"To Hear the Sea-Maid's Music"

by 

Helen Howerton

 

 

“To Hear the Sea-Maid's Music”

by Helen H.

 

 

CHAPTER 1

 

The last checklist had been finished hours ago, he’d signed off on all the outstanding reports, and still the call hadn’t come.  Lee Crane emerged onto the bridge of the Seaview and looked at his watch again, as he had a half dozen times in the last thirty minutes.  They had a window of a couple more hours.  After that, an automobile would replace Seaview as the vehicle for a trip down the coast with one of Admiral Nelson's closest friends.  That was guaranteed to make Nelson very unhappy.  He would not be pleased if anything conspired to upset the details of his Army-Navy Game party for the Class of '37, especially the transportation for the guest of honor, Admiral Benjamin Westerman.  The phone calls had flown back and forth between Santa Barbara and San Diego as Admiral Nelson and Angie, his secretary made the arrangements for a brace of televisions, cocktails -- to celebrate a sure victory, he had declared -- and then dinner at the San Diego Yacht Club.  Nelson had gone down a day early to make sure that everything was in order. 

The sight of his executive officer dropping the dockside telephone onto its cradle gave Lee hope.  “Chip, tell me that’s good news about our visitors!”

Chip Morton mimed wiping his brow.  “The car's coming through the gate right now," he replied, stepping onto the gangway that held Seaview to the dock and advancing towards Lee.  "The flight was delayed and then they ran into fog.  Better late than never.  We’ll make it.” 

Lee blew the air out of his cheeks.  “About time,” he growled.  “The admiral would've had a fit if we were late getting in.  He's been planning this party for weeks.” 

Chip nodded in agreement.  "It won't take long to get 'em stowed away -- party of two, Admiral Westerman and his nurse, apparently.  You know he had that bad car crash in Europe a few months ago." 

Lee grabbed the rail of the bridge and stared down at his X.O.  "Nurse!  Nobody said anything about a woman!"

"It's okay, I checked on One and Two just this morning.  Maybe I had a premonition that we were going to need both cabins."  It had been curious, his sudden urge to check on the condition of their two best visitor accommodations.  Both cabins were immaculate.  Seaview’s First Lieutenant Division took their responsibilities very seriously.

"Hopefully the nurse is not some old battlewagon from Balboa.  They're tougher than any four stripe COB I've ever come across," Lee said, flashing a grin.  Just then a claxon began ringing, the signal that the dock area’s outer doors were opening.  "We'll find out soon enough.  Bring everyone aboard as soon as you can, Chip.  I'll meet 'em in the nose.”

“Aye aye, skipper.”

The visitors appeared within minutes, Chip on point with two of the ship's company in tow carrying suitcases.  Admiral Westerman followed, leaning heavily on a cane, dark glasses covering his eyes.  Westerman’s expensive suit fit loosely on his gaunt frame and his gait was slow and deliberate, every step an effort, the result of a car accident that had left him blind.  There was little vestige of the powerful man who had commanded fleets and helped to shape naval doctrine in the years since the Second World War.  He was being guided into the interior of the boat by a woman with a firm grip on his arm.  A large fur-trimmed hood shadowed her face.  She wasn’t very tall, maybe 5’3,’’ and the knee length ski jacket she had on kept Lee from discovering anything about her.  What was she hiding? 

Lee stepped forward and raised his voice.  “Welcome aboard the Seaview, Admiral Westerman.  It's an honor to see you again, sir.”  And in some ways, a surprise.  Lee had seen news reports of the accident and remembered being astonished that anyone had survived the collision. 

The admiral’s head came up, and he answered in a thin but steady voice.  “Thank you, Crane.  Sorry we're late, but you know how the weather can be up north this time of year.”  The older man reached around and patted the hand of the woman who clutched his elbow.  “May I present my granddaughter, Ellen Westerman.  She functions as my eyes and often, my ears,” he said.  “Never go anywhere without her.”

