Give Me That Man

By Helen H.

 

 

“Mr. Morton, all watchstanders are present and accounted for.  Second dogwatch is securing and I’m heading out on leave.  See you in a week, sir,” Chief Jones added.

Chip Morton pressed the key on his intercom.  “Acknowledged, Chief.  Did Kenyon get that burner replaced in the after galley?”

“Aye, sir, everything’s okay in there now.”

Chip hit the button again.  “Thanks for everything you did this week, Chief Jones.  I know how you hustled to get the exercise done on time.  Pass along a ‘well done’ to the reactor room crew for me, please.”  

“Awww, those slackers know better than to mess around with me breathing down their necks.  But I gotta admit they did a good job.  I’ll be sure to pass it along, sir.”  

“Thank you, Chief.  Enjoy your leave.”  

A heavy sigh filtered over the intercom.  “The mother-in-law’s coming for her annual visit and bringing a dozen relatives with her.  I’d rather be on the boat, sir,” Jones growled somewhat forlornly in his familiar voice.  

Chip grinned.  He imagined Seaview would seem quiet compared to the chief’s large family.  “We’ll survive without you for a week, Curley.  Have a good trip.”   

“Thanks, Mr. Morton.  You should head home, too, sir.  G’night.”  Jones clicked the mic twice to close the conversation.  

It had been a long day.  Chip studied the mound of paperwork on his desk and rubbed his hand over his face, eyes blinking tiredly.  He was convinced the pages multiplied when he wasn’t looking.  The file on the top was the most important: the monthly report to the Atomic Energy Commission.  Everything had to be in the proper format, then checked and double-checked.  There was no room for error.  And since he hadn’t gotten to it earlier in the day, that meant staying on after the end of the regular workweek to double-check that every ‘t’ was crossed and every ‘i’ dotted.  It was either work on it tonight or take it home and work on it tomorrow.  He didn’t want to work on it tomorrow.  Chip sighed and scratched his head with his pen, causing that section of blond hair to stand up straight.  It shouldn’t take more than an hour, tops.  He picked up the report and began reading it.  

No better man on Seaview to do this work.  “Squared away” were among the first words used in Chip’s Fitreps to describe him.  After that came “a true leader and a dedicated professional.”  It was his job as executive officer to ensure the boat operated at top efficiency.  The fitness of the men for duty was also his responsibility.  He left the mechanics of that to their supervisors, but the crew knew that the XO expected the best out of them.  Above all, he made sure that the captain of the Seaview was free to concentrate on the mission.   

This month’s test had come close to being late.  The chief engineer was recovering from an emergency appendectomy and with his assistant on Reserve duty, regular Plan of the Day orders were out of the question.  The crew had pulled together, enlisted and officer alike, seeing to it that the checks were done and the reactor assessment finished.  Angie had quickly typed the report up and here it was, on his desk.  He bent to it again, turning over another page.  

He could remember a time when he wasn’t giving orders but taking them, shaking in his corfams, scared to death he’d do something that wasn’t right.  He’d always striven to be the best officer he could be.  That’s what counted, what got you promoted, got you the assignments and duty stations you wanted.  He liked to think that’s what had gotten him on Seaview.  Actually, he knew that it had gotten him to Seaview.   

Admiral Nelson had been very clear on that point.  They’d had the discussion in Chip’s office at the Pentagon, where he was working in the Submarine Warfare Division.  He had been pleasantly surprised to hear that the admiral had been following his career and keeping track of his progress.  A boring day had brightened up considerably when Nelson explained the reason for his unexpected visit -- he wanted Chip on the Seaview.   

Chip had seen her, under construction in a shipway normally reserved for carriers.  Security had been too tight to wrangle a visit.  While Nelson made his proposal Chip had a fleeting vision of commanding the giant submarine but Nelson had put him straight before the dream had time to take hold.  The job of executive officer was his, second to John Phillips, who was coming over from COMSUBLANT.  All Chip had to do was say the word.  

