Murphy's Law; Seaview Style

 

by Sue K.

 

 

 

 

 

Contrary to what some people think, captains of seagoing vessels rarely have time to stand idle and savor what they are in charge of. To be able to truly appreciate the grace, power and beauty of their vessel is a luxury. However, Captain Lee Crane was savoring his moment right now. He stood in the bow of his domain, the mighty submarine Seaview, watching the water surge against the herculite plates that allowed him to see where they were going. It was a wonderful sight, even though there was little visible this time of night and at this depth. Oh six hundred and one thousand feet respectively.

The reason for his satisfaction? They had been on their current mission four weeks, only had another ten days to go and there had been absolutely no snafus. They had not been attacked once. There had been no mad scientists, conquering aliens, run amok mutations or power hungry megalomaniacs trying to take over, destroy or otherwise give him heartburn or any other hurt. He didn’t have a scratch on him, and his “regret to inform you” stationary was still in the bottom right hand drawer of his desk. 

Crane felt a pang in his gut and a consequential twinge of foreboding in his head. Why was he thinking these thoughts now? There was still more than a week left of their mission and anything could go wrong. Just thinking about smooth sailing usually brought any number of storms scudding their way. He shook the dark thoughts away and continued watching the water part for the mighty sub. The motes of reflected light from the forward beams sparkled directly ahead, accentuated by the darkness all around them. 

Crane turned his attention to what was inside the boat. He felt his awareness pass from his eyes to the soles of his feet. The slight thrumming of the nuclear powered engines beat a rhythm through the decking. Behind him lights pulsed and blinked.  Crane didn’t need to look at them. There was nothing abnormal; he could feel it. It was a good feeling. 

He turned to the carafe of coffee that had sat on the warming plate since late the previous night and poured out the remains. It would be the equivalent of battery acid but all the better. The beginning of the last phase of their mission would commence in a couple of hours and he wouldn’t hit the rack until everything was going smoothly. He wanted to be awake for this next one.

The test was one of national security. Seaview had to be as ready for a crisis as the most advanced Navy vessel, on or under the water. Of course, she had been since she first slipped under the water after her christening. Hell, Crane thought, she had pulled the old world’s fat out of the fire more times than anyone other than the crew could count.

Still, there was always room for improvement. New detection, defensive and protocol systems had been installed and initiated, and these tests would prove their worth. If something went wrong during the next phase, there would be time to fix the problem before a real event came along. Hopefully there would be no real thing. 

As he lifted the cup to drink the last of the bitter brew, Lee noticed something about the sonar man that made him put the cup down. Before Jon Patterson lifted his head to say anything, Crane was halfway to the sonar station. “What are you picking up, Pat?” 

“A small boat, as best I can make out, sir,” came the answer. “It’s not moving like a whale or school of fish. It’s definitely a boat, but no engine.” 

Crane nodded, watching over the man’s shoulder. Lt. Miguel Rojas, the officer on watch, joined him. “How large?” Lee asked, knowing the answer, but wanting verification from the rate.

“About the size of a small fishing boat. I’d say five by twelve. It seems to be floating with the current, Skipper.” 

The rate next to him on the hydrophones, added, “I agree, sir. I’m not picking up any engine or motor noises, either.” 

“A lifeboat, Captain?” Rojas asked. 

“Sounds logical. I can’t imagine anyone with a small boat a thousand miles out from land. Even if it’s a small powerboat with engine trouble, it’s still too far from land,” Crane answered.  He knew what the next question was going to be. 

“Sir, we can’t leave someone in the middle of the ocean if they are in trouble,” Rojas said. “I think we should at least go up to observation depth and check it out.” When Crane didn’t say anything further, he continued. “It’s only beginning to get light on the surface and we can observe them without being observed.” 

With a smile, Crane said, “It’s your watch, Miguel, give your orders. The day we can’t take a bit of time to help someone out, we’re all in big trouble.” Of course, what he didn’t say was that they had picked up survivors of one disaster or another only to have them turn out to be something other than innocent victims. 

Rojas gave the command to come to periscope range. Crane ordered the rates to watch and listen for any change in the target’s status. He stood by the sonar station while Rojas waited at the periscope island.  

It was a slow, steady assent, but there was nothing to be accomplished by impatience. The nature of the next part of their mission, similar to most of the last three stages, was to gauge how well they could maintain total silence and stealth, and still deliver a package. The package in this case being anything from an operative to a missile. They had not received that order yet. It was the last possibility that made him most uncomfortable, but Seaview had been built for defensive power as well as peaceful research. It had been part of the conditions Admiral Nelson had to agree to in order to get his boat built. He had money, but not enough to construct his own shipyard. So the Navy essentially blackmailed Nelson into conceding to their desires so he could use their shipyards to build his baby.  

“Ninety feet, sir,” the navigator said. 

Rojas mounted the periscope island after a quick look toward Crane. The captain said nothing, not wanting there to be any semblance of his overriding Rojas’ authority. Rojas peered through the apparatus, moving around until he had located the small boat. He studied, calling out the coordinates for the log, and then he looked up. “Captain, you might want to look at this,” he said. 

Crane climbed up beside the lieutenant and peered through the periscope. With the approaching daylight, he could determine that the boat was the size and shape of a regulation lifeboat. That was about it, though. There were no signs of life; nothing to indicate there was anyone aboard. 

“Randy, can you pick up anything to tell us if anyone’s there?” Rojas asked the rate at the hydrophones. 

“Yes, sir. I am hearing the sound of heartbeats. Irregular and fast enough to indicate more than one, probably about a half dozen people,” the seaman answered. “There’s something else, but nothing I can make out as a threat.” 

“Your recommendation, Miguel?” Crane asked. 

“Surface. Send out a recon team.” 

“Good move. Let’s get it done. We only have a couple more hours before we have to begin the next phase of our mission.” The Officer of the Watch gave the necessary orders. As the submarine gently rose to the surface, the team assembled, flak jackets secure and weapons at ready. 

“Sir?” Rojas began and then hesitated. 

Crane thought he knew the question. “Go ahead.” 

“What if there are civilians on board?” 

Crane sucked in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “We’ll have to deal with it. Chances are, way out here, that’s exactly what we have. If so, we’ll send out a message before we begin our mission and they’ll be picked up in a few hours.” 

“Sirs,” came another voice. It was the radioman, Cliff. 

“Yes?” Rojas answered. 

“I am getting reports off the satellite of a big storm heading this way.” 

Crane cursed silently. They wouldn’t be able to leave anyone out there in a tiny boat in a storm. 

“How the hell will we deal with a civilian for ten days?” Rojas asked. 

“Very carefully, Miguel, very carefully.” 

The team climbed up the ladder while the command crew waited for word. Crane was already halfway up the ladder when he heard an all-clear signal. Rojas was right behind him. The sun hadn’t come up yet, but the ocean in the east glowed with golden fire. The sky continued to brighten as the team leader used a boat hook to pull the lifeboat closer. Lee peered into the boat. What he saw was the last thing he expected. There were five people crouched in the bottom, huddled together for warmth. They appeared to be women, although that was subject to debate, considering that all were dressed in slacks and all had on bulky life jackets. They looked asleep, except for one who stared with over-bright eyes. It was as though she didn’t believe they were real. 

“Ma’am, can you hear me?” Crane asked, his voice soothing. The wind picked up, adding to the chop of the waves. The boat bumped against the Seaview’s hull, grating up and down. 

She nodded, but made no other move. 

“Are you hurt?” 

Again she nodded, and then shook her head. She groaned, tried to pull herself up to the side and then retched. Lee gingerly stepped into the boat, careful not to tread on anyone.  He pulled the woman into a sitting position, noting how thin she was. Even in the reflected glow of the early morning sun, it was apparent she was deeply sunburned. He judged they had been in the boat no fewer than three days. They were in need of immediate medical attention. As though reading his mind, Rojas ordered the medical staff to join them. Clouds were piling up in the south, already obscuring some of the golden sunlight. There wasn’t time to check them out methodically. They needed to be taken aboard so Seaview could get below before the storm arrived. “Ma’am, I’m going to help you up on deck. A crewman will help you below.” 

“Wh . . .what? Where? Who?” 

“I am Captain Lee Crane and you have been found by a submarine. You’ll be all right below, but there’s a storm coming and we need to get out of its path.” Without saying another word, he scooped her up and handed her to the nearest man. He did the same for all the others, grunting with the effort to get the last woman out. By now the little boat was rocking, despite two crewmen trying to hold it steady. It was all he could do to keep from falling overboard. Just as the thought crossed his mind, it happened. The waves jerked the lifeboat from the grasp of the deck crew and then threw it back to crash against the metal hull. The water in the bottom of the boat made footing slick. Crane and the woman in his arms fell backwards into the turgid, darkening waters.

Even as he fell, Crane changed his grip. One arm went around her waist to hold her close, while he grabbed for a handhold on the boat with the other. He was only partially successful. He maintained his hold on the, thankfully, unconscious woman, but wasn’t able to catch hold of the boat or the submarine. As he turned his body and headed toward the surface, he felt the end of the boat hook, probably guided his way by a quick thinking crewman. He grabbed it and felt himself pulled through the buffeting waters. Hands grasped his shirt, while others took the woman from his arms. When he was safely on the deck, Lee noticed that the other four women were already below decks. He was satisfied at his men’s efficiency. 

R.J. Porter was searching the lifeboat for belongings, while two other crewmen held the boat steady. “Sorry, sir,” Porter said. “We didn’t have a good grip on it.” 

He waved off the apology. “Couldn’t be helped. It’s getting nasty out here, R.J. If you don’t see anything important in the next two minutes, just leave it and get on board.”  The last woman had been carried below. With a shiver, Crane decided that was where he needed to be as well. 

When he reached the control room deck, he saw many eyes on him, including those of his XO, Commander Charles Philip “Chip” Morton. A slight smirk played around the man’s mouth, but Crane’s eyes deterred him from saying more than, “Are you all right, Captain?”

“Just wet and cold, Chip, thank you. I’m going to change. I’ll be back in time for the beginning of the final mission,” he said. Every eye was on him. The drip, drip of his soggy uniform was louder than anything else in the room. 

“Get back to your stations, men,” Chip barked, before favoring his captain with a grin. “Go change, Lee.” 

Crane wasn’t ready to concede quite yet. “The admiral been informed of our slight deviation in course?” 

Morton nodded. 

“Good. He’s the one with the complete set of orders. We’ll let him figure out how five civilian women are going to fit into our plans for the next ten days.” 

Chip cleared his throat. “Not gracefully, I’ll wager.” He made a motion with his hand. “You’re getting the deck wet . . . sir.” 

