Residual Effects

By sherlockette

 

 

 

This one follows Contingencies and Sound Effects and while it can stand alone it might be more enjoyable to have read Sound Effects. Thanks to my special beta ;-)

~~~~

 “Why the devil didn’t they tell us before now?” shouted Admiral Harriman Nelson, designer and owner of the submarine Seaview, as he picked up the ten-page neatly bound report and shook it. “They’ve known for over two months where Janek was and what he was working on! Why did they have to wait until we were in the middle of sonar trials to drop this in our laps? Now we’re supposed to just stay here advertising our presence and practically asking to be attacked while they send Crane on some ‘mystery mission’? I don’t care if the President ordered it. He might as well cut off my right arm!”

The admiral was ranting to Admiral Jiggs Starke, his long time friend and the COMSUBPAC, about the intelligence brief and set of sealed orders he had received when Seaview had made a short stopover at Pearl Harbor . The report, issued by the Office of Naval Intelligence concerned Dr. Ellison Janek, a leading sonar researcher who had disappeared from an acoustics conference presumably at the hands of agents working for the People’s Republic. It indicated the scientist had been coerced into working on a new anti-sonar weapon and suggested that the device was close to being deployed. The orders had Seaview remaining in the waters midway between Hawaii and Los Angeles until authorized to leave by the President himself. It would also send Seaview’s captain, Lee Crane, on a covert mission, one so secret that even Nelson would not be privy to the details until it was completed.

Nelson slammed the report down on the desk in his cabin then turned back towards the videophone just in time to see Starke back away from the screen. Amused by his old friend’s reaction, Nelson grinned. “Sorry, Jiggs.” After a pause to pull out and light a cigarette Nelson’s anger flared again. He paced back and forth a couple of times before stopping to take a long drag. “If we’d known about this before we finished designing the new sonar we could have made adjustments. You know retrofits are far from ideal!”

“I know, Harriman, I know. I asked the CNO about emergency funding. But you and I both know those political hacks in Washington don’t want to spend a dime on anything they can’t take with them to show-and-tell.”

“It’s not just the money Jiggs, and you know it.”

“I got him to agree that we need to know everything that’s known about any device and he’s sure ONI will pass that information along when they get it.”

Nelson exhaled loudly. “You don’t believe that any more than I do.” There was a period of silence as both men considered what to do next. Starke was the first to speak.

“Harriman, what’s really bothering you?” 

Nelson slowly shook his head and flicked his cigarette ash into the desktop ashtray. “I have a very bad feeling about all this, Jiggs.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“It’s all a chess game… and we’re in check.”

“Meaning what?”

“They know all our possible moves. They have Ellison Janek and after that fiasco in Hilton Head the PR surely knows that we are in the middle of sonar trials and exactly where to find us. Humphhhhh. With as many leaks as we have, they probably know Crane will be temporarily out of the picture. And here we wait…and for who knows what?”

Starke shook his head. “Never thought I’d say this, Harriman, but you have one of the best crews afloat. They can handle whatever is thrown at them. They’ve proved that often enough.”

Nelson grinned inwardly as he ground out his cigarette. He knew how difficult it had been for Starke to admit what he himself already knew.

“You’re right about that, Jiggs, but they shouldn’t have to ‘handle’ this. They’re just learning the system, and…I have a couple of officers that spent the last few months working their sixes off to see this project through. They’re tired, and frankly, so am I.”    

Starke knew better than to respond to the comment and could not offer any concrete suggestions. He and Nelson continued their discussion of the contents of the brief for a few minutes, exchanged courtesies then signed off from the call.

Admiral Nelson then walked over and opened his safe and practically threw the onerous documents inside. After closing the door he spun the dial with more force than was necessary and walked back to his chair and sat down. Resting his elbows on the desk, he ran both hands through his hair. He wasn’t merely frustrated he was tired, dog-tired. The work on the sonar had taken a lot out of him as it had his captain and exec and while the system had been well designed, the trials had uncovered a few glitches with the various components. There had also been a few unanticipated equipment issues on Seaview he had to tend to, the most recent one involving damage to two of the special helium mixture dive tanks. The latest news from ONI guaranteed that in the immediate future he and his men would get little, if any, rest.

The admiral was also fighting a major headache, one of many he had experienced in recent weeks. After opening the desk drawer he reached in a pulled out a large plastic pill bottle and shook it. Finding it empty, he cursed both his misfortune and his oversight. He had purchased the large quantity of extra strength pain relief capsules at a local pharmacy in Santa Barbara rather than ask his chief medical officer William Jamison for some, primarily because he wanted to avoid revealing to anyone how badly his head had been hurting and for how long. Now it looked like he was going to have to pay a visit to the good doctor, whether he liked it or not. After he returned he would inform Lee about the contents of the document from ONI and about his other assignment. He anticipated fireworks from Lee for being forced to leave the boat during trials, and that was one show best experienced headache-free.

The admiral stepped outside his cabin, pulled the door closed and walked down the corridor. He turned the corner just in time to catch a glimpse of the COB , Chief Sharkey, and two rather disheveled ratings as they entered the cabin of Seaview’s XO, Lt. Commander Chip Morton. Having spoken to Sharkey earlier he knew why the seamen were there and despite the pounding in his head he couldn’t help but smile to himself. Talk about fireworks. Glad I’m not invited! He waited until the exec’s door was shut before he passed it. He then quickened his pace and continued on to his destination.  

 

~~~~  

Lee Crane leaned back against the bulkhead in the wardroom and drained the last drops of coffee from his mug. After eating a half-sandwich and downing two cups of the extra strength brew he had begun to feel a bit more alert than he had for several hours. He knew the boost was temporary, but with the sonar system trials underway, he was reluctant to retreat to his cabin or to relax.

The stakes were high for the trials. With sonar being the eyes and ears of any submarine it was imperative that any equipment installed on a boat be state of the art and free of malfunctions. Seaview, with her many complex missions and unexplained surprise encounters, needed something a cut above the rest and Lee intended to see that she got just that. He had entrusted the initial installation of the new sonar to Chip, knowing that he was highly qualified and would give everything he had to the project, but Lee was not about to let Chip carry the entire burden of the installation, training and trials. As a hands-on captain there was never any doubt that he would be involved with every aspect of training and testing.

It was the completion of two deep dives to disentangle the towed array the previous day that contributed to his current fatigue. Following the dives he had developed a mild but lingering headache and a touch of nausea, both anticipated side-effects of breathing the helium-air mixture. As a result, he had not slept much. He had also spent much of the present day helping Chip chase down some problematic electrical circuits and he had not eaten more than a few cookies up until he reached the wardroom some twenty minutes ago.

Planning to head towards Chip’s cabin for the latest updates Lee stood, placed his plate and mug in the dish receptacle and turned to leave. Upon hearing loud, angry voices in the corridor he immediately stepped outside and caught sight of two of his officers, Lieutenant Cermak and Lieutenant (jg) Vance rolling around on the deck as if they were in a bar fight.

“Stop!  Now!” Lee ordered angrily, as he walked briskly towards the two men. When he reached them and saw that they were not responding to his command he latched onto the first arm he could grab, that belonging to the more senior officer. He yanked it and twisted it behind the man’s back causing the lieutenant to grunt. The fight suddenly went out of both men and they sat on the deck staring blankly, first at each other then up at their captain.

Lee was seething at the display he had just witnessed. He clenched his fists and rolled his shoulders back before ordering the men to their feet. The officers rose and with their anger somewhat subsided, they schooled their features and stood at attention.

“What’s the meaning of this? Cermak?”

“Sorry, sir. No excuse, sir.”

“Vance, do you have a better story?” he snapped.

“No sir. No excuse, sir.”

Lee looked at the pair as he considered how to best handle the serious situation before him. While he could punish the men, having observed their misbehavior directly, by tradition discipline was the purview of the executive officer and he typically left those decisions for Chip. However, he knew these men well and while not soft on discipline, he felt that something had to be seriously wrong to cause the two friends to go after each other. He decided to delay any decision on punishment until after the officers had been checked over by the CMO .

“Very well, the two of you are going with me to see the Doc. We’ll see about sending you to see Mr. Morton after we finish there.”

 

~~~~  

Chip Morton leaned back in the desk chair in his cabin and stretched his arms above his head in an effort to release some of the tension in the back of his neck. After months of intensive work supervising the installation of Seaview’s new sonar and training of the crew, he was now heavily involved in the sea trials of the instrumentation and its companion computer system. Several minor but nagging malfunctions had kept him busy. The one involving the launch system for the towed array had finally been resolved, only to be replaced by an intermittent power surge that caused the recording devices in the system to fail. Twelve hours and three missed meals later the pair of problem resistors had been located and replaced.

Unfortunately, the sonar system problems were not the only issues Chip had faced on Seaview’s relatively short cruise. Seamen Kowalski and Garza, two of his most seasoned ratings and part of the small group that had received extensive training on the new system, had to be disciplined for fighting while several other members of the crew were placed on report for inattention to duty. As the XO it was his responsibility not merely to mete out punishment but to address the underlying problems. Since the behavior issues were so uncharacteristic of the men he planned to discuss them with Jamison to see if there could be a tangible, perhaps medical, reason for the lapses. Only if he was unable to pinpoint the problem and resolve it would he discuss what had been occurring with Lee.  

For the moment, the solitude of his cabin gave him some relief. He could feel the gentle thrumming of the engines through the decking and except for the occasional closing of a door, all was quiet. Seaview was now in familiar waters, running search patterns at various speeds and depths to allow the operators of the new system to get a feel for its dynamics and he had not been contacted for a couple of hours about a problem. Things are looking up. Now I can get to that report for the admiral to send to COMSUBPAC on the status of the trials then go talk to Jamie.   

He barely had time to reach into his desk drawer and pull out the required documents before he heard a sharp rap on the door. “Now what?” he moaned to himself and closed the drawer with a loud thump. He flipped the papers upside down on the desk and took a few seconds to also hide his annoyance, before responding. “Come in.”

The door opened to reveal the COB , Chief Sharkey, and Seamen Isaacs and Latrobe, who each sported a black eye. After entering the cabin Sharkey addressed the exec.

“Sorry, Mr. Morton. These bozos felt the need to try out a few boxing moves on each other. Unfortunately, they broke the valve stems on two of the special helium dive tanks in the process.”

Chip stood and slowly crossed his arms. His steely expression left no room for doubt as to how he felt about this latest news. As his eyes bored into each of the men in turn they visibly shook. Even Sharkey swallowed hard and pursed his lips in anticipation of what was to come.

When he finally spoke, the XO’s tone was the equivalent of an Arctic blast in winter.

“Explain yourselves. Isaacs?”

“Sir,” he gulped. “No excuses, sir.”

“That’s not an explanation, seaman. Latrobe?”

“No excuses, sir.”

Chip shook his head. He knew the men would not be forthcoming with the cause of the argument and at this point it didn’t matter. He was in no mood to forgive this particular transgression. The damage to the special tank valves was significant and could have a serious impact on the crew’s ability to make adjustments or repairs to the external components of the sonar or to Seaview when she was running deep. He looked the men over once more before announcing to them that after they were cleared from sick bay they would report back to Chief Sharkey to receive their penalties. He guaranteed that they would be significant. Chip sent the ratings on their way before inquiring about the tanks. “Chief, is there any chance at all of making repairs?”

“No, sir, ‘fraid not. Even if we were to rethread ‘em, the o-rings wouldn’t seat right and it could be risky to send anyone out with ‘em.”  

Chip slowly shook his head then asked another question, though he already knew the answer. “Did you inform the admiral and the skipper of the damage?” 

“Uh… aye, sir. The admiral’s thinking about sending out FS-1 to pick up two new tanks from the Institute.”

Chip nodded. He guessed that after hearing about the damage the COB had gone straight to Admiral Nelson. Though normally Chip would have preferred to handle the situation himself, he had his hands full with the trials and the crew so he let Sharkey’s latest violation of protocol slide.  

“Okay, Chief. I want those men to remember the date of their little bout as well as they do their birthdays. No free time for the rest of the cruise. Bilges, pump room, packing bearings, cleaning the heads. Keep them busy, too busy to get into any more trouble…and Chief… keep them apart!”

“Aye, sir. Is there anything else?”

“That will be it, Chief.”

“Aye, sir.”

As COB , Sharkey had to be the most aware of the scope of the problems with the men and had more than likely taken steps to correct some of them. However, Chip hesitated to relinquish any of his own responsibilities in that realm. A sudden, sharp pain in his temples, one of several he had experienced over the last couple of days caused him to relent. As Sharkey turned to go, Chip stopped him. “No, wait a minute, Chief.  I need you to keep an eye on the rest of the crew. I don’t know what’s gotten into them but …”

“General quarters, general quarters, man your battle stations!” The distinctive voice of Lieutenant Bob O’Brien, Seaview’s second officer and present OOD, reverberated over the boat-wide intercom. The announcement was followed immediately by the bell tones of the warning klaxon and both men immediately sprang into action. The chief headed for the aft missile room while Chip took off running for the control room, arriving there via the spiral stairs at the same time the admiral and Lee entered through the aft hatch. Lee immediately took the conn and ordered Chip to monitor the sonar and hydrophone operators as he and the admiral spoke with O’Brien.

The lieutenant reported that hydrophones had picked up another submarine, one that failed to announce its presence on the ELF bands and continued to shadow them from a distance of three thousand yards. When asked why he hadn’t notified the senior officers prior to calling for the alert, O’Brien answered confidently. “Sirs, that sub that’s tailing us just dove to thirty five hundred feet, and she’s still intact!”

Lee and the admiral exchanged knowing looks. Each had immediately understood the implications of the officer’s report. Seaview had encountered a sub with the capability to dive to that depth only twice. One of those meetings was in the Atlantic near Norfolk, and the other near the shipping lanes between Hawaii and California, the very same waters where they now were putting sonar through its paces. Both encounters had been decidedly hostile. It seemed now that the tests they were undergoing might be a trial by fire.

Lee began snapping out commands. “Status report, Mr. O’Brien.”

“Heading two-ninety true, cruising at standard. Depth is ninety feet, sir.”

“Fathometer?”  

“Clear to ten thousand feet, sir,” responded Riley.

“Very well,” he said as he turned to Nelson. “At least we have maneuvering room. We sure can’t put her on the bottom.”

The admiral nodded. “What’s our current position?”

The trio walked over to the plot table where O’Brien pointed out their location. Lee and the admiral studied the chart briefly, each verifying that there were no apparent underwater hazards in the area. No hazards also meant there were no places to hide and the Seaview and its predator would both have to rely on stealth, sonar decoys or thermal layers to avoid detection. In order to make use of any of those tactics Seaview would have to move deeper. Right now they were an easy target, and that did not sit well with either of the command officers. Still, they had to consider the primary advantage of remaining near the surface; communication with the outside world.

The admiral grabbed up a pencil and jotted down their coordinates and stepped over to the navigational computer to check the figures. He then proceeded to the radio shack and handed the paper to the communications officer. “Sparks, send a coded message with these coordinates to COMSUBPAC. Inform him that we are being tailed by a deep diving sub and might need to engage it. Wait for confirmation then institute radio silence.”

“Aye, sir,” said Sparks as he took the message and began to encode it.

“Kelly, go passive on sonar,” ordered Lee as he snatched up the microphone.  “Engineering, all stop.” Once the admiral rejoined Lee and O’Brien at the plot table, the three officers considered their options.

“That sub showing itself was no accident,” mumbled the admiral, under his breath.

Lee looked at him quizzically, sensing his CO knew more than he was telling. “Admiral?”

Though the admiral knew that he needed to talk to Lee about Seaview’s mission and the intelligence he had received, they were in a potential crisis situation so he offered the captain a plausible if incomplete reason for his concern. “The PR knew we were replacing our sonar. They might well be trying to update the profile by getting us to react.”

Lee nodded. “If it’s the same sub we encountered a few months ago we have to assume she’s a danger so I’m not taking any chances.” 

The admiral briefly drummed his fingers on the plot table then nodded his agreement.  Lee again picked up the mic and ordered that four torpedoes be loaded into their tubes in each of the forward and aft missile rooms. After establishing that Sparks had reached COMSUBPAC, he gave the orders that would have Seaview move down to a depth of two-thousand feet. Within minutes the boat had reached the designated depth and the engines had again been cut.

After allowing a few minutes for the towed hydrophone array to stabilize, Lee and the admiral both approached the partially enclosed booth that now made up the sonar station. There they scrutinized the display screens on the console and noted they were static, an indication of no recent activity. Lee verified his assumptions with Patterson, the rating manning the hydrophones.

“She’s disappeared, sir. Not a peep,” he whispered.

“Very well, keep at it,” said Lee, equally quietly.

While the admiral and Lee had been assessing the boat’s situation, Chip had stood next to Patterson and Kelly watching the distance and depth readings flash on the digital display. He had also picked up the third set of headphones and listened to the incoming signals then studied the spectrograph of the unknown sub. If the profile had matched closely to one they already had in their data banks the graph itself would have flashed red on the display screen. It had not so he reached over and tapped a sequence of keys on the computer to reduce the stringency of the search. Unfortunately there were still no matches, even partial ones. Disappointed, he out a long slow breath. At that moment Lee came up directly behind him and tapped him on the shoulder.              

“Anything?”

Chip shook his head. “No, sir, nothing even close. Could be a different sub or they have engineered some extensive modifications.” Chip then handed the headset to Lee as he again hit the playback switch. Lee listened for about a minute before handing the set to the admiral, who was had come to stand to his immediate left. When he had heard enough, Nelson handed the set back to the exec.

“Chip, make sure we have clear recording that we can transmit to fleet headquarters.”

“Aye, sir.” 

Chip immediately began to make a copy of the tape as the admiral and Lee stepped back to the plot table. A sudden loud moan broke the silence and almost everyone in the control room turned to see Tatic, the hydraulics specialist assigned to monitor the ballast controls, slump to the floor. The admiral rushed over to assist the rating as well as to quiet him as O’Brien ordered a crewman to run and get the doctor. Within two minutes Jamison and two corpsmen arrived and the CMO checked the rating for obvious injuries. Finding none, he allowed the corpsmen to place the man on a stretcher and remove him from the control room. Shortly thereafter, the replacement O’Brien had summoned had arrived and assumed the ballast watch.

During the disruption Lee had kept an eye on the sonar operators and all appeared to be oblivious to the commotion going on behind them. Patterson was still listening intently, and Kelly was helping him to monitor and adjust the array. When Lee came up behind him, Kelly gave him an okay signal, indicating the unit was responding to controls. Lee then glanced at Chip just in time to see him wince. “What is it?” he mouthed.

Chip shook his head.  “The recorder is out again. And we’re getting fluctuating signals.”

“That resistor?”

“Could be.”  

Without warning, a tremendous nearby explosion rocked the boat and many of the men in the control room were tossed around like tumbleweeds before a storm. They also found themselves in semi-darkness for several minutes. A few battery powered warning lights provided their only illumination until the emergency lights flickered on and cast their red glow on everything. Several of the men began to groan but eventually all were able to raise themselves from the deck and assume their stations.  

Lee had landed on the deck by the periscope island and managed to pull himself up to his knees before locking eyes with the admiral who was already on his feet next to the plot table.

“Torpedo?” the two asked in unison, then nodded in agreement. 

Lee stood up completely and reached over and snatched the microphone from the plot table bracket. “Secure silent running. Damage control, report!”

The disembodied voice of the damage control officer was heard over the boat-wide intercom. “No structural damage. Several electrical circuits blown, forward torpedo controls are out. Estimated repair time is one hour.”

“Cut it in half!” Lee yelled then clicked off and at that moment regular power was restored.

While Lee worked to get the boat under control and repaired, a stone-faced admiral walked over to the sonar station where Chip and Patterson were already attempting repairs to one of the panels.

“Chip, did you pick up anything at all just prior to the explosion?”

“No, sir, the recorder went out some time before we felt the blast and the computer is showing no data was received. I’m checking for malfunctions.”

“Never mind the recording, were you picking up other traffic or any other new signatures at all in the few minutes before?”

Chip turned to Patterson to answer the question. “Now that you mention it sir, it was pretty quiet to be this close to the shipping lanes.”

“Chip, is there any possibility that the system was receiving interference from some other system on board, enough to cause an outage?”

“No, sir, it would have shown up prior to now if that was the case.  We ran those checks for weeks before we left the dock and we’ve installed no other new equipment.” 

“All right, Chip. For now I want you to reinstall the old system as a backup. Call me once you get it up and running. I’ll be in my cabin.”  

“Aye, sir.”

Chip had been fully expecting the admiral’s notorious temper to erupt and to direct his ire at him over the sonar issues, so he was surprised by Nelson’s relatively calm demeanor. Out of the corner of his eye he watched as the OOM whispered a few words to Lee then made a hasty retreat up the spiral stairs. He continued to flip switches in faint hope of restoring the system to working order but after several more minutes of tinkering, he begrudgingly replaced the cover to the console and walked over to the microphone on the periscope island. “This is the exec. Kowalski and the duty electrician, report to the control room immediately. Kowalski and the duty electrician to the control room, immediately.” Within a minute the ratings arrived, and Chip instructed them to reconnect the old system, including the reattachment of the leads from the old sonar mast.

Lee stepped over to the sonar station and watched for a short time before informing Chip that one of the two of them would remain at the conn until both systems were up and running. Chip nodded his agreement.

“Aye, sir, but with these malfunctions I suggest surfacing and heading towards home.”

“I’ll see about it. I need to go talk to the admiral first. For the time being, keep her at two thousand feet and boost her to ten knots and plot an irregular course. You have the conn. If you see or hear anything from our friends, call me at once.”