The woman pushed back the hood of her jacket, and in the act of holding out his hand to shake hers, Lee stopped dead.  This was definitely no elderly nurse on loan from any hospital he'd ever been in.  Somebody behind him actually swallowed so loudly the sound echoed through the space.  Ellen Westerman stared up at him with the strangest eyes he had ever seen.  The irises were piercingly light blue, and steel blue pupils were fixing him in an unswerving gaze.  His instincts told him that these were the kind of eyes that could see through all manner of lies and deception, definitely the kind that would see right through extravagant declarations of admiration.  He’d bet his next paycheck that she had heard plenty of those!  Her red-lipped mouth was small and curved up in a generous smile.  Shoulder length, shiny brown hair framed her slightly rounded face, the cheeks tinted a healthy pink from the cold.  Wearing the hood had been deliberate, he realized.  She held her head up in a way that proclaimed she was aware of the effect she had on others and anticipated their stunned responses – but would never give the slightest indication that she was in any way expectant of it.

“It's a pleasure to meet you, Captain.  I hope we won't be a bother,” she said in a soft southern accent, slipping her hand into his. 

Her low giggle brought him back to reality.  “Not... no, not at all,” he began, forcing his voice to its normal tones.  He was about to say something else but caught himself as she looked around, a small frown line between her brows. 

“Where is Admiral Nelson?”

“Already in San Diego, making sure everything’s in order for the party.”  Lee hesitated again as a look much like regret flitted across her face, and then continued.  “Mr. Morton here will show you to your cabins.  I’m sure that Admiral Westerman could use some peace and quiet after his trip from Brussels.”

“I’m just glad to be back in the States,” the admiral answered.  “And no better occasion then to see Navy beat the pants off Army.”

While everyone laughed, Ellen whispered a few words into her grandfather’s ear and then returned her attention to Lee.  “I'm sorry we won't be able to meet Admiral Nelson on board the Seaview, but we’ll remedy that soon enough.”  She looked beyond him to the nose windows.  “My grandfather will rest.  I’d like to come back here if I may.”  She smiled again, her stare direct, eyes flashing.  “It’ll be a pleasure watching you take her out, Captain Crane.  I’m sure you’re an old hand at this.”

Lee smiled back, emboldened by the look in her eyes.  “I haven't run into anything lately.  I'll do my best to make it a smooth departure.”  He still had her hand in his, and squeezed her fingers tighter, enjoying the warmth of the smooth skin.  She made no attempt to withdraw her hand.  He spoke over his shoulder to his X.O.  “Chip, we’ll get underway when you get back.  I’ll see you on the bridge.’’

“Aye, sir.  Follow me, please,” Chip said, maneuvering around a captain who was releasing Ellen Westerman's hand with reluctance.  Frowning, Chip glanced at his C.O. with an odd, almost angry look on his face, and pointed aft.  Ellen gently grasped her grandfather's elbow again and began leading him away, the tap of his cane in stark contrast to the room's silence.  Just before they went through the hatch, she looked back towards the control room. 

Lee stood completely still until she disappeared from view and then moved to the charting table, sweeping his head from side to side bemusedly as the crew returned reluctantly to their assigned tasks.  Ellen had smiled at them all, and in that moment became the girl in the picture in the wallet, the one they wrote home to or called every week.  They were instantly, crazily in love with her.  She had also looked straight at him, and he had seen the approval in her eyes as she recorded the reaction of the men.  He allowed a small grin to form on his face, almost saying aloud the words that had quickly formed in his brain, the best description he could think of right then -- she was a mesmerizing young woman. 

The crewmembers that had been “volunteered” to stow the luggage weren’t begrudging their latest assignment, either.  Kowalski and Patterson were both staring at the spot where the stunning girl had stood, oblivious to the arrival of the Chief of the Boat, Chief Curley Jones, who chose that moment to walk into the control room.  Seeing the men, his pug face dissolved into a frown and he barked, “This ain't bunk time, you two!  Get that gear stowed!”

Kowalski roused himself and punched Patterson on the arm.  “C'mon, Pat.”

“I think I'm in love, Kowalski,” Patterson said, picking up a suitcase.

Yeah, I know what you mean.  You might just have to stand in line, buddy!”

They were still talking as they disappeared aft, and Curley shook his head fiercely.  “Crazy talk!  Don't like women on the boat.  Ain't natural,” he muttered.

 

* * * * *

 

Chip soon joined Lee on the bridge, both men bundled up against the brisk winds they'd face as soon as the Seaview cleared the Institute's docking facilities and made her way into Santa Barbara Channel.  Admiral Nelson had selected the site on the California coast due to its suitability for cave construction.  Security considerations had been his top priority, not comfort.  It didn’t help that the rocks that formed the ‘pen captured the coldness of the surrounding waters and held it, never letting go. 