Lee shrugged and left. It was as graceful a concession as he could make under the circumstances. As he showered, shaved and dug out a clean uniform, he considered the implications. If they were doing another mock spying run, the women could be more than a nuisance. They might get nosy, might go poking where they shouldn’t go. What if they were agents planted to find out Seaview’s capabilities and firepower? Or to find out what this exercise was all about? He shook off his paranoia. They weren’t faking exposure.

To keep them from classified sections of the boat, some of the men would have to rotate guard duty. Even harmless civilians didn’t need to be wandering into the reactor room or missile room. Crane made a mental note to have Sharkey work up a roster and schedule. At the very least, the women would only be on board until they could sneak them into an American naval base. He could get them to sign a guarantee of silence until after the exercise was over. That was something else to discuss with the admiral. He started to put on his tie and decided it was not necessary.

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

 

Admiral Harriman Nelson, Chip Morton and Chief Sharkey were on the front porch enjoying a fresh cup of coffee. The sub had angled subtly to three hundred feet. There was still a little light from the surface but it was muted. Crane grabbed a cup and filled it with the aromatic brew.

“You look none the worse for wear,” Nelson grumbled. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes and lit one.

Crane knew the admiral wasn’t upset with him, but with circumstances in general. He didn’t blame him. Everything had gone way too smooth. It was inevitable there would be a monkey wrench tossed into the works. Nelson’s next words turned the monkey wrench into a dump truck. 

“The next part of our mission will include several silent running exercises.”

Lee almost choked on his coffee. “With five unauthorized women on board? Sir?” 

Nelson nodded. “We can’t change the orders for anything less than a maximum damage incident. There is nothing wrong with Seaview so we were cleared to begin this phase before we found our visitors.” 

“We couldn’t leave them out there, Admiral,” Sharkey pointed out.

“Of course we couldn’t!” Nelson snapped. “But it’s going to make this a less than pleasant exercise.” 

“I think if we explain the situation to the ladies and post guards at the restricted areas, we should be all right,” Crane said. Then he looked at the glowering frown on his boss’s face. “Shouldn’t it?” 

“We are doing all this while trying to breach the defenses of several west coast bases,” Nelson explained. He tossed the previously sealed packet to Lee. “Read it and weep.” 

Crane read it. Infiltrate the defenses of three bases. One in Hawaii and two on the west coast. They would be on complete radio silence and the bases had no idea they were coming. If discovered they could be considered hostile and if the correct codes weren’t given quickly enough, fired upon. 

“It’s going to be hard to confine these ladies to their cabins for ten days, sir,” he pointed out. 

Nelson sighed lustily. “I know. Of course, we also don’t know their condition. It could be that they’ll spend most of the time in sick bay.” 

Lee grimaced. That would be worse than confinement to quarters as far as he was concerned. 

Nelson saw his look. “Why don’t you go welcome the ladies aboard, Lee? I’m sure you’ll also let them know the rules of the house while you’re at it.” 

“Aye, aye, sir.” Lee couldn’t help but be curious about their new houseguests anyway. Ten days. It wasn’t like it would be forever. The past four weeks had passed rather quickly. He strode into sickbay and changed his assessment of the matter. Crane walked into a cacophony of sound. Doc was being inundated by queries, some complaints and a demand to ‘be released.’ 

Crane stopped short at the door. Two medical corpsmen were attending to two of the ladies, one unconscious, the other only partially awake, and Doc was trying to explain something to two others. The woman he had fallen overboard with was still out cold. 

Doc looked up at him. The look was one of supplication. Crane got the idea. “Good morning, ladies,” he began. “I am Captain Lee Crane. Welcome aboard the Seaview. As soon as Doctor Jamieson has checked you over and released from his care, we’ll get you some breakfast and then assign you cabins.” There were only two guest cabins, neither of which could accommodate all five of these women. He would probably have to bunk with Chip, or Chip with him.

“These ladies are ready to be released right now,” Doc said, pointing to the women who had been plying him with questions. He nodded to the other two conscious women. “They will be ready to leave shortly.”

The two women to whom Doc had been talking turned to him. One was a little older than himself, strawberry blonde with piercing gray eyes. She was only an inch or two shorter than he was and had the physique of an exotic dancer. Although disheveled, in borrowed coveralls, she had an air of someone who normally got her way. The other could only be described as diminutive. She was a brunette with a dimpled face that made her look barely out of her teens until you looked closer at her. Then it was apparent that she was at least a decade older than first appearance made her. Her figure was one that any model would die for. That was apparent even though her borrowed clothes were much too big for her. 

“Captain, how long will it be before we get to some port?” the dancer physique one said, her husky voice adding to her mystique. 

“Ten days,” he said without hesitation. 

“Ten days!?!” the small one said. One of the women being attended to started crying.

“Is she all right, Doc?” Crane asked, concerned. 

“Claustrophic,” the smaller woman said before Doc could open his mouth. Jamie nodded.

Crane was ready to curse, but refrained. Instead he addressed the smaller woman. “May I ask your name?”

“Lisa Mitchell,” she said. Pointing to her companion, she added, “Janna Milligan.” 

Janna had said nothing. She stared unabashedly at him, her gray eyes appraising every inch of his frame. Crane recognized the look. 

“Why ten days?” Lisa Mitchell asked bluntly. “I thought these boats could go faster than that. Hell, we could have rowed to Hawaii.” 

“I doubt it,” Crane replied dryly.  “Not with the storm above us.” 

“I am going to die in a tin can. There’s no air in here,” the claustrophobic one moaned. 

Lee refrained from saying what he wanted to about this issue, too. “Your name, ma’am,” he asked. 

“Ti . . . Tiffany Moore,” she sniffled. “Please, take me back to the surface. I can’t handle being in here.” She was also brunette, but her tear filled eyes were green. She really did look to be in her late teens. Early twenties, maybe. And she was well proportioned like the others. 

“Sorry, ma’am, there’s a pretty strong storm out there. You were all lucky we found you when we did.” 

“No, we weren’t. At least not me,” Tiffany said with a last sniff. She kept looking around at the walls and the ceiling. “Why ten days?” 

Crane figured he’d answer that one since it wasn’t caustic or whiny. “We are on a mission, Ms. Moore. We can’t surface or make our presence known for ten days. We found you between phases of that mission. Now we are under orders and we can’t break those orders until the mission is complete.” 

“What mission?” Lisa asked. 

“I can’t tell you the nature of that, ma’am.” 

“I’ve heard of your submarine, Captain,” Janna cooed. She edged closer to him.

Crane stood his ground, but he crossed his arms over his chest. His look would have quailed any sensible seaman, but Janna either didn’t notice or if she did, chose to ignore him. She laid her hand on his arm. He didn’t let on that he noticed.

“This is supposed to be a research submarine,” Lisa growled. “At least that’s what all the headlines screamed back when this was built.” 

“Yes, ma’am, it is, but we also occasionally work with the Navy. That’s what we are doing now.” 

“And I heard rooms on submarines are tiny and cramped. Where are you going to put us?” Lisa demanded. 

Janna’s eyes told him where she wanted to bunk. “Ma’am, we will make all of you as comfortable as possible,” Crane replied evenly. He looked toward the other woman, who had awakened after his arrival. “Your name, ma’am?” 

“Stephanie Sullivan, sir,” the woman answered. She was blonde and blue-eyed. “That’s Mary Lou Hutton,” she added, pointing to the unconscious woman. “Will Mary Lou be all right?” 

“Yes, I believe she’ll be just fine after she gets some fluids in her system,” Doc answered that one.

“As soon as you are able, I’ll escort you to breakfast. Our cook is highly recommended,” Lee told the women.

“On a submarine?” Stephanie asked. “I, uh, I….” She broke off with a blush. 

“Yes, even on a submarine,” Crane said with a reassuring smile. “Cookie has a reputation for his culinary skills. It was reported the men on his previous duty assignment cried when Admiral Nelson offered him the position here on Seaview.” 

Janna giggled. Lisa snorted. “Well, it certainly has to be better than that garbage they were serving in Samoa.”

“Is that where you were?” Crane asked. 

“Yeah, we were touring,” Lisa answered. 

“Touring?” Lee asked, visions of USO entertainers dancing in his head. He didn’t see these women as singers or dancers. Well, maybe Janna could be a nightclub dancer…. 

“We’re female wrestlers,” Lisa said, daring him to respond. “If there aren’t gigs for that, then we do roller derby.” 

“Oh,” he replied, not having any better response. How in the world she could hold her own against anyone other than a ten-day-old kitten, he couldn’t figure, but looks could be deceiving.  Tiffany and Stephanie were standing next to their companions now. As much training as he had had in his days with the Navy, he didn’t think he would want to take on these women right now. Delicate diplomacy was in order. 

“But we aren’t any less women, Captain. We still have needs and feelings,” Janna explained, trying again to sidle up closer to him. 

“And we need to be taken back to Samoa where our belongings are,” Lisa broke in. 

Lee backed off just enough to get space between himself and Janna. Tiffany and Stephanie were eyeing him, too. He wasn’t sure if they considered him an appetizer or something else, but he seriously didn’t want to go there. “Ladies, I think this conversation would be better served over the breakfast table.” 

“Yes and with your Admiral Nelson,” Lisa snapped. “If you won’t take us back, or at least let us off somewhere where we can get transportation back to Samoa, we’ll talk to your boss.”

At least Lisa was well informed, thought Crane. “I can arrange for you to meet with the admiral, but right now he’s extremely busy dealing with the details of this phase of our mission. Shall we go to breakfast?” 

Lisa shrugged. The others looked pleased. 

Lee turned to Doc. “The other woman, Doctor?” 

“She should be coming around anytime. That little dunking didn’t help her much.” 

Lee didn’t rise to the jibe. He motioned to the women to follow him. Kowalski was waiting in the corridor. “Commander Morton told me to come down and see to the ladies’ accommodations, sir.”

Crane sighed. “Prepare the guest quarters for two each and ask Mr. Morton to arrange for his things to be transferred to my quarters.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Three

 

 

He led the women to the officer’s mess. They sat together at the long table nearest the galley. Crane didn’t blame them at all. The scents coming from the compact kitchen were very tempting. He asked them their beverage preferences and the galley mate quickly accommodated them. Perhaps some coffee and in the case of one of the women, a cup of tea would cool their heated dispositions. In the case of Janna Milligan, he’d have to work on that. She needed more like a cold shower. All he needed for ten days was some man hungry derby queen on his tail. She made it a point to sit next to him and he mentally groaned. Thankfully, Cookie called him and he jumped up like a scalded cat.

 

When he was in the galley, Cookie said, “Uh, Skipper, nothing really. I just saw how many tentacles she had and figured you needed rescuing.” 

“That obvious, Cookie?” 

“Yes, sir. What did you do, if I may ask, to get her going like that?” 

Lee shook his head. “I showed up.” 