~~~~  

Lee made his way to Officers’ Country and upon arriving at the admiral’s cabin door, he rapped twice.  To his surprise Nelson yanked it open, ushered him inside then closed it quickly behind him.

“Sit down, Lee,” ordered the admiral as he pointed to the chair across from his desk. “This isn’t going to be pretty.”

The brusque warning raised the hairs on the back of Lee’s neck but he did as he was instructed and sat on the front edge of the chair, awaiting the bad news. The admiral picked up the ONI report from his desk and handed it to him and he opened it and read the first three pages before looking up. “Admiral, when did you receive this report?”

“When we stopped over at Pearl. I told you it wasn’t pretty. I’m waiting to hear more details from ONI, but even if they haven’t perfected it yet it’s clear enough that we’re dealing with a dangerous weapon in the hands of an unfriendly nation.”

“Sir, what is this weapon, exactly?”

“A type of anti-sonar device that uses a something called noise cancellation. They bombard us with sound waves that effectively cancel out our pings. They can also neutralize most other noises, rendering most sonar systems totally ineffective.”

“I didn’t know the technology had advanced that far.”

“It hadn’t…at least until Dr. Janek completed a research project on that very subject just six months ago.”

“So the PR knew the specifics of Janek’s work?”

“So it seems. I know Janek well enough to know he would never sell secrets. Some of ONI’s surplus of double agents must have clued them in to what he was doing and that’s why he was targeted for kidnapping.”

“Hmmm.” Lee chose to take the high road and ignored Nelson’s latest swipe at the intelligence agency. He didn’t want the admiral to rehash the many problems they had encountered when working with ONI. There would be time to place blame later. He scrubbed his face before closing the report and placing it back on the desk.  He stood and paced for a moment, then turned back to his CO. “They were using it on us,” he stated bluntly.

“No doubt about it. When sonar didn’t pick up the torpedo and Patterson confirmed things had been unusually quiet, I was sure.”  

“Why Seaview?”

“It does seem like we’re at the top of everyone’s guest list.”

Lee grinned then both men paused, each lost in his own thoughts. It was Lee who broke the silence. “Admiral, they didn’t mind letting us know they were out there, and it was definitely a war shot, so it’s obvious they intended to sink us. What do you think caused the premature explosion? Some kind of accident?”

“My guess is they copied the Mark 37 torpedo design. You know the Navy has had serious issues with the batteries failing due to electrolyte leakage.” He chuckled at the irony of the situation. “Nothing like spending millions on a brand new technology and delivering it in a paper boat, though we were quite fortunate they did.” 

“Maybe we shouldn’t leave the conn…”

“I suspect they are rethinking a few things and will leave us alone for the moment.” 

The admiral pointed to the chair and after Lee sat back down he took his own seat, pulled out a cigarette from the pack on the desk and lit it. He took a long drag before continuing. “Right now we have two problems. There is a sub out there with unknown capabilities using a weapon we don’t fully understand and are not yet equipped to deal with.”

“Admiral, my immediate concern is those stealth torpedoes. We can’t count on another failure. Is there any chance of us disrupting the weapon instead of just waiting for them to release another surprise on us?”

“We’re at a disadvantage without reliable sonar. We can’t go after the sub or the weapon like this. And they know it.”

“But Admiral…”

“I didn’t say we couldn’t do anything.” The admiral reached over to tap his cigarette on the edge of his ashtray but stopped midway. “Let’s look at a few alternatives. Since we worked on that sunspot study we already have an instrument to measure incoming electronic interference. Let’s put it to better use. Set it to constant scanning mode, then check to see if the past scans show anything unusual, particularly at the time just before the explosion. Perhaps some type of signal is emitted by the weapon itself.”  

“I’ll also check Seaview’s internal electronic profile and see if there were any anomalies around the time of the explosion. I want to rule out sabotage to the internal systems.”

“Good idea, Lee, but let Chip do it …and have him check back several weeks.”

Why ask Chip to do it?  He’s already up to his elbows in alligators. Lee scrutinized his friend and CO’s face. There was something he was holding back. Before he could ask what it was, the admiral continued.

“While I don’t like the idea of making major changes during a cruise…we do need to make a few modifications to Seaview’s computer systems as soon as practicable.”

“Sir, do you have specifics in mind?”

“I do. I’ll work with Chip on a couple of changes to the program. Meanwhile I don’t want her to get within striking distance again so make some adjustments to the array and set our scan patterns wider. I would also plan to stay active. She obviously can track us without a problem, at least on the surface.”

Lee reached over and pressed the button on the speaker box on the admiral’s desk and called the control room. He relayed the admiral’s orders regarding the settings for the sonar and also instructed the exec to examine several weeks of electronic data logs, and if he detected any irregularities to inform him immediately.

Lee leaned back in the chair and rubbed his temple. The admiral looked at him with a mock scowl, but said nothing. “Admiral, what do you think about heading back to Santa Barbara? We can check out everything and make the modifications while in port just as easily. And we can gather more information on the weapon, figure out a way to counter it.”

“Ordinarily I would agree with you, but I said we had two problems. There’s something you need to take care of first.”  The admiral picked up an envelope from his desk and pulled out a single sheet of paper and a sealed envelope and handed them to the captain.

Lee took the document and read it then abruptly stood up and looked at the admiral with fire in his eyes. “He’s got to be kidding! Now?”

~~~~  

After the call from Lee, Chip had the sonar operators make the adjustments to the instruments and the array. He also reviewed Seaview’s electronic profile for the entire cruise and compared it to those generated while she had been in port. He discovered no irregularities until he tried to pull up data from the minutes just prior to the explosion. For that specific time frame there simply was none and he had no idea why. He notified Lee about the glitch and told the captain he would try and determine the source of the problem. He spent over an hour querying the computer before he had to move out of the way to give the ratings room to work on the station.

As he stood by the plot table observing the activity in the control room, Chip’s thoughts soon returned to the apparent sonar system failure and its possible causes. After several recent sabotage attempts they had instituted more stringent security protocols for dealing with contractors who performed work on or for the boat. He had checked every system he could think of and found no technical explanation. He was finally forced to admit that operator error was as likely a cause as an electrical or mechanical problem. Though Kelly and Patterson had been on Seaview since she was launched and both had performed exceptionally, it was not a forgone conclusion that no mistakes had been made by the ratings…or by him. The crew’s recent behavior and performance problems had convinced him of that. Which reminds me, I need to talk to Jamie and at this rate I’ll never get up to see him.   

The sound of footsteps on the spiral stairs interrupted Chip’s thoughts and he turned to see a very stern looking Lee, who immediately approached him.

“Any sign of that sub?”   

“No, sir.”

Lee looked around the control room and once satisfied that things were running smoothly he picked up a mic and called for O’Brien to come forward. When the officer arrived he had Chip hand over the conn and ushered the XO into the observation nose.

“Close the doors.”

Chip did as he was told, but his level of apprehension soared with the coolness of his captain’s voice. It was a tone he had seldom heard in the many years he had known Lee Crane so he stood at attention, anticipating a well-deserved reprimand for the sonar malfunctions or for the crew’s poor performance or both. What he heard was totally unexpected.

“We’ve received a report from ONI that the PR is using a new type of anti-sonar device and it appears they have it up and running. All we know right now is that it blocks active sonar with its own sound generator. It cancels out our pings and any other noise, as long as they know the wavelength and frequency. Since they profiled us pretty extensively, they know exactly what to use.”

Chip felt a moment of relief that the sonar malfunction was likely due to the weapon and not crew error. His solace was short-lived as he recognized the implications of what he had just learned. “That’s why it was so quiet! They snuck that torpedo in right under our noses.”

“Yes.”

“So what do we do about it?”   

“The admiral is working out a plan and when he finishes there will be work for you to do on the computer program. Keep him informed of your progress with the scans.”

“Aye, sir.”

Lee turned around and faced out the nose windows, effectively cutting off any questions Chip might have. As he stared out into the blackness he twisted the ring on his left hand, a sure sign to anyone that knew him that he was under significant stress.

Chip wanted badly to know more specific information about the weapon. If there were adjustments he could make that would counter its effects, it would greatly improve Seaview’s tactical position. However, Lee supplied no additional information and after working side-by-side with the man for several years, Chip knew when things were open for discussion. Lee made it clear by his body language that this was not one of those times.

After a couple of minutes Lee dropped his shoulders and turned back around. “The admiral also ordered that Chief Sharkey be sent to pick up the replacement air tanks and a package from Admiral Starke in San Diego, so prepare the Flying Sub for launch. If you need me, I’ll be in my cabin.”

“Sir, what about our course?”  

“We have our orders, Mr. Morton. You will stay in this general vicinity and continue with the trials. If that sub gets anywhere close, blow her out of the water.” Lee turned to go but stopped short, turned back around and pointed his index finger at Chip. “There’s one other thing. Pass the word that I expect every man on this boat to be on his toes. I will not tolerate any form of misbehavior or goldbricking and I expect you to keep every man in line. Earlier today I caught Cermak and Vance fighting like a couple of schoolboys.”

“Fighting?”  

“Yes. I had to pull them apart.”  

So far, whatever was affecting the crew had been confined to the enlisted men so despite what he knew, Chip was surprised at the revelation. However, his training allowed him to respond without comment. “Aye sir, I’ll take care of it.” It was one more thing he would put on his list of unusual occurrences that he needed to investigate. “Is there anything else?” 

“Isn’t that enough!” Lee snapped then shook his head. “No, that’s all.”

Chip had a déjà vu moment as he watched Lee climb the stairs to Officers’ Country. The captain left without stopping at each control room station as was his custom and had shown no interest in the results of the electronic scans. Despite their alert status he had also chosen to go to his cabin rather than stay in the thick of things in the control room. He said you stay…and complete the trialsblow her out of the waterDamn it! He won’t be here!  He’s going on a mission for ONI! Chip clenched his fists and grimaced at the thought of Lee departing on another dangerous and unpredictable foray for the agency. He personally wanted to tie Lee to the nearest steel support to keep him from leaving but the pragmatic exec knew Lee would continue to take missions when he was called and nagging Lee to refuse the mission at this juncture would only serve to undermine his confidence and concentration. He would never put Lee at risk in that way.

It did not bode well for any of them that Lee was being sent while Seaview was on high alert so whatever had called him away had to be significant. What Chip did know was that without more information, he could do absolutely nothing to help. He couldn’t dwell on it either; he had his own problems to address. He shook off his anger and concern and sighed, put on his poker face then opened the crash doors.

~~~~  

On his way to his cabin, Lee began to massage his throbbing temples with his fingertips as he replayed his conversation with Chip in his head. It was not the exec’s fault that he had again been tagged for an off-boat mission, but he admitted to himself that worry over his assignment had caused him to take his anger out on his friend. Chip had responded with perfect military courtesy and he knew the exec would continue performing his duties with the same attention he always did. He would have to make it up to his friend for adding to the man’s already sizeable obligations.

As he stuffed a few things into his pack Lee could only guess what scenario could be important enough to take him away from his boat while she was in such a vulnerable position. He had confidence in the admiral, Chip and all the men, but it was not fair to any of them to be left juggling so many balls at once. Though he had not had time to discuss it with Chip, he knew there were issues with the crew beyond a single fight between two officers and those issues now concerned him as much as sonar or the stalking sub. While Seaview was a technological miracle, it was her officers and crew that made her the most powerful craft afloat, a feat achieved only when they were in top form.

Lee finished packing and sat on his bunk, forcing himself to block out Seaview’s ills and to focus on his mission. A number of things about this assignment left him discomposed. With most missions for ONI he was informed of some details which helped him to bring the right clothing and equipment and to become familiar with the territory he would be visiting.  He also was typically allotted time to get in the correct mindset and focus in on the mission. This time he had only been told that he was to be dropped off at specified coordinates where another submarine would be waiting to pick him up and only then would he be briefed further. Unfortunately, he had to leave within the hour and had no time for the mental preparation that gave him an edge in tight situations. It really stuck in his craw that he was told to discuss nothing about the mission with anyone, including the admiral. Considering how many times Nelson and Seaview had served as his only backup system and come to his rescue, he felt as if he was being sent on a suicide mission.

Releasing one last long breath, Lee grabbed up his pack from the bunk and exited his cabin, closing the door quietly behind him. He grabbed the microphone on the wall in the corridor and requested Chief Sharkey to meet him at the Flying Sub.

At that moment the admiral appeared in the doorway to his cabin. His eyes met Lee’s and without words the two said their goodbyes.

~~~~  

The time he had spent preparing the Flying Sub for launch had given Chip some time to come to grips with the latest unexpected turn of events so by the time Lee arrived wearing camouflage fatigues and carrying a water proof pack, he had put on the stoic mask for which he was famous. He stood at the railing next to the hatch and as Lee prepared to climb down into FS-1 the two men locked eyes and each nodded subtly, sharing a brief moment of mutual concern.

“Good luck, Captain.”   

“Thank you, Mr. Morton. Take care of Seaview.”  

“Aye, sir, will do.”  

As he closed and dogged the hatch, Chip wondered once again if he had seen the last of Lee Crane.

Chip knew that without a sharp crew none of Seaview’s missions would succeed so he stood at the plot table and thought for a good while about how to tackle the problem of crew fitness. In their current circumstances the standard drills would divert his and the crew’s attention from tracking the sub and possibly interfere with completing the sonar trials. The best he could do was to ensure that the instruments and equipment were functioning and that the crew was aware that they would be under intense scrutiny. He called all the junior officers to the nose to relay his concerns.   

Once behind closed doors, Chip looked into the eyes of each officer standing before him. Each had been hand picked for Seaview and had shown tremendous courage under fire. He never expected to be saying the words that he was about to utter, but it couldn’t be helped. Quietly and coolly he addressed the eleven men.

“You should all be aware by now that we are being followed by another sub of unknown capabilities that has already fired a torpedo at us. Fortunately, that torpedo missed but we might not be so lucky next time. We will, therefore, be on high alert status until further notice.” Chip looked again at each man before continuing. “It has also come to my attention that since this cruise began there have been a number of reported incidents of lax attitudes and unacceptable behavior. This cannot and will not be allowed to continue. I want you to pass the word to the crew that there will be zero tolerance for anyone stepping out of line and that I expect every one of you to report each and every infraction to me.  Is… that… understood?”

The assembled men nodded.

“Good. Since we will be remaining in these waters and continuing the sonar trials we cannot perform our typical readiness drills. Instead, every section is to perform complete system checks at the beginning of each watch. Check and double check everything. I also want to see no idle men on duty. Is that understood?”  

Again the officers nodded.

“You are also to monitor the crew during their down time. I don’t want any dust ups, even minor ones. Is that understood?”

Another nod followed.      

Chip nodded. “I also need to inform you that for the time being, Captain Crane is not aboard.”

The men glanced at each other but no one commented. They all knew about the captain’s missions for ONI and they could easily read between the lines.

“All right, that’s it, men.” The crash doors were opened part way and the men started to filter out. Chip was not finished with two of them, however. 

“Cermak, Vance, front and center.”  

The two officers stopped and stood to the side until the others left. Once the doors were again closed, Chip came nose to nose with each man in turn.

“I want an explanation and you both know what about.”

The men stood without saying anything for a very long minute. Chip was growing more impatient. “Well…”

It was Cermak who spoke first. “There’s no excuse for our behavior, sir.”

“I said explanation, Lieutenant and that’s what I want.”

The men looked at each other and then back at their exec.

“Permission to speak frankly, sir?” asked Cermak.  

“Go ahead.”

“Sir, I don’t even remember what the fight was about. That’s what’s so strange.  I just had this sudden ... compulsion… to argue with him. There was this weird pounding in my head and before I knew it, I had taken a swing.”

“Vance?”

“I didn’t know why he tried to hit me but I also had a throbbing pain in my head. I had it for a couple of days. Once I started swinging I couldn’t stop.” 

The accounts given by the officers were similar to those of several other crew members who had been caught acting out. Hoping to gain insight into the source of the problem, he pressed the men further. Unfortunately, neither could provide specific information regarding the onset of their reported symptoms. Since Seaview could ill-afford to have any of its officers sidelined, after warning them that the issue was not yet resolved, he dismissed the men back to their assignments. He then called for Jamison to come to the control room as soon as he was available.

In about five minutes the CMO entered through the aft hatch of the control room carrying his black bag. After quickly looking around and seeing no one who appeared injured, he approached Chip with a puzzled look on his face. “You hurt, Commander?”

“Sorry, not this time.” Chip grinned and shook his head, then nodded towards the meeting area in the nose. Jamison walked over and took a seat and Chip closed the crash doors about halfway then sat on the edge of the table facing the control room.  

“This must be serious for you to call me up here,” said Jamison, slightly above a whisper.

“It is, Jamie, or at least it might soon be. Just to let you know, Lee is off boat for now.”

“I heard. For how long?”

Chip shrugged then changed the subject. “How’s Tatic?”  

“I released him to his quarters. He should be able to go back to duty tomorrow. He thinks whatever it was had something to do with what he did on leave. He was at a family party and he had all kinds of strange foods and didn’t get much sleep.”

“Could he have picked up a virus or something?”

“Maybe, there’s really no way to tell. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t anything bacterial, he had no fever, and he seems fine now.”

Chip nodded then sat thinking for a few minutes before quietly posing another question.  “Has any of the crew reported to you with unusual symptoms?”

“Unusual?”

“Something you wouldn’t expect this early in a cruise, or a large number of them with the same symptoms.”

“No, I don’t think so, just the normal minor ailments that we usually deal with after they return from shore leave. A little nausea, indigestion. I passed out quite a few doses of Pepto. Even the admiral came by for some aspirin. Is there something I need to be looking for?”  

Chip turned around and lowered his voice even further so it would not carry out into the control room. “I’ve been getting reports of fights between members of the crew…even had two officers go at it.”

Jamison furrowed his brow.

Chip nodded. “And if that’s not enough, a number of them have been caught daydreaming and not responding to alarms or commands. It could have caused some serious problems had we been under attack at the time.”

“Did they describe any symptoms?”    

“Headaches that come and go, some nausea. Two of them reported they felt ‘compelled’ to fight. Others said they felt angrier than they’d ever been with no explanation for it. Some were very tired. I know it’s all pretty vague, but that’s what I have. If we have a possible contagion on board I need to know about it ASAP.”

Jamison thought for a few moments. “It doesn’t sound like a pathogen. I’m more inclined to think poison… maybe something akin to that nerve gas that we dealt with before. Any chance of that?”

“None of our monitors are picking up anything unusual, but we can’t count it out. I’ll have some men pull out the portable detectors and check more closely. Still, if it’s a poison it could be in the food, the water or the air supply.”

“I want to check with the corpsmen and see if they’ve noticed anything unusual then we’ll check the food and water. I’ll let you know immediately if we do find anything.”  Jamison then looked over his XO with the eyes of an experienced man of medicine. “And what about you, Chip? Any of those symptoms yours?” 

“What do you mean?”

“I know you haven’t slept or eaten much lately, and you won’t tell me but if…”

Chip knew where the conversation was headed and stopped it cold. “Doctor, you have a lot of work to do. Carry on.”  

“Aye, sir,” said Jamison as he stood to leave. Before departing up the spiral stairs he reached into his bag and pulled out several small packets of analgesic and bismuth tablets and set them on the table. “In case you need them.”

Chip smiled to himself at Jamison’s thoughtful gesture and grabbed up the envelopes and before opening the crash doors he put them in his pocket. Taking a deep breath he again checked the boat’s status then stood in front of the control panel to the EMI scanner and entered the new setup codes and restarted the instrument. A sudden sharp pain in his temple caused him to take a step back and shake his head, but once it subsided he completed his task.

Over the next two and a half hours Chip alternately monitored Seaview’s course and the work on the sonar. He also sent four crewmen to check on the air revitalizing unit, and to test the air in various parts of the boat. They checked for carbon monoxide, chlorine, fluorine, cyanide, aerosolized nitric acid and kerosene as well as excess carbon dioxide looking for any measurements that were out of the ordinary. Nothing was noted by the instruments and the men reported no unusual odors. Jamison was also unable to locate anything suspicious in the food stores and after performing several tests on water samples from various sources, he was unable to locate a problem there.

Though the mystery of the crew’s ills was far from solved, at least one thing was accomplished. Kowalski was finally able to report that the old sonar was fully functional. Taking nothing for granted, Chip listened himself and once satisfied he sent the two men to eat and to get some much deserved rest. He also notified the admiral about the successful reinstallation and as he waited for O’Brien to arrive to take the conn, he made one last status check.