“Get everybody settled, Chip?”  Lee asked with a smile. 

“I guess so.  Soon as the Admiral was comfortable in his cabin our lady guest made a beeline for the nose, just like she said she would.  I suppose she's still there.  I didn't  see the need to check,” he said dryly.  “She wanted the crash doors closed, anyway.”

“You don’t want to know more about a beautiful woman, Mr. Morton?  You're slipping!”  Lee was laughing, but one look at Chip's face and he quickly became serious.  The frown that Chip’s face wore when he took the Westermans to their cabins was still there.  “What's bugging you?”

“There's something different there, Lee.  Something strange, if you ask me.  I felt it the minute she stepped out of the car.  Those eyes!  It's like she's looking right through you.”  Chip heaved a big sigh.  “I think you felt it, too.  I saw how you couldn’t take your eyes off her.”

“Me?”  Lee said, his voice innocent.  One look at Chip and he knew that it was foolish to prevaricate.  “Okay, I admit it - I was staring.  But damn, Chip, you saw her!”

Chip’s eyes shifted away and then strayed back to Lee.  Tension settled at the base of his neck, as it always did when he had a truth to expose that was necessary but awkward.  “Just don't lose your head over this one, Lee.  You've had enough bad luck with women lately.”

Lee's expression hardened.  It had been only four months since the trial, and the shock of being accused of murdering a woman he'd barely known was fresh in his mind.  He’d been found innocent of course, with the help of a mysterious lawyer that had disappeared almost as quickly as he’d appeared.  That he’d be duped so easily still rankled.  He’d beaten himself up over it a million times since then, had talked it over with Chip a million times more.  Even the admiral and Jamie had come in for bull sessions.  In time the remnants of remorse and bad judgment subsided, joining the other secrets hidden away.  Lately he’d even been on a few friendly dates.  He had told Chip he was over it.  Chip’s bringing it up meant that he wasn’t completely sure that was true. 

Lee searched his feelings, knew that he had put it behind him, but it wouldn’t hurt to say it again.  “Okay, I had that coming.  But everything's back to normal.  I got caught off guard with what happened, but you know I haven’t sworn off women completely.  If I’d said I had, you'd never believe me, anyway.”  He wouldn’t believe himself -- not if today’s reaction was anything to go by!

Chip rested his arms on the rail.  “You’d be right about that.  I’m just antsy I guess, been sitting around on land too long.”  Lee had certainly seemed like his old self over the past couple of weeks.  The two friends had few secrets from each other.  Chip knew Lee wasn’t seeing anyone seriously now and maybe a new romance wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.  But whether Ellen Westerman was the best candidate...he'd reserve judgment on that.

“You'll feel better once we get this show on the road.”  Lee turned and looked forward and then aft, automatically checking that the crew was in place.  The big submarine was vibrating quietly, seemingly eager to leave the confines of land behind.  “Prepare to get under way, Mr. Morton.”

“Aye aye, Sir!”  Stepping to the other side of the bridge, Chip shouted, “Single up all lines!  Take in the gangway!”  The crew obeyed immediately.  In a few minutes they were ready.  “The boat is ready to get under way, Captain.”

“Very well, X.O.  Take her out slow.  Oh, and do me a favor," he added.  "Don’t hit anything.  I certainly don't want to disappoint Miss Westerman.” 

Chip narrowed his eyes and threw him a thin-lipped smile. 

Once safely into the Pacific Lee looked up, into a cloudless sky lit by a million stars.  “Let's stay on the surface, Chip.  It's a perfect night for steaming.  We’ve got plenty of time to get there now.”

“And plenty of time to think about a certain passenger,” Chip mused softly.

“Absolutely.  Admiral Westerman has done great things.  It’s a privilege to be taking him to San Diego.”

Chip gave his friend a look of utter skepticism.  Then both men burst out laughing, the sound echoing far across the water, while the lookouts snuck glances at each other and rolled their eyes with satisfaction.  It was good to hear the skipper laugh again.


CHAPTER 2

 

 

The hour was late and only safety lights lit the boat’s interior as the Seaview cruised silently through the night.  Changing into her own body she rose from the bed, happy to be free again from mortal boundaries, and made spirals in the air.  

