off his jacket he sat down on the edge of the bed and began to replay the events of the last few days in this head.

 

****

Sunday, the first day of preparations, he had arrived at the boat early and the admiral had stopped by and quizzed him on the course he had plotted and entered into the computer. It was one of Nelson’s quirks to check on some mission details prior to sailing and that alone did not set off any alarms. Later in the day when Nelson had returned and again asked about the course and his questions were more specific, he became a little concerned. He remembered thinking at the time that something was bothering Nelson, but had doubted the admiral would tell him what it was. Before he left the boat on Friday night, he had received a message from Nelson to rework some crew duty assignments for the next two days. Specifically, he had been told to release Chief Sharkey from cargo loading duty so the COB could work on a special project. The result of the changes meant he would need to put in a call to several noncoms and crew to report early. Waiting for them would cause a delay in other preparations and he would have to attend to some of those tasks himself, which he did.

Monday had held more of the same. He had again arrived early but had stopped by his office in the Institute to check his mail. The admiral had immediately poked his head into his office and ordered him to drive down to San Diego and pick up a package from one of the electronics vendors used by the Institute. Courier duty was usually assigned to one of the enlisted men, and as exec he already had plenty to do to get Seaview ready to sail. He followed orders, but the trip to San Diego was longer than planned as an accident on the freeway had blocked traffic for hours. When he finally arrived back in Santa Barbara , it was well past 1500 hours and he wound up working late into the night to complete his own tasks and those normally tended to by the COB .

 

****

Chip paused and gave out an audible sigh. He regretted he hadn’t talked to Lee about the admiral’s strange behavior but then hindsight was always better. Besides, Lee was probably dealing with the audit and didn’t need any more problems, especially ones an exec was supposed to handle. Then there was the audit, the one he hadn’t known about, the one that seemed to target him and resulted in his missing the cruise. Why was Nelson checking on him? Was it at the behest of Mandel, or was he acting on his own? What evidence did they claim to have about any wrongdoing? There were plenty of questions with no answers.

After suddenly realizing he had developed a throbbing headache, Chip went into the bathroom intending to take something for it. He stopped at the vanity and stood staring at the face in the mirror. Stress lines that he didn’t know he had had suddenly appeared and he rubbed a hand across his face as if it would erase them. Come on, Morton, can the pity crap. You are a loyal, dedicated officer who hasn’t done anything wrong and you are not going to be anyone’s scapegoat! Who is this Admiral Mandel, anyway?  

Though Mandel was an easy target, it had been Nelson who had taken action against him. That signaled to the exec that Nelson no longer trusted him. If he ever did. The fact that he took Mandel’s word as gospel and he was allowed no time to explain was a sure sign that the good working relationship the two had developed over the years was now history. With a sigh Chip took his clenched fists and rested them against the mirror and bowed his head.

After a few minutes passed Chip finally opened the medicine cabinet and pulled out a bottle of painkillers. He hated taking medicines of any kind but his left eye was beginning to water from the pounding in his head. He shook two of the capsules out into his hand, filled a paper cup with water and was about to toss the capsules into his mouth but instead he rolled the pills around in his palm. The pills had reminded him of the mysterious cargo he had loaded onto the boat that morning just hours before Seaview was to depart.  Capsules. What were those capsule shaped things in that crate?

 

****

While it was not unusual for Admiral Harriman Nelson, scientific genius, to give him an extensive list of what some might call “odd” items to purchase and load for a cruise, at the last minute the admiral had directed him to make room in Compartment 21 for some rather large crates said to contain scientific equipment. When Nelson failed to supply him with any specs for his manifest he had pressed the flag officer for details but the OOM had been curt and evasive. Not only had the he told him to place the items in the most waterproof and secure hold of the boat, in doing so he had ordered him to forego security measures used to screen all other cargo. Since those measures had been instituted by Nelson himself after several near disasters on Seaview, the sudden decision to bypass them did not sit well with her exec. As exec it was his responsibility to balance all loads and perform necessary weight calculations for proper ballast control and to ensure the safety of all cargo, so after loading it he had personally opened each crate and examined the contents and performed security and radiation checks.  

Of all the crates, one in particular had drawn his attention. It had contained a number of foot-long, off-white colored capsule-shaped objects. He had carefully studied one of them, noting that it was not very heavy, appeared to be made of hardened plastic and had no markings on it. It had occurred to him that the capsules might be a component of a larger object but with time being short, once it had passed the tests he had placed it back into the crate and all the crates were again sealed.

 

****

Back in the present Chip realized that all the worrying was doing him no good so he quickly changed out of his uniform into jeans and a polo shirt and grabbed his keys. Once downstairs he went into the kitchen, automatically opening the refrigerator door.  He found it practically empty, the state is was usually in when he left on a cruise. “Of all the times to be out of beer!” he sighed then closed the door sharply. Well at least that’s something I can fix!

 

****

Chip pulled his sedan into the parking lot of a local SportsStars sports bar, went inside and took a seat at a booth near the back. He ordered a beer and for the next twenty minutes he sipped it and half-heartedly watched the Dodgers baseball game on television. It was tough to concentrate and since the one beer did little to ease his bewilderment or cool his anger he ordered a second and eventually, a third. After downing about half he decided to leave and head back home and from there he would take a long walk and try to clear his head. He had nearly reached his car when he noticed a familiar motorcycle pull into the lot. That’s Kowalski’s bike, he thought as he watched the rider park and dismount. Once the man had removed his helmet there was no mistaking the rating. “Kowalski!”

At the sound of the familiar voice the seaman stopped in his tracks and turned around wide-eyed. “Mr. Morton?  What are you doing here?  Aren’t you supposed to be on…?”

“Shouldn’t you be too?” interrupted the exec. Suspecting that Kowalski had a story to tell, Chip motioned him over to his car and they got in and closed the doors. At least the car afforded some privacy and the officer knew the conversation was going to be interesting. “Kowalski, tell me what happened after I left you in the missile room this morning.”

“Well, it’s like this Mr. Morton… I was checking the gauges on those special air tanks like you asked me to. I looked up and Chief Sharkey was standing there and he told me to run ashore and pick up a package for the admiral at the Santa Barbara post office. He said he would let you know I was going and get someone else to finish checking the gauges. I made it over to the post office, you know traffic was kinda bad, but when I got there they said there was no package for the admiral. I even talked to the supervisor. I wasn’t sure what to do so I ran by the admiral’s office to make sure it didn’t get delivered already. When I got there everyone had gone, so I ran down to the dock and that’s when I found out Seaview had sailed. Talk about surprises. I did go back up to talk to Security and they told me Seaview was running under radio silence so I waited around for a while to see if there was a message for me. I never got one. I just now left there.”

Chip said nothing, but what he was hearing had his mind racing. He nodded his head as the rating ended his monologue with an apology. “Sorry, sir, I know I should have done more to contact Seaview.” Chip looked at the rating with a hint of empathy and wondered to himself how much information he should give him about his own unceremonious ousting from the boat.  

“Well, Kowalski, it seems someone wanted us both off Seaview. Was there anyone with Chief Sharkey when he spoke to you?”

“No, sir, at least I don’t think so.”

“Did he ever tell you what was in the package you were supposed to pick up?”

Ski shook his head.

“Forget it, then,” ordered the exec as he pointed his thumb in the direction of the ocean. “Let’s see if we can figure out why we’re here and Seaview is out there.”

 

****Wednesday on Seaview

 

As Seaview made its way up the coast of California along the route initially designated for the science mission her captain took advantage of the travel day to prepare his boat and crew. Since they would be rigging a temporary sonar unit, a complete inventory of electrical and electronic supplies was placed at the top of his to-do list. Every inch of wire, every resistor and every transistor was counted and nearly every component was tested before being placed back into stores. As he flipped off his own voltmeter, Lee shook his head. The meter reminded him of Chip’s absence. The man was one of the most knowledgeable people he knew when it came to electronics, new technology and especially computers, and his expertise and his friendship would be sorely missed on the cruise.

Later in the morning Lee executed drills in every section of the boat, repeating some of them several times. Though the crew had performed well each time, Lee wanted every response to be automatic and only practice could ensure that. Ironically, during one of the last drills, a small fire in the control board of the torpedo loading mechanism had to be doused and portions of the wiring replaced. The fire and subsequent repairs delayed Seaview’s progress very little but the incident proved to Lee how right he was to have checked on their supplies.  

Though his plate was already full, in Chip’s absence Lee also entered the rotation for control room watch. Normally he didn’t stand watch and was able to move about the boat as needed, but he knew he would be unavailable once there were visitors aboard and he wanted his remaining duty watch officers to be well rested. While at the con on the dog watch he created a list of the personnel and equipment to be assembled for the operation. Lee looked around the control room then motioned for the COB , Francis Sharkey, to come to him.

“What can I do for you, Skipper?” said Sharkey eagerly.

“Chief, first thing in the morning I want Patterson, Kowalski, Garza, Chief Barton and yourself to set up for a portable sonar in the nose…”

Sharkey’s expression, akin to a deer staring at the headlights of a car, was not the response Lee had expected from his COB.

“What is it, Chief?” inquired the Captain.

Very reluctantly Sharkey answered his CO. “Sir …I… well …sir Kowalski cannot be…”

“Spit it out, Chief,” Lee said impatiently. 

“Sir, Ski, Kowalski…is not on board.”

The captain was shocked. “What do you mean he’s not on board?”

“He went to pick up a package for the admiral and didn’t make it back before we sailed.” Though he wanted nothing better than to hide in a distant corner of the boat, Sharkey stood very still and grimaced.

Lee’s anger was rising and though he wanted to smack the nearest bulkhead he knew better than to erupt in front of the entire duty crew. Instead he momentarily turned away to gain his composure. When he turned back around his normally light brown eyes were smoldering. “Chief, is Admiral Nelson aware of this?”

“I, I think so sir.”

“What do you mean you think so?”   

“Sir, he asked me specifically to send Ski, so I assume he knows, since he, ah, didn’t get his package.”  

“Chief, did you inform Mr. O’Brien about this missing crew member?”

“No, sir, I ah…no, sir.”

The captain’s question was well founded. From a chain of command perspective, the COB was to report directly to the XO.  With Chip Morton off the boat that meant Bob O’Brien. Sharkey had, however, developed a close working relationship with the admiral and when it suited him, and when it suited the admiral, the COB tended to ignore command structure. In normal circumstances Lee Crane would ignore most of Sharkey’s independence, realizing that he was still a very efficient COB , but this was not a normal circumstance. Lee was already angry that he had to do without his most trusted officer and friend, and now his most seasoned rating and best sonar man was also out of the picture. There were things happening on his boat that he did not know about and somehow the chief and the admiral were involved and he was livid.  

After a minute of loudly tapping his pencil against the chart table Lee decided to get back on task but he spoke coolly to the chief. “Okay, Chief, I will deal with this later. Inform the men.  Have them collect what is needed from stores tonight and be ready to start at 0800. Have them report directly to me

“Aye, sir.” Sharkey moved as fast as he ever had in his life in order to escape the captain’s wrath. 

Lee turned to Bob O’Brien, who had entered to the control room and handed him the next day’s crew duty roster. He took a minute to relay the gist of the conversation he had just had with Sharkey and as expected, O’Brien was as shocked as he had been. “Bob I think we need to get a tight handle on the rosters. Have the juniors do a roll call in each of their sections. I want no more surprises.” Lee paused for a short time then added, “as of now any watch changes must be cleared by you directly. Make sure you let everyone know any violation of my order will result in brig time.”

“Aye, sir, I‘ll get right on it.  Any other problems, sir?”

“Let’s just say things are not as they seem. When I know something for certain, I’ll let you know. You have the con, Mr. O’Brien.”

Lee Crane walked over to the windows in the nose and stared out at the moving water. He mentally replayed the incident from the previous afternoon when he watched Chip ushered ashore and when he was left without his staunchest ally. Now with Ski also off the boat with no explanation, he suddenly felt very alone. Despite their close friendship, at this point he didn’t think he could trust the admiral to tell him what was going on and he was very concerned about the mission and about Seaview and her crew. Unfortunately, the mission was just getting started.

Taking several deep breaths in order to calm himself, Lee once more made the trip up to Officers’ Country and the admiral’s cabin. He considered knocking on the door but instead opened it and stepped right in. Unfortunately, the admiral was not inside and Lee’s hopes for resolution and explanation were delayed, if not denied.

 

****Wednesday

 

Chip had been wary of meeting Kowalski at the Institute where he himself would certainly be accused of trespassing. Instead he had requested they meet at the bar at 0800 and from they would determine their next move. The men arrived at the empty parking lot at about the same time and after exchanging greetings Kowalski slid into the passenger seat of Morton’s sedan. Chip knew the fair thing to do was to lay his cards on the table so before starting the car he turned to face the rating. “Kowalski, I need to tell you something in strict confidence.”

Kowalski cocked his head at the unusual request then nodded in agreement. “Of course, sir.”

“There is no way to sugar coat the fact that I was ordered off the boat by Admiral Nelson and that I am barred from Institute property.”

Kowalski opened his mouth, astounded by what his XO had just told him. “You, sir?  That can’t be right,” he declared as he shook his head.

Chip responded in his most sincere tone. “I haven’t a clue why but I hope to find out soon. That’s where you come in.”

The officer paused, trying to assess Kowalski’s true feelings. After detecting no change in the man’s demeanor he made his request. “I need a big favor. Now obviously I can’t order you but it would sure help if you could go over to the Institute and get as much information as you can about the new mission and an Admiral Mandel and whatever he’s up to. I know I’m putting you in a bad spot by asking, but…,” Chip paused briefly before uttering an uncharacteristic sigh. “I'm worried about the boat and the crew. I have this strange feeling about their mission but I can’t help if I need to know what I’m up against.” Chip was certain the rating had realized the gravity of what was being asked of him but when Kowalski didn’t answer he gave him a little nudge. “It can’t be a coincidence that you missed the cruise too.” That was all it took to get the seaman to agree to do whatever was needed.

**** Later on Wednesday

 

“Man, everyone was acting weird today,” declared the frustrated rating as he climbed into the sedan. Realizing how he sounded he quickly offered up an apology. “Sorry, Mr. Morton, I’ve just never seen them act this way before”

The words out of Kowalski’s mouth were not what Chip had expected. “Who, Kowalski?”

“Angie, sir, for one. She’s always been pretty friendly with me, you know, at least enough to get a few laughs. Today she wouldn’t even look at me. I made small talk but she just ignored me, acted like she was too busy. She finally got up and gave me the bums rush. Then there was Commander Gordon in security. He acted like I was committing murder when I asked if I could contact Seaview. I guess I didn’t help much,” he lamented.

“Don’t worry about it Kowalski,” he assured the rating, “I have a pretty good lead to follow up on tonight. Let’s meet at the restaurant at 0730. We can re-evaluate then.”

“Yes, sir. I think I’ll head inside if that’s okay? I’m kinda thirsty,” he added with a grin.

Chip chuckled to himself then nodded towards the bar.

 

****

When Chip arrived back at his condo his phone was ringing and hoping for good news he rushed to answer it. Returning his call was Lt. Commander Joe Jackson, a friend of both him and Lee and the assistant to COMSUBPAC, Admiral Jiggs Starke. Chip explained his situation and a surprised Jackson revealed what he knew about Mandel’s investigation-which was practically nothing. The officer advised the blond that he would do some discreet checking and would call back the following day when Starke would be out of the office. Chip thanked Jackson and slowly hung up the phone. For Seaview’s former first officer it was going to be another long night. 

 

****Thursday on Seaview

 

Lee arrived in the control room at just after 0600 hours, and everything appeared to be running smoothly. Quietly he walked up behind the young officer hunched over the chart table and addressed him sternly. “Mr. Cermak, I see Seaview is still in one piece. If you think it’s safe for me to go get some coffee, you still have the conn.”

Cermak didn’t quite know how to react and sputtered his acknowledgement. Lee turned away before breaking into a smile. He then left the control room and headed for the wardroom, hoping to get some coffee and maybe a piece of toast and be gone before anyone else, in particular the admiral, arrived. He wanted to approach his CO about his concerns over their mission when they were alone and on his terms, not on Nelson’s.  

When he arrived at the wardroom, Cookie was just setting out a new urn of coffee and Lee poured himself a steaming cupful. After a few sips, he sat down at a corner table and for a brief time he was lost in his own thoughts. He was startled when a plate of eggs, bacon and toast appeared on the table in front of him. He looked up to see Will “Jamie” Jamison, the boat’s Chief Medical Officer, grinning down at him. Lee motioned for Jamison to sit and the doctor plopped down in the chair across from him.

“So Captain, are you up early or late?”

“Early if you must know,” Lee said with a grin. Then he mumbled, “It’s hard to sleep with all the quiet. 

“That’s a new one. Care to explain?”

“Nothing for you to psycho-analyze, Jamie. Just the calm before a storm and I know a storm is coming.”

“By storm you mean….”

“Nothing, Jamie.” 

The banter between the two men was usually easygoing but this time Lee was hesitant to say anything to Jamison, fearing he would tip off the admiral to his concerns before he had the chance to do so himself. Hoping to change the subject, Lee asked the doctor how things were going in sickbay. He soon learned that was a mistake.

 

“As you said, quiet. I haven’t seen you for three whole days.” Jamison raised one eyebrow and looked questioningly at the man sitting across from him, hoping he would open up about what was causing his apparent distress. He got no response. Though he knew that due to his long-time close friendship with his XO it would be a sensitive subject, the doctor asked his question anyway. “I thought I would ask how you are doing without Chip.”

Lee stared into his coffee cup. “I don’t want to talk about it, Jamie,” he muttered. 

Jamison eyed him for several minutes and uncomfortable under his intense gaze, Lee shook his head and offered a vague explanation. “I am concerned we are getting into something that’s way over our heads and there is no safety net at four thousand feet.”

“Have you and the admiral discussed it?” 

Lee shook his head. “Discuss? Not exactly.”