~~~~  

After Lee had departed on his mission, the admiral sat down at his desk and jotted down a few notes on the various changes to the sonar programming that he felt were needed.  He also performed numerous calculations and finally settled on new formula for triangulating the location of a sound’s source. Eventually he set his notes aside, knowing it could be hours before Chip was available. He flipped through several research papers he had retrieved from his files hoping to gain some new insight into the science of noise cancellation. He soon found his mind wandering and it was not the first time on the cruise that he had found it difficult to concentrate. He had chalked up the previous experiences to being tired, since he certainly had not slept much. Maybe that’s it. If I just take a little catnap, I can shake this off.  He put his head on the desk and it was the last thing he remembered until the intercom on his desk squawked and his name was called. It was Chip, informing him that the old sonar was working.

Deciding he needed some water to wash down a few more aspirin, he stood, grabbed his coffee mug from atop his desk and stepped over to the small sink in the head. As he reached for the cold water valve he found his vision suddenly blurred. He set the mug in the sink and rubbed his eyes with his fingertips but the problem persisted. Managing to get the water turned on, he stuck the mug below what he thought was the stream but instead the liquid splashed across his sleeve and onto his pants. With increasingly severe pounding in his head and a sudden shortness of breath he fought to stay conscious and in desperation he grabbed onto the edge of the sink and lowered himself to his knees.  With a low moan he finally passed out on the deck.

~~~~  

Chip knocked on the admiral’s cabin door and received no response. It was certainly not unusual for Nelson to be too distracted by his work to hear someone calling him, so he knocked again and called out. After several tries, he tentatively opened the door and as he looked around caught sight of a shoe sticking out from the doorway to the head. He stepped closer and discovered the admiral sprawled on the deck, moaning. “Admiral. Admiral, are you all right, sir?” Nelson didn’t answer, but continued to moan. Chip checked his pulse and after finding it was unusually rapid, he stood up, pressed the desktop mic button and summoned Jamison. While waiting for the doctor to arrive, the admiral came to and tried to push himself up from the floor.

“Sir, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Chip as he tried to prevent Nelson from rising on his own.

The admiral raised his hand. “I’m all right, I’m all right.”

“Hold on, Admiral,” said Jamison as he arrived then bent down to perform his preliminary exam. “Let me see where the damage is first.”

“I tell you I’m all right. Just felt a bit dizzy.”  

“I’ll bet you did. Your heart is racing.  Did you feel this coming on?”

Without answering, the admiral rubbed his eyes and straightened up to a sitting position. He then grabbed the edge of the sink in an attempt to pull himself up. He gave up and sat back down when another wave of dizziness passed over him.

“Ah hah! Admiral, let me get you to sick bay. I can’t tell much with you down there.”

In a few more minutes the two corpsmen arrived and helped lift and escort their patient to sick bay. Chip turned to Jamison for information but all the medic could do was shrug. “I’ll let you know.”

Chip didn’t wait to take action. “Control, this is the exec. Take her up now! We need to scrub the air!”

~~~~

Once informed by Lee of the first part of his assignment, Sharkey directed the FS-1 to a heading of due west. It was obvious he wanted to know more about the purpose of his captain’s mission but there was nothing Lee could tell him. After a few minutes of small talk, the two men fell into an awkward silence that lasted the remainder of the trip. With little to distract him, Lee’s thoughts returned to the problems on Seaview. He had a nagging feeling that things would get worse before they got better.

The flight lasted almost two hours and the pair reached their designated coordinates at dusk. Upon landing on the surface they received a radio call and shortly thereafter a Sturgeon class submarine broached the surface some five hundred feet from them. Lee ordered Sharkey to return to Santa Barbara and pick up the dive tanks and bring  them back to Seaview as planned then he grabbed his pack, lowered the ladder to the hatch and scurried up. Once outside he saw a zodiac approach and in minutes it had arrived, plucked him from FS-1 and returned to the sub. The sub remained at station keeping barely long enough to snatch him from the raft before it disappeared below the surface.

Lee was quickly escorted to the tiny captain’s cabin and once in the confines he met with the boat’s skipper, Commander Ted Barnett. The two shook handles warmly. “Ted, long time, no see.”

“Lee, good to see you, too. It seems we have a bit of an adventure ahead. I hope you’re up to it.”

Lee chuckled. “To tell you the truth, Ted, I have no clue about what I’m expected to do.” 

“It seems that we are equally unenlightened,” said Barnett with a chuckle. He then pulled a chart from his desk drawer, unfolded and spread it out on the desk. Pointing to an area on one of the larger islands in the western Pacific he explained. “We received a set of coordinates that will put you here. You are to head for this little cove at the south end of the island. Once there you will go ashore and meet your next contact. The man’s name is Jin Ho.” The captain then handed Lee a small drawing of a gold bird with one red tail feather and with a snake in its mouth. “Jin will show you this emblem to verify he is who he says. Beyond that I don’t know what your mission will involve.”

Lee ran a hand through his hair in frustration and at the same time he grinned.  “I suppose it beats being compromised.”

“That it does. We’re about six hours from the drop off point. Why don’t we get you something to eat, then you can get some shut-eye?”

Lee cringed at the suggestions and his reaction was not lost on Barnett. He avoided any explanation by picking up the chart and studying the landing area. Barnett invited Lee to bring the chart with him to the wardroom, and Lee was unable to think of a reasonable excuse to refuse the captain’s hospitality. In just a few short minutes the two entered the empty wardroom.

When a bowl of beef stew was set in front of Lee he pushed it aside and continued to examine the maps. Only after he felt thoroughly familiar with the lay of the land did he hand the chart back to Barnett and make some attempt to nibble on the stew. 

“You know Lee, we have agents with us all the time, but I don’t think I have ever seen one who eats as little as you. We won’t poison you.”

Lee ducked his head and grinned. “It’s not the food…or the company, Ted. I’m worried about Seaview.”

“Why?”

“Let’s just say when I left they had their hands full.”

“I’ve heard stories. Any of them true?” 

Lee smiled. “I can tell you every cruise is a learning experience. You can’t tell me you haven’t seen and heard some unusual things.”

Barnett chuckled then nodded in agreement. “No aliens and no mermaids, though.”

Lee could do nothing but grin.  

Lee managed to eat about half of his stew before again pushing the bowl away. He also decided it was in his best interest to try and nap so Barnett let him borrow his cabin, informing Lee that he would wake him an hour before they arrived at their destination. Lee thought he would have difficulty sleeping but several days of deprivation had taken their toll and he nodded off fairly quickly. The next thing he was aware of was Barnett calling his name. After splashing some water on his face he and the captain sat for a few minutes and discussed the details of the drop-off and pickup.

“I need some time to check out my equipment.”

“Of course,” replied Barnett as he opened the door. He then ushered in two men who had been waiting in the corridor. “Mr. White and Mr. Black will be assisting you with whatever you need. They’ll also follow you in and meet you upon your return.”

Lee had learned that recognizing faces rather than the fictitious names used by the SEALS was more important in a crisis so he committed each face to memory. He then followed the SEALs to their equipment room where his gear had been assembled. In short order he had everything checked over, donned the wetsuit and packed some clothing and equipment, including several grenades, in a bag. One of the men handed him a loaded .45 semi-automatic pistol and two spare magazines. Lee checked the gun to see that it was operational then set it in place in a waterproof holster attached to his weight belt. After the SEALs were fully dressed and equipped they reviewed the plans and the three left through the dive hatch.

It took the men some twenty minutes to swim to their target area. Once they reached the edge of the narrow, darkened beach, Lee climbed out of the water and immediately began stripping off his tank and wetsuit. He pulled the lightweight fatigues from his bag and shrugged them on and transferred the holster to a woven belt which he then secured around his waist. He placed the spare magazines in the left thigh pocket of his pants and the grenades in the right then grabbed the canteen and latched it onto the belt. As Lee pulled on and laced up his boots the SEALs gathered up his diving gear and bag then slipped below the surface of the water once more. Lee guessed they would be nearby until he made contact with Jin, if nothing else but to be able to report the contact had been made. For the next part of the mission he would be on his own.  

~~~~

Chip arrived in sickbay and found a fully dressed admiral seated on a stretcher in the center of the room and he and Jamison in a heated discussion about the flag officer’s state of health. As usual, Nelson was claiming to be “fine” while the doctor took exception to the self-assessment. 

“I don’t know what caused it, Admiral so I don’t know it won’t happen again.”

“If it does, I’ll come back and see you.”

“Admiral, you know that’s as likely as my winning the Lotto.”

Chip knew the exchange could go on indefinitely and he was in no mood to wait for a truce. “Excuse me Admiral, we need to talk.”

The admiral’s attention and temper were suddenly redirected to the XO. “Chip, why are we on the surface? We need to stay submerged.”

“Ordinarily I would agree with you, sir, but there are some crew issues that you might not be aware of.”

“What issues? This is no time to keep secrets from me,” snapped Nelson.

The combination of his own headache and the accusatory tone of the admiral caused Chip to wince. “No, sir, it’s not, that’s why I am here now.” Taking no chances he would be overheard he pointed to the doctor’s office. “Let’s go in there.”

After the three were seated, the admiral turned and looked at his XO with some skepticism. “All right, Chip, spit it out. We still need to make those changes to the computer program.”  

“I understand that, sir, but there is something making the crew sick and I think we need to deal with that first.”

“What do you mean, sick? Why didn’t you say anything about it before now?”

“Sir, we’ve all been a little busy.”

The admiral admitted to himself that Chip was right. The exec had just been doing his job in trying to solve a problem that on the face appeared to be a personnel issue. It also wasn’t the man’s fault that he himself felt lousy. Shrugging off his fatigue he forced himself to listen as Chip related details of the incidents with the crew, the various symptoms they had exhibited and what steps he had taken to determine the cause including consulting with the CMO .

“And whatever is affecting them could have caused you to pass out as well,” suggested Jamison. 

Adopting a more conciliatory tone, the admiral responded. “It sounds like the two of you have covered the bases. How long before we finish scrubbing the air?”  

“We’ve totally cycled three times but I would like to move at least fifty miles away from here to take on clean air.”

The admiral thought for a moment. “That’s not a bad idea but let’s make it a quick trip.  We have orders to stay in this general area.” 

“Orders, sir?”

The admiral looked at the doctor and Jamison acknowledged the hint and excused himself, closing the door behind him. “Chip, I think it’s time I told you some of what we’re up against.”

~~~~

It was after midnight when Seaview finally returned to her assigned area. Since the air exchange had been performed there had been no new reports of illness, a fact that made everyone aboard cautiously optimistic that at least one major problem had been solved. With the enemy sub still out there somewhere in the darkness, upon their return the commanding officers pushed hard to complete the modifications to sonar.  Preliminary tests showed the program to be functioning as designed but the acid test would only come once the sub and the weapon reappeared. They didn’t have long to wait.  

At 0430 hours the boat-wide intercom squawked to life. It was a call to general quarters that could only mean that Seaview was once again under the gun. Both the admiral and Chip threw on their uniforms and were still buttoning up their shirts when they met up in the corridor. 

“I knew it was too quiet. You take on sonar. Let’s see if our hard work was worthwhile.  We need to find that sub and take her out before she takes us out.”

“Aye, sir, I doubled the missile room watches and O’Brien’s heading that way so they should be ready.”

The pair arrived in the control room as additional crew members were taking up positions. Patterson and Kowalski were assigned to the new hydrophones and sonar respectively while Kelly took a seat at the old hydrophones console. Chip once again donned the spare headset and stood behind his men.

“Where did you pick her up?” inquired Nelson of the OOD, Lt. Chavis.

“About two miles out at three thousand feet, sir. We got two flash readings then she disappeared.”

“Sparks get anything on the ELF?” shouted the admiral.

“Negative, sir.”

Nelson and Chavis then stepped over the sonar station.

Sensing their presence Chip spoke without taking his eyes from the console. “Admiral, we had her at 127 relative, depth three-two-zero-zero at three minutes and thirty seconds ago. Nothing now.”

“Moving which direction?”

“Not enough information to project her path, sir.”

In a rare move the admiral formally took the conn. “Helm, planes, I want hard right rudder and twenty degree down bubble to two-five-zero-zero feet in thirty seconds on my mark.” He then snatched up the microphone on the periscope island. “Engineering, I want half speed, no more. Mr. Chavis forget about our course, keep an eye on our trim. Seven…six…five…four…three…two…one.  Now!”

Seaview and her crew executed the maneuvers without a hitch.

“Helm, hard left rudder,” shouted Nelson some thirty seconds later. 

“Hard left rudder,” repeated Chavis.

“Any sign?” inquired the admiral who once again stood beside the sonar station.

Patterson shook his head. “No, sir.”

“Mr. Chavis, rig for silent running then slow to one third.” The lieutenant repeated the order boat-wide and soon the control room fell into a tense quiet as every man waited for the other sub’s next move.

Nelson pulled Chip aside and the two spoke in hushed tones. “We need to draw her out.”

“She knows our profile. I can’t think of anything we could do that would make us sound like something else.”

The admiral had been standing with his arms crossed and an index finger to his lips. Suddenly he began to wag the finger in the air in front of his XO and a small smile crept over his face. “We can’t sound like something else…but…something else can sound like us.”

Chip looked at him, somewhat perplexed.  

“We have a recording of our own profile.”

“Yes, sir, we had one made after we attached the array.”

“What if we were to transfer a recording to our high quality tape player and launch it?”

“In the mini-sub?” 

“Precisely.”

“If they go active it won’t work, she’s too small.”

“We only need a brief distraction. We should be able to fool her long enough to get her to fire the weapon. What we lack is a way to make it sound loud enough. I’m going to the lab to rig up an amplifier. Keep us on this course as long as you feel it’s safe but don’t wait for me to take evasive action.”

“I’ll send a message to O’Brien to get the mini-sub ready and have the electrician to wire it for three new devices.”

“Three?”

“We need to know where the mini-sub is and make sure we’re far from her if she’s hit.  I think we should attach an emitter with a unique frequency that they wouldn’t anticipate.”

The admiral considered the suggestion. “I have just the thing. Good thinking, Chip. You have the conn.”

Though he had climbed halfway up the spiral stairs, a low rumble that could be felt through the deck plates caused the admiral to again descend and rush over to the seismometer. “Of all times for an earthquake,” he snarled as he pulled the strip of graph paper from the instrument and shook his head. “We should be in for a sizeable shock wave. We can’t risk giving away our position but….”

“Mr. Morton, I think we have her. About fifteen hundred yards astern,” shouted Kelly.

Patterson tapped Kowalski with his fist and gestured for the rating to pick up the headset abandoned by the exec. He did so and what he hard caused him to cock his head. “Nothin’, Admiral, we can’t hear a thing.”

Immediately the admiral grabbed up the mic from the plot table and shouted an order that he hoped would save all their lives. “Aft missile room, fire all torpedoes, maximum spread!”

~~~~

A short time after the meeting of the world’s two most advanced submarines, an enormous underwater explosion sent shockwaves in all directions. Soon several large pieces of foam popped up above the surface of the vast ocean and as the minutes passed, debris that included fragments of a life vest, several waterproof food canisters and a human torso soon appeared and began to roll with the waves. Like a final touch added to an artist’s macabre work of art, an oil slick over one hundred yards in diameter formed and began to move along with the current.

~~~~

Holding his pistol in his hand, Lee alternately sat and crouched, hidden by the vegetation at the edge of the beach. Time was passing by slowly and since it was critical to stay alert he was now glad he had managed to get a few hours sleep. At dawn he caught sight of a small boat about two hundred feet off the beach. When it neared the shore the lone occupant jumped out and dragged his craft onto the sand. The man then pulled out a fishing pole and after stepping a few feet away from the boat he cast his line into the surf.  Lee could only see the side of the man’s face and the fisherman gave no indication that he knew he was being watched.

Once the sun was above the horizon, Lee got a good look at the man’s features. He was obviously of Asian descent and appeared to be in his fifties. His skin was deeply tanned, with the creases of someone who spent a great deal of time outdoors. He was also dressed the part. No one looking at him would think he was not a fisherman, or at least subsisted by catching his daily meal. Lee expected that once the man finished reeling in his breakfast he would make some type of move towards him but he took nothing for granted and remained in his hiding place. The man continued with his task long enough to catch several fish. He strung them up then set them in the boat and climbed inside.  He then launched the small craft into the water and was soon out of sight around the bend.  Lee was disappointed that this man turned out to be only what he seemed, a simple fisherman. He now had to wait a little longer before he discovered what his next move was to be.