Cookie grinned. “Sir, I have never asked you to help out as a galley mate, but this might be a good time to do so.” 

“Gladly, Cookie!” He helped Jenkins serve coffee and the tea to the ladies. 

“Don’t you have enough men to do this kind of job, Captain,” Lisa asked, her tongue dripping with irritation at their plight. 

“Yes, we do, but I make exceptions when we have the company of so many ladies.” Diplomacy worthy of the White House staff, he thought. Jenkins hid a grin. It wasn’t a lie, Crane figured. Not with Janna Milligan at the table. 

“When do we see Nelson?” Lisa grumbled over her coffee cup. 

“When the details of our mission are taken care of,” Crane answered, perturbed at her crass lack of decorum, but not surprised. He sat down. This was going to be a long breakfast. 

“And when will that be?” she persisted. 

“When the admiral is ready.” 

“Ready for what, Lee?” came the deep voice of his boss.

He started to stand. 

“No need, I’ll just grab a cup of coffee and sit with our charming guests.” 

Crane knew most of the nuances of the admiral’s voice and this one was the wary tone that didn’t bode well for the person that decided to butt heads with him. “You can have my seat, Admiral. I need to make sure everything is in order for this mission,” Lee said, again starting to get up. 

“No, I think you need to be in on this, especially since I wasn’t around for introductions,” Nelson said. 

The tone this time promised quick and decisive retribution if Crane so much as made a step toward the door. Nelson must have heard more than he was letting on to and wanted back up. Lee introduced the ladies and noticed that Tiffany, the claustrophobic one, was suddenly less nervous than she had been before. Her eyes were riveted on the admiral. Uh, oh, Crane thought. He felt a touch on the back of his hand and he turned to see Janna doing her own staring. Great!  Crane introduced the group. 

“You are so much more handsome in person, Admiral Nelson,” Tiffany cooed. 

The admiral harrumphed, then coughed and composed himself with a deep swallow from his cup of coffee. “I will take that as a compliment. May I ask what you were doing more than five hundred miles from Samoa, ladies?” Nelson asked. 

“We were doing some deep sea fishing,” Lisa answered gruffly. “Got smacked by some damned freak wave. We were lucky we were near their skiff. The fishing boat went belly-up and down, just like that. They had life vests in it, which was good, too, since it capsized.” 

“You were very resourceful to be able to turn the boat over again,” Nelson murmured into his coffee cup. 

“As I told your captain, we can be quite resourceful,” Lisa replied. “But we do have a living to make. When are you going to take us to Samoa?” 

“We aren’t,” the admiral said. He took another swallow of the coffee, ignoring the darkening countenance of the small woman.  He put his cup down with a small clink on the saucer. Jenkins set down plates of eggs, biscuits and sausage in front of each of the women. His eyes asked if Crane wanted any. 

The captain shook his head. He would rather have his meal with more pleasant company. 

“One egg, toast and a couple of strips of bacon, Jenkins.” Nelson was still ignoring the flint hard eyes of Lisa Mitchell. “And make sure you’ve cooked it crisply this time.” 

“I’ll pass the word, Admiral. More coffee?” Jenkins asked. 

“No.” The admiral turned his attention back to the women, centering his gaze on Lisa. “Can I assume you are the leader of this party, Ms. Mitchell?” 

If Lisa was flustered by Nelson’s seemingly lack of emotion, she hid it well. “We are losing money we could be making on Samoa,” she hissed. 

“You were losing money out on that skiff,” the admiral responded. “How many days? Three, four?” 

“Four, I think,” Stephanie said. 

“Four and a half,” Lisa growled. “Now look here, Admiral….” 

“You look!” Nelson barked, his voice making the coffee cup rattle on its saucer. “This is a research vessel, sometimes under the auspices and control of the United States government. As such, we have missions we cannot change. This is one of those times. We can’t deviate from the orders.” Despite his earlier refusal, he let Jenkins pour more coffee and then he added sugar and cream before continuing. His voice had moderated into something more diplomatic. “You ladies will be well cared for and you’ll have some access to various parts of the boat. However, you will stay out of restricted areas and you will go to your cabins at times when there is any danger or when ordered to.”

“This is a dangerous mission?” squeaked Janna, who looked toward Crane as though he would protect her from Armageddon itself.  

“Not if we follow the instructions of our orders,” Crane interjected. “And you follow our instructions.” 

Nelson calmly drank his coffee.  

“But what about our lost revenues?” Lisa insisted.

“Ms Mitchell, I am a reasonable man. After the mission is over and we return to Santa Barbara, I will have our accounting department see what your wages were going to be for your job for the days you are aboard the Seaview. Other than that, I can only offer you the hospitality of my submarine. And be damned thankful you are getting that.” He stood up. “And while you are at it, be thankful you’re alive. The doctor said you ladies wouldn’t have lasted more than another day or two. We won’t even discuss how quickly that storm would have killed you. If you have any more questions, please pass them along through my executive officer or through Captain Crane. If they are civil questions, I will be happy to answer them.”

Jenkins stood nearby with the admiral’s plate. “Sir?”

“Take it to the lab. I have work to do,” Nelson answered. He glanced at Lee and then was out the door.

There seemed to be absolutely nothing more anyone could say, so the women began to dig in.

“Uh, Captain?” Stephanie began. 

“Yes, ma’am.” 

“Would we be able to take showers and get some of the salt out of our hair?” 

“Of course. There are showers in each of the cabins you’ll be staying in. You just have to get used to the size of the heads, uh, bathrooms,” he replied. 

“And then could we have a tour?” Janna asked, her voice almost purring. 

“To any part of the boat that isn’t restricted,” Crane told her. Now he stood up. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ll make sure your cabins are ready and then I’ll be back to take you there.” 

There were several murmured thank you’s and Lee left as quickly as decorum granted him. He went down toward the guest cabins and saw two rates carrying personal belongings. Chip’s, he assumed.

“Is there anywhere in particular you want these, Skipper?” Stu Riley asked.

 

“Mr. Morton’s clothes?” he asked. At a nod, he continued. “Lay them on my bunk, Stu. When his watch is over, he can put them wherever he wants.”

 

“We also set up a cot for him, sir.”

 

“Good, although I’m not sure how much it’s going to be used the next ten days,” Crane said, mostly to himself.

 

“Skipper?”

 

“Yes.” Crane had an idea where this was headed, as Stu was very interested in girls when he wasn’t working. 

 

“What are the girls like?”

 

“They are female wrestlers and roller derby skaters. I would tread carefully, if I were you, Riley,” he suggested.

 

Riley’s blue-gray eyes widened considerably, making him look even more cherubic than usual. “Gnarly!” Then, “You’re kidding, right?”

 

“I’m kidding, wrong. That’s what they told me and I have no reason to disbelieve them. Just keep your mind on your work and you can ask them out when the ten days are over.”

 

“Oh, I will, Skipper!”

 

Crane continued to the guest cabins and found that the extra beds were inside. It made the quarters rather cramped, but the ladies had nothing of their own, except the clothes on their backs, so it would be tolerable. Someone had put small bottles of shampoo and conditioner in the tiny cabinets in the head, along with soap and a couple of razors. Not ladies’ razors, but the women could adapt. There were towels ready for them and he noticed extra sets of coveralls in the tiny closets. Lee assumed that their clothes were being washed and would be returned soon.

 

He continued up to the control room where Chip was checking out the systems with each rating on duty. Crane knew the exec had heard him, but didn’t make any indications of such. He waited until Chip had finished checking out sonar before saying anything. “Everything working smoothly?”

 

“Yes, perfectly. And our guests?”

 

“One of them has her eyes on me, another was smitten with the admiral. The leader of the group is annoyed and that leaves two. If I had time I’d take wagers on which one will be smitten with you when she meets you.”

 

Chip gave a mocking groan. “We need that kind of nonsense like we need a hole in the head. My stuff moved into your cabin?”

 

“Riley’s doing that now.”

 

“I have a hunch it won’t matter. We’ll probably be meeting ourselves coming and going.”

 

Lee chuckled. “You’re probably right. The ease of this mission had to end sometime and I guess it’s with this phase.”

 

“If the ladies are the worst, then I guess we’ll survive,” Morton replied.

 

“I’ll decide that after ten days.”

 

Chip stopped his progress long enough to study his captain’s face. “That bad?”

 

“Nothing I’m going to discuss here, but these ladies are definitely different. I’d better return to our guests and get them safely to their cabins. I believe I have a tour to lead in about an hour or two.”

 

“Carry on, Skipper,” Chip said with a grin. “By the way, are they good looking?”

 

“Not bad,” Lee said over his shoulder as he left the control room.

 

The four ladies were still in the officers’ mess, but they were extolling the glories of Seaview’s excellent cook this time around.  Surprisingly, the most vocal was Lisa. She was actually quite lovely when she wasn’t grumpy. Crane could see Cookie grinning like a Cheshire cat in the galley.

 

“He is an excellent cook, ladies.” Then in a conspiratorial voice he added, “But don’t tell him too often, it’ll go to his head.”

 

Janna and Tiffany giggled, Lisa scowled and then seemed to lighten back up.

 

Stephanie finished her last bite and then yawned. “I know it’s breakfast time . . . or lunch, but I am worn out. It would be so nice to be able to sleep in a proper bed for a change.”

 

The rest of the women were finished so Crane simply said, “Then follow me, ladies.” He showed them the guest quarters, where two of the women paired off into one of the rooms. The other would have Mary Lou Hutton as a roomie. “Ms. Mitchell, you will be staying in the executive officer’s quarters.” He showed her the cabin, which was down the corridor.

“A bit small, isn’t it?”

Crane raised an eyebrow. “You aren’t very familiar with submarines, ma’am.”  

“I’ve seen the old movies, but I thought they’d have improved things since then,” Lisa grumbled. 

“Things have improved; however, submarines will always have issues with space, because of what they do. And that is to take a fairly large group of men and massive amount of equipment in a pressurized environment; the ocean. Admiral Nelson created the closest thing to a comfortable submarine that is possible when he designed Seaview.” This is luxurious in comparison to any other submarine in the world.”

“And your quarters?” 

“They are a little larger than this. Admiral Nelson’s cabin is a little bigger than mine, as befits rank.” 

“Well, I guess I shouldn’t gripe. We’ve bedded down in worse.” She turned and fixed him with her steely gaze. “But usually not for ten days.” 

“Ma’am, if there was anything else going on, I’d be happy to honor your request, but I can’t. We cannot deviate from our orders for anyone or anything.”

“All right, you don’t have to tell me again, but you are going to let us out every once in a while, aren’t you?” 

“Yes, ma’am and we will have dinner in the nose to discuss the ‘rules,’ for wont of a better word, for your stay on board.” 