The ethereal spirit cast a long shadow as she soared about, loosening earth-bound bonds that clung to her like spent leaves after a rain.  Her green-gray hair was moving as if it had its own free will, touching and caressing the objects on the desk, the light fixtures and the furniture in the modest cabin.  The mass of hair fell to the floor, the flowing waves her only garment.  There was no need for modesty, no one saw her unless she permitted it.  It was easier to remain a wraith, something glimpsed out of the corner of an eye, a flicker of movement perceived in an instant and then gone as if it had never been.

Her name was Galené, and she was a daughter of Nereus, god of the sea.  Nereus had not wanted her to take so completely to his watery domain, but with her sister Amphitrité as an example the decision had been one he was powerless to forbid.  Bowing to her will, father and daughter had devised a way for Galené to roam the world with impunity.  By assuming different identities, both male and female, she could fulfill whatever mission the mortal being had been set upon before unexpected death overtook them.  Most often it was to ensure that someone, or many someones, stayed alive. 

Much of her time was taken up in combating the wickedness of the world.  She had seen evil in every form.  Sometimes it came on silent feet behind a nod and a smile, concealed as a mystic, or a mother.  It manifested itself in frightful warriors and grasping kings -- and queens, conquerors that wanted more of the earth than anyone had a right to.  War and death were commonplace in her immortal world. 

She did not concern herself with matters on land; there were plenty of gods for that, too many, perhaps.  Her provenance was the sea.  The bottoms of the oceans bore testimony to cataclysmic events, littered as they were with triremes and galleons and dreadnoughts, the ruins sanctified by the bones of the men who had fought and died in them.  Some of the details of the conflicts had been lost in the mist, but she never forgot the faces of those she had come to in the heat of battle, the disbelief followed by ultimate acceptance of what she wanted, and why. 

Ellen Westerman had been one of those faces.  She had been accompanying her grandfather and serving as unofficial hostess for the negotiating team hammering out a NATO treaty that had been under acrimonious review for weeks.  Without his personal input the personalities on both sides of the table would never be able to agree to anything, and thus a drunken driver weaving across a Belgian highway could not be allowed to end Admiral Westerman’s life.  The goddess had used her powers to ensure that he would survive the crash, but his granddaughter had not been as lucky, lingering just long enough for Galené to reach her side.  The transformation had taken place immediately.  Hidden in Ellen's body, Galené had seen to it that her "grandfather" was able to participate in the final treaty meetings.  In perilous health despite her best efforts, his eyesight now gone, the admiral had wanted to visit with his classmates one more time.  They had flown straight from Brussels to San Francisco and taken a limousine for the ride to Santa Barbara.  It was the final leg of a long journey, a journey she would see him through to the end of his days.

She hovered over the bed, satisfying herself that the arrangement of pillows and blankets looked like a body fast asleep.  Aboard this vessel no one would dare to come into the cabin without permission, but she was not one to take even the slightest chance of discovery.  The watch would be in the passageways, but they would not see her.  Invisibility had its definite advantages.  Galené flowed through the door and began her conquest of Seaview. 

First, a visit to the other guest cabin.  Admiral Westerman was sleeping soundly, lost in a dreamland of mighty ships and fearless seamen, a courtesy from Morpheus.  She moved from there to the engineering department, then spent a few minutes in the missile room, all the while observing the crew on duty, competent and professional sailors, everyone.  Here were men who took pride in their work. 

Ensconced in the galley, she was watching Cookie washing dishes he'd picked up from the wardroom when Kowalski and Patterson came off their watch and headed for the mess.  The cook was busily engaged in cleaning the admiral's coffee cup, a souvenir from the Nautilus.  Whether the two seamen's arrival distracted him or what, she never knew, but as he turned around to greet them the soapy cup flew out of his hands.  Yelling an oath, he dived forward at the same time that Kowalski leaned over and caught the cup as it settled gently into his hand. 

Cookie came to a screeching halt.  “How did you...gimme that!”  He grabbed a towel and plucked the cup out of Kowalski's grasp.

Patterson was equally impressed.  “Kowalski, you're faster than greased lightning!  How'd you catch that?”

“I dunno, Pat, it just seemed to glide into my hand.  Cookie, you see that?” 