“Whappppppp.”  At lightning speed Lee jumped up and scurried to find a more secure hiding place. After moving away a short distance, he crouched down and took a quick look around. It was obvious someone knew exactly where he was but he was unable to glimpse any movements. He waited for further signs of an attacker but none came, so after several minutes of silence he doubled back around to where he had been sitting.  He was not surprised to see an arrow imbedded in the tree right beside where his head had been. He reached around the tree and attempted to pull out the arrow but it broke off at mid-shaft. Stooping down, he examined it trying to determine if it belonged to one of the natives or to a more modern predator. There was nothing unique about the fletching but when he closely examined the shaft a small smile came to his face. The recognition symbol that had been provided by Barnett was painted on it.

Lee quickly glanced at the beach but saw no one. He took a chance and stood up next to the tree and waved the arrow fragment as a signal to its owner. Contact was not long in coming. A young Asian woman holding a bow stepped into a clearing about thirty feet from him.  He warily approached her, and when he was about fifteen feet away the fisherman from the beach appeared from behind a tree to his left, startling him.  

“You are Crane, I assume?”

“Yes. You are?”

“Jin Ho. You saw the symbol.”

Lee nodded towards the woman. “And this is?”

“My daughter. She will help you reach your next contact.”

Lee was aggravated that he did not seem to be nearing the end of his journey but he was not about to let it show to the strangers. He had no choice but to trust them.  

Jin waved. “Come.”

The trio trudged through the moderately dense vegetation for nearly a half hour before arriving at a small village where four heavily armed men guarded one of the huts. Jin led Lee over to it and held his arm out, indicating he should enter and Lee stepped inside. Once his eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness he got a good look at the man seated on a bench and his mouth dropped open.   

~~~~

Seaview’s command officers stood by the plot table with the current OOD, Lt. Cermak and considered the latest damage control and casualty reports. While the conditions on the boat were not yet critical they were definitely serious. Much of Seaview’s crew that had been stationed in the aft portion of the boat had been battered and bruised by the huge explosion that had among other things damaged part of her drainage system. That in turn was seriously affecting her trim. Chip was giving the others a rundown on what he found when he had inspected the aft missile room.

“We took on a lot of excess water from the leaks around the pitometer log, dive and escape hatches and torpedo doors and we need to pump it out. But… we have a blockage in one of the bilge drain lines and we haven’t pinpointed its location so we can’t get the pump going. What we do know is we are sinking over two feet a minute.”

‘What about the backup?” inquired the admiral.

“We tried, sir, but we can’t get it going either. At this point I would argue against blowing ballast. The way we’re taking in water there won’t be enough in the tanks to compensate and we won’t make it to the surface. They’re working on it but I’ll just have to stay on top of the crew and find the block.”

“Agreed. Mr. Cermak, keep a close eye on that trim and inform me of any major changes. As for casualties, we have four men confined to sickbay including Mr. O’Brien who sustained a concussion. Ten others were treated and sent back to duty. We’re short on the repair crews but I’d say all in all we were pretty lucky.” The exec and the lieutenant nodded in agreement.

The trio then stepped over to the sonar and Nelson quizzed the ratings who were now assigned there. Both reported everything to be in working order. Despite their active pinging there was no sign of the submarine.

Chip looked over at the admiral. “She must have exploded…but our torpedoes never reached her.”

“We may never know what happened. Right now you had better push those repairs.”

Chip acknowledged the order then quickly headed aft.

~~~~

“I told you never to call me that!”

Chip arrived at the missile room expecting to find it a hive of activity but discovered only three of his men and they were in a heated discussion that was on the verge of a turning into a full blown fight. Though normally the epitome of self control he glared then vigorously shook his head and raised his voice. “This boat is sinking and you’re arguing over being called a name? Of all the …did you finish fixing those leaks?”

The men stared blankly at their XO for some time. Chip lost all patience and bellowed at the ratings. “Well, did you?”

Finally, Seaman Braxton managed a small nod.

Not relying on the man’s questionable response Chip hustled over to take a look for himself. He carefully checked the integrity of the escape hatch seals by running his fingers along each seam and satisfied with those he did the same to each torpedo door. One of them did not meet with his approval and he pointed it out. “Get the wrench and tighten that down, on the double!” The men responded but much more slowly than he would have liked. After the repair was completed Chip had further unpleasant news for the men.  

“I need crewmen to check all of the filters, pumps and lines in the bilges and the three of you just volunteered!” He walked over and pointed to the hatch that led below to the aft pump room then suddenly, he stopped and looked around. Not finding the subject of his search he asked the men of the whereabouts of Chief Panos, the non-com that he had assigned to supervise their detail.

“He’s in the head, said he felt real sick.”

Chip was alarmed that the malady that had affected the crew had returned with such a vengeance. He grabbed up the mic and informed the admiral of the development and then asked for additional assistance. The repair crews were already spread quite thin but Nelson promised to send men his way when and if they could be spared. Chip then returned to supervise the ratings, not wanting to let them out of his sight.

As they opened the hatch they could see standing water and the level was rising notably. It was a sure sign of a blockage, and the only way to repair it was to go into the compartment. The men slowly gathered up the necessary gear to work in the contaminated water. In an attempt to instill some sense of urgency in the trio, Chip held the lantern and stood watch over them. The men were not pleased to be wading in the oily mess and they openly complained as two of them removed the screens and passed them up to the third. The officer observed as the rating examined and cleaned each one then handed it back down to the others to be reinstalled. The ratings had replaced the fourth screen when Braxton called out to the exec that he needed some assistance. Chip questioned him about the problem but the explanation he heard was inadequate for him to answer. He slipped into a pair of oversize rubber boots and descended into the compartment. The men were some distance forward, standing around one of the pumps. He had a feeling something was not quite right so he approached warily. 

“What’s the problem?”  

“We…sir, we can’t get the bolt off the filter. We think it’s stripped.”

Chip looked down at the bolt then up at the men. “So cut it off!” Chip started to turn back around to inspect the work that had already been done when all of a sudden he felt a shove and he pitched forward. Unable to gain his balance he hit his head on the edge of one of the pumps then landed face down in the water. Though he was close to blacking out he made an attempt to rise but felt a foot on his upper back and it was forcing him back under the water. When the pressure was suddenly released he managed to grab one of the pumps and pull himself to his knees. As he coughed to clear the inhaled fluid from his lungs he turned to look at the men, disbelieving. It was the last thing he saw as he slipped back against the machinery, unconscious.

“What did you go and do that for?”

“That’ll get him off our back,” said Braxton without a hint of conscience. He took the wrench and beat on the pump head then made his way along the drain pipes angrily striking each of them in rapid succession. All of a sudden one of the pipes separated from its flange and water started to pour into the room. As if the light finally went on in their heads that they were in danger the two ratings scurried up the ladder to escape what would likely be their deaths.  

~~~~

“What the devil...”  The admiral had been monitoring the repair crews throughout the boat and had returned to the control room just as the bow rose up fifteen degrees and sent everyone who was not seated sprawling to the deck. Both he and Cermak made their way over to the trim control panel and after quickly sizing up the situation Nelson snatched up a mic.

“Mr. Morton, what is going on down there?” Getting no response, he turned to Cermak. “You have the conn. Riley, you’re with me.”

Despite the boat’s significant pitch the two reached the aft missile room in record time but found it deserted and water was beginning to overflow the pump room. The admiral immediately ordered Riley to dog the hatch but knowing his fellow crewmen were likely still inside the compartment, and possibly dead the rating hesitated. Nelson immediately snapped out another command. “Now, Riley! We have to stem this flooding!”

Over the intercom the admiral ordered the repair crews working on the forward tanks to head aft at double time and the first four men arrived in a little over a minute. The second detail was two minutes behind them. “We need to enter through the second access. If it’s flooded there won’t be much hope for us.”

The men quickly moved to the secondary hatch, opened it and peered inside. While the deck appeared wet they saw no standing water. “Come on,” snapped Nelson as he grabbed the lantern and descended. He shone his light around and assessed the condition of the remaining lines and pumps then glanced aft to see if there was any evidence that his crewmen had survived. He let out a slow breath when he could neither hear nor see any sign of them. As he put his foot up on the ladder his beam caught on something that drew his interest and he stepped back down. “What the …Chip!”

In the shadows behind the sump, a drenched Chip Morton was lying face down on the deck. Expecting the worst, the admiral bent down to check for signs of life. Though he found the XO ice cold to the touch he was able to detect a faint pulse. Upon rolling him over he observed that Chip was bleeding heavily from a sizeable laceration to his scalp. He quickly ordered Riley and another man to help him get the exec out of the compartment and into the decon shower then take him on to sickbay. The remaining ratings would search for bodies of the remaining men and see to repairs.

The search took less than ten minutes. In the end all the admiral could do was shake his head. He couldn’t understand what happened to the other men but they could not delay repairs to resolve that mystery.  

“We need to rig a bypass drain. Now hop to it!”

With the boat so out of trim it was a struggle for any of the men to stand and attaching a pipe to the bilge sump and routing it through to the forward drain system was a time-consuming struggle. Despite a rapidly escalating headache that nearly brought tears to his eyes, the admiral watched their progress closely, as no one aboard could afford another slip-up. Once it was finally accomplished, the next trick was to get the water pumped out of the bilges.

The admiral was aware he had to use the utmost caution in releasing the excess, so before giving the order to start pumping he made his way to the control room to gather data and perform some calculations. When he arrived there he was surprised to find Lt. O’Brien at the conn. He was relieved to have a more experienced officer with the watch and asked for a status report. All things considered, the boat was in fair condition. The same could not be said for the men.

“Sir, we’re getting reports of widespread nausea, headaches, rapid breathing and short tempers among the crew. When I was in sickbay it was like a revolving door.”

“Do we have enough to man all vital stations?”

“Yes, sir, if we don’t man weapons or have any major damage to repair, but we won’t have any to relieve the current watch.”

“Hmmm. Any sign of the men who were working in the missile room?”

Chief Panos stopped by and got some meds from the doc. I didn’t see the others.”

“And how’s Mr. Morton?”

“He was still unconscious when I left, sir. That’s why I came up here.”

“All right, Mr. O’Brien, let’s get back in trim.”

The two got down to work and within thirty minutes had a plan for getting the boat to the surface. When the admiral finally gave the order to start pumping the bilges every man in the control room held his breath. The ascent was not a smooth one but they finally reached a level where they could safely blow ballast. A cheer went up in the control room when Seaview finally broached the surface. He turned to O’Brien. “Pump as necessary. I’ll be in my cabin.”

Before leaving the control room the admiral walked over to the radio shack. “Sparks, get me Admiral Starke on a secure line and put it through to my cabin.”

~~~~

Lee Crane was more than surprised to see a grimacing Chief Sharkey inside the hut in the isolated village, he was angry. “You could have scuttled the whole mission coming here. What do you think you were doing?”

Though Sharkey did not like it he had to take the brunt of Lee’s anger. He had received his own orders from Starke to follow his captain but had also been warned that if he was discovered he was to say nothing about them. “Sorry Skipper, I…uh…”

“Where’s the Flying Sub?”

Jin stepped inside the hut and interrupted Lee’s lecture. “We have made sure your submarine is well hidden. I cannot guarantee that no one saw it arrive, however.”

Lee nodded. “We can’t do anything about that now. What’s our next move?”

“We were asked to get you to the next checkpoint and to give you this.” Jin handed Lee a nondescript metallic box about the size of a car battery. Lee picked it up and ran his fingers along the seams. He finally managed to open it and discovered it was some type of electronic device. He was about to flip the switch to start it when Jin put his hand on his. “You will know when the time is right. Now I must insist you begin your journey.  We do not wish to draw attention to our activities here.” The man then handed Lee a pack in which to carry the device. “Go, now!”

Leaving Sharkey behind with the FS-1, Lee and Jin Hua headed out in a northerly direction along one of the narrow paths. Jin Hua carried her bow and her quiver was strapped across her back. Lee followed behind carrying his pistol in his hand and the device secured in the pack, now slung across his shoulder. The two kept up a rapid pace for over an hour before Jin Hua stopped suddenly and crouched, pulling Lee down with her. She put a finger to her lips then pointed to a well-hidden tree stand some twenty yards ahead. She raised and aimed her bow at the center of the stand then pulled back and let the arrow fly. Almost silently it met its mark and a man fell from the stand to the ground below. Now Lee knew why that particular type of armament was chosen for the task they were given.

Since it appeared they were approaching monitored territory the pair began to proceed much more cautiously and they soon located two additional guard nests in the trees. Each sentry was dispatched with ease and Lee was impressed with the skill and coolness demonstrated by the young woman guiding him. As they approached yet another stand Lee wondered why no attempt was made to remove its occupant. When they were within fifty feet of the base of the tree Jin Hua let out a low whistle and a similar whistle was returned from inside the covered stand. The woman instructed Lee to climb up the makeshift ladder and he reluctantly did so. As he reached the top he turned to check behind him but Jin Hua had disappeared into the jungle.

“Quickly! Inside!” came a stern voice from inside the stand.

Not expecting to find any fellow countrymen in the area, Lee was taken by surprise upon hearing the man’s distinctly American accent. Once he climbed onto the platform and pulled the flap closed he gave the stranger a once over. The man had Asian features and was dressed in camouflage clothing. His face was painted various shades of green and black and he had his rifle pointed directly at Lee. For his own part Lee stood with his pistol in his hand and his stony command expression firmly in place.

“Crane?”

“That’s obvious, and you are…?” 

“My name is not important. I will only be with you for a short time.

Lee nodded slowly. “You’re American?” 

“No, but I did receive an excellent education in your country, don’t you agree?” he asked with a smile that did not reach his eyes.

“I see you have the device,” he said as he pointed to Lee’s pack.”

“What do you know about it?”

“I sent it to you. I could not keep it here and risk being caught with it before the time was right. I sent it to friends for safekeeping.”

“What’s it for?”

“That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? Though I have as you say ‘no love lost’ for your country, I am one of many of my people who object to the use of our homeland for the purpose of human experimentation. Dealing with your countrymen was the lesser of two evils, and…it suits our purpose.”

“So what does your personal philosophy have to do with the device?”

The man remained silent for several long moments. “By your question I take it no one told you why you’re here.”

Lee’s silence effectively confirmed the man’s suspicions.  

“They are using my people as test subjects to create weapons with tremendous destructive potential. There is also something in that compound that your country wants badly to reclaim. We were not told what that something is, only that you would recognize it. We would not object if in retrieving what you lost that you also lay waste to the entire facility. I obtained that device from my man inside to enable you to do that.”

“Why didn’t you just destroy the place yourself?”

“If we fail, my people will suffer the consequences. If you fail, they will place the blame on your country and things will be no worse for us than they are now.”

For several minutes Lee considered what he had been told and wondered about what he had not. He turned to peer through the slits that served as windows and stared out over the lush vegetation. He could see the signs of some type of structure some two miles in the distance, and assumed that it might be their target. His concentration was interrupted by a question from his contact.

“Why do you suppose they have snipers in the trees here in this God-forsaken corner of the world?”

“Obviously they are trying to keep people away.”

The man shook his head. “Those guards are there to kill anyone who tries to escape.  Keep that in mind. They can ill-afford to let their secrets out to the world.” The man studied Lee waiting for his reaction but seeing none he continued his explanation. “They want to rule the planet. I and others like me intend to see that no one ever does that.”

“You keep talking about they, who are they? And what are these weapons you talk about?”

They are but one in a long line of despot governments seeking favor with the People’s Republic and the ones who built this vile place. However, if I described the weapons to you, fear might prevent you from succeeding. You will discover their power soon enough.” After holding up his had to prevent any further discussion the sentry whistled out another signal. From out of nowhere a small band of heavily armed men encircled the base of the tree. “It is time.”

~~~~

The admiral lit up a cigarette and sat on the corner of his desk, staring blindly at the videophone, awaiting his connection with COMSUBPAC. His head felt like a timpani was being repeatedly struck inside and like the other occupants of the boat he was experiencing repeated waves of nausea. He reflected back on the previous twenty four hours trying to make sense of the nonsensical. He was so engrossed in his thoughts that he failed to hear the booming and excited voice of Admiral Starke as it projected over the speaker.  

“Harriman, it’s great to see you! We heard all kinds of chatter that you were history.”

“We almost were, Jiggs,” said Nelson solemnly.

Starke caught the grimace and furrowed brow on his friend and his relief turned to concern. “Harriman, you look like crap! What happened out there?”

“From what we can tell, that sub exploded and we didn’t cause it. The blast wreaked havoc on us and we were leaking from every seam. We have that part under control but we still need to make permanent repairs.”

“I can have a tender out to you in a couple of hours.”

“No, Jiggs.”

“Whaddya mean no?”

“If word has spread as you say the PR thinks we went to the bottom. Don’t do anything to make them think otherwise.

“All right, but are you going to be able to make repairs submerged?’

With a slow shake of his head he responded. “I…don’t… know.”

“Harriman, for God’s sake…”

Nelson interrupted the approaching tirade. “We’re a sick boat Jiggs. There is some …affliction… among the crew. I might even have it myself.  I don’t want to risk exposing anyone else.”

“Want us to round up a medical team? We can put them on another sub to deliver them to you.”

Nelson paused to consider what he should do. Under normal circumstances he could make difficult decisions at lightning speed but he was struggling with even simple ones.  Starke recognized the change in his friend and interceded. “Tell you what, Harriman. I’ll have some of the docs contact your CMO and they can discuss what to do.” Nelson nodded. “So how bad is it?”

“Just about every man is sick and some have practically gone off the deep end. It’s a mix of physical symptoms and mental confusion. I….I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Hold on a minute.”

Starke immediately started barking orders to his aide, directing him to set up a conference call with the Seaview and the toxicologist and infectious disease specialists at the naval hospital at Pearl Harbor. While Nelson had always been amused by his friend’s pompous command style this time he couldn’t even manage a grin. Instead he began to have short fleeting thoughts similar to dreams and none of them made any sense. And he couldn’t stop them. When he started to sway Starke interrupted.  Harriman…Harriman?”

Nelson shook off the long ash and ground out what was left of his cigarette and held up his hand. “Jiggs, how long are we supposed to stay here?”

“I was told when Crane gets back you will be given your next orders.”

Nelson looked skeptical. Starke always knew more then he would reveal, even to a friend.  

“Honest, that’s all I was told.”

“Well, have you heard from Crane?”

“I do know he made his contact and if all goes well his mission should be complete today. You only have to hold out for another day.”

Another day? In another day we could all be dead. It was a rare circumstance the Admiral Harriman Nelson experienced such negative thoughts but they were now assailing him. He shook his head as if doing so would force an improvement in the situation. “Jiggs, I need you to do something for me. Keep Crane from returning here. Find something else for him to do but don’t let him come back to Seaview until this is resolved.”

“I’ll do what I can but if his mission calls for it, there’s not much I can do. And you know how hard-headed he can be, especially when it comes to his missions or to you.”  

“I don’t care about the mission!” he shouted. Then almost whispering he added, “I don’t want him to die here with the rest of us.”

Starke frowned at the last statement. His friend the survivor sounded like anything but at the moment. “Harriman I’ll do what I can, you know that.”

“Thanks, Jiggs. I need to go check on the crew. Keep me informed of any developments.”

“You do the same, Harriman.”

~~~~  

Chip rose to full consciousness slowly. He was so very cold. His lungs hurt, his head was pounding and he didn’t want to face what might be waiting for him. With his eyes still closed he could feel the corpsman lift his arm to check his vital signs then he heard the sound of retching from somewhere nearby. Forcing himself to open one eye he tried to locate the source of the sound. Several crewmen in and out of bunks were holding buckets and it didn’t take long for reality to set in. Things had gotten much worse.