“That’s fair enough. And I will have to admit, it will be nice sleeping in a place where I don’t have to look under the covers for anything . . . uh, extra.” She snorted in remembrance of hotels past. “I am going to have to warn you, though; you might have trouble with Tiffany. When we said she was claustrophobic, we meant it.” 

“Thank you for letting me know. If need be, Doc can give her something to ease her anxiety.” 

“Sounds fair. Can I go check on Mary Lou now?” 

“I don’t see why not.” They made their way to sick bay. Mary Lou was still unconscious, but her vitals were within the range of acceptability.  Crane took her back to Chip’s, now her cabin.

“I’m sorry for how nasty I sounded earlier, Captain. It was quite frightening out there. It’s even more frightening trying to make a living. I do the best we can, but sometimes the money just doesn’t go very far.” 

“Why do you continue to do it then?” he asked bluntly. 

She flashed a quick look of annoyance, but it dissipated almost as fast as it appeared. “Because we don’t know anything else. At least we’re able to do this on our own and not have to follow the whims of a so-called promoter. The last shyster screwed us so bad, it took two years to pay everyone off.” She shrugged. “But it’s a living and it’s an honest living. At least we try to do it that way for us. There are some out there who’d do anything to turn a buck. But we won’t do that. We aren’t going to throw a fight; we aren’t going to win dishonestly. It’s hard sometimes….” Lisa sighed and gave a wan smile. “Here I am hauling out my laundry for you to see right after giving you the third degree. Sorry about that, Captain.”

“That’s all right, Ms. Mitchell,” Crane responded automatically. Then he added, “We’re going to be together for ten days. I suspect we’ll all get to know each other much better.” 

“First of all, please call me Lisa. And yes, I suppose we will. I just hope that you men won’t get the wrong impression of us. We’re rough, but we try not to be crude.”

“I know,” Lee said. Lisa was actually pleasant to talk to when she wasn’t trying to act like a pit bull in a big bad world. Now if he could have an intelligent conversation and understanding with Janna, it might make him feel much easier about this whole mess. “And when I’m not on duty, my name is Lee.” 

“Thanks, uh, Lee. I appreciate that.” She turned toward the door. “As much as I hate to admit it, I’m beat, too. I guess we’ll see you at dinner, then?” 

“Yes, and if you any of you need anything we haven’t already provided, just let one of the crew know and they’ll either get it for you or have Mr. Morton or I try to get it.” 

“Don’t suppose you have bubble bath, do you?” she asked with a gleam in her eye. 

“No, because we don’t have bathtubs on a sub,” he replied with a chuckle. 

She laughed and entered the cabin. Crane stood there for a minute and then headed to the galley.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Four

 

 

“Ah, Captain. Are you ready for your breakfast?” 

Crane nodded. “Yes, two eggs scrambled with cheese and toast. And fix another plate for the admiral.” 

Cookie didn’t question the order. He was aware, as most of the rest of the crew was, at Admiral Nelson’s propensity to forget his meals when he went into the lab to work. Within five minutes, the meals were finished and Crane was on his way to the lab. He balanced the tray in one hand and opened the door. “Admiral?”

“Come in, Lee, come in.” Nelson peered up at him from the specimen he was studying. “I see you are all in one piece.” 

Crane laughed. “Actually, I think the ladies will be all right.” 

Nelson snorted. “I sincerely hope so. I would hate to have to put Ms. Mitchell in the brig for attacking an officer. She’s one tough cookie.” 

“She is and speaking of Cookie, our esteemed chef sent down a warm breakfast.” Lee had noticed the untouched plate not far from the admiral’s elbow.

“I already had a breakfast,” Nelson grumbled.

“Stone cold and rock hard,” Lee countered. “Cookie will be very disappointed if you send back two petrified uneaten breakfasts.” 

The admiral waved his hand in submission. “All right, I concede. You brought a breakfast for yourself?” 

“Aye, aye, sir!” He set the tray down on the only open spot on the counter and set the admiral’s breakfast close to his boss. “The ladies are in their cabins getting some much needed sleep of the good kind.” 

“Hope it mellows their dispositions, or at least the one who seems to be the boss of that endearing little group.”

“Lisa Mitchell and yes, she is the boss. They are female wrestlers, roller derby racers and I guess whatever else they can do to earn a living.” 

Nelson almost choked on his coffee. “Good Lord! No wonder she came on so strong! You’re going to have to warn the crew to keep their hands off.” 

“I already warned Riley, so the crew is as good as alerted.” Crane took a bite of his scrambled eggs and continued, “Actually, Lisa has already mellowed up. She apologized for her grumpiness before she went into her cabin. Seems they are going it alone after having been cheated by a promoter or agent and she was worried about lost revenues or breach of contract, or some such thing.” 

“Well, as long as they don’t get in the way, I don’t care if they’re chimpanzees.” Both men paused in their conversation to work on their breakfasts. 

“I took the liberty of inviting them to dinner on the front porch. It will be twenty-four hours before we reach Pearl and I thought something informal would be a better place to lay down the rules.” 

“You’re right, of course.” The admiral finished off his bacon and gazed at Crane, a wicked gleam in his eye. “Surprised you were able to fend off that one who was making like a love struck teen-ager. The tall one, Janna what’s-her-name.” 

“Janna Milligan. And yes, I think her roommate had pity on me and made her take a nap. And what about Tiffany Moore. I think her claustrophobia eased up considerably when she laid eyes on you.” 

“Hrmph. Yes, well, she’d better get any romantic notions out of her mind, at least for the duration of our mission.”

“I agree . . . .” They finished their meals in silence.

“You will have to give my compliments to Cookie. For both meals. Did our guests enjoy theirs?” 

“Yes, sir, they did. In fact a good meal began the mellowing process and I think Lisa is taken with Cookie.” 

“You’re kidding!” 

“No, sir. They all had our esteemed cook blushing but Lisa’s praise was especially poetic and effusive.” 

“Well if we keep them well fed….” Nelson put his dishes on the tray and pointed to what he had been studying. “Take a look at this, Lee. Tell me what you see.” 

Crane did as told, peering into the microscope at the specimen on the slide. He studied it for some time, but didn’t see anything unusual. The microscopic animals danced and slid in and out of view with merry abandon. “I don’t know exactly what you want me to look for. They’re acting like almost any cellular animal would.”

“That’s the point, Lee, they are not cells from an animal. They are from a plant.” 

Lee jerked up. Plant cells moving like that? “But they’re zipping around like speed racers!” 

“Yes, they are and that’s what disturbs me. If these specimens were allowed to grow, they could theoretically have the locomotion of an animal, the strength that the cell walls give them and very little cognitive reasoning.”

“Like a bull in a China shop.” 

“Hmm, yes, except with less reasoning ability.”

“Where did you get these specimens, Admiral?” 

“Walter Freelander gave them to me when I was in Washington two months ago and I didn’t have a chance to study them until now.”

“If you keep them in storage, they won’t have a chance to grow, right?” Crane asked, remembering the vindictive algae monster they had encountered some time ago. Seaweed monsters, mutated human to plants, hyperactive ooze, slime and other nasties. 

“Right.” Nelson took the slide and put it in a special specimen storage container. It was waterproof, radiation-resistant, break resistant and anything else that would make mobile plant cells grow and reproduce. He put the container into a special containment unit. 

It was then Crane realized he had been holding his breath. “Admiral, about the next ten days….” 

“Yes, we need to prepare for that. While we will be specifically testing the new surveillance and detection equipment, we’ll still be working pretty much on a long leash. I think you, me and Chip need to study the information we have and then plan how we’re going to go about these little maneuvers.”

“Yes, sir. In your cabin?”

“Yes.” He looked at his watch. “Chip is done with his watch in four hours. Let’s meet then and go over this. We can have lunch delivered if need be.” 

“Aye, sir,” he said and left his boss to check with Chief Sharkey on security.

 

 

     ***************

 

 

The ‘front porch’ was crowded, but not enough for the group to be uncomfortable. There were eight people in attendance. Four of the women and four members of Seaview’s command staff were gathered around the portable dining table enjoying the best that Cookie could create. And it was excellent. The cook had held back on them, or he had been inspired by the ladies to outdo himself. It may have been Swiss steak, but the Swiss had never made it so good, Nelson thought. The meat was melt in your mouth tender, with a combination of herbs that danced in wonder on the tongue. Beans were served under a sauce that was better than any hollandaise he had ever tasted before. The rolls were light and flaky and he could have sworn they were homemade. Lisa Mitchell was as mellow as Lee had claimed she had become. Her tongue was occasionally tart and her humor ribald, but she was intelligent and seemed more than willing to cooperate.

Janna Milligan, on the other hand, was still besotted with Lee, batting her eyelashes coyly, smiling like a Cheshire cat every time he opened his mouth. That it was making Lee uncomfortable was an understatement. He tried to ignore it, but as she had more or less pushed her way next to him at the beginning of the dinner, her attention was hard to ignore. It was difficult not to laugh. Lee was beginning to look like a young schoolboy who had been kissed in public. He felt sorry for his captain, but there were more important things to consider. 

For instance, there was Tiffany Moore. She alternated between mooning at him, sighing and gazing in rapture out the observation windows. When her eyes strayed up toward the bow supports, she visibly shuddered. Doc had assured her, Lee and himself that he had a medicine that would ease her anxiety, but Harry couldn’t help but worry about her having a claustrophobia attack during a critical maneuver. He did have to give her credit for her determination to make the best of it. She seemed to do much better at times, particularly when she was concentrating on what he was doing or saying. It was disconcerting, but if it helped her and she didn’t start stalking him, perhaps he could allow it a little bit.

The strangest development was Stephanie Sullivan. Currently she and Francis were sharing stories of their childhoods in New York City; the Bronx to be exact. 

“Once I sneaked out of my apartment and hid in the rocks in Central Park. Rube tourists would come along and I’d swing out of the trees like Tarzan or something,” Sharkey related. “Of course, it helped that I was wearing a really horrible looking blanket and a homemade mask to hide my face.” 

“This was at night?” Stephanie asked, awed by his ingenuity. 

He nodded, eating up the attention. “Yes, ma’am….” 

“Sounds more like Zorro than Tarzan. Call me Stephanie, would you, Chief?” 

That flustered him for a short moment and then he was back into his story. “Yes, uh, Stephanie, it was.” 

“And how much was the bail, Francis?” Nelson asked, unable to resist. 

“Uh, well, uh, my Uncle Bert got me before the cops did . . .sir,” Sharkey stammered. 

“But I bet it was fun while it lasted,” Stephanie said with a giggle. “I remember one time I smuggled a litter of kittens into the house. Thank goodness they were able to eat solid food, but it was still quite a feat to keep them secret from the landlord. Mom found out the second day when I was at school.” 

“What did she do?” Sharkey asked, suddenly interested in this new subject. 