“I’m sure the admiral has some pretty compelling reasons for taking on the mission,” Jamison said with conviction.

Lee nodded his head, though there was no feeling behind the gesture. Knowing full well he would get nothing further from the secretive man the doctor pointed to the untouched plate of food and with his most stern look and manner instructed Lee to eat.

“Ignore me at your own peril. Anything on that plate can be put in a blender and force-fed,” he said, grinning. “And there’s also the totally liquid option.”

As he watched Jamison get up and leave the wardroom, Lee managed his own slight smile. Giving in to his growling stomach he grabbed one of the pieces of toast, put some of the scrambled eggs on it and folded it into a sandwich. However, he ate only half before clearing the plate from the table and leaving the room.

Instead of heading for the control room Lee went towards the aft missile room to check on the repairs made to the loader controls on the previous day. Surprised to find the hatch to the compartment standing open he approached with caution. As he paused just outside he could distinguish two voices. The admiral’s baritone was easy enough to identify even from a distance but he had to strain to discern the second speaker. Sharkey, I should have known. Lee listened for a few moments but he could only make out a few words of what was being said. “…loaded… not tested…be ready…” He finally stepped inside and caught sight of Nelson and Sharkey standing next to the torpedo racks, head to head in conversation and oblivious to his presence.

As he approached the pair, Lee cleared his throat. They both looked up at him but offered no greeting or explanation as to why they were there so early. Lee nodded to the admiral then asked if there was a problem he should know about.

Nelson responded a little too quickly for the captain. “No Lee, no problem.”

Lee nodded then turned to the COB . “Chief, how are the repairs to the loader controls holding up?”

Sharkey was obviously unprepared for the question. “Uh… Skipper I… uh… was just getting ready to check on that, sir.”

Lee was convinced that checking on the repairs was not the real reason the two were there but didn’t push the subject in front of the non-com. “Never mind, Chief, I’ll take care of it. Go get breakfast then make sure the men are ready to get started on our project.”

“Aye, Skipper.” With a brief nod to the admiral, Sharkey scurried from the missile room.

Lee crossed his arms and turned to the admiral and awaited an explanation that never came.  

“Lee, after you finish here, come to my cabin. I have something there to show you.” The admiral then turned and rushed out the hatch. 

****

Thoroughly prepared for a confrontation, when Lee arrived as Nelson’s cabin he found the admiral seated at his desk examining what appeared to be a camera, one about the size of a breadbox.

“Oh, Lee, this is one of the items I packed for the cruise. It’s the underwater remote control camera I’ve been working on.” Speaking enthusiastically, almost giddily, the admiral then proceeded to point out the gadget’s many useful functions before handing it over to the captain.

Lee knew the scientist had been working on such a design for many months but he had never seen a functional model. “Sir, it looks like another one of your great ideas,” he commented as he examined the device. “But isn’t this mission too important to use something that hasn’t been thoroughly tested?”

“Nonsense, Lee. If it works the way it’s designed we can find the sensors we’re looking for without risking injury to anyone. It’s small enough to go anywhere and is more maneuverable in tight places than the flying sub and it can be controlled from over a mile away. ”

Though Lee usually admired the admiral’s work, for some reason he felt the man was trying much too hard to convince him of the merits of his latest creation all the while avoiding discussion about the mission and about the audit that preceded it. Without further comment Lee returned the camera to the desk. Sir, I think I need to get ready to work on the monitoring station. Will you be joining us?”

“In a little while. I have a few more things to take care of here.”

Lee excused himself but as he approached the control room he couldn’t help but wonder what other secrets the admiral might be keeping.  

 

****

The captain, hydrophones specialist Patterson, electronics specialist Garza, machinist CPO Barton and Chief Sharkey met in the observation nose at 0800 hours to assemble the guts to a secondary sonar workstation for use by the Navy specialist when he arrived. After some discussion it was decided that it should be placed near the computer panel on the port side of the nose and adjacent to the chart table. The crew was also instructed to build a shell lined with soundproofing materials, to surround the station and create a better listening environment for the sonar operator.

Patterson went out on a limb and asked about the need for such a station and Sharkey immediately jumped on him. “It’s not your job to ask questions, sailor, your job is to just do it.”

“Sure, Chief,” responded Patterson in his typically quirky fashion. When he then repeated the question Sharkey bowed up, prepared to once again light into him. Fortunately Lee interrupted.

“No, Chief, it’s a fair question,” said Lee as he turned to the rating. “The Navy is sending one of its sonar experts to help us with a special project. Our mission has changed and we need an alternative to our own sonar to find some special targets. He will be bringing additional components to add to the station and will be employing a new technology.”

Patterson looked at the Chief and smiled, and all the COB could do was grit his teeth and remain silent.    

 

****

By 1000 hours, Seaview had reached the vicinity of Monterey Canyon and from there she began her detour out into the Pacific Ocean . Lee chose that time to advise the crew of their new mission and to order a new round of repetitious drills. Some of the men swore they were going to be doing the exercises in their sleep but made sure the captain was nowhere around when they said it fearing he might have them try! In the end, only two crewmen were sent to sickbay and those were for relatively minor injuries and Seaview’s skipper was relieved.

Around 1800 hours Lee had a small dinner brought to his cabin and after he quickly finished it off he dove into his pile of reports. Eventually he reached into his lower tray and pulled out the boat’s log. He had hoped to have some information on Chip’s removal before he made any entries for that date but since he was already in violation of policy by waiting this long he began to hand print a very vague entry. He managed only a couple of sentences before slamming the book in frustration. Buck up Crane, you have to do this he thought as he quickly rose, left his cabin and made his way around the corner to the admiral’s quarters. He knocked and when no answer was forthcoming he knocked again a little louder. At that moment he saw Nelson approaching down the corridor. The admiral looked at him inquisitively. “Admiral…we need to talk.”

The pair entered the cabin and each sat in a chair. Nelson noticed Lee’s stiff formality. “What’s this about Lee, something on your mind?

“Sir, for the past few days I have had the feeling that you are not being totally honest with me, and I have to admit I don’t like it!”

“Phhtttt. Come on, Lee, what gave you the idea that I’m lying?” 

Lee hung his head. “I didn’t say lying, Admiral. I said you aren’t telling me the truth. You’re leaving something out. As captain of this boat I am responsible for the well-being of everyone. I can’t assure that if things are happening that I don’t know about!”

Nelson stood up, stuck both hands in his pockets and began to pace. “Lee, there are things you don’t understand!”

“Understand, Admiral? I’m totally in the dark. About Chip, about Kowalski, about whatever it is you and Sharkey are up to and…”

Nelson raised his hand. “Okay, Lee, okay. I understand you are frustrated. This mission was foisted on all of us but there are some things I am not permitted to discuss with you.

“Like what happened with Chip?”

 The admiral cocked his head. “For one. As I told you that issue is still not resolved.”

“And what about Kowalski…and Sharkey?”

“Don’t blame the chief, Lee. He was doing what I asked him to do. As for Kowalski, let’s just say he is part of a contingency plan.”

Lee looked confused.

“Have you ever been told not to put all your eggs in one basket? He’s not in this basket for good reason.”

That one statement caused Lee to suspect that Harriman Nelson, genius inventor and military tactician had developed a plan. Though he still had concerns over the lack of details for the moment he was willing to give his CO the benefit of the doubt.

Nelson removed his cigarette pack from his shirt pocket and tapped one out then lit it and took a long drag.  “Lee, you know what we do on Seaview often involves a lot of risk. This mission is no different. We control the things we can but we have to expect the unexpected. We could plan to the nth degree and be planning for the wrong scenario. What I need from you right now is to deal with our visitor. Your ONI experience is invaluable in that regard. You are an excellent judge of character and I know (laughing) that you won’t let him get away with anything on your boat.”

Lee had to grin.

“And speaking of guests, we’re due at the rendezvous shortly. Why don’t you do a walk through before you head back to the control room?”

Lee took Nelson’s suggestion and did just that.

 

****

To prevent alerting possible enemies that Seaview was in the area with the sensors, the rendezvous with the cruiser was set for dusk some 700 miles west of San Francisco . The USS Port Royal was waiting and signaled the Seaview with the prearranged code. At exactly 2130 the Seaview broke the surface and shortly thereafter a small launch pulled up alongside the sail. There were five men in the launch, and two were heavily armed. The two passengers destined for the sub along with two large watertight canisters and two canvas bags were offloaded very quickly, and the launch returned rapidly to the cruiser. Within eight minutes of her arrival the Seaview was again submerged and moving away at flank speed.  

Once on the sub the passengers were escorted to the nose and the crash doors were closed. Present for the briefing were the admiral, the captain, O’Brien, and their two guests. The Navy sonar expert introduced himself as Chief Warrant Officer Tom Shaw. The CWO had twenty five years in the Navy and had earned warrant officer status in Special Warfare for both surface ships and submarines so he was well qualified to employ any new technology. He was greeted warmly by the admiral and politely by the captain and the acting XO. 

“Glad to be aboard, sirs. I think I’ll enjoy the challenge. I’ve heard stories about Seaview, but since I’ve never been aboard, I’m looking forward to a grand tour once the mission is over.”

“Of course, I’d be glad to” responded Nelson.

The greeting given by the officers to Kasem Volz, expatriate of the Peoples Republic was in stark contrast to that given Shaw. Even the admiral could only manage a polite nod as he held out his hand to shake Volz’s. The defector was a large man with a ruddy complexion, salt and pepper hair and dark penetrating eyes. He was well dressed in a wool tweed jacket and slacks with a neatly pressed shirt. He also spoke excellent English. His entire presentation was disconcerting to agent Lee Crane. Why would a recent defector from the Peoples Republic be so neatly dressed and be so fluent in English? Lee decided at that point he would personally keep tabs on this particular visitor. 

Volz looked at each of those assembled, reading skepticism in every face. “Gentlemen, I know that none of you trusts me and at this point you have no reason to. I suggest you try to learn as much as possible despite this distrust.” He again looked from face to face, and no man had changed his expression. Nonetheless after urging the others to sit, he began to explain the problem confronting them. 

“Three years ago one of my countrymen, posing as a Chinese professor and researcher, was granted a fellowship from one of your universities to study the seismic activity along these transverse faults.” He then pointed to the Murray and Molokai fractures on the map hanging on the bulkhead. “They are significant for study because of their proximity to the active volcanoes on your Hawaiian Islands . They were significant to my country; pardon me, my former country, because of the heavy shipping traffic, including that of your military operations.”

Lee glanced at the admiral across the table and the two made eye contact before returning their attention to Volz.  

“For you to understand why this area was ideal for as you say ‘spying’ I will start with some basics.” Volz picked up his napkin and laid it flat on the side table. “If you take this napkin and push the opposite sides together, a series of furrows are created in the cloth. The furrows very much resemble the north-south furrows of the ocean bottom of this region.” Volz pointed to the ocean floor map hanging on the wall and ran his finger up and down on the map. “If you were to take a knife and cut across the furrows you would have transverse cuts oriented east-west. These are the so-called fracture zones as you see here and they are very seismically active.” Volz pointed to the Murray and Molokai fractures. “It was in these fractures that my comrade was to place his sensors. However, he took the opportunity to establish an array of listening devices among the seamounts here north of the Molokai and south of the Murray zones.” He pointed to the seamounts which were about halfway between the continental US and Hawaii and between the two fractures. “As you see, the shortest route for ships moving from your west coast to Hawaii is near these seamounts. The topography of the area makes this area an ideal funnel for ship sounds. 

Seldom at a loss for words, Nelson remained eerily silent and leaned back in his chair. At the same time Lee inwardly cursed the fools that granted a visa and a paycheck to a scientist from the Peoples Republic , essentially giving him carte blanche to practice terrorism. The visiting scientist’s involvement was one little detail that the orders from OPNAV had failed to reveal. Retrieval of the sensors had just become much more complicated, and risky. Apparently the same concern was evident on Nelson’s face.

“Admiral, you are puzzled by something?”

“No, not puzzled.” There was a pause and the silence was deafening. “This scientist, what became of him?”

“Your government has been watching him for some months. He is continuing his research and he is obviously sending data back to other scientists in my former country. Someday soon he will be able to send data with little or no time delay posing an immediate danger to your ships. I do not think you want to wait for that to happen. You see, there is some urgency.” 

Though Lee had remained silent he was analyzing every nuance of their newfound benefactor’s word and actions looking for vulnerabilities. In the good-cop-bad-cop scenario that would be played out, he was the bad and his first question was designed to catch Volz off guard. “Why did you decide to defect and why do you want to help remove these sensors?” 

“A fair question, but not an easy one to explain to someone who has not been in my position.”  Appearing sincere, Volz placed his hands behind his back and clasped his hands. “As you know I am a scientist specializing in the exploitation of ocean resources. Some of the plans of my former government were for the good of the people but many were to create advantages for an elite few. I have done much work for those elite. I now know I would rather live with capitalists and make my own fortune. I suppose to you my motives are suspect irregardless. For me it was an easy choice to leave but the time had to be right.”

Lee’s stood up to his full height. His voice was cold. “And just how did you leave?”

“I was a trusted citizen. One day I went far out to sea to collect data and I kept going and sought passage on a freighter that let me off in Manzanillo.”

“Pardon me if I don’t buy your story so easily.” Lee’s tone was almost scathing. His experiences with the Peoples Republic , including a session of brainwashing, left him with a poor opinion of many of the citizens of that country.

After giving Lee a stern look the admiral called an end to the meeting. “Gentlemen, I think we should all hit the rack and tomorrow, we’ll get down to work. Mr. O’Brien, see these men to their quarters.”

Relieved to see an end to his inquisition, Volz voiced his appreciation. “Thank you, Admiral. I am quite tired.” Bowing his head slightly he bade all present a good evening.

By prearrangement, the Master at Arms set a rota for guarding the cabin where Volz would be staying and for escorting him around the boat. At O’Brien’s summons a guard arrived to escort the man to his quarters in Officers’ Country. Lt. Chavis, one of the juniors from engineering, agreed to share his quarters with the CWO and guide him around the boat when needed. Lee had also ordered a security detail to examine the bags and containers that had been brought aboard by both men. They found nothing that appeared suspicious and so informed their captain. 

Nelson rose from his chair and pointed to a spot on the wall map hanging on the bulkhead. “Lee, plot the course to the first sensor on this seamount. In the morning I’ll be in my lab going over the sensor design with Mr. Volz. Let’s all meet together in the nose at 1100.”

“Sir, do you want security to stand by the lab?”

Nelson was about to dismiss Lee’s concerns, but upon looking into his eyes he changed his mind. “Do what you think you need to do, Lee.”

Lee nodded then opened the crash doors. Barely sparing a glance around Nelson walked through the control room and out the aft hatch. Lee plotted the course as ordered, and waited for the night watch officer to report for duty.  When he arrived he left orders to be contacted should anything out of the ordinary occur. 

As expected, Lee had a difficult time falling asleep, so he rose from his bunk, put on his robe and sat down at his desk. He then busied himself compiling reports until well after 0130 hours. Noticing the late hour he ran a hand through his hair and muttered to himself. “This won’t do. I need to sleep to be ready for tomorrow.” One of the strategies he normally employed was to tour the boat just prior to retiring. The walkthrough he had taken earlier had proven insufficient to ease his mind so he dressed and headed directly for the missile room. As expected there were no crewmen on duty so Lee sought out the appropriate tools to remove the torpedo loader control panel door himself then proceeded to open it. That was the last thing he remembered as an electric shock from the panel caused him to fall back to the deck, unconscious.  

 

****Thursday

 

After going out on a long run and visiting the firing range the previous evening, Chip awoke in a better frame of mind than he had been on the previous days. He had less information than he would have liked but at least he was thinking more clearly. He quickly showered and put on a freshly pressed uniform then as his first order of business he dialed the Institute’s main number and asked for Jay Gordon the recently retired Lt. Commander from the Navy and the new head of security. Chip wasn’t surprised by Gordon’s answer.

“I‘m sorry, Commander, there has been no change in your status. I was told you were to leave the property and I have received no additional orders to the contrary.” 

“Can you at least tell me who gave you the order?”

“Sir, it was Admiral Mandel of OPNAV. He gave me the orders in person.”

Mandel again! That man gets around!

 

****

When Kowalski met the exec at the restaurant he suggested that he might find out more if he just hung around the offices at the Institute. Chip agreed on the new strategy then informed the rating that he would be making a trip to San Diego to check on the suspicious package he had picked up for the admiral on Monday and his errand might take most of the day. After handing the seaman some cash for his breakfast, he grabbed his cover and headed out.

The drive to San Diego was not as arduous as the previous one had been. He had incentive: he might finally be able to shed light on at least one of the mysteries plaguing him. At 1330 hours he pulled into the parking area in front of a warehouse building just off I-8. He identified himself on the intercom and was allowed entry into the office of SamsonTech, the electronics firm that regularly supplied NIMR with various electronic items and supplies as well as design services. He smiled and greeted Glennis the receptionist and she returned the smile and the greeting.

“Hello, Commander, I see you are back. What can we do for you today?”

“I would like to see Jim Scandini, if he’s in.”

 

“I’m sorry, Jim is out today. He has been since Tuesday.” She paused and with a solemn expression on her face she continued. “He has been very ill. Mark Jocaste is here. Can he help?”

Chip had requested Scandini because he had worked with him on a number of projects. He was hesitant to involve someone else in Institute business without checking his background but he needed answers. After some consideration he agreed to meet with Jocaste.

Jocaste ushered Chip into his office and closed the door, then invited the blond to be seated in the guest chair opposite him. “Commander, what can I do for you?” 

Since he didn’t know what was in the package he had retrieved Chip was intentionally vague in his questioning. “Your company designed an item for Admiral Nelson and I came down here on Monday to pick it up. Unfortunately, the admiral had to leave town. He asked me to look over some of the specifications for installation but he took the schematics with him and since I was down for another meeting I thought I would stop by and see if I could get a copy.”

Jocaste looked at him blankly for a moment then said “Oh, you mean the solar panel for the rescue buoy?”