Jamison had been leaning against the door to his office and noticed that Chip had come to and walked over to the exec’s bedside. “Commander, can you hear me?”

Chip turned his head slightly and that only served to exacerbate his symptoms. He managed a raspy response before Jamison put the disk of his stethoscope on his chest. “Jamie, what’s the status…of the men…of… Seaview?” he said as he tried to rise.

“The illness, or whatever it is, is pretty systemic and there is absolutely nothing you can do personally so just lie back. I managed a short nap a while ago,” Jamison lied then continued with his exam.   

“The admiral, where’s the admiral?”

“He got us to the surface. He and O’Brien are straightening things out.” At that moment Jamison reacted reflexively to his own nausea and bent over slightly and covered his mouth with his fist.

Concerned, Chip tried again to rise but dizziness prevented him from doing much more than lifting his head.

“Jamie, I need you to honest with me. I need to have an accurate picture of what’s going on.”

“You need no such thing. You need to rest.” Jamison then raised his voice significantly. “You also know I can’t sedate you so you will have to be responsible for once in your life and just lie down!”

Chip was not exactly surprised by Jamison’s outburst. Deciding this was no time to cause the overworked physician more problems and that he himself was in no shape to be up and around, he lay back and remained quiet. Jamison continued his assessment, but to Chip’s surprise, after sticking a thermometer in his patient’s mouth the doctor started railing at him again.  

“If you’d been more careful you wouldn’t be here. Safety officer, my eye. You of all people should know better!”

Chip spit out the device. “Hold on just a minute, Doctor,” he managed to squeak out angrily. “You got this one all wrong.”

Jamison squinted in pain and shoved the thermometer back in the exec’s mouth and stepped away without any apologies for the attitude he was showing a superior officer.

Chip studied Jamison’s face and sensed it was more than overwork causing his anger so he removed the thermometer and calmly and quietly called to the doctor. Jamie…Jamie, would you come here?” Appearing totally oblivious to the request the CMO turned and walked away.

The admiral had been standing in the corridor listening to parts of the conversation and he chose that moment to enter sickbay. When he saw Jamison go into his office he called to him but the doctor continued inside and closed the door. The admiral saw that Chip was staring after the physician and walked over to his bunk. “What did you say to him?”

“Nothing to cause that kind of reaction.” Chip paused and struggled to take a deep breath. “He’s sick too,” he added as he rose to his elbows.

“What happened in the pump room?”  

“I’ll take care of it, sir.”

“I didn’t ask you to take care of it, I asked what happened!”

Knowing he was about to color the truth, Chip could not hold the admiral’s gaze and turned away from his CO. “I failed to properly supervise the men, sir. They attempted a repair in an unorthodox manner and it resulted in my getting injured.”

The doubting admiral shook his head. “If that’s your story it better hold water when I start asking the men.”

“Yes, sir.”

The admiral knew Chip was doing what he should do as an officer by trying to resolve a conflict before bringing it to a superior. The exec’s personality would not allow him to do otherwise and it was one of the things about Chip he admired and appreciated. In turn it was his job to let Chip know he expected the problem cleared up and he wanted to be apprised of the outcome.

“Since you need to know where we stand…”

Over the next few minutes the admiral quietly relayed what repairs had been completed along with what he and Starke had discussed. When he finished and Jamison had not left his office he strode over to look in and inform him of the pending conference call. The doctor had his head down on his desk and appeared to be sleeping. It was the best thing for him right now so he made no attempt awaken him. The call would have to wait.

As he ran a hand through his hair in frustration he walked back over to Chip’s side. He then lowered his voice and grinned. “Ironically, you seem to be the healthiest of the lot. Ordinarily I wouldn’t ask and risk Will’s wrath, but I need you to keep an eye on things here. I don’t mean getting out of bed but if Will gets too overwhelmed or there’s something he can’t handle have one of the corpsmen call. I’ll be in my lab. I have a lot of thinking to do.” As he turned to leave he saw several packets of medication set out on a tray table. He scooped them up and headed off.

Chip was not fooled. He knew the admiral was in no better condition than anyone else. Though he wanted badly to help Nelson solve the crisis his head was not cooperating and every time he moved it his world spun out of control. For now he was stranded, and all he could do was watch… and wait.  

 

~~~~  

As he and the small group of men approached the compound Lee continuously scanned the scene looking for obvious and not-so-obvious security measures. If the occupants were experimenting with new and deadly weaponry, he would expect a high level of security but he counted only four sentries and none of those appeared to be heavily armed. All his personal alarms were sounding at once. When the men turned to see why he was lagging, he reluctantly followed but he could not shrug off his apprehension.

Using hand signals the leader ordered his men to stop then he squatted, picked up a stick and drew a sketch in the sand. One at a time he marked the locations of the various entry points on the “map” then pointed to one of the men directing him to head to that location. Lee wondered how such a small band of men would be able to make a successful assault, given the size of the compound. Then it occurred to him that the men were probably decoys who would sacrifice themselves to allow him to enter with the device he carried. Each of the men checked his watch before sprinting off.

The leader then pointed to a location on his drawing where he had made a small “x”.  In a whisper he explained. “The structure is solid concrete but it will not be difficult to get inside. You have the tools and the knowledge. Now go, your time is limited.”  

The men had given Lee just ten minutes to get to his entry point. It took him only slightly less and as he tried to catch sight of where the other men were situated he heard the sound of gunfire. Taking his cue he made his way over to what looked like an entrance to a long low building. While he leaned against the adjacent wall as closely as he could, he reached out with one arm and pushed on the door. It did not budge so he put his body up against it and shoved. This time it gave way and he jumped back against the wall once again. After some delay to wait for any booby traps to be sprung he carefully peered inside.

The first thing that assaulted him was a wave of heat that emanated from the opening. That was not surprising, since the building appeared to lack any type of external ventilation. The structure was larger than it appeared and in contrast to the thick outer walls, the inside had the typical thin walled construction characteristic of buildings in the region. There were lights attached to a wire that was strung along the top of some of the walls that illuminated the hallways sufficiently for Lee to find his way through the unfamiliar maze. As he neared one room with an open door he suddenly heard voices and he remained out of sight until they faded. With an unknown amount of area to cover he had to keep moving.

After some time inside, Lee caught a whiff of an odor that seemed out of place considering where he was. Hamburgers? Curious, he tried to localize the smell, and after a few more minutes he found what appeared to be a kitchen where a small Asian man who looked to be about eighty was standing over a tiny stove. As Lee stood in the shadows and watched, the man finished his preparations he placed the burgers on a plate, picked it up and carried it down the hallway. Once the cook returned to the kitchen Lee headed for where the man had just come.   

Glancing inside each of several rooms on the hall Lee soon caught sight of another man, this one with his back facing him. He was working at a bench which held a number of electronic devices and off on another table near him was the plate of burgers. Lee continued to watch as the man slowly and methodically assembled some type of apparatus. Then the man mumbled, then cursed aloud in English and shook his hand as if injured.

Without warning, the man sat upright and turned and Lee could not jump away from the door fast enough to avoid being seen. When the man stuck his head out into the hallway Lee grabbed him, pressed him against the wall and covered his mouth to keep him from calling out. Once the two were eye to eye Lee did a double take. The man was Ellison Janek the missing scientist!

Lee loosened his grip slightly and spoke into Janek’s ear. “I’m Lee Crane of the submarine Seaview and I’m here to get you out but I need you to remain quiet. Do you understand?”

The man nodded, but as soon as Lee removed his hand he began to ask questions and Lee grabbed him again. “Keep quiet or I’ll have to gag you, got it?” The man nodded again. “Where can we go to talk, in private?” Janek pointed to a room down the hall but he was frozen in fear and Lee had to practically drag him there. Once inside Lee released his hold and stood between Janek and the door. The scientist started towards a row of switches on the wall and Lee pulled his gun and pointed it at him.

“I need to turn this on,” Janek half whined, half whispered. “It’s white noise.”

Lee had read up on sound systems in recent months and easily recognized the benefit of masking their conversation. He nodded for the scientist to continue. The hum created by the generator was loud enough for the two to speak in normal tones.

“I know who you are. But you’ll fail just like all the others and I won’t risk it.”

“What others?”

“The ones sent in here to get me out.”

“I don’t know anything about them,” Lee scowled as he put away his gun. He was not at all surprised that others had tried to get to the scientist. The man was a valuable acoustics researcher who had worked with the Navy for many years.

“What is it you’re working on here?”

Janek stood silent and Lee soon grew impatient with the man’s reticence. “There’s more involved here than just you, Doctor!” When there was still no response Lee practically snarled at the man. “Dr. Janek, they tried to sink the Seaview and used a noise cancellation device.  Is that it?”

The downcast look on the scientist’s face told Lee he was hiding something. “What is it?  You have to tell me!”

Suddenly he blurted out a response. “I…I…was just told my work was successful and that your submarine has been sunk. They made me do it. I’m sorry, I…I…”

Lee swallowed hard. The news was worse than a shot to the heart. Thoughts of what the last minutes might have been like for his friends, his men and his boat filled his head and he had to fight hard to keep them from crippling him. He balled up his fists and turned to hit the wall, stopping just short. Focus on the mission, Crane, on the mission. There would be time for anger and grief later. He turned quickly and again faced Janek. “What do you know about any other weapons?” he spat.

“I can only guess what they are,” he responded quietly. “My concentration has been on the anti-sonar technology.”

“Doctor, are there any other scientists here?”

“There were some….”

“What happened to them?”

“Some were killed after their job was done, some by their own carelessness and ineptitude. As long as I remain useful they will keep me alive.”

“What about other people? Who else is in this compound?”

“Technicians…and test subjects.”

“Test subjects?”  

“Sound weapons are used primarily against people. They need subjects for their tests.”  

Lee’s blood ran cold at the thought.

“What about guards?”

“They let us move freely through this building, but we were warned to never step foot outside unless escorted.”

“Do you know why?”

“All I know is that faces I saw one day were often gone the next. I filled in the blanks and kept to myself and my work.” The scientist then picked up a pitcher from the table and poured some water into a glass. His hand shook as he began to drink.

Lee wanted specifics of what exactly had been developed but what he already knew was frightening enough. Searching for information to bring back with him without someone to point out what was significant might cost him time he did not have. His primary goal now was to get Janek safely back to the States and he needed to move now.

“Dr. Janek we need to go.”

The wide eyed look on Janek’s face caused Lee to turn his head. Standing in the doorway was the elderly cook. He was pointing a gun directly at him. 

“I do not believe you are going anywhere,” said the man with a Cheshire cat smile.

~~~~  

The admiral entered the laboratory and flipped the light switch. He squinted at the harsh glare produced by the overhead lights, something he had not really noticed before. Once he stepped inside he leaned his back against the door and at the same time he kept one hand on the knob, wishing by that simple action he could lock out everyone and everything. It was already a long day and though Seaview might survive their current predicament, if they didn’t come up with a solution to the problem soon there might be none of the crew left to save. He was frustrated and angry with himself for not being able to concentrate and he knew Jamison had been right that whatever malady had afflicted the crew had affected him as well. He laughed out loud before a sigh bordering on self-pity escaped his lips.

“Phhhhtttt.” He mentally shook himself, stepped away from the door then slowly walked along the bank of lighted aquariums that lined the bulkhead, running his finger along the glass. While most of the tanks had been carefully designed and stocked with the types of fish that he considered important for his research in the areas of physics, water chemistry and biology, one had been filled very colorful freshwater species that he simply enjoyed watching. He stopped in front of that tank and as usual, the fish inside moved towards him in anticipation of their daily meal. He reached up to open the cabinet containing the small shaker that held the fish food but a sudden pain in his head followed by a new wave of nausea caused him to stop. As he bent over and rested his hands on his knees in an attempt to lessen his distress he happened to glance at the fish in the tank and noticed that they had begun to swim at first erratically, then rapidly in circles. Suddenly curious, he forgot all about his misery and looked into each of the other tanks. Most of the other fish seemed to be exhibiting the same frenzied behaviors.  Was it possible that the fish were being affected in the same way as Seaview’s crew?  “How?” he asked aloud.

Unconsciously drumming his fingers on the top of the lab bench he continued to study the fish. The swirling school had a hypnotic effect on him so he barely noticed that the motion was creating turbulence inside the tanks. The loud beep of an alarm jolted him back to reality and he looked over at the control panel where he noticed the warning light from the filter pump system was flashing. He stepped over and lifted the housing to check the pump.  

Clickclickclickclickclickclicklickclickclickclick…  The fan to the motor that drove the pump to the largest of the tanks was vibrating causing it to click uncharacteristically. The admiral stood and looked at it. Something in the back of his mind was trying to get out.  Something important. Something that might resolve this. Something...  

“Why didn’t I think of this before?” he berated himself as he then walked over to the wall mounted mic and snatched it up.

“Mr. Chavis, this is the admiral. Surface the boat. Sparks, get me the Institute.”

 

~~~~  

Dr. Janek dropped the glass he was holding and the sound of it shattering on the concrete floor startled the older man, causing him to glance over at the scientist. Lee took full advantage of the situation and swiftly kicked the gun from the cook’s hand and jumped him, pinning him against the wall. The man was strong for his age and Lee had to struggle to maintain control. “I need something to tie him up!”

Janek scurried off and soon returned with some wire. With his help, Lee was finally able to secure his captive. Next he scrounged around and found an old rag to stuff into the man’s mouth to keep him from calling out. He then picked up the gun from the floor, handed it to the scientist and scooped up his pack.

“Let’s go, now!”

No longer convinced he would be safe staying in the compound, Janek didn’t think twice and guided Lee to the nearest exit.  Lee peered outside and seeing no signs of any guards he pointed the direction he wanted the two of them to go. They covered the first twenty yards quickly but as they reached the edge of the cleared area an ear-splitting screech forced them to cover their ears. As they continued to move away from the buildings the noise seemed to envelop them, rising in volume until it became excruciatingly painful. Soon both men dropped to the ground and began to writhe.

In all his years of exposure to ships and weapons Lee had never experienced anything so loud and so debilitating. It was becoming harder and harder to think or even to move. No …need for… guards. When he saw Janek panting, and he felt his own chest tightening he almost lost his grip on reality. From his position on the ground he glanced back towards the building and caught sight of his pack. Device…got to…get the…device. Lacking the strength to rise, he was forced to crawl the entire distance.

He struggled mightily to remove the device, and finally freeing it he again put his hands over his ears. Tears first soaked his long lashes then began to flow down his face, and for a moment he doubted he would be able to survive, much less turn on or operate the instrument. With one last mighty push he managed to get the metal box open. The tears continued as he shook his head and tried to locate the switch. Seemingly from out of nowhere a hand reached in and hit the appropriate button. The display lit up and as suddenly as the noise had begun it ceased. Lee looked up to see Dr. Janek standing over him and this time he was ushering Lee to leave. Lee was on his feet in seconds.

With Lee now hand-carrying the device, the two dashed towards for the cover of the vegetation. Lee again looked back towards the building, regretting he would not be able to destroy the compound. He vowed that he would come back and take care of that part of his mission. The men who had sacrificed to help him deserved that much.

The pair made their way through the jungle at a breakneck pace. Fortunately, Lee had paid close attention to his earlier path of travel and was able to again locate the tree stand. He climbed up the ladder and peered inside and upon finding it vacant he waved for Janek to join him.

With his ears still ringing from the exposure to the sound weapon Lee knew it would be useless and probably painful to try and hold a conversation. He was in no mood for one anyway. With his adrenalin rush subsided and his mission nearly complete, his only thoughts now were of his friends and his boat. At best, Janek could only offer a hollow apology for his part in the demise of the Seaview and he didn’t care to hear it.

For several minutes the two just stood at the portals and stared out at the expanse of green. “My, God!” exclaimed Janek as a huge fireball lit up the sky in the direction of the compound. The roar of a shock wave soon reached them, flattening the tree stand and sending them cascading to the ground. After several minutes the dust started to settle and slowly the men pushed away the debris that covered them. Once on their feet each assessed the condition of the other. All things considered, they had been lucky and sported only a few bruises apiece.  

Lee had forgotten he had given Janek a gun and when the man suddenly raised and pointed it in his direction, Lee was surprised. “You don’t need to do that.” Janek wagged the gun. “No, behind you!”

“Captain Crane.”

Lee had not heard someone come up behind him. He turned around slowly and relief washed over him when he recognized the armed man. “Mr. Black, nice to see you again.”

 

~~~~  

Chip sat up on the edge of this bed and despite the vertigo that threatened to send him falling forward he managed to focus on the admiral’s words.

“Vibrations. That has to be it, Chip. Research has shown that some animals are particularly attuned to them. When I saw the fish swimming in circles it came to me.  I’ve requested the CHENG to do some calculations and run the Chapman numbers. If there is a piece of equipment on board causing low frequency vibrations it could very well be resonating and causing us to feel disoriented or worse.”

“I can see that happening on a smaller scale, sir, but enough to affect everyone? That would have to be some vibration and our scans showed nothing.”

“Early researchers were able to flatten buildings with vibrations from a single off-kilter fan motor and the sound was virtually undetectable with instruments. It’s why we do such extensive calculations and testing during trials…to prevent that kind of thing. I put in a call to the Institute to go into my vault and pull up the data from our various refits. We’ll check what we read now against those old numbers.”

“Do you think it might have anything to do with the new sonar?”

“Nothing is being ruled out, but I doubt it. By now we know everything about that system.”

Still feeling guilty about the issues with the instruments, Chip winced. He then had to grab the rail of the overhead bunk to steady him.

“Don’t worry about it right now, Chip. Lie back before you fall.”

Chip didn’t need coaxing; he had reached the limit of his strength.

“Oh…there are a couple of men safely ensconced in the brig awaiting your attention when you get to them. I also put an order out that all weapons were to be locked up and only the Master-at-Arms and I have keys.”

“Thank you, sir.” 

Chip watched the OOM as he walked into Jamison’s office to give him the latest updates. He admired Nelson and had admitted once to Lee that he still had a touch of hero-worship for him. There had been numerous times the admiral had pulled the veritable rabbit out of the hat to rescue Seaview or the world and it appeared he might have done it once more. The admiral sure doesn’t miss much, even when he’s ill. So what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I string two thoughts together? He tried unsuccessfully to jot down some notes to update the log as soon as he was able. Finally his injury took its toll and he fell asleep with pen still in hand.

Sitting in the bunk at the opposite end of sickbay, Seaman Patterson held his head. If things were going to get better he hoped it would be very soon. He had been unable to eat anything solid and the chicken broth he had recently swallowed was threatening a re-appearance. Crewmen and officers alike had paraded past him seeking help but nothing seemed to work…for any of them. He closed his eyes and suddenly felt a chill, as if he had been standing in front of an open freezer. He opened them to see what was causing it and couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Dancing in front of him was what he thought was an apparition, a ghost. The silvery, shimmering human-like object was about six feet tall and two feet wide and remained even after he closed and reopened his eyes several times. He jumped up from the bunk.

“Mr. Morton. You see it, don’t you, sir?”

Chip was startled awake by someone calling his name and he looked around, confused. Several men were standing facing the far wall of sick bay and he couldn’t tell why. He struggled but managed to pull himself upright, then ignoring the dizziness he felt he stared in the direction the rating was pointing. He saw nothing out of the ordinary. “What is it, Patterson?  What do you see?”

At that moment the admiral stepped from the doctor’s office and shivered. “What’s going on here?”