“Well, she told me I had to find homes for them—pronto! I begged and told her how I would keep them clean, fed, quiet, in my room, out of sight, whatever it took, but she laid the guilt trip on me and told me we’d all be on the street if we didn’t get rid of them. It took me a couple of weeks to get them all homes, but that nasty old, uh, weasel of a landlord never did catch on.” 

Nelson couldn’t help thinking this had to be the oddest gathering he’d ever experienced. Four Naval Reserve men on a submarine with four shipwrecked women, wrestlers to boot, dressed in coveralls. The world was a strange place. 

“I hate to break into your reminiscing,” Lee began. “But we do need to go over some basic rules for the next nine and a half days.” 

All eyes turned to him. Janna’s had never left him. 

“We cannot tell you the full details of what we are doing during that time. However, I can tell you that we are under radio silence. Basically we are cut off from the rest of the world.” 

“Why, if I may ask,” Janna queried. 

“We are part of a test of national security. What we do for the next nine days will help the military and to a lesser extent, civilian authorities protect our country. There should be no danger to anyone, but since those we are testing have no knowledge of our actions, and hopefully our presence, there could be some . . . action.” 

“What kind of action, Captain?” Lisa asked, a bit of alarm in her eyes. 

“As I said, I can’t give you details, but I can tell you that there is a slight possibility of friendly fire.” 

Tiffany squeaked in alarm and then covered her mouth. 

“Please be assured that we would reveal ourselves before we allow any real harm to Seaview or ourselves,” Lee reassured them. 

“Yes, ma’am, we won’t let anything happen to any of you ladies,” Sharkey interjected. 

“But you’ve been sunk before,” Stephanie said.

“Yes, ma’am, we have, but the greatest testament to the abilities of this craft is the fact that we are here, and Seaview is even better than ever,” Crane stated emphatically. 

“What do you want us to do?” Lisa asked.

“When we are on one of our maneuvers, we will want you to remain in your cabins. When Commander Morton or I call for silent running, there will be no talking, no movement, and no noise of any kind. Even stifle your sneezes.” They all nodded. “I will conduct a tour of the boat after dinner if anyone would like, but there will be sections off limits at all times. If you see someone posted outside a compartment, you’ll know you are not allowed.”                                                                              

“And we won’t give them any flak about it,” Lisa finished with a slight smile.

“Yes, ma’am. The only other thing is that if you are out and about; please don’t interfere with the men on duty. If you are curious about what’s going on ask myself, Commander Morton or Chief Sharkey. We can tell you what’s going on and not distract the men.”

“One more question,” Lisa asked. 

“Yes?” Lee asked, dead serious. 

Nelson had noticed the slight twitch of the small woman’s mouth and the gleam in her eye. He couldn’t imagine what was on her mind.

“Where’s the Jacuzzi?” 

Crane blinked, and then caught the joke. “In the crew’s quarters, which is also off limits.” 

“Touché, Captain,” she said, laughing. “You mean we can’t flirt with the men when they’re off duty?” 

“You can’t distract them from their assignments. This is a very important mission and we would like it to end as well as it’s gone thus far. You ladies are very nice looking and very companionable, so there can’t help but be some socialization, but no more than ‘some’, please.” He took a deep breath. “I would hate to have to confine any of you to your cabins.”

Nelson watched Lisa Mitchell’s mouth draw into a frown. There were several tense moments as she studied Lee’s face. Finally she gave a tiny smile. “You really mean that, Captain, but I can tell you aren’t saying it to be vindictive. We agree to your conditions.” 

Lee and Chip relaxed visibly. 

“If you are unsure about anything, ask one of us to clarify it for you, please,” Nelson added. 

“We will,” the ladies chorused.

 

 

                  *****************

 

 

With the control room under the capable watch of Lt. O’Brien, Crane and Morton retired to their now shared accommodations. It was cramped but it reminded Chip of their days at the academy. It also reminded him of less savory days sharing cabins with much less than stellar junior officers. “Well, how did your little sight-seeing tour go?” he asked as Lee pulled off his tie and unbuttoned his shirt.

“Better than I thought it would, but I’d much rather have been walking the boat like you were.” 

Chip snorted. “I don’t think so. I ended up having to cool Riley and several other men’s ardor, lecturing them on about the same thing you had to lecture the ladies on.” 

“Keeping their minds out of the gutter?”  Lee grinned. “Then I guess I had the better task. The women were on their best behavior. Even Janna was a good girl for most of the tour.” 

“I heard the scuttlebutt about her,” Chip said with a laugh. “She has the hots for you?” 

“Um, I guess that is one way to describe it. Just wait, the one in sickbay will probably want to chase you. One of them thinks the admiral is something else. The claustrophobic one, no less. Stephanie thinks Sharkey could walk on water and the leader adores Cookie.” 

“Hey, what’s there not to like about Cookie?” Chip teased. “The man has genuine talent!” 

“He does and I wonder if that’s not part of the attraction.”

Chip took off his uniform and sat in Lee’s chair for a few minutes. He was tired, but not sleepy yet. He saw the same thing in his commander’s face. “What about those exercises?” he asked. “They tell us exactly where to be when and yet, give us leeway about everything else. Seems a bit strange to me. If those guys don’t know about our exercise at Pearl and around southern California, why the timetable.”

“I don’t know, Chip. I guess so they know when to keep an eye on reactions, if any.” 

“Or is this possibly a test of our defenses?” 

Lee looked shocked, and then he shook his head. “I can’t believe they’d do something like that to us. We’ve shown our power and prowess more times than I can remember.” 

“I guess I’m just being paranoid.” 

“I suppose so, but I think I’ll let the admiral in on our paranoia. We’ve been stabbed in the back by self-righteous or egomaniacal politicians before.” He looked longingly at his bunk. 

“Hell, Lee, I can’t sleep right now. How about a quick round of poker? Or did you want lights out? It’s your cabin, after all.” 

“Dig out the cards. Bottom right drawer.” 

“What do we use for chips? I don’t see any.” Chip looked in the other large drawer but came up empty. 

Lee was in the head brushing his teeth and didn’t answer for a few minutes. “Paper clips,” he finally said.

Chip had a box of paper clips out on the desk and was dividing them up. The cards were waiting to be shuffled.

“Purist. This isn’t Las Vegas, just eyeball them and divvy them out,” Lee groused. 

“You shuffle while I divvy.” 

“Remember Martin?” Lee asked.

Chip laughed. How could you forget someone who was so brilliant he couldn’t remember to put his shoes on before he walked out of the dorm in the morning? They had invited him to a poker game. It was like a milder form of initiation, but mostly it was just something to get to know their new roomies. He and Lee were in adjacent rooms and each of them had roommates they hadn’t gotten to know their plebe year. Martin had been the most awful poker player he’d ever met, but the kid had somehow still managed to get most of the money. “Are you kidding? I never could understand just how he managed to graduate. He was the most absent minded kid I had ever met.” 

“And the most brilliant,” Lee said, shuffling the cards like a card sharp. “Isn’t he second in command of a base now?” 

“Think so. I don’t envy him.” 

“Nor do I. What did you think of our guests?” 

“I don’t know. Geez, it gives me a bad feeling to have this exercise and have civilians aboard, Lee.”

“Me, too, but at least they are nice to look at, even in coveralls, and they were pleasant enough to talk to. They seem willing to comply with the rules, too.”

“Thanks be for that!” Chip took the shuffled cards. “What do you want to play? Five card? Black jack?” 

“Five card’s fine.” They played a couple of hands, Chip winning both hands. They were startled by a knock on the door. 

If there had been a problem with the boat, the intercom would have paged one or both of them. “Lee, could that be one of the women?” He was playing in his underwear, not having bothered to put on his pajamas yet. 

“I don’t know, Chip. Take your ‘jammies and change in the head.” Lee cracked the door and then opened it wider. “Come in, Admiral.” 

Chip had his pajamas on in a minute. 

“I wasn’t sure if you gentlemen were awake, but I thought I heard voices coming from your cabin, Lee. Mind if I join you?”

“Not at all, sir,” both men chorused. They looked around for another chair. Lee finally solved the dilemma by pulling out a desk drawer and setting it longwise. He sat down and picked up the cards, shuffled them and dealt. “We’re playing five card stud, sir, if that’s all right with you.” 

“Fine, Lee, but can I have some paper clips, too?” he asked with a laugh. 

They played a few hands before Chip brought up his paranoia theory. Nelson laid down his cards and looked thoughtful. “I won’t lie and say that thought didn’t occur to me. But why in the hell would they pull a stunt like that?” 

“We have been testing our new stealth weapons as well as others’ defensive systems, but we also installed some new defensive equipment on board Seaview, too. Why haven’t we been asked to test that? And if it’s unscrupulous to not let us know what’s going on, why is any less unscrupulous to not let them know in Pearl and California?” Chip asked. 

“Good point, Chip. Maybe we ought to test that theory,” Nelson murmured.  

“How, sir?” Lee and Chip asked at the same time. 

“By going into Pearl exactly the way they laid it out.”

“What?” Lee gasped. It was insane! If the Defense Department had something new they didn’t know about…. He calmed himself. Rarely did the admiral have something like this without a plan.

“We tested those defense systems, didn’t we? You were the one who was singing the praises of that new sonic scrambler, weren’t you, Chip?” Nelson asked pointedly.

“Yes, sir, I was, but still….”

“They wouldn’t want to have to pay the bill for fixing our lady, so I’m sure they have some kind of protocol for this. Let’s just see how well we perform, too.” He looked at the cards on the desk, picking his back up. “In other words, I think we’ll see who plays the best bluff.” 

Chip considered. Yes, the new computer enhanced systems had performed beyond expectations. And yes, the admiral’s enhancements to the protective devices were worth their weight in gold. However, there was always the possibility for something unexpected to happen. Or something to have been overlooked; or maybe some red herring. The women, he wondered? He would have to think on that one. Somehow, he didn’t think so, but still….

“Yes, sir,” Lee said. “I guess since this will all start tomorrow afternoon, we’d better hit the rack.” 

“A couple of more hands, Lee. I think Chip needs some real competition.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Five

 

 

They were ten miles out from Pearl Harbor. The assignment: to sneak through the harbor’s defenses without being detected. Not an easy task as it was the only base in the country that had been attacked successfully in modern times. They were always vigilant. Added to the fact that detection was an art form these days.

“Are the anti-detection devices online and operational,” Crane asked the two men working the new equipment. Chip was standing nearby, watching. He had overseen the installation and was particularly keen for them to work well. 

“Aye, aye, sir.” 

The three of them determined a fast approach was the best. Come in as though they were going to attack. The powers that be had talked of a surveillance type of assault, but Admiral Nelson had opted for something more direct and dramatic. It would show the defenses at Pearl to be at peak or needing more work. It would do the same for Seaview

“Good.” Crane looked at his watch. “Turn to heading one-one-four at half speed. Then bring the a.n.d.r.a.d. online.”