“Yes, the solar panel,” responded Chip readily. He tried hard to not sound suspicious even though he was clueless as to what information to expect.

“I’ll have Glennis get a copy of it for you. If you will wait just a few minutes, I’ll be right back.”

While Jocaste was out of the room Chip sat thinking. He knew he would normally have been apprised of any new technologies to be used aboard Seaview or added to her equipment inventory and he didn’t recall ever hearing about the need for a new solar panel. In fact, he was fairly certain that Nelson would never hire an outside company to design something that the admiral could have built himself. However, he was still in the dark about both the project and Seaview’s current mission and he had to take the man’s word for it that information or parts to a solar panel were in the package he had picked up and delivered unopened to the admiral.  

Returning with some documents, Jocaste placed them in an envelope and sealed it. He also had Chip sign a receipt then inquired if the officer needed anything further.

“No, I think that’s it,” said Chip as he shook the engineer’s hand. “Thanks.” He then made his way out to the reception area where he said goodbye to Glennis and asked her to give his regards to Jim Scandini. Once he reached his car he placed the envelope in his briefcase in the trunk and slammed the lid closed.

As Chip Morton sat behind the wheel he recounted every word spoken during his visit to SamsonTech. It was something that Glennis had said was particularly troubling. No it was the way she said it. Jim Scandini had been very ill… since Tuesday. It was no red flag but intuition told him it might be something worth checking out. Then there was Mark Jocaste. Because of security precautions put in place years ago no company was allowed to copy documents of plans for use on military craft. Yet Jocaste was very quick to make a copy and turn it over to him. I’m in no position to argue protocol with him right now. He would follow up on the lead but right now he needed to stop by COMSUBPAC headquarters.

With some trepidation Chip arrived at the gate to sub command and showed his military identification. To his relief he was allowed on the base without any problems. He made his way to the office of Joe Jackson and caught him as he was preparing to leave. The officers shook hands warmly.

“Sorry, Chip, I didn’t know you were paying a visit. The old man has me running an errand for him. Can you come along? I’ll brief you on the way.” Looking around he added “It’s probably better if I talk to you outside anyway.”

“Sure, Joe, but first I need to make a quick call.”

“You have no new messages,” intoned the computer generated voice. After receiving the disappointing news, Chip joined Jackson and the officers walked out to Jackson ’s car. In the privacy of the cab Jackson handed Chip a piece of paper with a phone number scrawled on it.

“I have something from the OM.

Chip was startled. He had not spoken to Admiral Starke and thought Joe would have been more discreet in his inquiries. Surprise was evident on his usually impassive face.

“Don’t worry. I didn’t say anything; he came to me and said you were to call that number and see what you can find out. I couldn’t do much more checking for you.  Starke has kept me busy. We have your Admiral Mandel from OPNAV snooping around and that’s where I’m going now, to bring him some documents.”

Chip rolled his eyes. “You better let me off at my car first Joe. The admiral and I are not exactly on speaking terms.”

Jackson smiled as if he understood and turned around to take Chip to his car. He apologized for the rush and quickly said his goodbye to his friend. Then he took off almost squealing the tires. Chip could finally smile, if only a little.

****

 

When Chip stopped to fill up at a station just south of L.A. he grabbed a sandwich and coffee from the snack shop. Curiosity was eating at him so before getting back in his car he decided to retrieve the envelope given to him earlier. When he opened it he let out a sigh. Inside were the schematics for a simple solar panel, one that could have been used to power just about anything. There are no clues here he groaned to himself. His attention then turned to the telephone number that Jackson had given him. Since security protocols dictated that all business calls be made only from secure telephones or at secure facilities and he had access to neither he would need to wait until he got home to make the call. He started up the car and just minutes before 1900 he arrived in Santa Barbara .

When Chip pulled into the lot Kowalski’s motorcycle was nowhere in sight nor was the rating standing outside. When twenty minutes passed with still no sign he started to worry that the rating might have found trouble. Another twenty frustrating minutes later he heard the sound of the motorcycle and Kowalski screeched to a stop beside his car.

“Sir, I…”

Chip waved off the apology and nodded for the rating to get in the car.

 

“Sir, I was in the gym, lifting. One of shore crew guys came in and when he saw me he came over. Told me he was in the Admin building today and saw some guys carrying out boxes. He asked around, and finally found out they were yours. Sir, I think they searched your office…I’m not sure who they were and he couldn’t find out.”

Chip nodded to the rating and turned away and swallowed hard. The situation was worse than he thought. He turned back to an expectant Kowalski.

“Look, I can’t ask you to stay involved in this, whatever it is. It’s time you put distance between us so you can protect yourself.”

The rating scowled but when he spoke it was very controlled. “No, sir.”

“What?”

“No, sir, I won’t. I’m in it now up to my neck. You can’t expect me to just drop it.”

“I can and I will. You don’t know how deep this is.”

“Beggin your pardon, sir, I think I do. It’s not like we haven’t been in some bad situations before. I never abandon a mission, and this is one, just like any other.”

Though he took exception to his failure to follow orders Chip certainly admired Kowalski’s loyalty, a trait he had demonstrated repeatedly during his time aboard Seaview. The two sat and stared out the windshield for a moment.

“Okay. You stay. For now. I have one more lead that I need to follow up on. I’ll call you in the morning if anything pans out.”

Kowalski looked skeptical.

“Yes, I will call you. I need your help.”

The rating nodded and smiled then got out of the car, slipped on his helmet and mounted his motorcycle.  

Chip arrived home within fifteen minutes. He practically ran into his condo to place the call to the number Jackson had given him. He punched in the numbers and waited. After three rings a woman answered. “Yes?”

“This is Lt. Commander Morton,” he responded suspiciously.

“Oh, Commander, hold on just a minute.”

He heard some rustling and a moment later he was stunned when the man on the other end identified himself.

“Chip? It’s Jim Scandini. I need to talk to you and the sooner the better.”  

 

**** Friday on Seaview

 

Seaman Patterson was the first to arrive in the missile room and discovered his CO sprawled on the deck. He took care to follow protocol by immediately making sure there were no live connections to an electrical source before he approached the injured man. Rolling him over on his back he tapped his face and called out. “Skipper, Skipper, it’s me, Pat. Can you hear me?” There was no response so the rating went over to microphone across the room and called for sickbay. Within two minutes two corpsmen and Will Jamison had arrived to render aid. While the doctor began to check on Lee’s condition Admiral Nelson rushed in.

“How is he, Will?”

“Appears to be a serious electrical shock,” he announced without turning away from his patient. “He’s alive, but let me finish my exam in sickbay.”

Nelson stepped back and allowed the corpsmen to collect the captain on a stretcher. Before leaving he ordered Patterson to police the area and block off the potentially dangerous control panel. He also called for Bob O’Brien to organize a detail to make immediate repairs. The admiral then headed out to check on his friend.

Nelson entered sickbay like a whirlwind but on arrival the sight of an unconscious Lee on the stretcher in front of him gave him pause. Lee was as pale as he had ever seen him and it had been necessary for Jamison to insert a breathing tube along with the fluid IV. Jamison continued to check vital signs, repeating the process every few minutes. Finally he looked up at the admiral and gave his assessment.

“Serious shock, yes, but he seems to be stabilizing. I think the shock along with some serious dehydration is causing him to stay unconscious. Once he gets more fluids in him, he should come around, and most likely with humdinger of a headache!” Jamison then added a few buts. “He needs to stay here for at least a few hours. Then he needs to get something to eat, and then we’ll see about sending him back to duty.”

“Very well, Will. Call me when he comes to.”

At that moment there was some slight stirring from the man on the stretcher. For fifteen minutes Nelson waited for further signs of consciousness but none presented.  He would have preferred to stay and wait but there were far too many pressing issues to deal with and too few people to do them.

Arriving in the control room, the Admiral strode over to the sonar station and picked up the extra headphones. After listening intently for a few minutes, he put them down and found O’Brien standing next to him looking concerned.

“Admiral, is there a problem with sonar?”

“None that I know of Mr. O’Brien” said Nelson flatly.

“Then, sir, how’s the skipper?”

“He’s still out of it but should be coming around. We still need to proceed with our arrangements. Have you seen Mr. Volz?”

“Last I did he was in the wardroom with his guard. He should be finished eating by now. Do you want him brought here?”

“Yes, that would be a good idea. I need to talk to him about the devices. In the meantime you go ahead and get Chief Shaw started on his setup.”

Once O’Brien had been relieved of the conn by Lt. Chavis he joined Sharkey, Patterson and Shaw at the new sonar station. Shaw told everyone how impressed he was with their work then motioned for everyone to join him around the table that had been set up near the bow. “I need to give you a little background about how this station will be used. Even I need to visit the head on occasion,” he added with a touch of a smile on his lips. “Keep in mind this is based on the briefings I received from OPNAV and ONI from information supplied by your passenger so details may be subject to change.”

Change. Sharkey rolled his eyes then looked over to at Patterson, who winked at him. Both men had been asked to “clean up” after missions assigned by the alphabet agencies and they were well aware of the poor intel they sometimes received. With a cough from O’Brien, both men quickly turned their attention back to the speaker.   

“We are to locate and dismantle a system of sensors that was set up in the area around some seamounts. The sensors are essentially a set of advanced hydrophones with special data gathering devices. As of now, the data must be uploaded to surface ships in the vicinity of the sensors. We don’t yet know how that part is done or what types of ships are involved. They could be using rowboats for all we know.”

The comment caused a few snickers, releasing some of the tension in the room.  

“We don’t want to use your sonar for this mission because your profile is already known by most navies and we don’t want to let on what we’re doing. Locating and removing them will be difficult enough. The sensors are supposed to be anchored at about 4000 feet. That’s one of the reasons Seaview is necessary for this mission. Your crush depth is greater than the depth of the sensors and we might have to go deep to locate and remove them.”

Pointing to a diagram of the new sonar the CWO explained further. “This unit sends and receives just like your system but this new transmitter is capable of sending out a fairly narrow sound pulse, allowing a more targeted search with less scatter. The sounds we generate are not detectable by most systems in use outside the military. We also have the capability of picking up a broader range of sounds than most hydrophones. Here’s the kicker: because of the design and the strength of the return signal the system is better able to pinpoint sounds from smaller objects. There is also less interference with thermal layers. Of course it takes more time to find small things in a big ocean, but it is easier to tell what the item is once found. Supporting all this is a computer program that allows you to alter your ping settings and there’s a huge database of sounds that are at different frequencies than those used by typical active sonar. That helps us differentiate objects that we would have never been able to detect before.” 

The men sitting at the table were impressed with the new technology and it was apparent that the CWO knew his stuff and would be an asset on the mission. They were eager to learn more and Shaw was ready to teach them.

“Mr. O’Brien, I know your captain is unavailable but it would be helpful for your men to see the sonar in action and to get some hands-on practice. Could that be arranged?”

“Of course, Mr. Shaw. I will need to run it by the admiral and the skipper. In the meantime, these men are available as long as you need them to help you finish your assembly.”

O’Brien told Lt. Chavis he had the conn for a little longer and he made his way up to the admiral’s lab where Volz’s guard stood at the door. Once he was allowed passage he observed the two scientists standing next to the lab bench examining a set of charts. Atop the bench was a five foot long instrument, one O’Brien interpreted as a model of one of the sensors they sought.

“Yes, Mr. O’Brien?” growled the admiral.

“Sir, I need to speak with you, outside if possible.”

Nelson excused himself and left Volz in the lab. “Problem, O’Brien?”

The XO shook his head. “Sir, with your permission, Mr. Shaw wants to spend some time practicing with the new sonar, to allow the men time to get used to working with it prior to arriving at our first coordinates. I said I would check with you and the skipper.”

Nelson considered the question. “Of course it makes sense but we might attract unwanted attention if we ping out. I don’t want to risk that. Let’s stop near an outlying seamount and run a few tests, but make it passive only!”

“Aye, sir, I’ll get on it.”

When O’Brien left he made stop in sickbay. It was his opportunity to personally check on his skipper and he had a valid reason for going so Nelson wouldn’t question it, or at least not much. When he entered he saw the subject of his visit sitting up on the stretcher in the middle of the room. The captain put a finger to his lips to silence him and the XO nodded that he understood. At that moment Will Jamison came out of his office and startled both officers.

Where do you think you’re going, Captain?”

“Just sitting up, Jamie. It helps the headache.”

“Uh huh. Lie back down. You have at least another hour with me.”

Lee started to protest but the CMO just glared. Lee backed down and changed the subject. “Report, Mr. O’Brien.”

“Sir, are you alright?”

“I am,” he answered curtly. “Report.”

O’Brien provided a status report then explained Shaw’s request. When he relayed that the admiral had already approved it Lee was irritated, however, he stopped short of criticizing Nelson. “Sounds like it’s been decided already. Carry on, Bob. I’ll catch up on things when Doc releases me from here, which shouldn’t be too long.” He then passed an evil look to the doctor.

“Yes, sir. What happened in the missile room?”

“I’m not sure what part of the loader control panel I touched but it obviously wasn’t grounded correctly. I want Garza working on installing a complete replacement. There should be one in stores.”

“Already done, sir.”

As O’Brien left and with the room once again still Lee laid back down. Jamison had been standing a short distance away but returned to the captain’s side to measure his vitals. Apparently satisfied that there were no measurable irregularities he told Lee he was being released with conditions. Lee started to protest but quickly realized he was about to get a free pass so he gave in to the conditions, dressed and made his way to the wardroom for breakfast. He ate as instructed, practically chugged two glasses of juice then headed for the control room at double time.

When Lee arrived he found O’Brien plotting a course for an unnamed seamount northwest of the Erben Guyot. With an elevation of 1100 feet the seamount was at a comfortable depth for the crew to do their testing and the captain nodded his approval. He next spent some time with the CWO and learned what he could about the new sonar. Though his interest in electronics was not as intense as Chip’s he asked a number of probing questions about the unit. In the end he was as impressed as his men had been with the new unit and with Shaw.

Lee instructed Sharkey to monitor the repairs in the missile room, and for a change the COB didn’t question him. He doesn’t want to be around me, he chuckled to himself.  Then his thoughts became more serious. Why would we have two incidents with the loaders on one cruise? Could there be something wrong with the units or is sabotage a possibility? Those questions were not to be answered right away when Nelson and Volz came down the spiral stairs.

“Lee, I see you are up and running. What’s our status?”

“Yes, sir, we are en route to this seamount,” he said as he pointed to a spot the chart. “ ETA , two hours.”

“Good.”

Upon hearing the news a look of intense distress appeared on Volz’s face. “Admiral, that is not one of the areas with sensors. Why are we going there?”

Nelson raised an eyebrow. “We need to assess some things for ourselves. I’m sure you can understand that.”

“Yes, but time is of the essence, the scientist is…”

“The scientist is what, Mr. Volz?” inquired Lee angrily.

Volz looked into the eyes of each of the senior officers. “He is planning to start transmitting live data soon. In fact, he could be doing it as we speak. I told you this.”

The admiral answered the man’s concerns. “Well if that’s the case, since we are aware of it we can be better prepared. We have to use some caution with information we receive, no matter how eagerly it is given.”

Volz said nothing further as he walked around the chart table and began to observe the activity on the screens of the new work station.

“Interesting isn’t it, Mr. Volz?” asked Nelson. “Have you seen anything like it before?”

“No…” he responded hesitantly. “I have not been so fortunate. It was certainly an area where I had interest but my duties never afforded me the time.” As he turned to face Lee he put on a more pleasant expression. “Captain, I need to show you where to find the first sensors. You have the charts?”

The pair stood side by side while the man pointed out the locations and Lee marked them. Lee could see no real pattern but he only had a few coordinates to work with. Once they were finished, Volz asked to be shown to his quarters, and to be called when he was needed. His guard was then summoned and the two left the nose.

Lee looked at the admiral and opened his mouth to speak but before he uttered a word Nelson raised his hand.

“I know, Lee, he isn’t the friendliest person we ever worked with but he is who we have.”

Lee’s concern went well beyond personalities. There was just something about the way Volz spoke and acted that unsettled him. “Sir, did you have the chance to study the device?”

“Yes, in some detail.”

“Mind filling me in?”

“Okay, but how about we do it over lunch?”

 Lee scowled, knowing he had just eaten a couple of hours earlier. “Yes, Admiral.” he said as he tapped on the chart in front of him with his pencil. “I just need to enter this course into the computer.”

Nelson repeated his order. “Fifteen minutes then.”

The admiral left Lee to his task, which took the captain all of five minutes. While he had been busy with Volz he had forgotten about the incident in the missile room but a sharp pain in his head and a touch of vertigo quickly brought everything back.

Concerned about what had happened he decided to inspect the repairs himself. To his surprise, when he stepped into the missile room he found the admiral and Sharkey standing in practically the same positions they had been in when he walked in on them on the previous day. This time Nelson had an explanation at the ready.

“The chief tells me he thinks the problem has been identified and should not reoccur. Right, Chief?”

Looking like the cat that swallowed the canary, Sharkey managed to stammer out a response. “Yes, yes, sir. Looks like there was a problem with one of the wires on the circuit board, Skipper. Garza said he checked the new one before it was installed.”

Lee was immediately focused on the new development. “Chief, let me see the old board.”

 

“Sure, Skipper,” said the COB as he handed it over to the captain and pointed to a spot in the middle of the board. “It’s that one right there.”

Lee could see there was a small blackened area and though he already knew the answer he asked the admiral who manufactured the boards.

“SamsonTech. They make most of our circuit boards and have for years. Why, Lee?”

“Just trying to cover all my bases, sir. Chief,” he said as he turned back to the COB . ” We should be arriving at the test site soon. Meet us in the nose in thirty minutes.”

Once the Chief left, Lee discussed the problem of the boards with Nelson, who appeared to minimize the danger. “Poor workmanship happens in every industry now and again. I’m sure once we talk to them about it they won’t let it happen again.”

“I suppose,” Lee answered quietly.” Lee then held out his arm to allow Nelson to precede him. “Admiral, let’s talk about those sensors.”