Patterson pointed to the wall and Nelson turned and caught sight of what had his men’s rapt attention. Certain he was hallucinating, the admiral rubbed his eyes with his fingertips but when he stopped he found the manifestation was still there. As entranced as a curious child, he watched the figure dance before him until the sound of a bucket crashing to the floor broke his concentration. He then stepped closer and reached out to touch the specter. Almost immediately the shimmering ceased and the air felt much warmer.  

Within seconds the intercom crackled to life. “Admiral Nelson, this is the conn. Please report.”

The admiral snagged the microphone and Chavis informed him that there were widespread reports of what he referred to as visions and he hesitantly included himself and the watch crew among those who had experienced them. He also advised he had sent two men to check on the status of the air conditioning units because many of then men reported being overly cool. The admiral concurred and indicated he would be en-route to the control room in a few minutes.

After he hung up the mic, Nelson thrust his hands into his pockets and paced. The simplest explanation that he could come up with was they had all just experienced a mass ghost sighting. However, since his past contacts with the spirit world had been distinctly different from what he had just perceived he dismissed that idea. He finally concluded that the image was likely a hallucinatory effect of whatever was making them all sick. He would need much more data to prove or disprove that hypothesis.  

Walking over to Chip, who was leaning on the bunk rail appearing confused by everyone’s behavior, he quizzed him about his experiences. “You didn’t see anything did you?”

Chip pursed his lips. “No, sir.”

“No apparitions? No rush of cold air?”

“No, sir, not a thing.” It wasn’t the first time in his several years on Seaview that Chip had been the odd man out, not appearing to have the same receptors for things that many might consider to be paranormal. In fact, he had the reputation of being a skeptic, and this latest situation had done nothing to change other’s assessment of him.

The admiral passed no judgment as he informed Chip of his plans. “I’m going to find out who else didn’t see anything and see if you have anything in common. I should have that data from the Institute, too.  In the meantime, you get some rest. I have a feeling we’re getting close to solving this paradox.”

Once the admiral turned to leave, Chip managed a smile. Having no real choice in the matter, he lay back down and quickly drifted off.

 

~~~~  

The admiral’s questioning of the men gave him nothing new to go on but his tour of the boat had allowed him to see first hand the significant decline in both productivity and morale. Forcing himself to try and remain on task, he spent some time poring over the data he had received from the Institute and culled from Seaview’s computer. His hope of finding something to explain the diverse physical symptoms displayed by his men was to no avail. In the meantime, his symptoms continued to get worse. Fatigued beyond belief, he sat and stared at the columns of numbers until they began to dance off the page. Fear began to creep into his psyche and he suddenly didn’t want to leave his cabin.

Recognizing his own cognitive deterioration, the admiral shook his head vigorously and walked over to open the door. He reached for the knob but he could not force himself to turn it. “Damn foolishness!” he yelled out loud, as he snatched open the door and stuck his head out into the corridor. Suddenly sure that someone was lurking around the corner he shouted for whoever it was to come out. When no one appeared he stepped back inside, slammed the door and locked it. Stepping over to his wall safe he spun the dial. It took three tries but finally he managed to open it. He briefly stared at the cold steel object inside before grabbing it and once again heading out the door. 

 

~~~~  

Chip awoke with a start. At first he thought he had been dreaming but he was now sure he heard gunshots somewhere close by. He recalled the admiral saying that only he and the MAA had access to any guns, so he assumed it was one of the two firing the shots.

Intent on ascertaining what was happening beyond the walls of sick bay he climbed out of the bunk and slowly straightened up. With his balance a good bit better than it had been earlier, he was able to scan the room. He immediately noticed that all the bunks were occupied and several men sat on the deck leaning against each other and the bulkhead for support. Most appeared unconscious, but a few moaned quietly.  He stepped around the men and looked into Jamison’s office. There he found that neither the doctor nor the corpsmen were there. Their absence could only mean there was a more critical need for their services elsewhere. He closed his eyes for a moment and bowed his head. Seaview’s situation was grave. Though he was nauseous and his head was pounding he knew he had to do something to help while he still could.

Wearing only a pair of shorts and feeling like he was standing in an icebox, Chip headed for his cabin for some clothes. On the way he encountered a few officers and ratings and though they still managed to remain on their feet, they were lethargic and their words were slurred. What they said didn’t make much sense, so it was useless to quiz them about the boat’s status. He tried to motivate them to hang on but he didn’t feel it himself. What am I going to do?

Once in his cabin Chip eventually shrugged on a uniform then sat down in the chair to tie his shoes. Not since he was five years old had he had so much trouble tying a bow.  He stopped to laugh at himself, imagining his struggles would make an amusing comedy routine. The crew must have thought it hilarious that he was wandering the corridors barefoot and in shorts. He continued to laugh loudly until tears came to his eyes.  He abruptly stopped laughing as a feeling of dread washed over him. He fought back against the foreboding with a voluntary shiver. Got… to go.

Chip made it halfway down the spiral stairs and his heart sank when he peered around the rail and caught a glimpse of the watch. O’Brien was leaning against the periscope island and appeared to be staring off into space. Chavis was sitting on the island itself, his head in his hands. Each of the critical stations was manned, but many of the ratings had their heads down or were nodding off.

Chip didn’t even bother to question the duty officers. He knew his foremost duty now was to the boat. He stopped by sonar, where Kowalski greeted him with significantly less respect than he was known for. Chip ignored his insolence and stepped over to the navigational computer. While he normally could remember long strings of coordinates he found he could not recall where they were supposed to be or even in which ocean they were situated. He had to look at the chart that was laid out on the plot table.  “Mission….presidential mission,” he mumbled to himself.

Chip picked up the mic and called to Sparks to ask if they had received any further messages from COMSUBPAC or the President. Receiving no reply, he looked over to the radio shack. Not surprisingly it was empty. Concerned they had missed a rendezvous or a crucial message he rushed over and sat down at the console and scanned the log. Seaview’s communications officers all had excellent handwriting, but what appeared on the pages looked more like chicken scratch. Chip had already established Seaview was too deep for him to send a standard radio message but there was nothing and no one stopping him from using the ELF. He donned the headphones tuned to the proper frequency and began to transmit.  

“Seaview to FS-1, Seaview to FS-1, come in please.” He repeated the message every thirty seconds for about five minutes and got no results for his efforts. Frustrated, he tossed off the headphones and with a new wave of dizziness overtaking him crossed his arms and rested them on the desk and put his head down. This time he lost the fight to remain conscious.

 

~~~~  

Thanks to the SEALs, Lee already received word that Seaview had not been sunk by the mysterious sub but he still knew nothing about her or his crew’s status. When he left, the crew was not operating to its usual high standards so when he approached within one hundred yards and could see the boat was moving downward rather quickly one of his many internal alarms began to go off. The failure of anyone on the boat to respond to his hails only heightened the tension.

After a somewhat tricky docking Lee shut down the small craft and ordered his two passengers to stay put. He slid his pistol under his belt, ascended the ladder and un-dogged the hatch. Before sticking his head through the opening he pulled the pistol and turned so that his back was to the bow. Instead of being greeted by the admiral or Chip he saw men either slumped at their stations or in heaps on the deck. Quickly deciding it was imprudent to move in further, he scooted backwards and descended the ladder, pulling the hatch closed behind him.

Lee stood silently for about a minute before lashing out and striking the back of the pilot’s seat with his fist. Sharkey managed to stammer out the obvious question. “What is it, Skipper?”

Lee swallowed hard and scrubbed his face with his hand. “It looks like… they’re all dead,” he whispered.  

 

~~~~  

When the symptoms had first been reported to him, Nelson had taken steps to ensure that in the event there was no hope for Seaview or her crew, someone could determine what had happened to them. He had provided Starke with a good bit of detail about their experiences and symptoms and what had been done to find the source of their problems. He had also sent telemetry that included Seaview’s recent electronic scans. Upon receiving Lee’s radio call and hearing the pain and anger in his voice, Starke wasn’t sure just how much of it he should share with the impetuous captain. He wanted to abide by Nelson’s wishes to keep Lee safe but knowing Crane would throw himself into danger despite his orders he relented and began to relay what Nelson had told him.

Lee knew some of the crew was ill before he left on his mission but what had occurred after he left surprised even him.

“While they were watching out for that sub, they were also dealing with widespread nausea, headaches, constant fighting, ever increasing fatigue and finally, paranoia…”

Lee scrubbed his face to mask the emotion he felt coming to the surface.

“On top of that they started feeling cold air and seeing visions. Admiral Nelson described them as ghost-like, dancing. He thought that vibrations had something to do with it. He called the Institute for data. The last thing he said to me was he regretted that he couldn’t find anything. He sounded … tired.”

Lee quizzed Starke on every detail, desperately hoping he could change the situation. Starke answered, but he could provide little by way of explanations.  

Janek had been sitting quietly in his chair, listening to the conversation. Suddenly, and loud enough for Starke to hear him over the microphone, he shouted. “They’ve done it!”

Lee snapped around. “Done what Doctor?’

“They’ve made their ultimate weapon. They created their monster! ”   

 

~~~~  

Assured that he was not likely dealing with poisons or pathogens, Lee once again docked FS-1. All three men carried pistols as they cautiously climbed up and into the nose. With Lee in the lead the trio moved slowly through the control room, checking the condition of the men as they went. To their relief, all were alive but that was little consolation to any of them.

“Sharkey, on the planes!” ordered Lee as he pointed to the critical station that was currently unmanned. Sharkey took the seat as Lee moved over to the trim board. He didn’t know why but they were substantially out of trim, and sinking faster than would be expected. Hoping against hope that he would receive a response, he put out a boat-wide call for assistance. There was no answer to his call so he repeated it. He sighed at the continued silence. Suddenly he had a thought. “Dr. Janek, do you think you can control the planes?” The man looked at him, confused. “I need Sharkey in engineering. I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t critical for us to get this boat underway.”

Janek nodded his agreement then replaced the COB who scurried off to the engine room. Lee gave the scientist a brief lesson and advised he would give him the order via the intercom at the appropriate moment. Lee turned to head towards the reactor room but instead he came face to face with the muzzle of a gun. One held by the admiral.  

“Down on your knees,” Nelson said coolly. “You,” he said, nodding to Janek. “Out of there.”

Both men followed their instructions. Lee chastised himself for setting his own gun down to show Janek how to operate the planes. He continued to watch the admiral, trying to assess his condition before deciding on a strategy. Nelson’s expression was as stony as he had ever seen it.

“Admiral, don’t you recognize me? It’s Lee.”

The admiral scrutinized his captive carefully. Something about him was familiar but the voice in his head was telling him he had no friends and to trust no one. “I know why you’re here. You want to take over my submarine. Well, before that happens I will send us all to Davy Jones.” To show he meant business he fired off a round, hitting the helm console.

As several minutes passed Lee saw no kinks in the admiral’s armor. The man was an excellent shot and these were close quarters so he was not about to attempt anything that might disable him and prevent him from rescuing Seaview. When a figure appeared behind Nelson and grabbed the arm holding the gun, Lee lunged and tackled both men. The gun flew out of the admiral’s hand and Janek snatched it up and stuck it in his belt. Lee struggled with his CO for nearly a minute before the older man collapsed, the wind driven temporarily from his lungs. Though he hated to do it, he had to secure the admiral so he told Janek to remove O’Brien and Chavis’ belts and the scientist promptly responded. The OOM did not resist being tied, but his accusing stare made Lee feel extremely guilty. 

Knowing he could do little for the admiral at the moment he turned and reached down to assist the man who had helped him out of his fix and who was still sprawled on the deck. “Thanks, Chip.”  Lee then looked over his exec and made a smart comment on the large bruise and bandage on his head.  

“Gee, Lee, it’s great to see you, too,” Chip replied, dripping sarcasm. He managed a grin before his eyes rolled back and he started to spiral down to the deck. Lee caught him by the shoulders and lowered him to a seated position.

“Looks like I got up a little too quick.”

Lee nodded. “I have some information for you that might explain all this but first we need to get Seaview out of this area. Can you tell me what happened to the trim system?”

Chip briefly relayed how the boat had been affected by the explosions, then the two made plans to get underway. Knowing he didn’t want Chip to be alone in his weakened condition Lee suggested he remain with Janek. He then he took a few seconds to introduce the two.  

“I’ll work on the reactor then come back up and join you.” Chip nodded and slowly rose to take the seat beside the scientist.

~~~~

Finding it a bit disconcerting to walk and work around the unconscious crewmen that were sprawled everywhere, Lee and Sharkey made the necessary adjustments to get Seaview up to the surface and moving forward. Though the men all needed medical attention Lee knew it was paramount to get them away from their current location. He had Sharkey pour on the speed while he returned to the control room to monitor sonar.

Amazingly, after traveling two hundred miles some of the men began to rouse. While they were still languid, it was a hopeful indication to Lee that they would all recover. Even the admiral was showing signs of lessening hostility. Unable to handle everyone’s medical care alone and knowing he had an obligation to provide an update, Lee decided to contact Admiral Starke. He placed the call then headed for the admiral’s cabin, leaving Chip with the conn.

 

~~~~

“How is Admiral Nelson?”

Lee was not about to mention the scenario in the control room and he was intentionally vague in his response. “He was conscious when we found him and he is improving all the time, sir.”

Starke looked at the captain with some skepticism. “Very well, then…what about your boat?”

“I’m sorry, Admiral, but we won’t be able to complete whatever mission was set out by the President. The boat and the men are in no shape to take on any assignment, much less one so demanding.”  

“Captain Crane, I spoke with the President two hours ago. He informed me he ordered your mission, but there were no orders issued by him for the Seaview. It seems someone was trying to make sure your boat was exactly where she needed to be.”

“Who this time, sir, and for what reason?”

Starke was holding some blockbuster information that might answer the captain’s questions but in old Navy form he chose not to share it, saving it for the senior officer of the Seaview. Without taking a breath he summed up the situation. “Apparently that submarine and noise device you tangled with was only the tip of the iceberg. They were testing a new weapon all right but all of us missed the bigger picture, a much more powerful weapon. Admiral Nelson warned me that something was not quite right and I didn’t listen. We need to find out what exactly is out there but first things first. Right now I have a tender headed for you. They will offload your men and get them help. I also ordered a temporary substitute crew.” 

“Admiral, we certainly have a mission now so I’m staying here, on Seaview. I would also like to keep some of my men here since they are more familiar with her. Dr. Janek is staying too. He has been invaluable and he might be the key to solving this thing. We’ll take a couple of days off to recuperate and gather data.” 

“I assumed you would say that, Captain. I have a medical officer waiting to meet you, and if he says those men are healthy enough to remain, they may.”

Lee signed off then began to rub his temples. Whether he had ignored it or it had returned he had a tremendous headache. He noticed the packets of pain reliever on the admiral’s desk and snatched them up before heading back to the conn.

 

~~~~  

With the admiral and other officers and crew safely transferred to the tender for assessment and care, Lee received notice that the medical officer had arrived. Lee and Chip stood by the sail ladder, both trying to appear in perfect health. 

“Permission to come aboard, Captain?”

Lee smiled at the sound of the familiar voice. “Permission granted, Doctor!”

The burly Lt. Commander Jack Miller had served as a temporary physician for Seaview in the past and was well aware of the interesting situations her crew often found themselves in. “Glad to keep this in the family, Jack.”  

“Don’t think that will help you get anything past me, Captain,” he said with a wink.  “Why don’t I start with the two of you?”

“The admiral and the men need you more than we do.” Lee knew immediately that he had made a big mistake in testing the doctor’s resolve.  

“Perhaps, but he isn’t going to be commanding this submarine. If you expect to be, you better be up to par. Mr. Morton I saw you grab that railing so I will see you in sick bay in five minutes. Captain, I expect you in thirty.”   

Chip looked at Lee and grimaced then reluctantly followed the doctor.

Lee took the short reprieve he was given to speak with some of the utility crewmen. Before he knew it almost forty five minutes had passed. He reluctantly arrived in sick bay to find Chip still sitting on the stretcher in the center of the room. Since he was dressed only in his skivvies Lee could see the extent of the bruises that his exec had collected while he was away. He couldn’t resist teasing his long time friend. “Since when do ghosts leave bruises on your back?”

“Funny, Lee. Let’s just say I had a couple of problems trying to fix the bilge pumps.”

The comment piqued Lee’s interest. “Problems? Since when do you involve yourself with fixing the pumps?”

“They needed fixing, all right? And…” Chip hesitated, not wanting to say too much. “After we get out of this mess I’ll tell you all about it…over a beer.”

“If there is anything I need to know now…”

“Nothing that can’t wait until we’re all back on our feet.” 

Miller walked back over to the exec and handed him several pills. “Antibiotics to stave off the pneumonia, and there’s a lot of fluid in your inner ear, so I’m giving you an antihistamine and a decongestant.”

Chip set down the pills and slipped off the stretcher, intending to get dressed. The doctor soon came up behind him. “Whoa, Commander, I’m not done. You haven’t made your donation,” he said pointing a thumb to the head. “With possible damage to the kidneys from your earlier accident I want to see that there’s no blood.” When Chip ignored him and continued to get dressed, Miller reached out and grabbed his patient’s arm. “I think I need to check your hearing, too.” 

Chip scowled and sat back down as Lee looked on with concern. The doctor performed several tests and it was obvious to Lee that the results were less than stellar. When it was announced that Chip was currently only hearing at sixty percent of normal and knowing that good hearing was a requirement to serve on subs, the exec lost his temper. “How could that be? There must be something wrong with your instruments!” 

“I’m sorry, but there’s no problem there. Did you get exposed to loud noises for any length of time?”

“No,” Chip responded bluntly.

“Explosions? Or maybe a bad ear infection that wasn’t treated?”

Chip shook his head. “I know how important good hearing is. I was fine yesterday morning. I worked on the new sonar and had no problems…at all.”

Miller looked to Lee. “What exactly happened here over the last thirty hours?”

Lee shrugged. “I wasn’t here most of it.” He then thought for a minute. “Doc, do you think that exposure to excessive vibrations could cause hearing loss?”

“Of course, that’s why ear protection is required on construction job sites and in the cockpits of airliners. Why, do you know something?”

“Chip told me the admiral thought vibrations might have been responsible for making the crew ill but he couldn’t prove it.”

The Doctor cocked his head while he considered the comment. “Maybe there is something to it. I’ll check on the rest of the men to be sure.”

When Lee then announced he had an idea and needed to run an errand and would return shortly, Miller could only shake his head. The doctor then returned his attention to Chip. “If your urine screen is negative, I will let you return to limited duty. I won’t clear you to take the conn or man sonar without a vast improvement. Now take your meds. And get some rest!”