Nelson had given him a weekend to think it over, and Chip used every minutes of the 48 hours.  He knew he was in line for his own boat and wouldn’t be able to do that moving over to the Reserves.  In the end, however, being a plank owner on something like Seaview was a challenge Chip couldn’t pass up.  Phillips wasn’t too far from retirement; barring some unforeseen circumstance the job would be open soon enough.  No one could have anticipated the captain’s death only a couple of months after the boat’s commissioning.  For another long moment, the dream had been alive again, but his anticipation was short lived.  Disappointment was his first reaction, a reaction he’d buried deep inside himself.  That had quickly dissipated when he’d been informed of the new commanding officer's identity.  The finest sub in the world now had the finest skipper in the world.                       

Sometimes, though, when the work went wrong and there were things happening on the boat that defied description and his captain and friend, Lee Crane, had disappeared to Lord knows where for ONI, then, just then, it was second-guessing time.  This week had been particularly trying, with the AEC report due, the engineer missing in action and Lee flying back in from… somewhere and probably in pieces again.  If at times like this, he questioned why he put himself through all the stress, he was careful to keep it from Admiral Nelson and the rest of the crew.  At least with the certifications done and the file on his desk he could breathe easier for another day.  

The hour passed quickly.  The report, accompanying charts and technical data were complete and correct.  He would put the file into the mail on Monday knowing that it was free of errors.  Most importantly, the reactor on Seaview was in perfect condition.  Nuclear power was still a scary subject for many.  Hell, Seaview was still a controversial subject.  It was his job to ensure that no one, Capitol Hill, Pentagon, the press -- especially the press, could find cause for complaint.   

He was putting the pages in an envelope when the papers left on the desk ruffled as though a breeze had swept through the cabin.  Chip raised his startled eyes into the eyes of Galené, the Goddess of Calm Seas.  

“What are you doing here?” he scowled, and then his eyebrows went up and he started to rise.  “Has something happened to the admiral?”  

The woman, perched on his desk, shook her head and indicated he should remain seated.  “No, no, be assured on that point.  And before you ask, Lee hasn’t gotten himself in any trouble, either.  He’s sitting on the deck at his apartment, drinking a beer and enjoying life.  Like you should be.  Instead, you’re still working.”  The words had a hint of reproach in them.  

“Then it’s Seaview.  You’re not supposed to be here unless something is wrong--”  

Rearing up from the desk Chip crossed to the door in three swift strides, grabbed the doorknob and tugged.  Nothing happened.  He pulled again, and then stopped in frustration, realizing how ridiculous he must look.   

“You are so predictable, Commander.  Of course I’ve locked it.”   

Chip took a few deep breaths, straightened his tie, and looked at Galené again.  She was sitting on the desktop, legs crossed.  Long, slim legs.  The tops were hidden underneath the blue chiton she wore, the clingy fabric doing little to hide the body underneath.  Her hair, the color of foamy waves was remarkably still for a change, tucked behind her ears and hanging far down her back.  It occurred to him that it was impossible that anyone could possess such a head of hair, and realized that even in this one little thing, she was set apart from mere humans.  The face was uniquely attractive; pale celadon skin covering high, classically rounded cheekbones, the sharply pointed chin, and always the mesmerizing eyes, tipped at the corners.  Those same silver eyes were twinkling at him, the laughter in them in concert with the smile on her strawberry-red lips.  There was an unmistakable authority behind that gaze, an assumption that any setting or situation would shape itself to her command.  He was not attracted to her; she was too otherworldly for him, far beyond what he considered normal and therefore safe.  Still, he was disconcerted to see that her smile held a touch of amusement.  She was aware of the effect her appearance was having upon him and was enjoying it.  

She, in turn, studied him.  Had he always been this serious?  Galené found herself wondering if once he had been an ordinary little boy, growing up happy and carefree, words like ‘responsibility’ and ‘obligation’ never entering his thoughts.  Perhaps he had caught sight of a ship on an ocean somewhere and imagined himself on it someday.  Whatever the cause, eventually the idea had transformed into a goal.  The essence of his character demanded that wanting something so much meant dedication so profound it became all consuming.  Not a problem, not a burden, but his duty.  Was the weight of that dedication sometimes too much?      