The admiral led the way to the wardroom and upon entering the two junior officers already present jumped to their feet. Nelson waved them down as he and Lee sat in the corner away from everyone. Knowing the captain would not eat a large meal Cookie brought him half-sandwich and a cup of soup while the admiral received the regular fare, a plate of chicken salad, three-bean salad and fruit compote.

The admiral pulled a folded piece of paper from his shirt pocket, opened it and laid it on the table. “Lee, I had the chance to examine the model sent to us by OPNAV. It matches up to the information given by Volz. Looking at it, I don’t see much difference between it and the standard deep sea hydrophones we attach to our diving bell. He tells me the difference is in the software, so I will have to take his word for it for now.”

“It sounds like we don’t know much more than we did before.”

Nelson cocked his head and sighed. “We know a lot more, Lee. Now we have coordinates and we have a design to work with. We also have him as a resource should we need one.”

Lee conceded the admiral’s point then took a bite of his sandwich.

“Lee, why don’t you see if you can occupy Mr. Volz? Get to know him. Make him feel comfortable here.”

Lee picked up his glass of water and quickly washed down the thickening mouthful. “You don’t mean make friends with the guy?”

“No, I mean gain his trust. After the exercise is through, give him a one-cent tour of the non-secure areas of Seaview.”

Lee considered what his CO and friend was saying. He’s right. What’s the old saying-you will catch more flies with honey than with vinegar?  And what better honey than a tour of the world’s finest submarine! “I’ll do my best, admiral,” Lee said with a weak grin.

 

****

“Captain, we’re within two miles of the seamount at ninety feet.”

“Very well, Mr. O’Brien. Stop engines and maintain neutral buoyancy.” Once O’Brien had relayed the orders Lee issued several more. “Sonar, stay passive, we don’t want to alert anyone to our presence. Sparks , I want to know if you hear anything from any ship that might be within twenty minutes of our location.” He then grabbed the mic and connected to the intercom. “Missile room, I want the torpedoes in tubes two and four loaded and ready. We are vulnerable right now.” Double clicking the mic he then addressed the entire crew. “Attention all hands, this is the captain. I want everyone to minimize the noise on the boat. We won’t be running silent but we need quiet.” Turning to the CWO he queried “Mr. Shaw, where would you like us to begin?”

With Seaview at station keeping, Shaw had the captain instruct Sharkey to release the weighted device from the diving bell hatch in the missile room and to initially let out five hundred feet of line. After a successful launch the sonar specialist waited for the device to stabilize then turned on his display screen. The multi-colored oscillations were unlike Seaview’s and Shaw explained to the observers that they were a new type of visual representation of hydro-acoustic profiles of some well known objects. The unit’s computer held a database of previously identified sounds from the oceans and as the hydrophones received sounds they would be translated into a similar electronic profile. Then either automatically or on command the computer would compare the profile to known profiles. The primary role of the operator would be to orient the microphone to identify the direction of the signal and scan the database for similar profiles.

Shaw demonstrated the capabilities of the passive device. “There,” pointing to the screen and at the same time turning up the volume “was a biologic, an orca”. Those present could see the profile appear on the screen almost at the same time they heard the sound. They all agreed sound was not substantially different from what they heard on standard hydrophones. Lee turned to Riley, who was manning the hydrophones and asked what he picked up and he confirmed the object was an orca.

Shaw continued his demonstration. “At this point I would go active with the device. Like your sonar we have the ability to echo-locate objects to identify their location and direction of travel. Unlike your active sonar with its fixed mast, the flexibility of our system is that you can orient the device to make best use of your pings. You don’t have to change the boat’s position one iota. You can also alter the range at which you listen and send. I’d like to mention it also works best in shallower water which is where you do most of your targeting.”

Shaw looked up at Patterson and asked him to give it a try and immediately after donning the headphones the rating expressed his approval. In order to give the system the acid test he turned the microphone around 360 degrees and up and down almost 120 degrees. “Can’t beat that,” he said as he held out the headphones for the next man.  

The admiral and the captain then took turns with operating the station. While Lee was listening he began to pick up engines. Noting the orientation of the device, he guessed that it was some distance away and at or near the surface. At the same time Sparks called out that he was picking up radio traffic from a surface ship, and it sounded to him that is was a cruise ship of some type. Riley also indicated he was picking up engine sounds on his hydrophones but not yet very clearly. Another three minutes later a profile popped up on the screen of the auxiliary station, one identified as belonging to a medium-sized cruise liner. The screen even displayed specifics of the engine type and listed the manufacturer.

The practice session was going well. For his last test Shaw requested the device be reeled in so Seaview could be moved closer to the seamount. He wanted to demonstrate the effectiveness of the unit even in what amounted to an echo chamber. Once they were within a thousand feet of the sides of the seamount the device was again released and the microphone was oriented towards the seamount wall. Shaw then requested that the admiral allow someone on Seaview to drop a metal object onto the ducting for the air revitalization unit at the center of the boat. Reluctantly the admiral agreed and sent a somewhat confused crewman to accomplish the task. With the exception of Riley on the hydrophones no one in the control room actually heard the sound, but within twenty seconds Shaw’s unit picked it up and a profile was generated on his screen. The readout at the bottom of the screen also gave the coordinates for the Seaview as the source location for the sound.

“That’s fantastic,” declared the admiral and everyone standing around nodded in agreement.

 

****

After ensuring Seaview was on course for the first sensor, Lee retired to his cabin to attend to a mound of reports. The successful demonstration of the capabilities of the new sonar had him feeling better about their chances for success with the mission even though they would have to rely heavily on Shaw’s experience. He was much more concerned about his other passenger and as he carefully considered how to engage a man he really did not like or trust he put his head down on his folded arms to rest.  He unexpectedly dozed off but was awakened a short time later by the creaking of his door. Without looking up he greeted Will Jamison.

The doctor snapped back. “And how did you know it was me?”

“It’s your hover factor, Jamie, you emit signals.”

“Well maybe I need a passive setting too.”

As he sat on the edge of the desk he picked up Lee’s right arm, extended it and attached a blood pressure cuff. After taking the reading he readjusted his stethoscope and told the captain to sit up. Lee complied, albeit slowly, and Jamison proceeded to listen to his captain’s heart and breathing.

Lee couldn’t help teasing the doctor. “Will I live, Jamie?”

The CMO responded in kind. “Yes, but you would have a better quality of life if you would take care of yourself.” Handing Lee two pills he practically ordered his CO to take them. “Tylenol, and yes you will take them. You need them, Captain”

When Lee downed the capsules by swilling a small amount of cold coffee from the bottom of his mug Jamison merely shook his head.

“You can now accompany me to the wardroom or you can have the admiral come and get you, your choice.”

Lee got up to go, though he didn’t mention to Jamison that he would have gone anyway in order to meet up with the admiral and Volz. As they continued to trade friendly barbs the two left sickbay and headed forward.      

 

****

There had been very little conversation during dinner, and most of that had been between Nelson and Volz. Once everyone had eaten, Lee pasted on his most contrite expression then addressed their guest. “Mr. Volz, I want to apologize for my behavior. I haven’t been very hospitable to you. I know you are trying to assist us and I want to make sure the remainder of your stay more comfortable. If there is anything I can do in that respect, let me know.”

Volz, and Jamison who was seated with them, were surprised at the captain’s admission but the scientist accepted the apology gracefully. “I understand you have a lot of responsibilities, Captain. It takes a strong man to admit his mistakes. I certainly accept.”  

Lee nodded politely and the conversation around the table flowed much more easily than it had earlier or on the previous day.  Admiral Nelson suggested that Lee give a short tour of the boat to their visitor and Lee quickly agreed. The “tour” lasted all of thirty minutes, but it gave Volz an idea of the types of non-military research that Seaview supported. The man was impressed by the admiral’s laboratory and so it seemed, by the attention he was now receiving. He asked a few questions but for the most part listened intently to the captain’s comments. At tours end he volunteered that he was tired and ready to turn in for the evening, and though he didn’t show it, Lee was relieved. He escorted the man back to his cabin where they said their good nights. 

 

****Friday 0230 hours

 

Chip made his way through Los Angeles in record time. He had been asked by Jim Scandini of SamsonTech to meet him at a diner in the town of Oceanside , north of San Diego and the limited amount of intel provided over the phone was enough to pique the officer’s interest. Before leaving Santa Barbara he had phoned Kowalski and told him he would not be making their breakfast meeting but told the rating to stand by the phone and be ready to move at a moment’s notice.  

Chip pulled in to the parking lot of the 24 hour restaurant and backed his sedan into one of the parking spaces in the shadows along the side. He had waited for nearly an hour before being approached and questioned by the local police about his presence in the lot. He showed his military identification and explained that he was at the diner to meet a friend. The officer at first looked skeptical but after shining his flashlight on Chip’s uniform the police officer let him remain.

As time passed without any sign of Scandini, Chip became more and more anxious. When three police cars suddenly zoomed past the diner with lights flashing and sirens blaring a chill went up his spine and he started his car and followed after them. The responders stopped about a mile from the diner and the officer parked his car some distance back and observed their activities. There was a lot of commotion centered on a car that was resting partly on and partly off the road. In a few minutes, a fire truck arrived and the rescue personnel removed the driver’s door. Meanwhile, an ambulance pulled up and the medics jumped out and helped extricate the driver. After ten long minutes the injured man was finally removed and laid on a stretcher.

When Chip approached the scene and saw the medic treating the injured subject lay a sheet over the body his face fell and his apprehension grew. He noticed that the same officer who had spoken to him that was standing by the body so he asked if he could see the subject.

The officer looked at him quizzically.  “You know him?” 

“Afraid I might.” 

The officer waved his hand and allowed Chip to pull back the sheet. To his surprise and relief the man on the stretcher was not Scandini! Chip replaced the sheet, and shaking his head informed the officer it was not his friend. Now worried that he would miss his real contact he thanked the officer and ran to his car, did a quick u-turn and sped back to the diner.

When Chip arrived Jim Scandini sat waiting in a corner booth with his back to the wall. As Chip slid into the seat across from him he looked up nervously. “Commander, I thought you weren’t coming.”

“Same here,” said Chip with a crooked grin, as he recalled the scene he had just left.

The engineer looked perplexed but dropped the subject and called for the waiter to bring the officer some coffee. Quietly and systematically he began to relay what he knew to Chip. “As you know we have many military contracts. About a year ago we were asked to build circuit boards for a large scale project for the Navy. We needed to bring in some new personnel so we advertised in a number of places. One of them was the placement office of New Union University .”

The conversation was interrupted by the server who placed a steaming cup of coffee in front of Seaview’s officer. Once the server had again moved out of earshot Chip nodded his head, urging Scandini to continue. “One of the people we hired was Mark Jocaste. He came highly recommended and by all accounts he was clean as a whistle. He passed all the security checks and even managed level 2 clearance. He was assigned to work with me on overseeing the quality assurance part of the project. About three months ago I came into the office at night and found him looking over some diagrams for some type of underwater seismic sensor. He gave me some quickie answer about doing a favor for one of his college buddies. The way he explained it, it seemed okay. The sensors weren’t something we were working on and I have no regs against his taking outside work as long as it doesn’t create conflicts with his work at SamsonTech. Anyway, I let it go until two weeks later I caught him looking into some special files.”

“Whose files, Jim?” asked Chip, though he already knew the answer.

“The Institute’s… and Seaview’s.” 

Chip sat quietly and though his features remained impassive his stomach was churning and his neck muscles had become taut as a bowstring. “What specifically was he looking at, Jim?”

“Back then I wasn’t sure, since he had several files out. You know we’ve manufactured a number of things for the Institute. Well, later that night I decided to go look at what was in his desk file drawer. He didn’t hide 'em very well…had copies of the designs for several of the items we made for you. There were schematics for the board from your sonar controls, some for a solar panel and the ones for the circuit boards for the torpedo loader controls, the ones we sent you a couple of months ago. I also saw the sensor diagrams. I made copies of the ones he had.”

Chip bit his lip and briefly lowered his head indicating his deep concern over what he was hearing.

“The next morning I confronted him about why he had those files and he said he had received a call from Admiral Nelson to check on the status of the boards, and since I wasn’t always available he thought he would take it upon himself to check.”

Chip looked directly into the eyes of the engineer. Under his intense stare, Scandini became defensive. “That’s definitely not our procedure. We compartmentalize our information, so no one really has access to everything. You know I always deal with you or Admiral Nelson.”

“So what did you do from there? Why didn’t you go to the Navy, or the admiral?”

“That’s just it, I did. I called Naval Operations…spoke to an Admiral Mandel. He told me to keep on doing what I was doing and to notify him if I noticed anything else. Friday, out of the blue I got a call from Admiral Nelson telling me to send the copies I made to him. He said you would be picking them up. That’s part of what I gave you Monday, didn’t you know?”

Chip shook his head. He had delivered the unopened package to Admiral Nelson at his office at the Institute upon his return from San Diego .

“I’m sorry, Chip.”

“Sorry for what, Jim?”

“For not telling you about the problem when you came in on Monday. I was still trying to get enough information on Mark so I could give you guys some real evidence.”

“Who else knows about this?”

“Just my wife, Cara. She has another set of copies hidden, and even I don’t know where they are.”

“That’s good you have a backup, but Jim, you know you are both at risk if Jocaste knows what you did.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m worried how to get him out of the company and what this is going to do to my contracts.”

Chip eyed the man across from him. “We’ll worry about that when the time comes. Where is Cara now?”

“In San Francisco with her brother.”

“Good. She’s probably safer there.” Chip paused to consider his next move. “I need to go up to the University and gather some information. Any chance you can get a list of Jocaste’s references or contacts from NUU?” At that question the man picked up a manila envelope from the seat and handed it to Chip 

“I thought these might come in handy.”

Chip offered a short-lived smile and took the envelope and opened it, scanning the contents. “Thanks Jim, this should work. How can I keep in touch?”

“You have my number. I’ll be staying home sick for the time being.”

Chip dropped some money on the table and the two left the diner to go their separate ways. After he slid into the seat of his sedan he yawned and only then realized he had been up almost twenty four hours and badly needed some sleep. But first he needed to make a phone call. Security be damned he thought as he found a payphone dropped in some change and punched the numbers. After three rings a drowsy-sounding Kowalski picked up.

“Kowalski, it’s Morton. I need to keep this short. Put on your best college student getup and meet me at the bell tower of New Union University at 1330 hours. I’ll be in civvies. Before you go stop by the security office at the Institute and pick up the admiral’s special two way radios. I’m sure you can figure out something to tell them if they give you a hard time.”

“Yes, sir… anything else?”

“Yeah. When you get there just keep your ears open and act like a student.”

“Yes, sir, I’ll be there, 1330.”

Chip managed to contact a Navy friend who lived just north of Oceanside and arranged for the use of his couch for a much needed nap. His friend agreed to wake him in time to get to the rendezvous with Kowalski and even loaned him some clothes for the mission.  The black slacks, polo shirt and windbreaker jacket were a little loose but were sufficient for his plans. In fact the looseness of the clothing helped hide the bulk from his 45 caliber semi-automatic pistol which he removed from the trunk and stuck in the back of his waistband before setting off.

The University was located a little over an hour’s drive up the coast. At the appointed time, Chip pulled into a visitor’s parking space and fed the meter then made his way to the bell tower. A minute or so later Kowalski walked up to him wearing blue jeans, a UCLA sweatshirt and sneakers. He, too, wore a light jacket. Chip motioned for the rating to follow him over to an isolated area by a grove of trees. Once there Kowalski handed the XO a radio and Chip placed it in his back pocket.

“Sir, what did you find out?”

Chip looked around warily before answering. “Quite a bit, but I can’t be sure how deep this goes so we have to be careful. I do need you to call me something other than sir. How about Doc C and I’ll call you Greg?”

Kowalski was amused by the thought of calling his XO anything but sir or mister and he had a hard time suppressing a smile. He managed to nod his head and “Doc C” continued.

“Apparently someone on the faculty or staff here helped place a saboteur inside the company that supplies our electronics. We need to find out who and how they fit into the scheme. I thought I could gather a little intel by posing as a potential employer and you, maybe you could be an engineering student? I’ll be paying a visit to the placement office. You find the electronics labs, see what type of research they’re doing and act like you want to transfer here to work on one of the projects. See if there’s anything that seems suspicious to you, anything to do with a technology Seaview uses or might use.  Meet me back here at 1500. If you need to contact me, just break squelch and give me time to get away from prying ears.”

“Yes, sir...I mean…sure thing Doc C.”

Chip walked over to the student union and checked out the campus map on the wall, easily locating the placement office. He quickly made it across the campus and climbed the steps at the front of a stately brick building. Upon entering the office he was greeted by a pleasant middle aged woman, who asked him to sign in and take a seat. He smiled his brightest smile and told her he was not seeking a job but was interested in possibly hiring someone and in return, she handed him a set of forms to complete. He spent several minutes considering what cover story he was going to use to help him obtain the desired information. Finally he settled on an alias of Dr. David Collins with a PhD. in electrical engineering. He baited his hook by creating an ad for a fictitious job at a startup company handling military contracts. The “ad” indicated the company sought to employ a recent grad with an engineering or science background.

When he handed the forms back to the woman at the desk, she glanced over them, then looked up and smiled. “I see you need someone for military type projects. You might want to talk with Dr. Zhu in the earth sciences program. He does scientific research for the Navy I think it is and has placed a number of students in jobs like yours. He keeps a list of his recent students who might be able to fill your position.”

“Sounds like you know who does what around here ma’am. I think I’ll contact your Dr. Zhu.” Chip started to walk out but thinking it might be a bad idea to leave a paper trail he turned back to the woman. “If you don’t mind I’ll take that ad with me. If I have no success with him I’ll bring it back. I am in a hurry to fill the position.” Chip took the papers from the woman and politely inquired where the earth science building was located. She pointed it out and when he stood close to see where she was pointing, she giggled. 