Since the doctor would be reporting directly back to Admiral Starke, Chip knew it was useless to argue. While he was fortunate to be allowed to remain on the boat for the time being, it was unlikely he would still have his job if the problem did not clear up. He felt like he had been punched in the gut. Dejected beyond his experience, he gave up the required sample, finished dressing and left sick bay.       

~~~~

“It’s beautiful isn’t it, Dr. Janek?” Lee was referring to the view out the observation nose. Once the initial crisis aboard Seaview had passed the scientist had taken a seat there and not moved, even to get something to eat.

Janek started then nodded slowly. “You know I’ve spent most of my adult life designing weapons of war. Now I regret I didn’t use my talents for something of more value.”

“But there is value in what you’ve done. Weapons are used to deter aggression, not just to destroy.”

“An idealist’s perspective perhaps?  In any event, after what I’ve seen I cannot go back to do what I was doing.”

“That’s your decision of course, but with this situation far from resolved, I hope you will be willing to see through helping us remove the threat. As far as being an idealist, it certainly helped me to hang my hat with Admiral Nelson.”

Janek nodded but said no more and Lee turned to go. He hesitated and turned back around.

“Dr. Janek, I need some information.”

The scientist turned around. “What type of information?”

“This weapon that you think the PR has developed… can you tell me more about it?”

“Have a seat, Captain, this may take awhile.”

Lee slipped into one of the other chairs and faced Janek.

“Have you ever heard of infrasound?”

Lee nodded. “I’ve heard of it. Don’t whales communicate in the lower frequencies?”

“Yes, they do, but there are many things that generate low frequency sound. Land animals such as rhinos and horses that stomp the ground are actually sending infrasound signals to their competition. They are successful in establishing wide territories because the low frequency waves they generate travel much farther than those of higher frequencies. Even the whales you mention can send sound across oceans. Of course, natural phenomena also create infrasound. Take thunder for example. Do you know why animals often sense a storm long before humans? It’s partly because they feel the low level vibrations that travel a great distance ahead of the actual storm.”

“That’s interesting information, Doctor, but how could it be adapted as a weapon?”

“True infrasound…sound waves in frequencies in the range of 20 hertz or less is not heard, only felt as vibrations or pressure waves. It is not detected as a sound per se and it cannot be recorded on a tape recorder. That’s alone makes it very dangerous. Can you imagine being bombarded with intense waves that you can’t hear and your instruments can’t detect? When waves enter a cavity they begin to resonate and that can wreak havoc on whatever they pass through. If that object happens to be a human body, then you can imagine the damage that might result.”

Lee’s level of concern ratcheted up several notches. “So vibrations, waves, can cause such things as hearing loss?”

“Among other things. Various frequencies have differing effects on the body and at certain frequencies, sound can kill by exploding matter, including vital organs. There are already precedents in nature. Some whales emit so-called gunshots or pressure waves to stun or kill their prey.”

“So you think they are developing lethal weapons?”

“That remains to be seen. A weapon can be just as effective if it merely disables or disorients. I think that’s what happened to your crew.”

“Can it account for the other symptoms?”

“Very possibly, but I don’t know enough of those details, only what I heard you say on out trip here.”

“Is the damage permanent?”

“I’m not a physician, but like any injury, some healing will take place, though it may take some time. You certainly want to avoid any additional exposure, since damage is cumulative. It’s why the building where I was housed and worked was solid concrete, including the roof and the doors. Ultra low frequency sound can enter through any opening, even a crack in a window, and continued exposure would disable and could eventually kill the researcher. Loud noises are dangerous as well. We experienced high decibel bombardment and I think you will agree it became debilitating pretty quickly.  Regardless of the type of sound weapon they have employed you must take precautions.”

“You’ve certainly given me a lot to think about, Dr. Janek,” Lee said as he rose to his feet. “I would like you to be examined by our doctor, just to be on the safe side.”

Janek nodded. “All right, Captain.”

Lee’s conversation with the scientist had given him a more complete understanding of what had taken place on the Seaview but there were still a lot of unanswered questions.  He had spoken to some of the men as they left the boat, and they related some of the peculiar occurrences they had witnessed. He decided he would seek specific explanations for those later. Right now he needed to ensure sure his crew, Janek and the Seaview were taken care of.

Lee held out his hand. “This way, Dr. Janek.”

~~~~

Chip stepped inside his cabin and looked around before quietly shutting the door. For the second time in several months he was forced to consider that he might not be able to return to the job and life he loved. He had no real control over either situation, a fact that added to his pain and frustration.

Instead of dropping into his desk chair as he normally would he sat down on the edge of his bunk, where he had full view of the few personal items he kept on the boat. Taped to a tiny shelf was a small totem of Dakuwaqa the shark god of Fiji that he received from the grateful mother of a toddler that he had saved from drowning. Though he knew Lee was proud of what he had done he had jokingly told Chip that he should display it to remind the crew that he could and would eat them alive. Chip chuckled aloud at the memory but became more subdued as he caught sight of the small but not insignificant medal he had been awarded by another island country for disarming a bomb that had been planted in the president’s office. It’s all a matter of timing, I guess.

The remaining items were all framed photos. One was of his family, one was a formal pose of the admiral and Lee and another was him standing beside the newly laid keel of the Seaview. He stared at that photo for several minutes, reliving the events of that day and while he was not prone to overt sentimentality, he was feeling more emotion than he wanted to admit to. He ran his hand through his short blond hair and after accidentally hitting the injured area on his forehead he let out a slight yelp. Another souvenir. He then stood up then stepped over to the small sink in the head and splashed water on his face.

Knowing work was the best way to shake off his despondency Chip picked up a clipboard and attached the repair checklist. He turned to leave but heard a fairly loud knock on the door. “Come in, Lee,” he said as he pulled the door open. The visitor was indeed the captain of Seaview.

“Need to talk?”

“About the boat, sure.”

It was a rare circumstance where Lee could get Chip to discuss his personal feelings when there was something to be done on the boat. Lee could sense Chip had no desire to discuss his future and he was not about to cause his friend more stress by forcing the issue. There would come a time where it had to be done, but now was not it.

“So where do we stand?”

Chip went on to explain what he thought were their priorities and Lee made a few minor adjustments to his list. With Seaview at station keeping and manned by a temporary skeleton crew, the officers would be free to monitor the repair crews and to take care of their own needs, things that had been neglected over that previous two days. Things like eating and sleeping. 

~~~~

Upon waking from a long period of sleep the admiral had received a personal briefing from Lee but he wanted to see what was happening on Seaview for himself. So after spending a full day and a half under the care of Miller he demanded his release. Once onboard he obtained the latest status report then sought out his long time acquaintance Ellison Janek. The two shook hands warmly.

“Admiral, it’s good to see you. I’m sorry it wasn’t under better circumstances and I regret that a lot our current problems may be due to my own stubbornness.”

“Nonsense. They would manage to complete their work whether it was with you or with someone else. Now that you are here I need you to tell me everything that you know about infrasound research. I have to make a call but I would like to get with you as soon as possible after that.”

Janek agreed and the admiral immediately headed to his cabin to contact Starke. Before long the two were once again on the topic of failed intelligence and once again Nelson was breathing fire.

“Spit it out, Jiggs.  I know when you’re hiding something.”

“You always could read me Harriman.” Starke reached down to his desk, opened the drawer and pulled out a three page brief. “I received this…don’t know how accurate it is.”

“Read it… to me …anyway,” sang Nelson.

Starke cleared his throat. “We preface this by saying this intelligence is based on items of mail retrieved in the post office drop boxes of several of the dual agents involved in the operation and can be considered suspect. However, it appears that sometime last year the People’s Republic put out a notice to its agents ordering them to recruit scientists performing acoustic research for a special project. Those agents were allowed to offer a substantial reward for the services of the scientists. At some point, that system of rewards transformed into a contest of sorts in which scientists competed to become the preeminent researcher for the PR with all its perks and privileges. The ultimate goal of the contest was to develop the most effective acoustic weapon in the world.”

Admiral Nelson was stunned. “So all of this, Volz, Zhu, Teller and Reece.  All of them were involved?!”

“As well as a few of ONI’s agents if this intel is to be believed.”

“And they targeted us to make sure the world noticed their work! What about Mandel?”

“Looks like he might be behind the faked orders. He had the inside information about the investigation and he had motive.”

Nelson was disgusted by both the news and that it had taken so long for it to trickle down to those most affected. It explained a great deal but not everything. He spent the next thirty minutes discussing the recent developments and Seaview’s new mission, one Starke swore was assigned by the president after having spoken to him directly.

“Okay, Jiggs. If you find out anything new, how about letting me know right away?”

Starke raised his hand in a Boy Scout salute. “I promise. Take care, Harriman.”

~~~~

While Seaview was being whipped back into shape, her officers and crew continued to show steady improvements in their health. In some cases the healing was considered nothing short of miraculous. Kowalski, Patterson, Kelly and Garza had all returned to the boat and were manning their usual stations. Most of the remaining men were catching up on much needed sleep.

Lee continually updated the admiral on everyone’s progress while Nelson and Janek remained in the lab discussing weapons and their options for countering them. Finally the admiral decided to speak to all his officers and the COB in order to prepare for what might lie ahead.  He gathered them together in his lab.

“Gentlemen, I’ve garnered a sizeable amount of information about what we might be up against from COMSUBPAC, the Institute files and from Dr. Janek, and I wanted you to hear about it first hand. This mission is going to be dangerous, and I want to take all possible precautions to avoid what happened over the last week from happening again. Dr. Jamison, I want a full accounting of any symptoms of exposure from the start.”

Jamison nodded his agreement.

“You all remember Captain Adams and his research into ultrasonics?”

There were a few groans of recognition at the mention of the naval officer. “How could we forget?” asked Jamison. “He stirred up that manta and it about destroyed us. Do you think someone is using a new ultrasonic weapon on us?”

“No, because of that experience we made sure that when the new hydrophones were designed we could detect in that range. What we’re likely dealing with is sound from the opposite end of the spectrum, or infrasound.”

The admiral turned around and pointed to a diagram that hung from the bulkhead behind him. “Just to explain a few of the differences, ultrasounds are high frequency waves that are very short in length. They are detectable by existing instrumentation, are highly controllable and it’s relatively easy to create a barrier to block them. There are a number of peacetime uses for them, like those you are familiar with in medicine.”  He stopped and turned to face the small crowd. “Infrasound is the term for ultra low frequency sound waves. They are more correctly called pressure waves because we don’t actually hear them, we feel them as vibrations. The waves are much longer that ultrasonic waves so they travel much further than other sounds. That, and because they can penetrate any opening, it is difficult to defend against them.”

At that moment Janek chimed in. “Infrasounds bombard us daily. They are generated by such things as thunder and the waves hitting the beach…even some engines emit them. Since we don’t hear them, our brains don’t register them as sound in the typical sense. They do register, though. You have all felt nauseous over the last few days? Well that nausea is one of the things that caused me to think of an infrasound weapon as a cause. Nausea is one of the early warning signs… your body’s way of telling you that you are being exposed to excessive pressure. The headaches you experienced were also a sign and because your exposure was persistent, the headaches and nausea never really went away, even after taking high doses of medication. The only thing that helped either symptom was moving away from the source.”

“So it could have caused the fighting and the anger?” asked Lee.

“Yes, Captain. Researchers have found that at a certain frequency, most people begin to exhibit hostility. At decreasing frequencies you can add heart palpitations, depression, paranoia, severe muscle pain, middle ear disruptions, vertigo, loss of bodily functions and finally, death. Exposure to frequencies around seven cycles per second for any length of time will kill humans.”  

“How exactly?” asked Jamison.

“Let me use an analogy. Part of the destruction of earthquakes is cause by infrasound pressure waves moving in and out of cavities in the earth. The spaces expand and once the wave passes the layers of earth quickly collapse. When exposed to waves of seven cycles per second body cavities expand then collapse in a similar manner. The person is literally flattened.”

“That’s frightening,” commented the doctor and nearly every man in the room nodded his head in agreement.

“Dr. Janek, how did we learn about the effects of these weapons on humans?” queried Chip.

The admiral answered before the scientist had the chance. “There have been a number of accidental exposures to various frequencies of sound, some man-made, some in nature. A great deal of knowledge was gained through post-accident analysis.”  

“Can we predict what will happen… to us…based on signal strength and length of exposure?”

“To some degree,” answered Janek. “However, playing with infrasound is a risky business and has not been studied nearly as much as ultrasound. Unfortunately, some of those exposed did not recognize what was happening to them and did not survive to report on their work.”

“So without research no one can accurately predict what level of exposure is considered safe?” 

Janek shook his head.

Lee wondered where Chip was headed with his questions. They sounded almost challenging in their tone and that was not typical of the Chip Morton he knew. When it looked like the exec might ask another, Lee stepped in. “Our best bet is to limit all exposure. Dr. Janek has explained to me that the exposure is cumulative so we must be very cautious.”

Chip took the hint and remained silent for the rest of the briefing.

“Is the ultimate goal of this weapon to kill?” inquired Chavis.   

“Not for most acoustic weapons. As I explained to your captain earlier, it can be much more effective to have a device that disables everyone. I am aware of an instance where it became easy to dismantle and remove a valuable piece of equipment from a ship after the crew guarding it was merely made inattentive due to incapacitating nausea.”

“So how do we fight something like that?” asked O’Brien, as he rubbed his temple.

“That’s simple. We build its ‘anti-weapon’.”

~~~~

“You wanted to see me, sir?”

“Yes, Chip, come in and sit down.”

Normally when he visited the admiral the man was busy with a thousand different things, and only looked up at him on occasion as if to punctuate his orders. From Chip’s perspective it was not a good sign that Nelson was showing him his full attention. He remained stiff-backed as he seated himself in the chair farthest from the flag officer’s desk.

The admiral lit up a cigarette and stared at the young man before him. He was going to hate this conversation because he knew how much a part of Seaview’s legacy Chip had become. He had been chosen over a large pool of capable men to be the Seaview’s first, and so far only, executive officer. His skills at organization and attention to detail, as well as his technical prowess and his good sense had always made him an exceptional officer. His loyalty to the boat and the men was beyond measure. And now all of that was in jeopardy.

“Dr. Miller told me, and Will agrees that you should see a specialist for your hearing. I’ve discussed this with Lee and he wanted to wait until this mission was complete, but I’m not sure that’s a good idea.” He paused long enough to take a drag on his cigarette before continuing. “The doctors feel there would be no problem with you remaining on Seaview provided you are not exposed further. Since I can’t guarantee that for any of us, I think its best you remain on the tender until we return from the mission. Since you need to avoid diving and flying due to pressure changes, I’ll arrange a trip on a cruiser back to San Diego, where Will has made arrangements with the specialist. Before I finalized all that I wanted to talk you.”

Chip had prepared for this moment and thought he could deal with the situation unemotionally but he once again found himself struggling. The admiral knew it was a very difficult position for Chip to be in and he could see the signs of tiny cracks in his emotional armor. He tried to offer him a little bit of hope. “If you are able to, you will certainly be restored to full duty. I do want what’s best for you.”

“Thank you, sir. I appreciate that and I understand and accept your position. But, sir, if I may, I have a few questions before I go.”

Thinking that Chip was going to press for specifics about his future on Seaview and having no idea himself what that might be the admiral reluctantly told him to proceed.

“Is it possible that you…and I… were subjects of experimentation while we were being held in that music studio?”

The admiral was taken by surprise by the odd question and since neither Lee nor Chip had been apprised of the information about the contest between the scientists he was curious where the questions would lead. “It would be a good bet, why?”

“I think they were collecting data on the effects of infrasound.”

The admiral raised his eyebrows. “What makes you think that?’

“The description of symptoms given by Dr. Janek, the recent interest in making infrasound weapons and maybe just a little intuition. I might not perform experiments but I have done enough of them to know how to set one up. They needed test subjects and control subjects. We were available and when they were done they tossed us back in this cage for observation so to speak.”

The admiral waved his finger in the air. “You may be onto something, Chip. I promise I’ll look into it later. Now I’m afraid I need to work on our current problem.”

“I think they’re related, sir.”

“How do you mean?”

“I think I was a bit…well…resistant to whatever frequency they were using and they had to expose me for a longer period to get a response.”

“And?”

“And they found out we reacted at very different rates. That would be important to know if they wanted to make sure every last one of us on Seaview was disabled.” 

The admiral ground out his cigarette, sat back and began to swivel back and forth in his chair. It was apparent to Chip that his mind was moving at flank. He waited and watched while Nelson processed the information he had just received and he was not at all surprised when after a few minutes the admiral abruptly stood up and punched the intercom button.

“Captain Crane, this is Nelson. Bring Dr. Janek to my cabin, immediately!”

Once the two men arrived and began discussing weapon design theory, Chip managed a smile, then stood up and quietly left the cabin.

~~~~

Lee arrived in the wardroom just before 0600 to get a reinforcing shot of his favorite pharmaceutical, Cookie’s potent coffee. He found Chip already there reviewing the information on his various clipboards as he drank from his own mug.

“I wondered where you went,” commented Lee as he slid into the seat across from his friend. “You missed the best part. The admiral actually agreed with Janek on his first proposal.”

“For?”

“His anti-weapon. It’s modeled after the noise canceling device I used to help him escape but much larger in scale. Your suggestion that the weapon might employ multiple frequencies was a huge part of the discussion. Good job, pal.”

“I only said what I thought, the idea was theirs.” Chip continued to look at the clipboards. “Before I left I wanted to make sure you have coverage at all critical stations so I spent a bit of time last night going over these schedules. It seems Tatic will be out for a while longer, and Braxton… let’s just say he’s out of the picture.”

Lee looked quizzically at his exec. “So he’s the one that gave you that,” he said pointing to Chip’s injured forehead. 

Chip replied with a barely perceptible nod. “I don’t think Chief Panos should be left to handle the missile room since he was one of the sicker ones early on, so I moved him...”

“Chip, I’m sorry.”  

“About?”

“Your having to go.”

Chip held up his hand and looked Lee in the eye. “The admiral is absolutely right, Lee. I’m not only at risk I am a risk… to everyone’s safety. You know that. It has to be this way.” 

Lee bit his lower lip and nodded in agreement. “But I don’t have to like it.”

Chip then gave Lee a look that said thanks for the support.

Though he wouldn’t be a part of the mission, out of respect for his friend Lee took the next few minutes to lay out the rest of the admiral’s plan. “Since we had less of an exposure the admiral has decided that Sharkey and I will take FS-1 out to try and narrow down the location of any weapon. He’s building the anti-sound device and we should be leaving with it sometime this afternoon.”

Chip swallowed hard. Lee was once again sticking his head in the lion’s mouth. Chip had seen first hand what the weapon had done to the men and to him and an incapacitated Lee Crane would be no value to anyone. Chip also knew Lee would not take his assignment lightly, and rather than argue about the inevitable the exec quickly made up an excuse for leaving, piled up the clipboards and left the room. Whether due to his frustration or his impairment he didn’t hear Lee calling him to come back.

~~~~

Lee and Sharkey headed off towards the now familiar coordinates and upon arrival they followed one of the search patterns that Seaview had used to test sonar. Since the various detectors on FS-1 could not pick up ultra low frequencies the admiral had installed a special barometer for monitoring wide fluctuations in pressure which would serve that purpose. Lee manned the sonar hoping to locate the actual device, dubbed by Janek as the “whistle”. He also kept his eye on the barometer as Sharkey guided the craft through its paces.   

After several hours of fruitless searching, Lee had the craft surfaced and called Seaview to give his report and to discuss their options. While everyone was disappointed they would not bring the mission to a close quickly, they were not giving up.

“Lee why don’t you try staying in one place for a while and see if you pick up anything that way?”

“I’ll try it, admiral.  We’re about fifty miles out from you. I’ll send you the coordinates. I’m going to ….check…the…”

“Lee, you broke up. Can you repeat your transmission? Captain Crane, please respond. Sharkey, Chief Sharkey respond!” The admiral repeated his call several times but he received no answer. Thinking the worst, he ordered Seaview to head for the last known location of FS-1 at full speed.

The shivering Lee and COB stared in awe at the wavering translucent curtain in front of them. They had heard the crew’s stories of the apparition but until they saw it they both had remained skeptical of its existence. The proof was now right in front of them. “Skipper, am I seeing what I think I’m seeing?”

“It looks that way, Chief.”

Lee still had the presence of mind to glance at the barometer and the repeated swings of the needle told him what he needed to know. The apparition was likely a result of pressure waves. Suddenly the needle on the instrument virtually exploded into pieces leaving them with nothing besides their own symptoms to track the deadly vibrations. When the wavering image suddenly disappeared, Lee thought they might be out of danger. That thought was dismissed when he began to feel his chest tighten and he began to salivate excessively. He looked around and almost frantically began to make adjustments to the dial of the cancellation device that he admiral had attached to the control panel.

Suddenly, Lee felt the pressure on his chest lessen.

“I can breathe again, Skipper. I think it’s…it’s...it’s working.”

Lee nodded then switched on his throat mic. “FS-1 to Seaview, FS-1 to Seaview. Come in Seaview.”

Sparks had clenched his left hand into a fist as if he could will the captain to answer so when he finally did he was almost gleeful.  “Admiral we have FS-1,” he shouted out into the control room. “This is Seaview. We read you FS-1. State your condition.”            

The admiral hurried over from his position at sonar and snatched up the auxiliary mic and headset. “Lee, what happened to you?”

Lee carefully omitted some of the more descriptive symptoms that he and Sharkey had experienced. “I won’t doubt you again, Admiral. We met your visitor from the spirit world. Once your device was turned on it went away. We must be close, but we haven’t located the doctor’s whistle.”

“I’m not surprised. He says it need not be any bigger than a set of dive tanks to function.”

“In that case we’ll need a visual. So where do we go from here, sir?”

“I have an idea.”

Lee smiled.  He had long ago lost count of how often he had heard the phrase “I have an idea” from his genius CO.