The instructions were followed to the letter. At twelve miles out, Crane ordered the sub around to a course that would bring them into Pearl Harbor at an angle. “Full speed,” he ordered. “Attention all hands, prepare for silent running. No unnecessary movement or talking. Anyone not on duty, remain in their off duty areas.” 

Crane stood watching as Seaview passed six miles, five miles, three, two, then one. At a half mile, he ordered, “Bring her up to ninety feet, arm weapons drill, fire drill, mark oh, one, four. Fire!”  He listened as the mock weapons were shown as fired. The computer tracked the imaginary trajectory. “All back full.” The computers saw one hit with a missile, another falling into the harbor. The imaginary torpedoes made contact with a pier, a supply depot, and a tug. “Bring us around and out of here. Flank speed.”

“Captain, we are being fired upon. Two short range missiles and four underwater missiles!” Kowalski called out from his station.

“Deploy sonic baffles, decoys,” he ordered.  It was done almost before the words were out of his mouth.  “Dive! Dive!”  Chip repeated the orders. He felt the floor tilt as the sub headed out to open waters and then down into the depths of a Pacific trench.

“First contact with decoy,” Ski called out. “Damn! That wasn’t a mock missile!” Just about that time the sub bounced like a car in a three-foot pothole. “Another one, starboard! Another decoy hit.” They bucked again, but again it wasn’t too intense. 

“Activate sonics!” Crane called out. 

Patterson did and there were several muted rumbles of detonation that only made the sub rock gently, like a duck on a slightly choppy surface. 

“Any more?” 

“I’m getting something weird.” 

“In what way, Ski?” Crane asked. Chip leaned over and studied the sonar man’s instruments.

“I think they have something new, Lee,” he reported. 

“Theories?” 

“A missile with its own cloaking devices,” Chip told him. “We can only guess by these faint echoes where it is.” 

“How close?” 

“Half mile and closing . . . I think, sir,” Ski replied.

Lee studied the faint signals. “Break out the laser cannon, port.” He maneuvered the weapon. Beads of sweat coalesced and trickled down the side of his face. “Distance!” 

“Eighth of a mile and closing, sir.” 

“Verify- oh, three, two. Oh, three, one.” 

“Aye, sir. On the mark.” 

Lee fired. His screen showed the almost silent explosion of an object in the ocean. “Let’s get out of here.”

There was an audible sigh of relief, then Seaview heaved and bucked. It was as though a tidal wave had caught them. The only problem with that was Seaview was two hundred feet below the surface. That was moot to the men and women on board. So sudden was the onslaught the control room crew was slung from one side of the room to the other. Crane grabbed at the periscope island rail. He missed the first time, but caught it at the second attempt. Hanging on almost caused him to dislocate his shoulder. With an audible grunt, he pulled himself upright. The violent motion eased into gentle rocking and Crane surveyed the room for damage and for injured personnel. He found more of the latter than the former, but still the lights dimmed and then came back up while one console sparked and hissed. 

Grabbing the mike, Crane called out, “Damage control!” He followed that with, “Systems status!” 

There were moans and groans, but slowly almost everyone got back into their seats and attended their duty stations. “Sonar is showing nothing, sir,” Ski relayed. 

“Nothing on the hydrophones, Captain,” Jenkins said. 

“Computer shows a slight anomaly just before that . . . whatever, hit us,” Mallory called out. 

“Where did it come from?” Crane asked. He continued looking around. Where was Chip? 

“Sir, Mr. Morton is hurt,” Jenkins cried out, pointing to a prone figure on the floor, partly hidden under one of the consoles. 

“Sick bay!” Crane called in the mike. “Man down in the control room.” He was by the exec’s side almost immediately. While he was checking Morton over, he was calling out orders. “Any structural damage? Can we get back under way? Whatever that was, I want us out of here before we get round two.”  

There were murmurs of agreement.

“Sir,” Lt. Keeling began. “All compartments report they are sound. Most damage was from shifting supplies and equipment. Engine room reports that we can get under way again, although not at full speed until everything is checked out thoroughly.” He paused to listen to more reports. 

“Where the hell did it come from?” Crane repeated.

“Sir, I think there was some kind of anti-submarine device on the ocean floor,” Mallory reported. “It was triggered by remote. That was the signal I found on the computer tape.” 

“Can you detect anymore?” 

“No, sir. I have no way of knowing if there are more.” 

“All stop!” Crane ordered. “Mallory, study that tape, figure out what we’re dealing with so we can get the hell out of here before we trigger something else.” 

“Sir, there is activity from shore. Several small ships casting off and heading in our direction,” Kowalski called out.  “They are definitely war ships. Harbor defense and armed to the teeth.” 

Crane mentally cursed. It had been too easy. Way too easy. “Mallory!” 

“I’m trying, sir. It’s so hard to pick up.” 

Lee thought of what they had, and of how to use it. “The new defensive equipment. Can it be configured to detect other defensive devices?”

There was a brief silence, then—“We’ll get on it, sir.”

“Three gunboats, sir. Armed to the teeth and with depth charges.” 

“Sparks, send a message. You have the codes. We can’t ….” 

“Belay that!”  Admiral Nelson strode into the control room. “Lee, you have the right idea. I’ll see to the recalibration in our defensive system. Jenkins, how much time do we have before those ships get here?” 

“At present speed, four minutes, sir.” 

Nelson didn’t say anything else, but motioned a rate from the console and began working dials and switches. He mumbled under his breath. 

Lee could have argued, but knew that if Nelson could figure out how to detect those new anti-submarine devices, they could escape. Two minutes. He would give him that and then he would send out the code that would halt the exercise. Of course, that would be like bitter bile in their stomachs, having to concede defeat. 

Crane checked Chip’s pulse and found it a bit weak, but within norm. His breathing was shallow, but steady. There was a big lump on one side of his head. There was also a cut that was bleeding profusely. Chip couldn’t be moved until the medics showed up even though it seemed that his injuries looked worse than they actually were. 

“I have it. Found them,” Nelson cried. “Ahead, four, one, one degrees, quarter speed.” 

Crane nodded to the men, but he didn’t need to. They were already putting in the course and bringing the boat back in action. “Wyatt, watch Commander Morton. Don’t let him move or roll around.” He picked up the mike. “Engine room, be ready to go to the maximum speed you can get as soon as I order it.” 

“Aye, aye, sir,” came the tinny response. 

“The ships are thirty seconds from depth charge range, sir.” 

“We’re clear, Lee!” Nelson called out in triumph, looking up from his scope. 

“Full speed. Take us down another hundred feet,” Crane ordered. 

It was five minutes before anyone breathed with anything close to normalcy. Between his worry about the boat and the men, and his particular worry about Chip, Crane didn’t think he had breathed at all. 

They were ten miles out of Pearl before they felt some sense of safety. Lee was able to give more attention to his exec. That was when he realized that the medical team had already carried him out of the control room. Crane wondered at his condition, but knew it would be another hour or two before he could leave the control room. He picked up the mike. “Sickbay, report.” 

“Six injuries requiring more extensive medical treatment. Four with broken bones, cuts that needed stitching and a concussion.” That last had to be Chip. As though they were reading his mind, the medic added, “Commander Morton is conscious, but confined to sick bay for the next twelve hours for observation, sir.” 

“Has anyone checked on our guests?” he asked. 

“No, sir. I’ll send someone to do that right now.” 

“Give me an update each hour, Frank,” Lee told the medic. 

“Yes, sir.” The mike clicked off and Lee called for damage reports on the boat.  Fifteen minutes later, everyone had reported in. Thank goodness there hadn’t been any serious damage. The work crews were busy mopping up messes and replacing the stray bolt or two. Crane breathed another sigh of relief and handed off the conn to Lt. Rojas. “Let me know immediately of anything unusual . . . inside or out. He wouldn’t have put it past any of the COMSUBPAC planners to have another nasty surprise.

Nelson yawned at the console he had not left since their adventure in Pearl. “You heading for a little rack time, Admiral?” Crane asked quietly. 

“I think we’ll be all right for the next twenty-four hours. I want to work on this and use what we’ve discovered to avoid that kind of surprise when we get to the west coast.” 

“So we’re going on with this exercise?”

“Of course, you don’t think we’d back away from a challenge, do you?”

“No, sir, but I certainly would back off from….”

“Lee, we’re both too tired and stressed to begin debating safety issues with one another. If they throw something at us we can’t overcome then we’ll concede with the failsafe code.” 

Crane nodded and rubbed the back of his neck. He hadn’t realized just how stiff the last couple of hours had made him.  Not that he’d been banged around that much. That thought made him think of Chip.

“By the way, how’s Chip?” Nelson asked.

It was uncanny, Crane thought, how the admiral seemed to know what he was thinking sometimes.

“Don’t give me that look, Lee. Your concern is written all over your face. Besides, I’ve been worried about him, too. He took quite a knock.”

“Yes, sir, I was going to go by sickbay and check on him after I visit and check on our guests,” Lee said.

“I will visit sickbay on my way to my cabin. You take care of the ladies.”

Crane lifted an eyebrow and the admiral’s choice of words. “Aye, aye, sir,” he replied with a soft laugh.

“I don’t envy you. Somehow I don’t think they are going to be amused with our little adventure,” Nelson added. 

Somehow, Crane thought he was probably right.  He was….

“What the hell was that?” Lisa asked him before he had knocked twice on Chip’s cabin door. The other three women were in the cabin with her. Stephanie had a damp towel on her forehead. Tiffany was lying on the bunk moaning softly, mumbling something about the walls squeezing her. Lisa’s cheek had an abrasion.

“I think you should be checked out in sickbay,” Lee suggested.

“Most of the time this is what we get when we’re in the rink, sometimes in the ring. Sometimes we get worse than this,” Lisa said sardonically. “The point is; what in the hell did we hit? Felt like the ride came off the roller coaster and bounced all the way down. You said we should be safe if we followed the rules.”

“Most of the time we are safe if we follow the rules,” Crane told her. “And that was a pretty good analogy. We aren’t sure what we hit. I would tell you more, but….” 

“National security, yeah, I know,” Lisa grumbled. 

“If it’s any help, the admiral was able to figure out how to avoid it happening more than once. We are in open waters, far from any other vessels and we should stay that way for the next thirty-six hours.”

Lisa nodded. Janna had sidled up next to her and was batting her eyelashes at Lee. 

“Are you sure none of you needs to see Doc?” he asked, trying to ignore her. 

“I do, if for no other reason than to get some kind of sedative for Tiffany and to see how Mary Lou is,” Lisa told him. 

“I need to see the doctor, too,” Janna said with a whimper. “I think I may have sprained something.”