He was holding himself very erect, staring suspiciously at her.  His mouth was set tight, the strong, square jaw pulled slightly downward.  She had seen that mouth on other occasions open in a radiant, heart-stopping smile.  Right now his tanned skin was darkening, the expression on his face serious and a trifle angry.  He did have beautiful blue eyes and blonde hair with sunny highlights that spoke of the outdoors, the hair shorter now from a recent haircut.  A healthy metabolism helped to keep him slim, firm muscles hidden under the uniform shirt.  He was tall, carried himself very well, and would be a good catch for any woman.  Even so, Galené knew Seaview had him in her thrall, a possessive mistress to all the men of this boat.  

“So, to what do I owe the honor of this visit?”  

She tilted her head and looked at him sideways, lips pursed.  Narrowed eyes stared back, managing to look down his long, finely shaped nose at her.  Even in his present mood, suspicious and annoyed, he seemed to breathe life in at every pore.  Chip Morton, prepared for battle.   

“I have come to know since my first time on Seaview that you don’t like me very much, Mr. Morton.  Your manner and your words revealed that on several occasions.”  Using his voice, she said, “There's something different there, Lee.  Something strange, if you ask me.”  Laughing at the look on his face, Galené put her hands behind her on the desktop and leaned back.  “You were right, in your own way.  And now I’d like to know why my presence seems to bother you so much.”

Before he could stop himself he colored, skin flushing like a crimson tide.  What he felt or didn’t feel was something he liked to keep to himself.  Certainly, he did not intend to share his opinions and feelings with her.  That she was as real as an ethereal being could be, he had no doubt; at the same time he was gripped by the idea her presence was some twisted bit of his imagination, that soon he would awake and know that this was after all, just a dream.  His particular reality didn’t include as part of its scenario having the admiral smitten by this woman, nor Lee tolerant of her efforts to safeguard the Seaview and its crew.  Admiral Nelson’s private life was his business.  But the submarine -- that was the XO’s.  And how he went about it was none of her business.  

“I don’t have time for this, it’s late and I’m tired and I’d like to go home.”  He jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the door.  

“Somehow I knew this wouldn’t be easy,” Galené murmured, blowing air from her cheeks and bringing her gaze to concentrate on the mortal before her.  “I shouldn’t be here; I should be in Cornwall, dealing with a situation.  There, it’s emmets causing trouble.  Here, it’s you,” she said wryly.  

“You’re free to leave any time,” he responded, matching her mocking tone.  “Am I supposed to know what an emmet is?”  

“Ah, sorry!  Emmet is an old Celtish word for ant.  It’s used to describe the hordes of tourists that descend upon Cornwall in the summer.  In this case, we have a few that aren’t in a holiday mood.  Security of the realm and all that.  But first -- a little stopover in Santa Barbara.  I thought I’d see what I’d done to make Seaview’s executive officer dislike me so.”  

“There’s nothing going on around here that needs your intervention.  So how about you continue to your destination, unlocking my door before you go!”    

“Actually, your door lock is jammed.  I’ve just taken advantage of the situation.  I’ll get it unlocked for you.  All in good time.”  

The interview, if that was what it was, had begun badly.  Chip had been on the defensive from the start.  He looked full at her then.  A fierce, assessing stare that withered many an errant sailor but had no effect on this unwanted guest.  

Holding his eyes steadily with what she hoped was reassurance she hopped off the desk and began a circuit of the cabin.  The large space befitted his status aboard.  Above the bed -- covered by a Naval Academy monogrammed blanket -- was a small bookshelf.  She looked quickly at the spines -- naval engineering titles and leadership books next to Thunder Below and The Cruel Sea.  Most interesting were the mysteries stuck in amongst the others; apparently, he was a fan of Raymond Chandler and Ed McBain.  

She paused at the desktop, her eyes taking in the objects in turn.  Everything -- folders, penholder, “in” and “out” box -- was neatly placed, corners squared.  It was a running joke throughout the crew that no matter how hard they tried the guys doing field day could never get his desk exactly to his specifications.  They were convinced he straightened it himself after the cleaning crew had come and gone.   