As he walked across the quadrangle towards the building in question Chip tried to piece together the parts of the puzzle he already had. Why does the name Zhu ring a bell?  He snapped his fingers as he recalled that it was Zhu Chi who was listed as a reference on Mark Jocaste’s work application. That gave him a somewhat tenuous link between the school and the problems at SamsonTech but he needed to know more. Taking a chance that Kowalski was available he clicked the microphone on the radio. In a short time the two were at their rendezvous.

“What did you find out?”

 

“Looks like nobody in the electronics lab is working on anything remotely military or at least they aren’t talkin’ about it. There was a guy braggin’ about havin’ a job with one of the earth science profs building some type of fancy sensor. He didn’t say much more and I didn’t wanna blow my cover. Sir…do you think it means anything?”

“Could be. One of the earth science researchers places a lot of students in military contract jobs so I want to meet him.”

The men then put together a plan to allow “Doctor Collins” to meet with the professor while “Greg” did a little snooping. In short order they reached the earth sciences building and while Kowalski made his way towards the classrooms, Chip moved through the building until he located the faculty offices. He greeted the young woman sitting at the small reception desk, introduced himself and inquired if he could meet with Dr. Zhu. As she studied the tall blonde in front of her she smiled, cocked her head and twirled the ends of her long hair with her fingers.

“I’ll see if he’s in,” she said as she picked up the phone. After mumbling a few words she hung up she announced that Dr. Zhu was on his way. The woman again started to twirl her hair and pretended to study something on her desk, but the whole time she kept an eye on him. Chip was mildly amused at the woman’s behavior but when a figure appeared next to the desk he turned his full attention to him.

“I am Zhu Chi, how can I help you?”

Chip observed the man standing in front of him. He was a good six inches shorter and slightly stockier than the officer and he had shoulder length jet black hair and equally dark eyes. He dressed rather casually, and could easily be mistaken for a student. He appeared relaxed and his smile appeared genuine so Chip reached out and shook his proffered hand.

“Dave…Dave Collins. I heard you were the man to see. I’m looking for a recent grad to work for my electronics company. We do government contract work and I was told you helped place a lot of former students in those types of jobs.”

The professor looked at his visitor for a moment and Chip could see his eyes had gone cold. When he finally responded it was in a subdued, almost suspicious tone. “I do seismic studies. How would that research fit in with your company?”

Chip had to think quickly and hoped his story sounded plausible. He lowered his voice to a whisper. “I, ah ... one of the projects we are looking at bidding on is for the development of some oceanographic sensors. I might be able to use someone who knows a good bit about oceanography since it isn’t my forte.”

Zhu’s eyes widened and he produced a broad smile. “Ah so you really want a creative mind to help you design and test them in real-life scenarios.”

Chip nodded in agreement. “Exactly.”

The professor stood quietly for what seemed to Chip like an eternity. After less than a minute he ended his silence. “Come with me, I want to show you something.”

Chip’s heart began to pound as Zhu led him down the hall and to a corner laboratory. As he passed through the door he noted that the lock was a high security type, similar to those on his own office door. When they finally stopped in front of a heavy wood door Zhu unlocked it and led the way inside. To Chip’s amazement the small room was covered from floor to ceiling with some of the most advanced computers he had ever seen. If the circumstances had been different, he would have been salivating, but he studied the setup intently as he continued to listen to Zhu.

“I make all this available to my graduate students. They are able to create and view a three dimensional model of seismic activity. With this tool they could perhaps design better monitors. I understand some students I placed are working on similar projects. Impressive, no?”

Chip openly smiled at the man. “Very. I love technology and I’ve never seen some of this. Dr. Zhu do you mind showing me an example of your students’ work? I’d like to see some of their potential. Of course, everything you tell me is in strictest confidence.”

Zhu bowed his head. “I can show you some of my own work. I don’t have access to the work of my students.”

Chip was suspicious of the man’s last statement but nodded and waited while the professor started up one of the miniature workstations. In minutes, a highly detailed 3D diagram appeared on the computer screen. Using a combination of keyboard commands and a toggle switch located on the adjacent console the professor easily manipulated the image. Chip was impressed by the detail he saw and by Zhu’s skill with the system and he shared his feelings with the scientist. As the officer continued to watch some familiar numbers caught his eye. Along the bottom of the screen image were the coordinates for a place he knew was located off the southern California coast between Los Angeles and the Hawaiian Islands . Chip turned to the professor and inquired where the man did his research.

“Anywhere in the Pacific. I received a fellowship to study transverse faults.”

Not wishing to reveal his familiarity with the faults Chip changed the subject. “Now about your students. Do you have contact information for the ones you think might be interested?”

“Ah yes, the business at hand. Let me get those for you.”

Zhu held his hand out indicating Chip should leave the room and he locked the door behind them. He then led Chip out of the lab and around the corner to his office. After rustling around in some files he produced two sheets of paper and handed them to his guest. Chip was certain he had what he needed and he was more than ready to leave. He was feeling exhausted from a lack of sleep and his self imposed facade. He bid a polite goodbye to the professor and walked swiftly out of the building into the open air. 

Kowalski was waiting somewhat impatiently for his XO to return to their designated meeting place. In his hand was a paper with what he thought might be a key piece of information. He was relieved when the officer walked up and he even let a broad grin split his face. Chip looked around before turning back to the rating. He raised his eyebrows inquisitively and Kowalski began to explain what he had come across.

“Er… Doc.  I did like you said and acted like I wanted to join up with one of the research projects here. I told them I was interested in learning to design sonar equipment.”

Chip smiled to himself at the man’s initiative. It certainly made sense for him to talk about something very familiar to him.

“Well there was this one guy who said he was studying echolocation in the deep ocean and he was working with a Dr. Zhu cataloguing sound profiles. He gave me this.”  The rating handed over a graph of a hydro-acoustic profile and Chip instantly recognized what it was.

“Did he say exactly what the good professor was cataloguing?”

“Not exactly. I asked him what kind of hydrophones and what type of boat he used when he went out to gather the data. He said he never saw the equipment and he never even had to go out. Said the Dr. was able to pick up the sounds from his computers here.”

Chip was nearly speechless. Things were coming together and the picture was not a bright one.

“Good work, Kowalksi. That’s great information. With what I found out, we might just be able to solve this puzzle. I’m still not sure how Seaview is involved but if she is it can’t be good.” Chip paused and sighed. “To tell you the truth, I’m tired and hungry. What say we get something to eat?”

The rating nodded and the two made arrangements to meet at a nearby steak house before parting and heading for their respective vehicles. Though Chip was very tired his mind still raced with all the new information he and Kowalski had acquired. As he reached his sedan he unlocked it, pulled the door open and started to climb inside. When he attempted to close the door he felt resistance. The sound of breathing followed by cold hard steel of a gun muzzle on his neck caused him to freeze and a deep menacing voice cut through him. “I’ve been expecting you, Doctor Collins!”  

 

****

Handcuffed and shackled, Chip was led by four well-armed men in fatigues to the back of a waiting van where he was shoved inside then driven to an unmarked, single-story building on the outskirts of San Diego . After being dragged from the van he was marched through the doors and down into the basement where with one last good shove he was pitched face-first to the floor. Before he knew it he was seated in a chair in the center of the room with his shackles attached to a large bolt in the floor.

As he licked the blood from his newly split lower lip, Chip studied the retreating guards hoping to glimpse some detail on their clothing that might indicate who they were. Unfortunately, he saw no insignia, none of them wore any jewelry and their handguns were tucked inside their holsters.

After the door was slammed shut the captive officer spent several minutes studying his surroundings. The sparsely furnished room was harshly lit by a single incandescent bulb and except for a three- by-three foot square area occupied by a two-way mirror, thick soundproofing covered the walls and ceiling. A sudden violent shiver made him keenly aware the room was being kept very cold. Obviously it’s to make me as uncomfortable as possible. Suspecting there was a hidden microphone, he decided to keep that and other thoughts to himself.

****

Chip was forced to remain in the same paralyzing position for several hours so by the time a guard entered and shoved a bottle of water in his face and told him to drink he was unable to assist and much of the water splashed across his shirt. As he backed out the door the guard continued to laugh heartily. Suddenly the light went out and despite his best efforts the exhausted and hungry officer dozed off.

It seemed to Chip that he had just fallen asleep when he was startled awake by the glare of the light and the thump of the door being thrown open. A large man he had never seen immediately began shouting questions.  “We know you must be working for a foreign government. Who are you working for? Multiple trips to San Diego , access to paperwork you shouldn’t have. What are you trying to do spy? Pry into government research? Who, who are you selling secrets to?” With the last question the man slapped his hand down on the table and turned away from his prisoner. He immediately turned back around and practically screamed. “Who are you working for?” 

Chip sat staring at the man whose face was in his, even when he began yelling threats to hold him on charges of espionage. He almost chuckled at the irony of the situation. You’ve got the wrong guy, guys. Once the man had backed off he finally took the opportunity to ask his own questions. If they were the police they would identify themselves and give him a drink and let him up to pee so he started there.

“Who are you? Police? FBI?”

Guess not.  No, he was dealing with either one of the many federal or military intelligence agencies or he was being held by agents of another country and he had to find out which. “What is it you need to know?”

After circling his captive a couple of times the questioner again leaned down. “I want to know who you work for and what you’re after!!”

“Morton, Charles, Lt. Commander , U.S. Naval Reserve, I.D number USN 010…”

“Cut the crap!” he shouted.  I wanna know who you’re working for!!”

“I work for the Nelson Institute of Marine Research. If you call them, they will tell…”

“Damn it, we know who you are Morton… and we know where you work. We want to know who you’re selling secrets to. If you tell us now we might be able to keep you from being shot by a firing squad.” Then, as if he suddenly had more important things to do the man abruptly turned and left the room, slamming the door behind him. 

His interrogator’s parting comment convinced Chip that he was dealing with the military, though he was unsure which branch or agency. He needed to find out but first he had to get their attention so he stood up as far as his chains would allow then forced the chair back with his legs. It skidded a few feet before overturning with a loud clatter. Unfortunately there was no response to the noise and he was left with two choices: to stand bent halfway over or sit on the floor. He chose to sit and after about an hour he lay down on his side and curled up. At least it’s warmer this way he thought as he again drifted off to sleep.

 

****Saturday morning on Seaview

 

Lee awoke at 0530 much better rested than he had been all week. After stops to inspect the radio log and each control room work station in turn, he ordered Cermak to surface and reset the inertial navigator with the satellite. Within thirty minutes and without incident Seaview was again on her way towards the first set of coordinates. At 0800 O’Brien arrived and assumed the watch and after conferring for nearly thirty minutes Lee left to get some of Cookie’s fresh brewed coffee   

Along the way to the wardroom Lee encountered Volz with his security escort and he invited the guest to join him. Due to the late hour the room was empty and quiet and the two quickly chose their preferred food and beverages from the serving table then sat down. The conversation remained light, dealing with such subjects as the weather, family, sailing, and the men’s respective educations. Having no desire to anger the man who he felt held his crew’s safety in his hands Lee scrupulously avoided the topics of politics and science.

Once back in the control room, Lee found Nelson and Sharkey in conference at the chart table. As he shook his head he signaled for O’Brien to meet him at the computer. “Bob, I need you to have our best men at duty stations here for the mid day watch. Make sure everyone has taken a break and eaten before we arrive at the site. Also see that everything is put away and have every man police his area.  We could be running silent for quite a while. I’m going to make a quick tour of the boat. Call if anything comes up.”

O’Brien immediately pulled the duty rosters from their bin and soon his voice could be heard on the boat-wide intercom relaying the captain’s orders.

With a last glance at Nelson and the COB , Lee headed for engineering and once there he discussed with the petty officer in charge the various ways to ensure silent running was just that. He next met with the crew in the power plant, ensuring all the batteries were fully charged and the backups were charging in their racks. His last stop was a place he had not visited during his previous walk through, the forward torpedo room. There he called for the electricians mate to inspect the control panel to the torpedo loaders. When that circuit board was also determined to have a fault in the wiring he ordered it fixed immediately. Once Lee was satisfied that he had done all he could to prepare the boat he returned to the control room and joined the admiral, Shaw and Volz in the nose.

As the visiting scientist stared out the windows Lee came up behind him. “Mr. Volz, are you ready? We’re nearing the first coordinates.” He then looked at his watch to quantify his statement. “Perhaps twenty minutes.” When Volz turned to face him the captain continued his instructions. “We’re about to rig for silent running. That means no unnecessary movement. Communicate in writing, or whispers, but no loud talking.”

“Captain, I understand your rules and yes, I am quite ready. I have been waiting for this for a good while. My journey to assist you has been a long one.”

Lee nodded though he couldn’t hide the suspicion in his eyes. He quickly turned to O’Brien, who immediately issued the directive to rig for silent running. Within a few minutes most of the noise on the boat ceased.

Earlier Volz had explained to the command team that he had chosen to direct them to this particular device because it was easy to locate, lying at only 3500 feet and anchored to the top of the seamount. He had also suggested they approach the sensor from the south. The captain took the advice and had the boat leveled off at 3500 feet and oriented Seaview on a heading of 20 degrees. Shaw’s hydrophones were then released and the bow lights were turned up to full power. As the boat moved imperceptibly forward the nose camera recorded every activity. Fortunately, it took less than twenty minutes and only one pass to visually locate their needle in the haystack.

The five foot wide float at the top of the 100 foot tether was spotted first then the attached hydrophone with data collector was located about forty feet below the float. It took a little longer to pinpoint the three microphones with parabolic shields some 30 feet below the hydrophone. As expected, the entire setup was attached by a chain to an anchor imbedded in the seamount. Seaview set up station keeping at eight hundred feet from the objects, a safe distance to work but just within reach of the beam from the bow lights. In order to determine if any sound was being generated by the units that might signal they were being tracked the auxiliary hydrophones were directed at the sensor. Though he detected nothing Shaw was instructed to continue monitoring for changes during the remainder of the operation.

Unfortunately, due to the distance between the boat and the sensor the fine details of the setup were difficult to see so after instructing Sharkey to release his remote controlled camera from the diving bell hatch Nelson used his portable control box to guide the camera towards the microphone portion of the unit. Once satisfied he had sufficient documentation he moved the camera upwards towards the remaining portion of the unit where he clicked off several more pictures. In just over thirty minutes the camera was returned to Seaview and the admiral left the control room to retrieve it. When his photos were developed, Nelson returned to the control room waving the prints like a proud papa with his baby’s first photos. Nelson continued to grin as he showed Lee the amazingly clear black and white images. Lee could only shake his head in amusement. The command team and their two visitors then studied the photos more closely and from what they could tell the sensor was a duplicate of the model the admiral had received from OPNAV.

In order to retrieve the sensor the command officers, Sharkey and Volz decided it best to attach a line at the base of the float then use a laser to cut the tether near the base since that option offered the best chance of keeping the unit intact. In order to attach a line, however, it was necessary for Seaview to make a pass above the float and attach a grasping hook. That took only two tries for the devices and the tether to be towed up towards the surface. When Seaview reached a depth of 600 feet divers successfully retrieved the unit. Volz was told to remain in the nose with the captain while the admiral headed for the missile room to examine the device and disable the microphones. Once that was accomplished he ordered the unit to be taken to his lab for further examination and from there he called for Volz to be brought to him. 

 

****

In slightly over two hours Seaview arrived at the second site and Shaw’s hydrophones were again released. It was not long before the sonar specialist turned away from his display and waved to attract the captain’s attention. When Shaw mouthed the word “engines” and pointed upward with his index finger Lee snatched up the auxiliary headphones. Within seconds, the screen began to flash, an indication that there was a match to an existing hydro-acoustic profile. When it was determined to be that of an engine common on Chinese freighters Lee immediately sent a runner to engineering to order a full stop.

While Lee had been monitoring sonar O’Brien had picked up a note from Sparks that read “Chinese, possibly Min.” He handed it to the captain who in turn gave it to Nelson. Satisfied that their contact was likely a commercial vessel from a region of China heavily involved in shipping and not a military vessel the command team deemed it safe and continued the search.  

It was expected that the collection of the second sensor was a little more difficult since it was anchored more deeply and the tether was attached to the wall of the seamount. However, FS-1 was used to snag the line and it was easily retrieved. With the item checked and stored away the admiral ordered Seaview to move on to the next location. 

According to Volz, the third sensor was the most deeply anchored. Knowing they would be working close to Seaview’s crush depth, the tension among the crew intensified. At that depth they could not use the flying sub so they repeated the method used to collect the first sensor. Despite the depth, the crew was able to retrieve the third sensor in record time. Fortunately, no ships were detected anywhere within the search area and Seaview again moved away.

By the time Seaview began her move towards the fourth sensor, everyone on the boat was fatigued. The control room crew was rotated out and those who had been on duty were allowed to relax and eat their bagged lunches. Even Lee felt hungry and asked that he and Volz be brought a sandwich and a thermos of coffee. Cookie personally delivered the Captain’s meal, which included a fudge brownie as a bonus. Lee was a little embarrassed by the extra attention but he thanked the chef for his good service. While they ate in the nose, Volz appeared in good humor even telling a few quiet jokes.     

Nelson was pleased with the way things were progressing, so much so that he decided to leave the control room. “Lee, I’ll be in my lab checking on the data unit on the first sensor. Advise me when you approach the next site.”

Lee responded in the affirmative, but when the admiral made no attempt to take their guest with him he frowned. He then caught Nelson’s steely blue gaze and the slight shaking of his head and turned to Volz. “Sir, would you care to stretch your legs? I’m going to take a little walk around the boat.”

“Most gracious of you, Captain, however, I think I will be fine right here.”

Lee nodded “Very well. I should be back in less than thirty minutes.”

The captain stopped next to Cermak at the conn and gave him whispered orders then he headed aft. Shortly thereafter Volz’s security escort arrived to stand by in the nose. Lee headed directly to the missile room to check on the condition of the devices they had already retrieved. Finding each of them set safely in padded crates he left and made stops in engineering and the reactor room. As he walked down the corridor towards the storage compartments he caught a glimpse of the admiral rounding a corner. He picked up speed and caught up with him when he stopped at the hatch to compartment 21.