Lee hadn’t noticed her limping, but he could guess what was coming next. “Where is the sprain?” 

“Oh, my shoulder, my knee,” she answered. 

“Oh, my aching back,” Lisa muttered in imitation to her companion. Janna shot her a nasty look. “I’ll take her to sick bay. I’m sure you have other things you need to do, Captain.”

“I’ll be all right, Lisa, if you are going to act like that!” Janna snapped.  “You were sure quick to take care of Stephanie.”

“Let me look at it.” Crane knew he would regret this, but he figured if he could get her out of the way now, then he wouldn’t have her hanging on him all the way to sickbay and all the way back.  She limped up to him and hiked up the leg of her coveralls—very, very slowly. He bent down and examined her knee. There was a bruise and it was swollen, but didn’t seem to be anything an ice pack wouldn’t take care of.

However, when he straightened up, Janna Milligan staggered and stumbled into him. Lee reached out to grab her and ended up with the buxom wrestler ensconced in his arms, a satisfied smile on her lips and a come hither look in her eyes. Her arms circled his waist just as a rate rounded the corner of the corridor. He stopped short, staring open-mouthed at his captain and the beautiful woman guest seemingly making out in the corridor. Feeling his cheeks beginning to burn, Crane pulled the human octopus loose. He scowled at Lisa, then he addressed Janna. “Ms. Milligan, if you can’t control yourself, I will have to confine you to your cabin. I can’t have you acting out your lusts on my boat.” He turned to the rate, who hadn’t moved. “What did you need, Wallace?” 

“Uh, nothing, sir. Doc just sent me down to check on the ladies.”

“Very well. Please tell the doctor that I have checked on them and aside from a few bumps and bruises, they don’t seem the worse for wear.” 

“Aye, aye, sir.” Wallace’s mouth quirked, but then he saw the look on his commander’s face and beat a hasty retreat. 

“Ms. Mitchell, could you please also repeat the rules to Ms. Milligan.” Janna scowled, even as she tried to sidle up to him again. “Maybe you can get the message across. Now if there is nothing else I can do for you, I have repairs to oversee.” It wasn’t quite the truth, but close enough. He stalked off. 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Six

 

 

Lisa slammed the door shut and turned on Janna. “Are you nuts?”

“He’s so sexy and I . . . I….” 

“You were stupid, that’s what you were,” Tiffany burst out. “You’re going to get us stuck in our cabins for over a week! I don’t think I could stand to be in this tiny room for that long. How could you be so stupid?” 

“Quit whining!” Lisa snapped before rounding on Janna. “Tiffany is right about one thing, though. If you keep up acting the coquettish schoolgirl routine, you are going to get us banned from doing anything but using that teeny little thing they call a bathroom! Now get a grip and quit acting like such a jerk. I know you think the captain’s hot, but you aren’t going to get anywhere with him acting like a sex deprived slut.” 

“He won’t let me near him with a ten foot pole now,” Janna whimpered. 

“I don’t blame him,” Stephanie said, a sneer in her voice.  

“Telling him you’re sorry without hanging all over him might be a start,” Lisa said, still irritated. “And leaving him alone might be another good move.” 

“How will he know I like him if I do that?” 

“I think he knows,” Lisa said with a snort.

 

 

                                    ***************

 

 

Nelson sat down at his desk with a sigh. He unbuttoned his shirt even as he pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his desk. His mind wandered to the exercise earlier in the day and he wondered at the weapon that had been used against them. There was no doubt in his mind that it was totally a defensive weapon. Seaview had been meant to be incapacitated until they could be captured. Very ingenious, he thought. Nelson’s mind pondered how to make his own defenses better. He jerked over a note pad and began scribbling formulae, equations and ideas. Added to that were several sketches of the schematics of his sonic repulser.  He wondered why it hadn’t kept them from feeling the effects of the weapon at Pearl. Maybe it was because it was a type of energy rather than a physical weapon like a torpedo or a missile. He’d have to study the tapes tomorrow, but he had a pretty good idea what he was going to find.

Nelson tapped out a cigarette and reached for his lighter. He yawned and put the cigarette back into the package. No, he needed sleep more than he needed a cigarette. With a sigh, he got up and undressed. Tomorrow he would be more refreshed and think much more logically. 

Then a thought startled him out of sleep. The lab. Those specimens had been put away in a supposedly safe compartment, but could he be sure? Nelson threw on his trousers and shrugged back into his shirt. He felt a sense of anxiety that could only be resolved by seeing to the specimens right now. Then he would be reassured enough to get to sleep. Buttoning his shirt as he headed toward the lab, he came across Sharkey. 

“I thought you were going to bed, sir,” Sharkey stammered, clearly surprised by Nelson’s appearance. There were smudges on the COB’s face and his hands were greasy. Doubtless he had been supervising the various repairs resulting from that strange defensive weapon. 

“I am as soon as I make sure everything is all right in the lab.” 

“Oh. Would you like me to help you?” 

“No, no, Francis. Just checking to reassure myself. I’m sure everything is fine.” 

“Oh, okay, Admiral, but just holler out if you need me.” 

“I will, Chief.” 

“Goodnight, sir.” 

“Goodnight, Francis.” 

Harry smiled softly as the CPO continued down the corridor. Sharkey was as different as they came, naïve one moment and totally savvy the next, but he liked him and was glad the man had agreed to come on board as COB after Curly Jones died. The men had taken to him quickly, despite the fact that none had worked with him before, including himself. He had taken the advice of an old Navy buddy and contacted Sharkey. As with all who had come on board Seaview, Francis had jumped at the chance. 

Nelson reached the lab and opened the hatch. Immediately a pungent odor assailed his nostrils and the former anxiety returned. The specimens might be all right, but something broke. It smelled like formaldehyde. He turned on the light and saw a small pile of broken glass on the floor in a larger puddle of liquid. The case where chemicals were stored had broken open, presumably in the bouncing around at Pearl. Thank goodness nothing else had come loose from the rack. With a frown, Nelson began cleaning up the mess, determined to replace the old glass vials and jars with something safer, like plastic where possible. He tossed the glass into the garbage and checked everything else. All was secure. The specimens he had been studying had been knocked over in their cabinet, but nothing was broken and the container was sealed. With a sigh of relief that turned into a yawn, Harriman closed the hatch and headed back toward his cabin. He was inordinately tired all of a sudden and the relief of finding only minimal damage had most likely fueled his fatigue.

 

                                    *******

 

Francis Ethelbert Sharkey washed up in his cabin and sighed in relief. All the repairs had been finished well within the timeline he had set for their completion. It was time to double check the other systems and make sure the men were where they were supposed to be. Five women on board and these tests. Jeez, he thought, what a scenario for disaster!  Well, it couldn’t be helped. As long as some of the rates kept their minds on business and didn’t get distracted and goof up, it would be okay. There was a knock on his door. Sharkey dried his hands and walked the half dozen steps that it took to get to the other side of his cabin. He didn’t mind. He didn’t have that much to clutter up his digs anyway. Opening the door, he was surprised to see one of the women. “Uh, ma’am?” was all he could say. It was Stephanie.

“I’m sorry, Chief, but could you help me, please?” 

For a brief moment, Sharkey didn’t know what to say. Then he realized his shirt was unbuttoned. “Oh, sorry, Stephanie.” He quickly buttoned up. 

She had a funny look on her face and he looked down, expecting maybe that his fly was open, or something like that. He had buttoned his shirt wrong. Feeling his cheeks grow warm, he unbuttoned and then tried again, with success this time. “There something you wanted?” he asked a bit too gruffly. “Uh, sorry. It’s been a long day.” 

Stephanie cocked her head. “I was bored and decided to take a short walk. I wasn’t going to snoop or anything, but…. Well, anyway, I got lost.”

“I’ll be happy to take you back to your cabin, but how ‘bout some coffee from the mess first? I was just coming off my watch.” That was a lie, but everything was in pretty good order so he could afford a short break. 

“I’m sorry, Francis, but I really am tired. Maybe we can swap stories tomorrow when you aren’t doing this test, or whatever it is.” 

Sharkey was disappointed, but he understood. They had been stranded at sea for days before their rescue, then they get all bounced around after their rescue. Still, he realized he wanted to see this New York gal again. He almost blushed at the thought. After all he was the one who told everyone how much trouble women were, even if he did keep a black book of phone numbers. Most of them were losers; women he had met and found less than desirable. The guys ribbed him about it, but still he kept the book. Was it just to say he had tried? Maybe it was status. Maybe it was a hope that one of them would turn out to be someone he could enjoy. Hell, he didn’t know, but now he was enjoying the company of a woman who’d literally drifted into his life. She seemed to enjoy his company, too. Well, maybe.

“Okay. That sounds like a plan, Stephanie. Let me take you to your cabin.” 

She paused by the cabin door. “I really appreciate your kindness, Francis. I liked talking about old places and old times. Sometimes it seems like New York is so far away. Like it’s another world or something.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “Well, you have a good night. It will be smooth sailing so you should get some good sleep.” 

Still her hand lingered on the doorknob. “I’m sure I will,” she said with a smile. “Thank you.” 

“Uh, you’re welcome.” 

Her smile broadened, she leaned closer and then seemed to change her mind about something. Stephanie opened the door, said good night again, and was gone. 

Sharkey stood there a moment. It was then he heard a snicker. When he jerked around, he saw no one. But then he hadn’t expected to. With a shake of his head, he returned to his walk through the boat. A few of the men smiled Cheshire cat smiles at him, but other than that, everything was normal. He growled mentally. The scuttlebutt would be rampant by tomorrow. First that blonde bombshell after the captain and now this one; and after him no less! 

He continued through the crew’s quarters, the galley where he got a cup of coffee and into the control room. The watch had just changed and Kowalski was at sonar. It seemed very much like the senior rate was trying very hard to keep from laughing. “What’s the big joke, Ski?” Sharkey asked. 

Kowalski sniggered. “Uh, nothing, Chief.” 

“I know better, you clown! What’s up?” Sharkey had a sinking feeling he knew exactly what was up. “Spill it.”

Ski lowered his voice in a conspiratorial tone. “Well, the scuttlebutt is that you’re sweet on that red head. Maybe she’s sweet on you, too.” He couldn’t contain the snicker that escaped his lips. 

“Okay, knucklehead. I’m not sweet on anyone, although I’ll spread you across the deck like strawberry jam if you keep that kind of talk up. Keep your mind on your work.” 

“Sure, Chief. Just practice what you preach,” Ski said, annoyed. 

“I always do, wise guy! Keep it canned,” Sharkey hissed. The rate had a point, though. Until these exercises were over with, he had to steer clear of the girls. He sighed, then an evil thought came to his mind. “You’re just jealous,” he shot back at the younger man as he walked off. That comment elicited a chuckle, but it was a friendly one.