Deliberately, delicately, as if she was performing surgery, she bent over the penholder and turned it until it was sitting ninety degrees to its original position.  Disturbing the folders came next.  Finally, as a fitting touch, the stapler was shifted to the opposite corner of the desk.  Only then did she straighten up, giving him a daring look and turning her back to study the documents on the bulkhead behind the chair.  

Her eyes swept the line of frames, each spaced exactly apart.  She was aware that he had silently approached the desk while she carried on with her perusal.  

“Academy diploma, L. Y. Spear Award, Naval Postgraduate School....”  She stopped, her brow furrowing, and bent in to look closer.  “All copies!  Just as I thought, you are so predictable, Commander.  The originals are in a safety deposit box somewhere, aren’t they?”  Pausing, she looked down, turning inward.  “Yes, they are.  Santa Barbara National Bank.  Safe.  Like your emotions and feelings.”   

She turned back to the desk, and began chuckling.  Everything was in its original place.  She looked into his watchful, clear eyes.  

“You’ll never get the best of me, Commander.”  

“Why should I need to?”  

“Oh, the needs are there, Commander.  A need to carry out your duties to the best of your ability.  A need to organize and manage.  Fine attributes all.”   

She held up a shapely hand tipped with bright red fingernails, and began ticking things off.  

“Strength.  Intelligence.  Leadership.  Cool under pressure.”  She paused as her face assumed a thoughtful expression as his personality came into sharper focus for her and she considered him afresh.  

Lieutenant Commander Morton worries that something will happen that he won’t be able to control.  It bothers him that he can’t be on top of everything every moment of every day.  Has the captain’s back at all times, or as near as he can get and considers ONI a curse upon his friend's life.  He is single-minded about the boat and the men aboard her.  He conceals this intensity as much as possible.  He does the same with his excellent sense of humor.  Instead, his seriousness extends to grave attendance upon his duties.”  

“Good grief,” Chip growled, hiding his embarrassment behind sneering words.  “You writing my obituary or nominating me for the Nobel Prize?  Is this the kind of stuff they teach you in goddess school?"  

She tossed her head, sending the waves of hair flying.  “No need to be sarcastic.  I’m just giving you the recognition you so richly deserve.”  

Chip shook his head violently, lips pressed close together.  “Is that right?  I don’t need your kind of attention.  I am perfectly at ease with my life.  What I know about myself is quite sufficient, thank you.”  

She stiffened and glared warningly at him.  “I would never presume to bother you, Commander, when it wasn’t necessary.”  Storm clouds rose in her eyes.  “However, anything that threatens the equilibrium aboard Seaview bothers me.  I’ve sensed this week has been especially trying.  The AEC report came close to being late this month but the men came through.  You didn’t really expect anything else, nor would you have settled for anything less.”  Galené came close and looked at him speculatively.  You’ve handpicked many of these men, Mr. Morton, officers and enlisted, and you trust in their abilities.  Still, you fret.  Do you not know that they would never let you down or disappoint you?”   

“Really, this is too much.  I’d like to get home before midnight, and my coach turns into a pumpk--”  

She silenced him with a withering glance.  

Chip swallowed hard.  This sort of introspection was making him uncomfortable.  He did not appreciate her intrusion into his private feelings and wanted to end this conversation but saw only her steely determination to force some answer from him.    

Sighing, he said, “Fine, if it will satisfy you and get me out of here, I trust in the men aboard Seaview.  They do what is asked of them without complaint.  They haven’t let me down yet, I’ll agree with you about that.”  

“Nothing else?”  

“Isn’t that enough?”  The words were bit off.  Her questioning was getting exasperating now.  

Galené put her hand to her chin, her face assuming a thinking expression.  There was something here she was missing, something she couldn’t put her finger on, the reason why he was so ill at ease around her.  What could she say to make them both understand?   

She had studied the men aboard Seaview, the better to appreciate the responsibility she’d assumed.  Invisible, she had gone among them and listened as they went about their duties.  There was a little grumbling and grousing, but on the whole, this was a happy crew.  Perhaps it was time to share some of what she’d found out with him.  

You know the men would lay down their lives for Captain Crane and Admiral Nelson if they should need to, all the while retaining strong expectations that one or the other will find a way out of whatever predicament was at hand, and all will be well.”  