“Admiral, is there something wrong?”

“No Lee, why?”

“Sir, you said you would be in your lab. I thought…”

“I didn’t know I had to clear my movements with you, Captain” Nelson replied tersely.

Lee was instantly apologetic and grinned. “I’m sorry, sir. I guess I’m just a little jumpy. Before Lee could ask Nelson about the sensor data, the admiral walked off down the corridor, leaving the captain shaking his head. 

****

Lee was intimately familiar with the feel of his “gray lady” so when Seaview came to a complete stop he knew it right away and practically ran to the control room. Upon entering the aft hatch could see the intense looks on the faces of both officers and crew. He stepped behind Cermak, who himself was looking over the shoulder of sonar specialist Kelly and quizzed him.

“What’s happening? Why are we stopped?” 

“Fast propellers and they were staying with us, matching course and speed.”

Lee had the spare headphones at his ear for about ten seconds. He again asked the sonar operator for the position of the sub.

“Stopped, same distance out.”

“They know we’re here. Kelly, go active, we need our eyes and ears. Mister Cermak, look for us a place to hide!”

The captain grabbed up the microphone on the periscope island and breaking from silent running gave additional orders. “Engineering, I need flank speed. Helm, ten degree down bubble, 40 degrees left rudder!  Mr. Shaw, Mr. O’Brien report to the control room on the double! Missile room, report!”

Sharkey answered quickly. “Missile room, aye.”

“Are torpedoes two and four still loaded?”

“Aye, sir.”

“Load one and three!”

There was a brief pause before the COB responded in the affirmative. In very short order Shaw and O’Brien appeared in the control room. They were soon joined by Nelson, who made a rapid descent down the spiral stairs. The captain continued to bark out orders.

“Mr. Shaw, I need you to deploy your hydrophones, now! Mr. O’Brien, assist Mr. Cermak and make sure we don’t hit a seamount and have some places to land if we have to go deep. Kelly, where is the sub now?”

“Steady at range 5000 yards.”

“Helm, right full rudder.”

The admiral moved over to the radio shack and handed a piece of paper to the officer. “ Sparks , I need you to send this message to COMSUBPAC immediately.”

Sparks took the coded message, typed it into the teletypewriter and then hit the transmit button. No response. He tried again but received a no transmission code on his headset. “Sorry, Admiral, we’re too deep for anything but local transmissions.”

Nelson patted him on the shoulder. “That’s okay Sparks , keep trying.”

The communications officer nodded his assent and continued with his attempts. Nelson walked briskly over to the chart table and began to discuss options with O’Brien.

Volz had been sitting in the nose but now stood silently, watching all the activity with considerable interest. Lee was unnerved by his intense gaze and momentarily lost his train of thought. Mere seconds later he managed to return his attention to his maneuvers. He glanced over at Shaw and seeing him with his head buried in the console he walked over and tapped the CWO on the shoulder. Shaw raised his finger, indicating he needed a minute. Then he turned to the captain.

“Sir, it’s a sub, but our system doesn’t recognize the profile. With the interference, I can only hear a single screw, and not much else.”

 Lee cursed inwardly. If the most experienced sonar man in the Navy couldn’t recognize the boat, it is probably one I need to be very concerned about.

“Kelly, distance?”

“Same skipper, still 5000 yards.”

Sparks , try and contact that sub. All channels.”

 The radio man responded immediately. “Aye, sir.”

Nelson joined Lee and the two stared at the charts in front of them for several tense minutes. Finally Lee pointed to a location. “There, that’s where we need to be.”

The site was on the top of the slightly flat topped seamount, but there was enough irregularity to the terrain to allow for a hiding place. He and O’Brien made the course calculations, each checking the other’s figures and the captain turned to make the course correction. Lee continued his shouted orders.

“Helm, go to a heading of 173 relative, five degree down bubble on the planes. Mr. O’Brien I need you to watch the fathometer. Mr. Cermak, watch the depth gauges. I want us to go to 4200 feet and level off.”

Everyone scurried to take up their positions. Almost everyone made it.

 

Without warning, three sequential explosions rocked the Seaview. Momentum continued to carry her forward and down but she eventually slowed and came to a stop.

In the control room the emergency lights blinked on and cast a red glow over everyone and everything. When the backup power system kicked in Lee used the rails from the periscope island to pull himself up from the deck. He quickly looked around to assess the condition of his crew and upon seeing that everyone was able to return to his station his thoughts rapidly turned to the possible sources for the explosions. Torpedoes? No, neither sonar system had picked up anything. Bombs? That could be catastrophic. The sensors onboard could they be…Instinct caused him to turn around and once again he came eye to eye with Volz. The stare down lasted only seconds but his suspicions lingered, even while he fought to gain control of the boat.  

“Damage control, report!” No response.

He clicked the mic again. “Damage control, give your report!” There was still no answer.

“Engineering, reactor room, I need full power, we’re losing trim!”

No answer. Lee threw the microphone at the chart table in frustration.  Admiral Nelson had hit his head and was bleeding slightly from a cut over his eye but he assigned himself to check out the condition of the boat and get repairs underway. “O’Brien, you stay and assist the captain. Cermak, you’re with me.”

Both officers then hustled aft, headed for engineering.  The captain continued to try and make order out of the chaos “Mr. O’Brien. Arrange a detail to get on that comm system!”

“Aye sir” he replied crisply as he too scurried aft.

“Sparks, any word from that sub?”

“Negative sir, nothing.”

Knowing there was still an unidentified threat out there and they were at risk from additional explosions, Lee had to decide on a strategy using severely limited information. He also knew they were sinking and there was only one way to stop that.

He shouted to the rating manning the ballast controls. “Blow all ballast and trim tanks!”

Seaman Tatic repeated the order and within a few minutes they could hear the sound of water being expelled and the boat began to rise. Relief was only momentary when another explosion could be heard and within seconds another shock wave hit them. From his position on the deck the more subdued captain ordered Tatic to re-flood the trim tanks. They were going nowhere for now.

**** Saturday morning

 

Chip finally awoke and to the degree he could he righted himself and shook his limbs to try and improve his circulation. With the isolation of the room he couldn’t tell how long he had been there or what time of day it was. Some of his questions were answered when the door opened part of the way and he could hear the tail end of a conversation between the guards.

“Go get some breakfast. We’ll take care of him.”

The statement caused a momentary spasm in the pit of Chip’s stomach but he swallowed to suppress it and looked up at the man who had entered.

“Well commander, it seems you have some friends. I’ve been ordered to release you.”

Chip was surprised and grateful but he revealed nothing to the man before him. His captor unlocked the padlock that secured the shackles to the floor and pulled Chip to an upright position then he pointed to the door.

“Out!”

Still chained, Chip complied and waddled out of the room and into the hall. There he was met by a second guard who pushed him along and assisted him up the stairs and out a door. The bright sunlight caused his eyes to water, but he eventually focused on his car, parked less than twenty feet away. Only after reaching it was he released from his shackles and handed his keys.

“I.D’s on the seat and no, you don’t get the gun back. We wouldn’t want you to do anything foolish.”

From out of nowhere a third man holding an assault rifle came over and pointed it at the officer and indicated he should get in the car and leave. He did as instructed and made his way out of the parking area and out of sight of his former captors. Before he had traveled more than a few blocks, a car pulled in behind him and another pulled in front effectively blocking him in and forcing him to stop.

“What the he…,” he began before catching a glimpse of one of the men in the cars.

He breathed a sigh of relief and as the man came up to his now open door he let out a very tired sounding “Kowalski.”

“Yes, sir. I’m sorry it took me so long to get to you but I had to get someone’s attention first.”

Chip furrowed his brow. “By someone you mean…?”

“Well, sir… it was Admiral Starke.”

Chip was not at all surprised. “So what exactly did you tell him?”

“I know you wouldn’t just miss dinner so I decided something was up. I found a phone and called the Institute and Commander Gordon contacted Admiral Starke. He sent these guys to meet me. We’ve been looking for you most of the night.”

Chip was suddenly uncomfortable being the focus of everyone’s attention so motioned Kowalski aside. “How did you find me here?”

“Sir, I don’t know all the details, just that at about 0500 one of the guys checked in at headquarters and was told to meet you here and have you escorted to Admiral Starke’s office. I guess we’re to head there.”

Considering how critical Starke had been of the officers of Seaview in the past, Chip didn’t know whether he should be happy or concerned. Regardless, he didn’t blame Kowalski for contacting Starke and took time to show the rating some appreciation for his rescue. “Thanks, Kowalski, for everything. Let’s go see the admiral.”

The rating smiled, and nodded. “Yes, sir, anytime.”

****

Within thirty minutes the caravan of three reached the offices of COMSUBPAC and soon Chip was again alone, seated at the end of a conference room table. The hot seat again he grumbled to himself just as Admiral Jiggs Starke entered the room. Chip jumped up and started to salute but remembering he was in his civvies he simply greeted the admiral with a nod.

“Commander,” said Starke as he looked the blond officer up and down. “Sit down!”

Chip complied and girded himself for what was next.

“What do you think you were doing? I sent you that telephone number so you would follow that lead and get back to me, not so you could put months worth of undercover work in jeopardy by going into that school. If I hadn’t heard about your whereabouts from your man, you would still be with Admiral Mandel’s goons. He thinks you’re a traitor and you haven’t done anything to prove him wrong. If you were under my command I would...” He stopped short of launching into a tirade about naval discipline, a speech Chip had heard or heard about on numerous occasions.

Respectfully, Chip addressed his superior. “Permission to speak freely, sir?”

“I’m sure I couldn’t stop you, Commander,” Starke growled as he continued to glare at the younger officer.

“Thank you, sir, I would like to explain.”

“Go on.”

“Sir, I called the phone number you gave me and as you know it led me to SamsonTech one of our electronics suppliers. One of their employees was accessing the Institute and Seaview’s design plans. Jim Scandini, the owner of SamsonTech, told me that Admiral Mandel knew about it.”

Starke shook his head. “Why am I not surprised?”

“Sir, I pushed Jim and he told me his employee was a former student of a professor Zhu at New Union University . The professor apparently does research for the Navy and I was trying to find out if there was a connection between the Professor’s work and the espionage at SamsonTech. I thought I had. Kowalski found out that some other former students of the professor have been placed in strategic jobs at other electronics firms with Navy contracts. That sounded odd to me considering he works in earth sciences and not electronics. After seeing what the professor had in his computer, I can only guess he involves them in the design of monitoring devices. That’s all I could find out. All of this has It has me very concerned for Seaview. She may have been sabotaged.” 

 “Commander, why did you feel the need to act on your own? Why not come to me, and let me decide how to take care of it?”

“Sir, after what happened to me on Seaview I wasn’t sure what to think or who to talk to.”  Starke raised an inquisitive eyebrow.

“Sir, you didn’t know?”

“Know what, Commander?”

“I was told by Admiral Nelson to stand down and without any warning I was sent off the boat in front of the crew. That’s not like the admiral, at all. Even Captain Crane didn’t seem surprised. I was never informed why and I was banished from Institute property, cutting me off from any information sources. When I ran into Seaman Kowalski and found he was off the boat too I knew something was going on. There were a lot of other odd things going on even before the cruise.”

“Odd, Commander?”

“Yes, sir. Both Kowalski and I were sent on unusual errands for Admiral Nelson and at the last minute I had to load some high security cargo.”

Starke alternately paced and stood very still, and it was obvious to Chip he was building up to something. All he could do was to sit and wait.

“You had no clue about why you were relieved?”

“No, sir.”

“And you don’t know why your man missed the cruise?”

“No, sir.”

“Mystery assignments? Secret cargo?”

Chip shook his head. Starke then broke out into the broadest smile Chip had ever seen on a flag officer in his presence.

“That old goat, he’s behind this.”

“Sir?”

“Harry…er…Admiral Nelson. He did this. He set up every move.” 

Chip couldn’t conceal his confusion. 

The admiral walked over to where he was sitting, put his hands down on the table and looked him directly in the eye. 

“Commander, I’m going to give you some information and if it ever gets out I told you I will nail your sorry six to the wall. Understand?” Starke waited for Chip’s acknowledgement.  

“Completely, sir.”

Starke nodded several times.

“Remember, I only learned about all of this over the last few days…”

Upon hearing the full story Chip grimaced.

“He found exactly what he wanted; a saboteur. He said you had some documents in your cabin that you shouldn’t have, and you were snooping in cargo that you had no business in. He even suggested that you were the ringleader. I told him I didn’t believe it and he said it didn’t matter what I believed.”

Starke stood staring at the younger officer waiting for a reaction, but Chip maintained his composure despite the accusations.

Starke then surprised Chip. “I told him you were one of Nelson’s hand picked boys and you were loyal to a fault.”

Chip appreciated Starke’s comment but there was still Seaview to consider. “Begging the Admiral’s pardon.”

Starke glared at Chip. “I’m not finished, Commander.”

Duly chastised, Chip remained quiet.

“I spoke to Admiral Nelson just before he left. He said he would take care of things on Seaview’s end and told me to give him some time and he would be back in touch. If I didn’t hear from him in forty eight hours I was to give you that phone number. He wouldn’t have done that if he thought you were a spy.” 

Chip thought about Starke’s last statement for a moment. Nelson’s behavior of late was uncharacteristic-or was it? The man was one of the most strategic thinkers he knew, in or out of the Navy. Though open to new ideas in areas of science and technology, in battle he would leave little to chance. Chip knew there was more going on behind the scenes but time was not on their side if Seaview was in danger. He had to press on.  

 “Sir?”

“Go ahead.”

“If I may ask what does all this have to do with Seaview’s mission?”

“Admiral Mandel let his suspicions investigation get a little out of hand. He involved this command and Nelson’s submarine without getting his facts straight. He has put everyone in danger and run roughshod over this entire base and I’ve had it up to here!” he declared as he raised his open hand above his head. 

“Sir, what is the mission?” 

Starke huffed loudly before sitting in the chair across the table. “There is a man onboard Seaview. He’s showing Admiral Nelson the locations of some sensors that were set out to listen in on our undersea operations in the sea lanes between here and Hawaii .”

Suddenly the puzzle pieces fit together for Chip Morton. Every muscle in his body tensed and a wave of fear passed over him as the thought about Seaview and her crew and what might be happening. He thought about the saboteur at SamsonTech and wondered what damage he had done to the boat’s systems, including her defenses. He also worried about the connection to Dr. Zhu. Could the sensors he was working on be used to monitor Seaview and could the information he collected be used to harm her and her crew? 

“Sir, where is Seaview? Have you heard from Admiral Nelson?”

“We haven’t heard from them since they met up with the cruiser and picked up the passengers.”

“There’s more than one, sir?”

“We sent a tactical sonar expert along to help locate the sensors. Admiral Nelson asked for him too.”

Chip nodded, realizing that without Kowalski, Seaview’s own sonar expert onboard, the boat would be at a distinct disadvantage. The admiral had also taken care of that little detail before sending Kowalski ashore. 

“Sir, I think it would be definitely worthwhile for us to compare notes in detail and to come up with a plan to support Seaview. Given how the rest of Admiral Mandel’s investigation has turned out, I’m not sure he can be counted on. Based on what I saw at the University, I think Dr. Zhu probably knows better than Admiral Mandel where Seaview is.”

“I agree, Commander.”  

The two officers then put their head together and began to construct a plan.

 

****Saturday afternoon on Seaview

 

Everyone in the control room breathed a sigh of relief when minor repairs were sufficient to bring most systems back on line. However, it was still unknown how much if any outer hull damage had been sustained. As he stood in the control room, Lee mulled over possible solutions. They were still too deep to launch the flying sub or send out divers to do an assessment and the cameras on the exterior of the boat had been disabled by the shock waves from the blasts. Suddenly an idea clicked.

“Control to Admiral Nelson.”

“I’m in the reactor room, Lee. What do you need?”

“Any chance of sending out your new camera to check for damage?”

“Might work. I’ll have Sharkey set it up.”

In less than ten minutes Nelson arrived in the control room with his remote device. He skillfully guided the camera past most areas of the hull and sail before having it reeled in, cleaned and stowed. Some thirty minutes later they had a full set of clear photos to examine. What they saw was not at all what they expected.

“I don’t get it, Admiral, but I’m grateful there’s no damage. But why set off explosions that don’t have much effect?”

“Don’t forget, not all boats area as sophisticated or as well built as Seaview. But you might be on to something.”  Nelson waved his index finger in the air a sure sign he was thinking. “No other boat is going to go this deep. The only other threat to whatever is out there is a DSV and without weapons they wouldn’t be much of one. It’s as if they were waiting for us, for Seaview specifically.”

“Who do you think it is, Admiral?”

Nelson waved the Captain over to a corner of the control room away from the nose and their guest.

“The People’s Republic, who else?”

“What could they gain from this…do you think it’s Seaview they want? Do you think Volz is involved, that he knew this would happen?”

“I don’t know, Lee, but I’m about to find out.”

The admiral strode purposefully towards the nose and after making a brief stop to consult with O’Brien Lee fell in behind, closing the crash doors behind them. Though Shaw was still at his station he kept his head down. 

With fire in his eyes Nelson looked up at Volz and ordered him to sit. The defector was defiant and remained standing.

“I will not take orders from you, Admiral!”

In a show of force the captain stood immediately behind his CO. Volz was unmoved by the gesture.

“You will not intimidate me. I have information you need.”

“Need for what Mr. Volz? I think we know quite enough already.”

“They know you are out here. You are nothing but mice in a trap. I am the only one who knows where the remaining sensors are placed and I alone will choose whether or not you find out where they are!”

 Nelson pointed to a chair at the table. “Sit down or I will have the Master at Arms chain you to the supports.” Volz slowly complied but never took his eyes off the admiral.

“Good. Now Mister Volz, if that is your real name, tell us what you know about these sensors. All of it this time!”