~~~~

“We’re going to bring Seaview in and use the diving bell to attempt to spot the whistle.”

“Admiral, that’s way too risky!” protested Lee as he slapped a hand on the bench top.  It’s not just those in the bell. With Seaview above it everyone is sure to feel the effects!  Besides we don’t know that it didn’t sink that sub!”

“It’s short term and worth the risk, Lee. I’m thinking the… “

Over the intercom the admiral, Lee and Janek heard the announcement that a large shockwave from an apparent earthquake would soon reach them. They braced for impact and once it passed the trio picked up the papers that had been scattered across the floor of the lab. The admiral looked across the table at the scientist and he saw a reflection of his own expression, that of an inventor in a eureka-like moment. “Earthquakes? A whistle that can produce earthquakes?”

“If the structure of the whistle is in contact with the ocean floor and if the frequency settings…”

The admiral finished the scientist’s thoughts. “If the frequency settings on the whistle are adjustable, it could be programmed to generate waves of the correct frequency and the resulting resonance would cause an earthquake. Why didn’t I think of that sooner?”

Lee was trying to follow the logic of the men. “Wait a minute. What you’re both saying, is the purpose of the weapon might be to cause earthquakes, not to wreak havoc on ships and crews?”

“I’m saying it’s possible they were trying to do both, or all. Who knows? A weapon with multiple uses is valuable as well and highly dangerous…” Janek’s voice trailed off as he reflected on his own role in weapons research.

“Lee, I need to examine all the data on recent seismic activity in this vicinity. I also want you to contact Geophysical Headquarters and ask them for anything they have from the last two weeks for this region. Have them send us any telemetry they have and feed it into our computer.”

“I’ll get right on it,” Lee said as he took off for the control room.

“Dr. Janek, I have an idea how to solve the problem of locating the whistle more precisely. Once I receive the data from the seismic reports, I will see what else I need. In the meantime it would be helpful for us to develop a plan to reach the whistle and remove the threat once and for all.”

“I’ll need data and a lot more information about your systems.”

“Yes, and I have just the man to assist you.”  

~~~~

“Just our luck they set it down in a seismically active area, Jiggs. I have more data than I have answers right now. I’m still sifting through everything Geophysical Headquarters sent us. Fortunately the device is still causing seismic waves.”

“So what other assistance do you need?” 

“We need to narrow down the location to a half a mile or less to be able to search the whole sea floor in the time frame we have to work.” Nelson ran a hand through his hair then tapped the eraser end of his pencil on the desk. “Jiggs, I need at least three ships with seismographic equipment to take measurements and feed them to us.”

“That’s too dangerous, man!”

“They don’t have to get too close; in fact, it would work best if they were about fifty miles out.”

“If you can use the tender, I can get you two cruisers from fleet command. The Port Royal is about one and one half hours out, the Gadsen is a little over three. What else?”

“That should be it for now, Jiggs. Once I have everyone in place, we’ll go from there.”

“All right Harriman. Keep me informed.”

Lee was sitting on the edge of the desk out of sight of Starke. When the two admirals signed off from the call he stood and faced his CO. “Admiral, why involve more ships?”

“As you know, seismographic data is used to show an approximate location of the epicenter. In most cases that’s sufficient. If we want to triangulate this epicenter, we need data that’s very specific.”

Lee gave a nod of understanding.  

“Seaview will need a clear channel of communication with each of those ships. Lee, see to it.”  

“On my way, Admiral.”

~~~~

Chip had been alerted that he would have a visitor and was surprised when it turned out to be Dr. Janek. When he was then handed the assignment of assisting the scientist with a plan to destroy the whistle he took it eagerly, figuring it would likely be his last hurrah in working with the Seaview and her crew. Janek was also relishing the idea of destroying the weapon, motivated in part by guilt to over the building of the noise cancellation weapon that had almost resulted in the Seaview’s demise. 

“To be effective an explosive charge would have to be in direct contact with the whistle. That would require much more precision than we’re dealing with at the moment. It would require a visual sighting. Dr. Janek, the bottom is nearly four miles down in this area. How are we going to get that close?”

“Commander, you have just installed a new sonar system. Would it be possible for me to see the schematics?”

“Of course, I’ll arrange to have them brought over. What do you have in mind?” 

“In noise cancellation a sound generator is programmed to cancel out waves of specific frequencies. Sonar is, in effect, a sound generator and I think it’s possible to program your sonar as if it were a noise canceling weapon.”

“And we can lower the explosive directly from Seaview!” Though he maintained a neutral expression, Chip was pleased that the sonar system that he had worked on for so many months could possibly be part of the solution to their problem. “How do you plan on …?”

~~~~

The admiral was bent over the plot table when Seaman Garza stepped over and handed him the latest printout from the computer. Nelson scanned it then examined the chart before him and he grinned.  At that moment Lee came up beside him. “We’re getting close Lee, the data is looking good. Barring a natural quake nearby we should be able to narrow it to about a half mile square area to search.”

“Chip says the programming is about done, too. He has already had Kowalski make some adjustments to the instrumentation and Dr. Janek is on his way back here to run some preliminary tests.”

“Is the diving bell prepped for deployment?”

“I have Sharkey on it right now. He inspected the cable and there’s no problem there.”

“That leaves the explosive device. I’ll check it out before you leave.”

Lee nodded, and then observed his CO for a few minutes.  He knew the man was only running on adrenalin. “I know this will work, Admiral.”

“It had better.” The admiral reached in his shirt pocket and handed Lee a decoded radio message that he had received an hour before. It indicated that based on new intelligence there were at least three more devices planted in areas with heavy military ship traffic.  

Lee frowned “You know, sir, I’m really not surprised. At least once this is over we will have a protocol in place for others to follow.”

“Well let’s make sure we succeed before we count any chickens, shall we?”

~~~~

Seaview set out on a course for the search area identified by the latest seismic data and the admiral remained in the control room while Kowalski and Kelly operated sonar and Patterson manned the hydrophones. Their goal would be to maintain a force field of pings in the immediate area of Seaview and the diving bell. Since it was imperative that someone have a complete picture of what was happening with sonar, Janek was placed in that role and he stood next to the sonar station and monitored the readings. He was also given full authority by the admiral to order any necessary changes.

When Seaview was within a mile of the search site, the admiral ordered a full stop and Janek and the operators set out to test the equipment against the device. When the seismic emanations from the area suddenly ceased to be detected by Seaview’s sensors, they knew they had succeeded, at least in part.

As they moved in closer to the device the admiral left O’Brien with the conn and headed for the missile room. Once there he watched as Sharkey operated the winch and three ratings stood by the cable drum with a hose and fire extinguishers at the ready. Nelson got a thumbs-up from Sharkey and picked up the nearby mic. “Are we ready, Mr. O’Brien?” 

O’Brien looked to Janek, then to Cermak who was now monitoring the seismograph. Getting nods from both, he responded in the affirmative.   

“Ready, Lee?”

“Ready, Admiral.”

The men in the missile room carefully lowered the bell through the hatch opening and watched as it disappeared into the darkness below.

Alone in the bell, Lee donned a special headset similar to one used in space. It was designed to limit the effects of pinging but would still allow him to communicate with the boat. He checked his connection then gave the okay to continue with the descent. He knew that it was going to take several hours for him to reach the depth necessary to search for the whistle, so he sat back and read over some of Dr. Janek’s research reports. When he suddenly became nauseous Lee called out for an adjustment to the sonar and within minutes his discomfort ceased. Everything seemed to be proceeding according to plan.  

~~~~

Chip had gained permission from the tender’s skipper to maintain a secure channel to the Seaview and had called in at thirty minute intervals checking on sonar operations. It was transparent to anyone who knew him that he also had another motivation which was keeping tabs on Lee. He was receiving good reports and that helped lessen the tension he felt, but when after two hours contact with Seaview was suddenly cut his angst rapidly escalated. Then he heard the announcement.

“All hands prepare for heavy weather.” 

Chip sighed to himself at his oversight. He had paid little attention to the weather since arriving on the tender, a bad habit he had developed by being a sub driver who could move below bad weather whenever it threatened. Unfortunately the presence of the storm meant Seaview had moved deeper to avoid the turbulence and had ceased all radio connections. He and the rest of the world would just have to wait, and hope.

~~~~

The lights on the bottom of the bell could effectively illuminate an area of about fifteen hundred square feet, so when Lee was nearing a hundred and fifty feet of the bottom he ordered Sharkey to stop his descent. Lee looked out the ports and used the onboard viewer to size up the surface and he was pleased to see it was fairly smooth. That made sense, since an irregular surface might cause the weapon to be unpredictable, something the designer would want to avoid. He had earlier discussed the design of the whistle with Janek so he would know what to look for so when he saw nothing of what the scientist had described he ordered Seaview to begin to move ahead. Because of the length of the cable, once the boat moved forward it took the bell nearly fifteen minutes to move. It was going to be a very slow process to locate the whistle.

~~~~

“Seaview, I think I’ve found it!”

Communications with the diving bell had been routed through the boat-wide intercom so that everyone could track its progress. There were a few shouts at the news from the captain but the men quickly calmed and returned their attention to their duties. The admiral had returned to the control room to monitor the entire process and upon hearing Lee’s announcement he immediately pushed him for details.

“It’s about twelve felt long and only four feet high and across. Shaped like, well, a police whistle.”

“Is there any visible activity?”

“It appears to be fluttering, but now I’m not sure if it’s me or the whistle.”

“All right, Lee, get you photos then get that explosive charge in place.”

“I need to move down another forty feet.”  

“Chief Sharkey, let her out forty more feet, slow-ly.”

“Aye, sir, forty feet.”

Cermak studied the strip of paper from the seismograph and turned. “Mr. O’Brien, we’re picking up an earthquake, a real one.” 

O’Brien took a few seconds to glance at the strip then out of habit immediately stepped over to check sonar. However, the men were busy with the activities of the force field and were too busy to monitor for other objects in their vicinity. He did the only thing he could do and turned and grabbed up the mic from the periscope island. “All hands prepare for shock wave!”   

The admiral warned Lee about the anticipated disturbance and Lee acknowledged. The shock wave that hit Seaview was not severe and they felt only some minor rocking that lasted a little over a minute. Everyone was more concerned with what had happened at depth but when the admiral called out to Lee to report he received no reply. Repeated attempts to re-establish contact with the bell were unsuccessful and after hearing nothing for five minutes he finally lashed out at Sparks in frustration.

“Get him, back, damn it!”

“I’m trying, sir.”

Somewhat embarrassed, the admiral rubbed his eyebrow. ‘I’m sorry Sparks, cut the feed to the intercom.”

The admiral walked over and grasped the microphone by the seismograph. “Sharkey, is the line still intact?”

“Yes, sir, the tension slacked off for a minute but it’s back to normal.”

“Okay, Chief.”

“O’Brien watched the admiral for a moment before approaching him. “Sir, we have no reports of damage. What should we do now?” 

“We show faith in Captain Crane and wait while he does his job. We give him twenty minutes to drop the explosives then we pull up the bell.”

~~~~

Chip stood by the tender’s seismograph station to watch the activity there. There were no spikes, but unlike the Seaview, the tender could still read the activity generated by the device. His eyed widened when the needle began to fluctuate widely. He knew that serious turbulence was headed their way but he was helpless to do anything but clench his fists and watch.

 

~~~~

Tired of pacing, after fifty more minutes had passed the admiral visited the missile room to inspect the work of the men there. He observed and the diving bell cable was being reeled in slowly to allow for the decompression of her pilot.

“Everything okay here, Chief?”

“Everything is good, sir, well at least those things that we have some...everything’s fine, sir.”

The admiral patted Sharkey’s arm. “Good work, Chief. Carry on.”

After too many hours of tension the sonar crew in particular was showing signs of major fatigue and once the admiral returned to the control room he ordered them relieved. The men were reluctant to go, but after updating Garza and Riley on their boards, Kowalski and Kelly headed aft. After settling in with the new men, even Janek took a brief break.

~~~~

“Admiral!” called O’Brien from his position at the electronic scanner. “We’ve picked up a signal from somewhere below the Seaview.”

When the boat then began to rock heavily, everyone knew immediately there had been an explosion. It appeared their bomb, which had been attached to the bottom of the bell for easy release by the captain had detonated prematurely.

The original plan called for the bomb to be dropped on top of the whistle then Seaview would move away to safe distance and in plenty of time. Now that plan would need to be altered.

“Mr. O’Brien, surface the boat!”

~~~~

Chip had seen signs of an explosion on the seismograph and he was momentarily stunned. He knew it was too early for Seaview to have completed its mission so he decided to make his way to the sonar station of the tender. Once he saw both the Seaview and the bell on their screens he let out a deep breath. He turned to see the boat’s skipper wearing an amused grin.

“I just got word from Seaview, Commander. They have surfaced so you can go and speak directly with them.”

No one had ever seen Chip Morton move so fast.      

~~~~

After the explosion in the vicinity of the whistle had been confirmed by the tender, the men on Seaview had reeled the bell in as quickly as possible. The admiral, Jamison and the corpsmen with a stretcher joined the other men in the missile room to await the bell’s arrival. Once it was on the deck and the hatch was opened, everyone stood and stared in amazement.

“That was some, trip, but next time, let’s send a drone.” Lee was smiling but obviously feeling the effects of his rapid ascent. “I’m pretty sure we need to look at that helmet design too. I think there’s a short.”

The admiral was smiling as he grabbed the microphone. “Attention all hands. Captain Crane has returned safely to the boat and is heading for decompression. Mr. O’Brien, let’s get out of here!”

~~~~

The officers and crew of the Seaview stood on the deck at parade rest as the Coast Guard cutter pulled up alongside. When the familiar figure in dark blue suit stepped onto the cutter’s deck everyone felt a buzz.

“Atten-tion!” boomed the voice of Seaview’s executive officer. The men snapped to the order and stood as straight as standing on a sub would allow, and awaited the special announcement. 

As he stood at the microphone and scanned the sea of faces in front of him, the Secretary of the Navy smiled. “It is my honor and privilege to present to the officers and crew of the SSN Seaview this Navy Presidential Unit Citation for acts of heroism carried out under the most extreme of circumstances. If it had not been for their service…”

~~~~

The admiral, Lee, Jamison and O’Brien, were seated around the conference table holding their end-of-mission debriefing and discussing several new missions that were scheduled in the coming months. Three weeks had passed since they returned to Santa Barbara and everyone had been prodded, poked and tested until they couldn’t take any more and they were all ready to take some well-deserved time off. 

“I heard from the SECNAV this morning and it looks like they’ve located all the devices and eliminated them. He wanted me to tell you all again how much he appreciated the work you all did.”

“That’s good news, Admiral,” said Lee with a smile. He then became deadly serious. “Has he said anything more about what happened to the sub?”

“They are doing a post-mortem assessment but as we’ve seen the effects of infrasound can cause all kinds of mistakes to be made. It’s likely they died on their own sword.”

“That’s a good lesson.” 

“Changing the subject a bit, Admiral, I’d really like to look into the effects of these sounds on our crew. That’s from the standpoint that I would prefer to avoid any more exposure whenever possible. It might mean looking at the designs of most of our equipment and spending a bit of money on new ear protection.”

“Okay, Will, why don’t you see what the Navy is developing? After all this I suspect there will be a glut of new products out there pretty soon. It would also pay dividends to keep detailed records of exposures of the crew…as well as the officers. You can use them as your research subjects.”

Imagining himself a lab rat Lee put on an exaggerated mock scowl, giving everyone a good laugh.

“Speaking of test subjects, how is Chip?”

Lee responded matter-of-factly. “I spoke to him yesterday and he was in pretty good spirits. He was supposed to get the final results of all his tests, and go from there.”

“So we can’t make any decisions until…”

“Well speak of the devil,” interrupted Jamison as Chip entered the room.

“Afternoon, Admiral, Lee.” Chip also nodded to the other two men. “Just got back from San Diego.”

“And…?” asked Nelson

“I have been ordered to take it easy, and quiet, but if everything goes well I should be back to full duty in about a month.”

There were smiles all around but none bigger than Chip’s own.  

“That’s great news, Chip!” responded Lee with gusto.

Chip looked around. “So what did I miss?”

“We were just talking about hearing protection. Do you have anything to add?”    

“We owe it to the men to protect them. We don’t think about all the things we do to abuse our ears until something happens. In my case it was all the shooting, flying, and diving.” With a grimace he added, “then there were all those things I couldn’t control.”  

Everyone nodded.  

“Is there any other business to take care of, gentlemen?”

Lee looked around the table. “Nothing else pressing from me, Admiral, but I would like to hear your opinion on the visions we all had, oh sorry, almost everyone had.”

Chip turned to Lee who was now seated to his left and cocked an eyebrow. He then schooled his features folded his hands in front of him and directed his full attention to the admiral.

“It just so happens I’ve done some library research on that very topic. It appears that at a certain frequency, the pressure waves cause the eyeballs to flutter. The optic nerve simply forwards the message to the brain but the brain interprets the object as a ghost like figure. What I found fascinating was the cool air that we felt at the same time.  It was also related to the vibrations. It would be interesting to pursue research into some of the so-called ghost sightings in the drafty old castles of Scotland to see if they were actually due to infrasonic resonance generated by their design.”

“Is it possible there’s a scientific reason why I didn’t see them, sir?” inquired the exec.

“Not only possible, but likely. It would make another interesting study to compare how differently each of us physically senses as well as perceives things.”

Lee and Chip exchanged glances. They had both seen that determined look on Nelson many times before.

The admiral pretended to ignore the exchange. “I’ve always chalked up our differences to personality, but there has to be a bit more to it than that. Even if we could explain it I certainly wouldn’t want to change it. The differences are our strength.”

“So, Admiral, could there be a scientific basis to my being skeptical?”

“It’s possible.”

“And based on science, when the ratings say I’m insensitive, there could be more than an ounce of truth to that rumor, sir?”

Lee and Jamison guffawed at the comment and Chip’s deadpan delivery. O’Brien just smirked.  

“Pounds, Chip, maybe pounds,” said the admiral with a smile.  

Finis

 

Comments welcome at  sherlockette@earthlink.net

 

 

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