“That's just as it should be.  The men trust in their strong leadership,” Chip asserted.  

“Indeed.  But don't you include yourself, Commander?”  

Chip straightened up, refusing to be intimidated by her goading.   

“I would hope that Admiral Nelson and Captain Crane know they can always rely on me.  I wouldn't be here otherwise.”  

“And the men?  Do you believe they trust in you and your leadership?”  

He shifted uneasily but answered clearly.  “Yes.  This is a good crew who do their duty without exception.”  

She regarded him solemnly, hands on hips.  So far the crew of the Seaview had been lucky, their troubles overcome by the bravery of their officers and some little help from her.  This man would never shy away from danger, whatever the cost.  She mentally shook the fear away that such a thought conveyed, and the twinkle came back into her eyes.   

“Oh, Mr. Morton, your crew would die for you, and there would be no hesitation.  If you gave the word, they would plunge right in.  That is how they regard you.  You hope for their respect and have it unconditionally but with so much more!   

She saw the look of disbelief on his face. 

“Will you not believe me?  I inflate men’s egos only when it’s necessary, Commander.”  She laid a slender hand lightly on his arm.  “Please accept what I am telling you, Chip.  Lee and Admiral Nelson also know your value.  They have different ways of showing it, but it’s there.  Treasure this, for you have earned it.”  

His face as he digested this information confirmed her good opinion.  She hadn’t meant to stay long but the longer she was here, watching him, taking his measure, the more avenues of understanding opened.  Harry had her heart and devotion; Lee her dedication and protection, but this man also commanded attention.   

Accepting she had pushed him far enough this evening, she smiled brightly.  Now, would you like to be that omnipotent being that the men of the Seaview think you are?”  When all the answer he could give was just a raised eyebrow, Galené laughed.  “Very good.  Let’s take a stroll down to Engineering.  I think you might find something very interesting behind the environmental control panel.”  She indicated the cabin door.  “After you, Commander.”  Moving to face him, she faded from sight.  “Come along, dear sir.  You’ve got something to make right.”  

Chip tried the door.  It opened silently to his touch.  Sighing deeply, he debated for a moment on the merits of her statement and then started toward Engineering.  She had never steered them wrong about Seaview as far as he knew.  He would go on a little trust this time.  As to the rest -- he hoped that his face hadn’t revealed too much how her words had touched him.        

He made sure the passageway was empty and then said aloud, “What am I looking for?”

A soft breeze wafted around his shoulders, accompanied by the whisper of a voice in his ear.  “I was correct earlier when I said there was nothing wrong with Seaview.  However, things break when you least expect them, as you know.  A problem has developed with the air purification system that is going to require a bit of attention.  Go along, and you will see.  Open up the panel housing the compressor circuits.”  

“I’ve had this kind of thing happen before,” Chip said suspiciously.  “In the Control Room...  I saw the indicator acting up before the alarm sounded.*  Did you have anything to do with that?”  

Not with the failure.  With you noticing it, yes.  You would have seen it in due course, I just alerted you a tad sooner.”  

Santiago was the duty electrician that evening.  It took a second for him to register who had just walked into Engineering, but when he did, he shot up from the desk.  

“Mr. Morton!  Sorry, sir, I was just going over the log....”  

“At ease, Santiago.  Open up environmental -- I want you to check on the C-7 circuit.”  

“S-sure, sir.  Any particular reason?”

An invisible goddess is telling me there’s a reason.  Somehow, I don’t think you’d believe me if I told you that.   

“Just a feeling.  Just want to make sure the evaporators for that section are at 100 percent.”  

The rating, not expecting to find anything, casually placed the leads from the multimeter on the circuit Chip had zeroed in on.  The indicator barely moved.  Frowning, he confirmed the connection and tried the instrument again.  

“Sir, there’s hardly any juice showing at all.”  

“And?”  

“Think I need to pull the control relay for the oxygen generator.  The carbon through sensor might be going bad.  It won’t take long, not more than an hour or two.”  Santiago’s eyes were wide with wonder.  “How did you know, Mr. Morton?”  he asked in hushed tones, eyes wide, marveling at how calm and collected the XO looked.  Damn, he’d just pointed out an invisible problem!  Wait until the guys got a load of this!  Just what we’da needed, the a/c going out on that long cruise to Hawaii next week!”