Volz just stared at his questioner. Lee tapped Nelson on the arm and the admiral moved aside to let his captain have his turn. Lee leaned down, placed both palms on the table and came nose to nose with the man and began his rapid fire interrogation.

“You told me that you graduated from Nadyev University with a degree in ocean science. I know there is no university at Nadyev! You said you had been sailing most of your life. You don’t know a jib from a bed sheet. And I sincerely doubt that you have family in New York City . Why…why were you in such a hurry to get us to these sensors? You have a schedule to keep? What do you know about the data collection? How would you know unless you were a part of that too? What other lies have you told us? 

Lee slapped the table, causing Volz to jump then reached up to grab the man by his neck. He was interrupted when Shaw shouted out.

“That sub is moving in. I hear torpedo doors opening.”

Upon hearing the news, Volz smiled evilly.

After the admiral saw to Volz’s removal and climbed the spiral stairs Lee grabbed the chart table microphone. “Engineering, give us full speed. Helm, come around to a heading of 227.”

He clicked off the mic and when he opened the crash doors he found O’Brien waiting for orders. “Bob, we can’t get into a dogfight at this depth, we’re heading for that seamount.”

O’Brien quickly studied the chart then moved behind the helmsman, ready to relay course changes.

Seaview was making its way rapidly toward the seamount but because she was now making considerable noise, Lee knew she could be easily tracked by the rogue sub. As they neared their target area he repeatedly requested updates from Kelly on sonar, Patterson, now on hydrophones and Shaw.

“Torpedoes in the water!! Kelly and Shaw announced nearly instantaneously.

 The Captain called for evasive action and Seaview managed to make it to an area above the structure as two torpedoes impacted the wall of the seamount just below her. The shockwaves were much more intense than the previous ones and the sub was slowed to nearly one quarter speed. Fortunately, Seaview managed to skid to a stop on top of the plateau. Not only were her vital systems again out, but her stern was resting over the edge of the plateau. Soon, two compartments began to ship water. 

“Damage control report!” shouted Lee over the dead microphone.

Suddenly Lee heard a very unfamiliar whoosh. What the hell?

**** Saturday afternoon

 

Chip Morton watched and listened as Admiral Starke lambasted Admiral Mandel over the telephone. Though outwardly he maintained his stoic façade, inside he savored every word.

“What I want? What I want is for you to get your thumb out of your six and give me the information I need to find my sub! Need I remind you they are carrying missiles? No, I don’t want you to go track them down. With what? A surface ship? Then what will you do if you find them? Here…here’s what I want or do you prefer I call the SECNAV?” As he continued his tirade he nodded towards Chip. “I want you to give my man access to the university computers, for you to give me the intel you have on Seaview’s passenger and where they were going and exactly what they were expected to do. Then I want you to stay the hell out of my way!” There was silence on the one end for a few minutes. “That’s better. So you say you will get the papers ready to raid the university? No, not tonight, now! Okay I will wait for your call. My man is going on the raid with yours. Who is it? You’ll see.”

With a satisfied grin Starke slammed the receiver down on its cradle.

“Sir?” inquired Chip.

“I need you to head up to the University and take Kowalski with you. Joe can see to it that you get proper uniforms and the necessary arms. I hope Mandel has the sense to make good use of your talents but in case he doesn’t here is a number you can use to reach me anytime. Once we find out what that professor was doing I expect we’ll be able to find Seaview. I’ll divert the Grunion towards the general area and the cruiser Port Royal is still around to assist.”

Chip now had a new respect for the man in front of him, and he stood and saluted him with all the crispness he could muster. The salute was returned.

“Be careful, Commander. I trust you’ll be in touch this time?”

“Yes, sir!”

Joe Jackson was waiting in his office with Kowalski. He had already been given his orders and he quickly saw to it the men were appropriately equipped. He also arranged for a driver and a state highway patrol escort for them to their destination and to stand by if necessary to assist. In less than two hours after the call to Mandel, Seaview’s men were standing a block away from the gates of New Union University , waiting for the raid team with the search warrant. Fifteen minutes later, the van that had been used to transport Chip to his interrogation pulled up, and the same men who had kidnapped and questioned him stepped out. All had a smug looks their faces but their apparent leader, the one who had done most of the talking during his capture did all the talking.

“So, Morton, it’s you. I didn’t think they let known spies run loose.”

In appearance and voice Chip exuded the confidence that made him a great XO. “It’s Commander Morton, and if you do anything that is the least bit out of line I have the authority to have you arrested.”

As he finished, another car pulled up to the gates, this one carrying three men in dark suits. They exited the car and introduced themselves to the group as FBI agents. One held the necessary papers for the raid. Perfect timing thought Chip as he signaled for everyone to gather around hood of the car to plot their strategy. With the addition of the agents he heard nothing else untoward from any of Mandel’s men.

It was Saturday and access to the buildings would be limited so two of the agents and two of Mandel’s men went to the security office to serve the warrant, obtain keys and gain control of their dispatch system. It was decided that Chip and Kowalski would go with one agent and three of Mandel’s men to the earth sciences building. Each man took up position waiting for the signal that the warrant was served and the keys were on the way.

Chip and Kowalski positioned themselves by the stairs nearest Zhu’s laboratory and once everyone else signaled they were in place the two entered the hallway outside the laboratory. As expected that door was also locked up tight. With a nod of his exec’s head Kowalski took out his “travel kit” consisting of a small pry tool, a fuse, and a putty-like explosive capable of being squeezed into crevices around a door. Instead of attacking the heavy duty lock the men skillfully removed the outer door molding then lined the frame with the explosives and attached the fuse. They backed up and around the corner and Chip lit the fuse. In fifteen seconds a loud explosion shook the walls and the door and part of the frame fell out into the hallway. Before the smoke had cleared the two were entering the laboratory. Chip immediately headed for the door to the computer room, and found it standing open. Inside he could see Dr. Zhu scrambling to shut down the system and erase data. He stepped closer and grabbed the man, hooking his elbow around his neck and squeezing tight. He shouted for Kowalski and they had the man subdued and dragged into the outer hallway before any of the rest of the men arrived.

After handing Zhu off to one of the FBI agents Chip reentered the computer room to begin his assessment of the damage and what he saw had him worried. The system had been shut down and it was going to take time for him to figure out a way to gain access. Time Seaview might not have. He looked around and found some printouts stacked in the corner and quickly scanned each page to get a sense of what the professor had been doing. Kowalski soon arrived and broke his concentration.

“Mr. Morton, I have someone here who needs to see you. She says she works for Admiral Mandel. Her name’s Sharpe.”

Chip was irritated by the request but turned around. His mouth almost fell open as he saw the agent in question was none other that the ditzy blonde who had greeted him outside Dr. Zhu’s office on Friday. The two shook hands and Sharpe began offered and explanation.

“Commander, I have been here for three months trying to ingratiate myself with the professor. Seems he likes blondes...”

Chip grinned briefly then a concerned look appeared on his face.

“Oh, don’t worry. The extent of my talents goes beyond that. I played the dumb blonde well enough that he would start up his computer while I watched. I bet I can get you in.” 

Chip indicated she should go ahead and she quickly got down to business. She deftly entered the codes into the system that allowed access to the professor’s personal files. Once logged into the system she stood and Chip slid into the chair and began to scan the root directories and files looking for patterns of information. He searched files for over two hours and reached a number of dead ends before finally locating a file that appeared to be information about the sensors in question. Yes, yes, yes! He was reading the file when he was again interrupted by Kowalski.

‘Sir, I know you’re busy but Admiral Starke wants an update.”

He opened his mouth to object but remembering his earlier conversation with Starke, he quickly snapped it shut.  Sharpe indicted that “her” phone at the reception desk was a secure line so Chip made the call from there. The officers exchanged updates and as Chip hung up he was handed a plate containing a club sandwich and a large cup of hot coffee. He gratefully accepted both and sat at the desk wolfing down most of the sandwich and downing every drop of the potent brew. After a quick trip to the head he was again sitting at the computer console, studying codes.

Luckily, within minutes of his return Chip located a file that was labeled “instructions: start-up live feed”. The file contained, in plain language, the instructions for accessing a live feed of some type of data. He followed the instructions and after a few long minutes a program popped up on his monitor. Damn, I hope that’s not what I think it is he muttered to himself. Displayed across the top of the page was a series of hydro-acoustic profiles. Every four minutes the screen was updated with new images. The more he watched the more he was convinced that he was seeing the profiles generated from a live feed of data from some underwater sensors. Where are the sensors? He recalled the coordinates he had seen on the screen on his last visit and he jotted them down as he called for Kowalski. The rating responded immediately.

“Sir?”

Chip held out the paper. “See if you can find a chart of these coordinates. There should be some somewhere in this building. Maybe Agent Sharpe can help.”

“Aye, sir.”

As Chip watched the changing screens he had another thought. If I can get some headphones in here, maybe I can listen and watch.  He was about to ask one of the raid team to find a set for him when Kowalski appeared with the chart and not one, but two sets of headphones.

“I thought these would help, sir.”

“Great idea, Kowalski.”

Chip had listened for only a few minutes when a small smile appeared on his face. “Kowalski, tell me if you recognize these sounds.”

The rating eagerly donned the headset. “Sir, it sounds like screws. I hear three. At least I think so. I also hear pings, lots of 'em.”

Chip nodded in agreement. “Let me see if I can find some coordinates.”

He pulled up another chair and again attacked the keyboard, looking for the coordinates he had seen during Zhu’s demonstration. Unfortunately though there were numbers in the lower left corner of each profile he was unsuccessful in linking any of the numbers to a location. He sighed in frustration.  

Officer and rating listened then watched as screen after screen of sound data was displayed in profile. Both were deep in concentration when a sound came through the headsets that made both cringe: three explosions in rapid succession. What followed was even more unnerving. A long period of silence followed by the sound of a single screw.

Chip swallowed hard then jumped up. “I need to call Starke. Keep listening and call out if you hear anything else.”  

Chip delivered the bad news to Starke that what they were hearing was likely Seaview under attack. The admiral released a few epithets before Chip interrupted and requested the exact location of the sensors and Seaview’s destination. Starke’s only reply was that he would get back with him. Chip hated waiting and paced the floor until the call came and Starke relayed the general locations of the sensors. Regretfully, he had no additional information on Seaview.

Chip quickly reentered the computer room to check on Kowalski and the rating was waiting. “Sir I’m not positive but I thought I heard water moving but it stopped…maybe the ballast tanks?”

“Maybe,” Chip responded dolefully. “Look, we need a little more data to be able to pin them down. Unfortunately that means listening and waiting…and possibly…” Chip stopped short of telling the rating that more news meant more bad news. Instead he offered encouragement. “We just need to have faith in the admiral and the skipper.”

In less than thirty minutes the men were again picking up a variety of signals. Both were amazed at their clarity and how much differentiation there was between the varied sounds. When they again heard twin screws they both let out breaths they didn’t know they were holding. 

“She’s coming back, sir.”

Chip nodded. He still didn’t know exactly where they were, but the sound of activity was a good sign.

“Kowalski, go get something to eat. I’ll listen awhile.”

“But sir…”

Chip assumed his best command glare then his expression softened, but only a little.

“You need a break to stay sharp. Go.”

“Aye sir” Kowalski set the headset on the table and quickly headed out.   

“It has to be here somewhere,” Chip mumbled just under his breath. He was referring to the locations of the sensors, the thing that has eluded him earlier. He tapped away at the keys for a few minutes then returned to the live feed. He immediately heard the sound of a third screw followed by that of torpedo doors opening. He placed his elbows on his knees and his hands over his eyes and listened intently for what he knew was inevitable. In the next two four-minute cycles he heard multiple pings, and continued engine noises. Lady luck did not hold on as there was no mistaking the sound or torpedoes in the water, followed by two loud explosions. Chip listened carefully for the sound of Seaview’s characteristic twin screws. He heard them, but only for a matter of seconds.

“Oh, God no….” he whispered.  

 

****Saturday evening on Seaview

 

A drenched and exhausted Lee Crane sat on the periscope island running a hand through his hair. He and the officers and crew had spent two hours attempting repairs to a breach in the hull in one compartment and collapsed supports in another. Under normal circumstances the Seaview would be gradually moved to the surface to relieve the pressure on the hull but they were nearly at crush depth with no ballast control and no chance of surfacing. Since they could be at the repairs for a long while he had ordered the repair crews to rotate on and off their details so that no one worked beyond his physical limits.

Ballast controls out, power plant damaged, air revitalizer only pumping twenty percent, batteries only good for another six or seven hours and they couldn’t be used that long without fouling the air. Then there’s the rescue buoy. Who knows what happened to that. He had never seen a look like the one on the face of young Lt. Cermak when instead of hearing the flush of water associated with the release of the buoy from its hatch there was a ping and a pop. It wasn’t panic really, more like resignation. Is that what the crew saw in my face?

Lee was joined at the island by Shaw who had just completed a rotation on a repair detail. The CWO was calm but expressed his concern about the enemy sub.

“Captain, is there any possibility of hooking the system up to a spare battery? I’m not sure if the equipment is under the boat or not but it might be worth a try.”

“Tom, I’m not sure what we would do if we did find something. We have no defenses.” Lee stopped a moment to think. “I suppose we could listen for any rescuers as well. I’ll ask the admiral about it.”

“Aye, sir. I’ll be back in engineering…seeing if I can help.”

Lee thanked Shaw and the man left through the aft hatch.

Now that he had time to think about it, Lee had not seen the admiral since their conversation with Volz. He signaled for the crewman standing by the computer and ordered him to locate Admiral Nelson and ask him to respond to the control room. Once the man scurried off, and Lee sat back down. Oh how he wished Chip was here. No, he wouldn’t want his best friend to be in this situation but he could use his calming presence and skill with putting things right after a major crisis. It wasn’t that O’Brien and Cermak were bad officers. They did excellent work under the worst of circumstances. They just weren’t Chip.

Lee stood up and hearing footsteps on the spiral stairs he looked up to see the admiral and Chief Sharkey arriving.

“What is it, Lee?”   

“Sir, Shaw wanted to use a spare battery to power his hydrophones, do you see any problems?”

“You needed me here to ask me that?”

“No, sir, but frankly I was concerned when I hadn’t seen you since the attack.”

Nelson replied without missing a beat. “Sharkey and I were inspecting the damage. The hull breach seems to be holding, but I am more concerned about our air supply.”

“So am I, but...” 

Lee turned and addressed Sharkey. “Chief, go and check the charge on the batteries to the mini-sub. If it’s good, pull one and bring it up here.”

Sharkey and Nelson exchanged furtive glances that were easily noticed by the captain. Sharkey hesitated but finally headed aft. Once the COB was out of earshot, Lee turned to his CO.

“Admiral.” Lee looked around then motioned the admiral over to a corner of the nearly empty control room. “Admiral, what is going on here? Every time I see you I see Sharkey and you two are passing looks like buckets on a fire brigade.”

Nelson put up his hand. “I’m sorry, Lee. It’s time you hear the rest.”

 

****

Without being overly detailed Nelson briefed Lee on the possible sabotage to the electronics and the steps he had taken to ameliorate the problems. Lee was not surprised to find there was more involved than the torpedo loader controls but he was angry that he had not been informed earlier. Now the thing that concerned him most was the failure of the rescue buoy.

“We’re on the edge of a seamount near crush depth and no one knows it!”

“They will soon, Lee. I had a backup plan for that. Just before we hit the seamount I launched a special antenna array. It was in a shipping container. Once it was sent out the diving hatch the carton exploded and released the array. It should be on the surface by now. If someone is close enough, we can communicate pretty easily by radio.”

Lee thought for a moment. “So that was the strange noise we heard?”

Nelson nodded.

“So how close do they need to be to pick us up?”

“Half mile, give or take.”

Lee started to feel a little hope for their situation but it vanished as quickly as it came. “Who’s looking for us, Admiral… and how is someone supposed to find it?”

“There are luminescent floats, and…and it is fifteen feet across.”

Though his initial anger at the situation had subsided Lee was not convinced he knew everything and doubt showed on his face. Nelson tapped his fingers on Lee’s arm.

“Lee, we need to finish what repairs we can while the air is circulating. After that we have to just hunker down. There’s not much else we can do…or…much else they can do to us.”

Lee recognized the admiral was speaking about their unknown enemy. He nodded then advised the admiral he would have Cermak take the con and he would be checking on systems and seeing to it that food, water and air tanks were distributed. Before turning away to tend to his tasks, Lee asked one more question. 

“Sir, what about Chip? What does he have to do with any of this?”

“I don’t think you need to worry about him, Lee.”

****Saturday afternoon-evening

 

Putting aside any thoughts that Seaview had been destroyed and he was on a fool’s errand, Chip consulted with everyone with any information on the whereabouts of the boat, the sensors or Dr. Zhu’s work. The captain of the Port Royal provided coordinates for her rendezvous with Seaview and after being threatened with imprisonment, the student who spoke with Kowalski at the University revealed the nature of his work. Upon being interviewed by the FBI the egotistical professor bragged that he had so deeply encoded the coordinates of the sensors that no one would ever find them, at least no one who was still alive.

Their best information actually came from Mark Jocaste who had been picked up by NCIS agents as he left SamsonTech with additional incriminating documents in his possession. Fearing he would spend his remaining days in a federal prison if he didn’t cooperate he spoke openly concerning his role. As one of Zhu’s students he had designed an advanced hydrophone for seismic studies. He received an offer for employment from a company he later found was a front for a People’s Republic spy operation. That was where he met Cara Reynolds. Once inside the company he discovered he could not get out and was forced to do more work for them. He had overheard that there was a plan in the works to create a master log of hydro-acoustic profiles for all major military craft. One day when he was in the office of the fake company, he saw a chart out on a desk. That chart covered the area between the Molokai and Murray fractures, and he knew Zhu had planted his seismic monitors in that area.

Chip had heard all he needed. It was time to take drastic steps or there might not be enough time to save the sub or the crew. He ordered Kowalski to stay with the computer, and advised the rating that he would be en route to the general area that Seaview was said to be.