Three hours later, satisfied that everything was going well and when his watch ended, the chief went into his cabin to get a bit of shuteye. He saw Stephanie in his mind just before he fell asleep. She looked happy to see him, too. His dreams were of a visit to Coney Island; the Coney Island of his boyhood where the scents of cotton candy, hot dogs and popcorn all whirled together in a wonderful cacophony of delicious indulgence. Where it was okay to eat until you were almost sick. Where he and his friend dared each other to ride the most jerking, dipping, fastest attractions to see who would barf first. Except in this dream, he wasn’t trying to out-do anyone. He had Stephanie on his arm. They were strolling along the arcade. His dream shifted and he was popping off ducks in the arcade to win a doll for her. He won her the largest doll he had ever seen in his life and gave it to her amid her happy laughter of delight.

 

 

             ********

 

 

Chip Morton came to in the semi-darkness of sickbay. He knew where he was because of the smell of antiseptic and the beep of monitors. It was not a pleasant thought. He had somehow hoped he’d be on a cot in Lee’s cabin after another pleasant few hands of poker or rummy. In fact, come to think of it, that was what the dream had been about. He and Lee and the Admiral had been in a Vegas poker game. Sharkey had been there, too, winning everything in sight while the rest of them watched and congratulated.

Morton sighed, looked around and saw Doc dozing at his desk. There were two other occupied bunks, but he couldn’t see who was in them. Hopefully, there hadn’t been many injuries from that knocking around they had received. What the hell had that been anyway, he wondered? How long had he been out? Chip looked at his arms and was grateful that he found no IV’s hanging off him. There was evidence that there had been. No oxygen. That was good. Slowly, he sat up and received the answer as to why he was in sickbay. His head began thumping like a kettledrum. He sat still, eyes closed for a few minutes. 

“Welcome back to the land of the living, Commander,” Doc said. “You’ll want to take it a bit easy. You are nursing a concussion.” 

“How long?” 

“Been here for about twelve hours.” Doc stood by his bunk and began taking his pulse, listening to his heart and all the other conscience doctor things.= 

“Except for a slight headache, I’m all right. How ‘bout I finish my nap in my . . . er, in Lee’s cabin.” 

“Couple of reasons, Chip,” Doc began. “First, you just woke from a nasty rap on the head. Second, I would like Captain Crane to get some decent sleep. You’d only wake him if you went there now.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Chip acquiesced. The first reason had not been enough, but the second was.

“I know I am,” Doc said with a chuckle. “Let me check your eyes and temperature.” 

Chip grumbled under his breath, but didn’t protest further. When Doc was finished, he asked, “What about the boat. What happened?” 

“Some kind of new weapon. Think it was supposed to do just enough damage to allow the sub to be captured.” 

“Obviously we weren’t,” Chip stated the obvious. 

“The admiral managed to figure out how to detect these weapons and we slipped away.” 

“Are we on our way to the west coast?” 

“Yes.” 

“Any other casualties? Any injuries?” 

“No deaths, thank the Lord. Some injuries, but nothing serious. You are the worst, except for our lovely lady over there. She is just about well enough to be discharged into the capable hands of her leader.”

“A problem?”

“No, I am just not comfortable having her and her four compatriots on board during something as serious as these tests.” 

“I wasn’t comfortable with them on board, period,” Chip stated. “Did you see how that one kept sidling up to and making eyes at the skipper?” 

“I heard the scuttlebutt about that. Hear one is sweet on the admiral. The one with claustrophobia,” Doc replied. 

Chip chuckled and then sighed. “Not much we can do about it other than hoping that we don’t have any more trouble.” 

“That’s like asking a polar bear to stop eating seals.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of.”

“What are you afraid of,” came a tremulous voice from a nearby bunk. It was the woman.

“Oh, sorry, ma’am,” Chip said hastily, hoping to steer clear of a confession of the topic of their conversation. “We didn’t mean to wake you up.”

“I was only dozing anyway. My back’s sore from lying here so long.” There was a pause. “How long have I been here anyway?” 

“A day, ma’am,” Doc told her. “I think you are finally hydrated enough to be released.” 

“Where?” she asked, her tone blunt. 

“There’s a cabin you’ll be sharing with one of your friends,” Doc replied. 

“Are they all right?” the woman asked. 

“Yes, ma’am, they are fine.” 

“Oh, good. By the way, my name is Mary Lou, not ma’am,” she said and then paused dramatically. “Mary Lou Hutton.” 

“Glad to meet you,” Chip replied with a slight smile. “I am Chip Morton.” 

She was peering through the dimness of the sickbay with almost disconcerting completeness. “You are the executive officer?” 

“Yes.”

“Does that mean you are just below the captain?”

“Yes,” he repeated. 

“Who is just below the admiral?” 

“That’s a pretty good way to describe the hierarchy,” Chip replied. “Although the captain can override the admiral in matters of the boat’s safety.” 

“Let’s not get complicated, Chip,” Doc said with a wry grin. “I can overrule both of them in matters of medical importance.” 

“Well, yes, that’s true.” 

“I’ll just keep it simple and think of it in a linear fashion,” Mary Lou said decidedly.  “I guess we’ll both be released soon.” 

“Yes, ma’am, er, Mary Lou,” Chip said, correcting himself at her glare. 

“What is it you’re afraid of? I mean, I’m not claustrophobic like Tiffany is, but still, just thinking that we’re in something that is totally surrounded by water and darkness makes me a bit nervous.” 

Chip paused, trying to think of something suitable to say that would not worry her anymore. He couldn’t, but Doc beat him to it. 

“We were discussing the possibility of another incident like what we encountered yesterday and how something like that could be avoided,” Doc answered with glib nonchalance. 

“Oh, I don’t remember much of anything, except I felt like I was in an earthquake one time. I thought it was a dream. I remember waking up and finding more people in here, including you, Commander,” she said, motioning toward Chip. 

“When I’m not on duty, just call me Chip, please. And it was no dream, Mary Lou. It wasn’t an earthquake, but the effect was similar.” She looked liked she wanted to ask another question, but he continued, “Until I talk to the captain or Admiral Nelson, I don’t know much more than that.” 

Mary Lou looked disappointed, but she didn’t say anything else for a moment. “So we are stuck here for the night?” 

Doc nodded. “Pretty much. I can have something for you both to drink if you’re feeling up to it.” 

“Some coffee, if you don’t mind,” Chip said. 

“No coffee.” 

Chip grimaced. “Look, no milk, no tea, herbal or otherwise and plain water just doesn’t cut it. What does that leave?” 

“Seven Up or Coke. Take your pick.” 

“The latter,” Mary Lou chimed in before Chip could open his mouth. 

“The former,” he said. “Cookie didn’t leave any pie?” 

“He did, but not until you have had the soda and it stays down.” 

Since his head was still playing a soft symphony, Chip wasn’t going to argue. When the drinks came, he had to admit it tasted rather good and felt soothing on his parched throat. He finished the cup and sat back against the cool bulkhead. He didn’t know he had dozed until he felt a hand nudging him awake. 

“How are you feeling, Chip?” the soft voice asked. It was Lee. 

“Hey, I thought you were asleep in your cabin.”

“I was until some crazy dream woke me up.”

“If it woke you up, it wasn’t a dream, it was a nightmare.” 

“Hmm, okay, nightmare, then. It was a doozy!” 

“Okay, let me guess. Attacked by a hoard of mummies? Pirates? A cyborg? Ah, I know, it was three midgets with nine puppets. Or maybe it was a Nazi animal tamer with a white gorilla. Seaweed monsters? Algae werewolves? Or….” 

“Enough!” Lee hissed, his look promising retribution if Chip continued. 

He looked around. Doc was gone and the other two inmates were asleep. 

“Well, are you going to divulge? I can’t imagine any nightmare that would be scarier than what we’ve lived through.” 

Crane chuckled softly. “You’re right, except this dream was all women. One was a pirate, one a vampire, another one was a mad scientist, another an alien seductress, while the last one was an Indian princess.” 

“Indian princess? That doesn’t sound too bad.” 

“She had me tied to the stake and was lighting the fire,” Lee replied. 

“Was she a looker?”

“And kissed good, too, but it was getting rather hot.”

“They all good lookers?” 

“Yes, Chip and if I could have, I’d have given you one of them,” Lee said sardonically. 

“Which one?” He was enjoying this little chain jerking session.

“The pirate, since you had so much fun with the last one.”

“Uh, uh, Kowalski did, not me. And how’s the boat? Any damage?” 

The retribution came with the next comment. “Just that console you hit,” Lee replied, straight-faced. 

“Ha, ha!” 

“Seriously, there was nothing that wasn’t quickly fixed. Admiral located the other devices and we were able to sneak out of the area.” 

“That was some fine defensive weapon, though.” 

Lee looked contemplative. “Yeah. I’m worried about what they may have at our next exercise.” 

Chip thought a minute. “Has it occurred to you that they may have thrown their big egg at us right off the bat?” 

“You mean there might not be anything else?” 

“It’s possible, Lee. They figured this would end the experiment right then and there and anyone who had a grudge against the admiral would be laughing through their teeth about now.” 

Lee rubbed his chin. “Maybe. I’ll run it by the admiral.” 

“I can myself, if Doc let’s me out of here!” 

“I don’t see why not, since our skipper has had his mandatory minimal amount of sleep,” Doc said, leaning against his desk. “Headache?” 

Chip shook his head. That last bit of sleep seemed to have chased away any vestiges of his adventure in the control room. “Feeling fine.” 

“I’d still be happier if you’d both get a bit more shut-eye.” 

“I’ve had enough, thank you,” Chip replied with a frown. 

“But you got a pretty good knock. So no duty until morning watch.” 

Chip slid out of the bunk, then realized he was in his underwear. He glanced toward the other bunk, but Mary Lou was still asleep. Lee handed him his robe and waited patiently while Chip donned it. 

“I really would appreciate it if you tried to get some more sleep, too, Lee,” Doc repeated. “I think it would be better for our mission if you did." 

“Since you put it that way, Doc, I’ll try,” Lee promised.

Chip doubted seriously it would happen, but despite his enforced rest, he was still tired. “Come on, Lee. Let’s hike on out of here and see what we can do with a few hours of down time, minus the antiseptic and diagnostics beeping.”

Doc just grinned and waved them out of sickbay. “Good night, gentlemen.”  Watching them go, he congratulated himself on how well they had concluded that little exercise. With women on board, to boot.  Maybe what he had heard was right—that the big guns had already been fired.

He checked the nearly empty sickbay and then lay down on the only bunk that had been unoccupied. Rest is good, he thought as he drifted off. Head home, send the ladies packing, have some serious leave.  If only their other exercises could be this calm….

 

 

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