Ignoring the question, Chip said, “This work has top priority, Santiago.  I’ll advise the duty officer.  You take care of the power shutdown.  Get in any help you need.”  

Santiago was still staring at him, eyes wide open.  Chip thought that if he had spouted wings and flown across the room the young petty officer would have considered it a normal occurrence.  

“Santiago, you planning on getting this done sometime this century?”

“Aye, sir!”  The man came awake, fastening back the panel door and reaching for the circuit chart kept inside.  “I’ll get on it right away!  Thanks for the heads-up, Mr. Morton!  The first class would have skinned my hide if this had failed while we were in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  Everything that goes wrong is always my fault,” he muttered under his breath.

”What was that, Santiago?”  

“Nothin’, sir, just talking to myself.”   

Chip hid a grin.  “This is definitely not your fault, Santiago.  I’ll make sure that Quincy knows that.  You just take care of the work.”  

Santiago’s face lit up with pleasure.  “You got it, sir!”  He made a quick exit into the tools locker.

Back in the passageway, Chip felt an invisible hand on his shoulder.  

“This story will be all over the boat by the morning.”  

Maybe it was the idea that it seemed like smoke and mirrors.  It wasn’t, of course; a real problem had been discovered, a problem that would have caused a few uncomfortable hours of high temperatures while the system was repaired.  There was just something about it that didn’t sit well.  He had never been interested in drawing attention to himself in such a fashion.  The words came out, harsher then he intended.  

“You got any more tricks up your sleeve for fixing things?  Or maybe I should just head on home and leave you to discover anything else that might be wrong.”  

Chip found himself being drawn into an empty storeroom, the door closing under her invisible touch.  Her form slowly became solid as she floated in front of him, strands of her hair flowing across his shoulders.  He expected anger, but her voice was soft when she finally spoke.  

“I’m not here to somehow take away your job, Mr. Morton.”   

It was clear from his expression that the words had hit home.  Here, then, was the crux of the problem.  How had she not realized it before?  Too caught up in the novelty of being guardian to a giant submarine to see that the feelings of the people aboard her mattered just as much.  Galené chided herself for her blindness.   

I have no wish to replace or weaken your position.  That would be impossible in itself; your work ethic is known to everybody.  But sometimes, it’s not a bad idea having the men see you as infallible, capable of taking care of anything that comes up.  Tonight will have enhanced your reputation to near legend.  Is that such a bad thing?  Being a god has its advantages, Commander.

His mouth flinched up at the corners, and she knew their relationship had changed.  This man was not easy but he was worth the extra effort it took to know him.   

“I must leave now.  Do please go home or even better, go see Lee.  He’s got cold beer in the fridge and stories to tell.”  

He scowled, but there was no anger behind it.  “What if I don’t want to hear them this time?”  

“You will.  He’s made it back again, and nary a scratch.  And you’ll be happy without letting him know, like always.”   

She was suddenly translucent, the door of the storeroom visible through her body, her hair curling up and down in wild swoops and circles.  I think I understand you better now which can only be to the good.  Harry chose well as always.  Till we meet again, Commander, stay well.   

Her voice faded as the distance between them grew and she was gone.  

Chip waited a moment, and then opened the door and started for the quarterdeck and the OOD, going over in his mind the events of the past few minutes.  She was entirely too perceptive for his taste, although he supposed that goddesses had a corner on that market.  He didn’t like to think of her like that, nor was her involvement with Seaview something he was comfortable with.  She did seem to have their welfare paramount so he guessed he'd have to learn to live with that for the moment.  There was certainly no training manual he could consult!

The tiredness left his body as he grinned.  A beer with Lee sounded like a really good idea.  Maybe he’d tell him about Galené, maybe not.  XOs could have secrets too, just like ONI agents.

 

 

Give me that man
That is not passion's slave, and I will wear him
In my heart's core, ay, in my heart of heart,
As I do thee.

Hamlet Act 3, scene 2, 71–74

 

*Referenced in “To Hear The Sea-Maid’s Music.”

 

 

 

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