“I’ll contact you, or have someone contact you through Admiral Starke’s office. If you get anything you need to pass along, call the admiral.”

“Sir, you want me to talk to Admiral Starke?”

“Why not, Kowalski? You’ve been talking to him for days. Don’t think I don’t know why you’re here and not on Seaview. I appreciate what you’ve done, but I need you here.”

The order brooked no argument. “Aye, sir,” Kowalski answered with a frown.  

 

****

At 1830 hours Chip was dropped off on a zodiac not far from the cruiser Port Royal and once aboard he quickly met up with the ship’s captain Commander Jesse Bartolo.

“Commander, it’s good to meet you. Sorry about the circumstances. My sonar man is on your sub, so I have a significant interest here. What do you need?”

“Thanks, Captain. I assume you are doing sonar and radar sweeps and you have full time monitoring of all local and long distance radio traffic?” Chip had to ask but he already knew the captain would be on top of things. “I need to see the charts of the entire cluster of seamounts, and if you would, show me where you have already searched and scanned.”

The captain led him towards the navigation room and on the way stopped to get him a very large mug of coffee from the wardroom. Chip took it gratefully and drank about a third before the combination of the coffee, an empty stomach and the rocking motion of the ship caused him to nearly lose it. The captain chuckled and handed him a seasick bag.

“No sea legs, Commander?”

Chip smiled at the comment, agreeing that he much preferred to be under the water, where under normal circumstances the motion of his boat was barely detectable.  

“Sir, I suppose a little food would help. It’s been a while. Then I need those charts.”

Chip ate very quickly then the pair made their way to the navigation room. The search was still a daunting task. Though Jocaste’s information had significantly reduced the search area, there were still at least a thousand square miles of ocean and only ten ships and two planes dedicated to the search. It was also getting late and all aircraft and most ships would cease searching after dark. They were going to need a good bit of luck to find his friends.

As he discussed the search strategy with Captain Bartolo, Chip reasoned that if Seaview went to the bottom it was already too late to help but if she managed to make it onto one of the seamounts and was only disabled then there was a limited amount time to reach her before the crew ran out of air. A review of the charts showed there were only a handful of seamounts with an elevation above the boat’s crush depth. It made sense to limit the search to those seamounts.    

Once the planes and ships were redeployed to the new pattern, the men discussed how the rescue might take place once Seaview was found. There were no other subs that could travel as deep as Seaview was likely to be and none of the search ships were equipped with a diving bell. The nearest bell was a half day away from their location. As he stood in the communications center of the Port Royal , an idea flashed into Chip’s head. “I think I’ve got it, Captain. Can you get me in touch with PacTransTel?”  

 

****Saturday night on Seaview

 

Despite his best efforts, Shaw had been unable to get the auxiliary sonar working. Meanwhile, Sparks and Patterson took turns manning to the radio. Though confident the admiral’s antenna had deployed, passing ships had come and gone without any consideration for their plight so it was almost certain Seaview was not transmitting. All repairs that could be accomplished under water were complete and the officers and crew of Seaview ordered all hands to remain as still as possible to conserve the little bit of oxygen they had remaining. They managed to gain at least an hour on the supply by shutting down the batteries and closing off the power plant. An hour might not matter but it allowed the crew to hope.

As they awaited their fate the command officers huddled around the periscope island.

“A little déjà vu Lee?” asked Nelson.

“Unfortunately yes, Admiral,” Lee whispered, referring to the incident a couple of years earlier when the Seaview was trapped in a minefield with little hope for rescue. “I hope this one turns out as well. I can’t say we have the same ace in the hole.”

“Don’t be so sure, Lee.”

Lee cocked his head. “What do you mean?”

“Never underestimate your enemies…or your friends.”

Without another word to him Nelson rose and walked over to the radio shack. When Sparks slowly shook his head, Lee grimaced.

 

**** Saturday on the Port Royal

 

It was after dark and much of the search activities had ceased. Sonar was operating but due to the presence of the seamounts, thermal layers and commercial ships any scanning had become difficult. Chip paced back and forth on the fore deck and eventually he was joined by Bartolo.

“Commander, there’s not much else you can do. You need down time.”

Chip nodded but continued to pace. The captain shook his head and stood next to the worried officer.

“I can order it.”

Before Chip had the chance to reply, the radio officer on the Port Royal called the captain to pass along an interesting conversation he had overheard between two passing cargo ships. It seemed their crews had spied a large glowing mat-like object in the water about twenty miles from the Port Royal ’s location. The crew suspected it was some type of biologic, but they hadn’t seen anything quite like it. While glowing objects were not unheard of in the area of the Pacific, they were always a topic of conversation by superstitious sailors. 

Overhearing the conversation, Chip stopped his pacing. Something was niggling at him, but as tired as he was, he couldn’t think clearly. What could it be? Why does it seem like that should mean something to me. Glowing…glowing…Suddenly Chip shouted.

 “Captain! We need to head for that location. Now!”

Bartolo was taken aback by the officer’s demand. “Commander?”

“Sorry, sir, I believe that object is a signal from Seaview.”

“And you know this because of what?” 

“I’ve seen it, a least a part of it. Seaview had it aboard when she sailed.”   

 

****

As the cruiser made her way through choppy seas at thirty-five knots Chip struggled to stay standing. He finally had to give up and took a seat on the bridge where he watched and waited. In short order the ship reached the location in question. The captain ordered the search lights doused and had his duty crews scan the seas around the ship. After thirty frustrating minutes, there was still no sign of a floating, glowing object so the captain ordered the ship to come about in a ninety degree turn. Finally, one of the crewmen near the starboard bow signaled that he saw something and the ship’s engines were stopped. One of the ship’s powerful search lights was then trained on the mystery object and it was snagged with a hook.

Chip climbed down to the lower deck to get a better look. He studied what appeared to be a mat made up of ropes and wires with the whole thing held afloat by white capsule shaped objects. Capsules, those white capsules in Compartment 21!  A huge smile split his haggard face and he turned to the Master Chief in charge of the deck detail.  

“Tell the captain we’ve found the Seaview.”

 

****

Sonar scans of the top of the seamount clearly indicated the precarious position of the great submarine. They also failed to reveal any sign of a second unknown sub within one hundred miles or detect any sensors in the water surrounding the boat. That was good news to everyone on the Port Royal but especially to Chip Morton. He couldn’t get the sound of the torpedo impacts and the subsequent cessation of Seaview’s activities out of his head.

The radio officer of the Port Royal continued to transmit updates to Seaview over the low frequency bands. No one knew if anyone heard the transmissions but having been in their position before, Chip knew that any hope of rescue was critical to the survival of the crew. 

When Chip had spoken with PacTransTel he had inquired if any of their maintenance equipment might be available for a rescue. Since he had navigated the waters of the area for several years he was aware of the locations of most of the undersea communications cables and it was ironically fortunate that Seaview was attacked near one of the cables currently undergoing inspection. The deep sea vehicle was big enough to carry only two men, but it could be used to transport vital tanks of air to the sub, allowing time for a rescue bell to arrive.

Captain Bartolo asked Chip if he wanted to go over to the PacTransTel ship to oversee the rescue operations. To his surprise, the Seaview officer declined.

“Sir, I’m much too tired and I would put everyone involved in the rescue at risk.”

Bartolo nodded in agreement and picking up a microphone called the chief of his diving detail to the bridge. When he arrived the captain gave him his orders and Chip provided some of the necessary details about the boats complement and hatch locations.

It took thirty minutes for the maintenance ship to arrive and another twenty to redeploy the rescue vehicle. A single diver was sent along with the air tanks to make sure the vehicle linked to the sub. The vehicle also carried a portable radio set to allow Seaview’s commanders to speak directly with the Port Royal and other rescue craft. When the rescue vehicle made contact with Seaview and the diver relayed back that there were survivors, everyone involved in the rescue was happy. Chip was elated. He even grabbed the captain’s hand and shook it vigorously. That was just before he passed out from exhaustion, slumping onto the deck of the bridge.  

 

**** Sunday afternoon

 

Chip slept through the rescue of the first fifty of Seaview’s crew members, the arrival of COMSUBRES and the departure of the remaining search and rescue ships. He even missed the offloading of Seaview’s defector-passenger Volz, something he regretted.

Upon waking he had received the news that there were no serious casualties onboard Seaview but most of the crew was being treated for hypothermia. He had little time to speak with anyone on the Port Royal as he was immediately recalled to COMSUBPAC headquarters to complete his reports and to be interviewed concerning his role in what was being referred to as the contracts matter. The flight by helicopter was all too brief, delivering him to the outskirts of the San Diego base.   

Soon Chip was at the conference room table in the very same seat he had occupied the day before. Admiral Starke greeted him with the news that though Seaview had sustained hull damage, it was possible to make repairs on site that would allow her to return to Santa Barbara within the week. A small number of crew members as well as the command crew were going to bring her back. Great news he thought to himself. He was looking forward to seeing the crew but especially his friend and captain, Lee Crane.

When Admiral Mandel entered the conference room Chip swallowed hard. Here it comes.

“Lt. Commander Morton.”

There was a long pause.

“Commander, I need to know everything. I want you to first tell me then I want it written down. All of it. Go ahead, I’ll be waiting.”

Chip resented that his integrity was still being questioned, however his naval training kicked in and he responded to the order by a superior officer. He began to describe in detail the events of the last week and a half. While Mandel asked a few questions, for the most part he remained silent and sneered. When Chip stated he was finished, Mandel commented that it might be worth Chip’s while to consider his own mistakes in the matter and be prepared to face the consequences for those. Chip remained silent, hoping for an explanation but none came. All he received was a warning.     

“I believe Admiral Starke told you the information is not to be released to anyone. You understand that no mention of this can be made to anyone and that includes your captain?”

“Yes, sir. I understand”.   

“Once you complete your statements, give them to Admiral Starke. He will forward them to me. I may be in touch.”

Chip stood and saluted the man, but only out of reflex. He watched as Mandel left the room. He then turned to Starke.

“Commander, you might as well get started on those reports.”

 

*****On Seaview exactly two weeks to the day after sailing

 

Seaview made her way slowly into her home port of Santa Barbara . Much of the damage that had been done to the power plant and air systems had been repaired on the trip back. The damage to the hull received a patch, but complete repairs would be addressed while she was in port.

Lee Crane and Harriman Nelson were seated in the observation nose discussing the cruise. Still weary, Lee scrubbed his face and leaned back. “I have to admit, Admiral, that I was very frustrated. I’m used to going into an ONI mission lacking significant details but I thought on my own boat I would be kept informed.”

Nelson ran a hand through his auburn hair then looked directly at his friend. “I didn’t know what to tell you exactly. Mandel had you tied up in the audit before the cruise and told me in no uncertain terms to keep the mission totally secret. I knew next to nothing about Volz. I figured you would have better luck getting information from him than I would. You know I couldn’t pass up the chance to get at their technology and I certainly couldn’t refuse the mission.”

Lee recognized that what made Nelson a genius was his naturally inquisitive mind and that the man would never let an opportunity to learn pass him by. It was that character trait that led to Seaview being built and had saved the planet on numerous occasions. Lee had to grin.

“What’s so funny, Lee?”

“Oh nothing, sir,” he lied.

“So, Admiral, how did you get all of you plans in place?”

Nelson chuckled.

“I had to work around him so I had Sharkey doing the errands for me. You know I had planned to have Sharkey load the antenna into one of the torpedo tubes?”

Lee shook his head.

“Every time you had him load another torpedo he had to pull out the antenna and move it. Finally we decided to launch it another way. He told me he was worn out and I suspect he was. He’s a good man put in a bad spot.”   

Lee took on a more serious expression. “What about Chip? I understand he still can’t get into the Institute.”

“I need to talk to him first, Lee. He did what he always does, what we rely on him for. I had to use him as the means to an end, and I’m afraid he might be a bit angry at me right now. I’ll see him tomorrow. Let’s get something to eat and get a decent night’s rest.”

Lee nodded, but he was still very concerned about his best friend.

 

****The next day

 

As Chip Morton headed for Harriman Nelson’s office he steeled himself for what would be either a thorough dressing down or even possibly a dismissal from NIMR for his failure to detect the flaws in the electronics items assembled by SamsonTech. It was his job to make sure those types of things didn’t happen and they had. Why else would he still be denied access to the Institute? Since returning to Santa Barbara he had not heard from either Nelson or his friend Lee Crane. He knew the two were busy getting Seaview repaired and back to port but why would they not contact him if things between them were okay? Normally he himself would be knee deep in any repairs to Seaview.

When Chip arrived, Nelson was standing at his office door. The admiral instructed Angie to go and take a long break, and he waved Morton into his office. After sitting down at his desk he let Chip enter and stand at attention in front of the closed door.

“You wanted to see me, sir?”

“Yes,” Nelson muttered into the papers that were on his desk. He then waited a good two minutes before looking up. As he stared up at the younger man he could tell Chip was looking past him rather than making full eye contact.

“You are one of the most predictable people I know.”

 “Sir?"  

“Confusion. Righteous indignation. Realization. Action.”  Nelson paused and leaned back to give the younger officer time to think about his words. “Those were the stages you went through. You always do, every time Lee or I leave the boat in your hands and you have to come get us. I do think you usually hide your indignation quite well. This time it led you to Seaview’s rescue and our rescue. Am I right?”

Chip nodded, unsure where this was headed.

“I know what I did might lead you to think I had no faith in you. I didn’t doubt you, Chip. I had absolute faith in how you would respond and that made it easier to take the risks I did.”

Chips enigmatic mask remained firmly in place as Nelson continued.

“Oh, Lee and I go into some very dangerous locales. But you have it tougher. You get the crew, the boat and us to take care of. And you are good at it,” Nelson added with a chuckle. “Though we do leave you in the dark probably more often than we should. Let’s work on that changing that, starting now.”

Nelson pointed to the seat across from his desk. “Take a seat, Mr. Morton. I have some things to tell you about our last mission. Even Lee doesn’t know some of it.”

Chip slid into the chair as Nelson stood and walked over to open the door. When Lee entered he smiled and greeted his friend and XO and Chip quickly produced his own broad smile. Once Lee was also seated the admiral began relating the details of the cruise, this time leaving out very little. The captain was amazed by all the things that had been going on while he occupied both Admiral Mandel and the defector Volz.

“So what about the electronics, Admiral?” inquired Lee

“Jiggs told me on Friday night there was a problem but I never knew exactly which items had been tampered with until I received the drawings. By then it was too late to get replacements for everything. I decide to bypass all of our normal equipment and just put some contingencies in place. I kept Sharkey pretty busy. We had to make our date with Volz and his sensors, no matter what.”

Lee then asked about Volz. “So what was his role in all of this?”

“He hasn’t said a word but from what we’ve been able to put together, he was supposed to treat the Seaview like a trained seal. He led us through a series of maneuvers that caused us to use most of our equipment under both normal and battle conditions. All the while Dr. Zhu was recording and creating a profile of every single sound. They wanted to be able to corner us at some later date and capture Seaview and perhaps our missiles for their own use.”

Lee shook his head in amazement. “Complicated plot to say the least, Admiral. The small issues with the electronics were just a way to get us to demonstrate our capabilities. Speaking of capabilities what about that sub? It seems she was pretty capable…and dangerous.”

“That is one of the loose threads of the operation that still worries me. It appears that sub has the ability to dive almost as deep as Seaview. I don’t like the thought of her lurking out there somewhere.”

Lee nodded in agreement.    

The admiral then looked over at Morton, who had remained silent throughout the conversation. “Problems, Chip?”

Of most concern to Chip was the display that started it all for him, when he was sent off the boat. While he knew he wasn’t perfect in any sense, he had to maintain the respect of the crew to be a successful exec. He needed to know where he stood.

“Sir, what about Admiral Mandel’s accusations?” 

“Admiral Mandel had been reluctant to share any information with either myself or Jiggs about his investigation. After I found out he had information on our transactions with SamsonTech, I called Jim and told him to make copies of what he had found and send them to me. It was important that I got them before we sailed. I had a lot to get done in a short time.”

Chip sat very still waiting for the rest of the story.

“After I saw what was involved I knew I needed a backup plan. That plan involved you.”

Lee looked at his blonde friend with concern. He knew what Nelson was about to say. Chip was as dedicated as they came but the thought of his being used as a pawn in a chess game was not going to sit well with him, even if he said nothing of it to them. True to his nature, Chip remained silent and as stoic as ever.

“I knew you would inspect the cargo, though I wasn’t sure what the outcome of that would be exactly. I planted the copies of the schematics in your cabin, along with the charts and the course plotting that I generated. Mandel took that bait and went full tilt after you, giving me time to put my contingency plan in place.”

The XO sat taking in all of what he heard. In effect he was a game piece to be played. That was what a military career was about. He took solace in knowing he was moved around the board by a master; one Harriman Nelson.

“I suppose I should have said something earlier, to both of you but I didn’t want to tip off any of the crew since they might expose my plans to Volz. In any event, Admiral Mandel is now very aware of your role in this and you shouldn’t be hearing from him again about it.”

Chip was relieved. He even managed a small smile. “Thank you, sir. That helps.”

Chip rose and turning to his CO he tried a bit of humor. “Well I have a lot of work to catch up on. My boss is such a task master.”

“That he is!” Lee said as he winked.

Chip nodded to both men and left the two in the office.

“Admiral, I have a question.”

“Go ahead Lee.”

“What was Kowalski’s role in all this?”

Nelson smiled. “What do you think?”

“He is the best sonar man we have but you still felt the need to send him off the boat. I guess Chip needed him more than we did.”

“Precisely, Lee.”

“Are you going to tell Chip?”  

“Don’t underestimate your exec, Captain. I bet he figured it out on his own.”  

“Admiral, you were pretty devious on this mission. It’s one for the books.”  

“Next time I’ll have to be even better.”

Lee laughed out loud.

“I hope not, sir. I sincerely hope not!”

 

Finis

 

Comments welcome. My e-mail is sherlockette@earthlink.net

 

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