“Didn't see nothin'.  You want some java?”  Cradling the precious cup, he laid it on the sideboard.  The truth was he had seen the impossible angle of the cup, knew that there was no way to keep it from smashing into a million pieces on the deck.  Yet there it was, unharmed.  He could swear that it had slowed and floated into 'Ski's hand.  But that was nuts.  Running a beefy hand over his tired face, the cook turned back to the galley and reached for the coffee pot.

Galené smiled to herself, enjoying the moment.  It was not often she could do things for the sheer joy of helping.  She took a turn around the table, watching the men as they bantered with each other, noting their easy way of talking, obviously good friends.  The one named Kowalski seemed brash, tough, capable of disobedience, a handful for his superior officers, she was sure.  The other she remembered was named Patterson; Kowalski had called him Pat.  He had a comfortable, open face, probably hard to rouse to action, unlike his buddy.  But he would be quick to back up his friend if the need arose.  And both would be quick to aid their fellow crewmembers in defending the Seaview.  She could count on these men. 

It was soon apparent they were talking about her, Kowalski making movements with his hands that would have brought a blush to her pale green cheeks if it had been possible.  Just as she toyed with the idea of running an invisible finger under his chin, she suddenly pulled up, her hair forming a giant cocoon around her body.  Flinging herself backward, she turned and flew through the bulkheads. 

Up ahead in the Control Room, deep down within the electronic components of the device that measured the oxygen levels in the ship a tiny circuit had begun to fail.  Reacting to the loss of data, the dial began an almost imperceptible vibration and immediately the reading was incorrect, first dropping by several degrees, than correcting and moving back up, only to fall back again.  Soon another relay would close and an alarm would sound to summon repair, but that would be some minutes yet.  She would be faster.

* * * * *

 

The object of her dash stood at the chart table in the ship's command center double-checking their course, making notes in the navigational log.  As executive officer Mr. Morton stood no watches, but as part of his routine before turning in he always made one last check of the boat.  Busy with an entry, Chip hadn't noticed the indicator make a sudden, erratic move. 

Chip would never let on, but he never minded the midwatch.  You could get a lot done; it was a time for sorting and organizing, and thinking.  Around him the helmsmen, Sparks, sonar, navigation and computer operators stood their watches, overseeing the boat’s operations.  Aft, Engineering kept track of propulsion and the reactor.  Topside, lookouts were on alert.  The sonar ping and the clacking of the computers were reassuring and real.  And hypnotic.  It was easy to become inattentive in this quiet, compact space.  This was a place where you worked on your feet, alert for any contingency. 

Thus the sound, when Chip heard it, caused his head to snap up.  He looked quickly around for the source of the -- he could only describe it as a creaking -- noise that had caught his attention.  His eyes went to the helmsmen; no changes there, their hands were tight on the wheels, knew without checking that they were fully alert.  He cast a glance around and all was as it should be.  Shaking his head, he went back to his log.

And heard it again, louder this time.  Off to the side of where he was standing.

“You men hear anything?”

They may have been awake, but Mr. Morton's voice jolted them to full awareness. 

“Sir?”  Sparks said.

“A creaking noise, like the sound old diesels make.”

Sparks shook his head.  “Didn't hear a thing, sir.”  Everyone else in the space agreed.

Not satisfied, Chip walked over to the closest starboard bulkhead, the surface housing the environmental controls.  His eyes skimmed over the instruments, noting that everything was in order, everything shipsha...he stopped still, blinked his eyes rapidly, looked again as the indicator inside the  gauge shook and shimmied, the arrow dipping up and down erratically. 

Reaching automatically for the mike, he called, “Engineering to the Control Room, on the double!”

That got everyone's attention. 

Chip stayed long enough to ensure that the technician knew what he was doing and then headed for his cabin, Galené following.  She tickled the tops of his ears, laughing silently at his pained expression as he swatted at a fly that wasn't there.  She knew that here was a man that would take a lot of convincing.  She had almost resorted to punching him in the shoulder, but the old style noises had been effective, even if he was a little slow believing his own ears.  He was a good man, and an even better X.O.

She moved in front of him, studying him carefully, liking what she saw.  From a feminine point of view he was very attractive, his blonde good looks and blue eyes attention-getters.  She had seen the look in his face when she came aboard, his suspicion that there was something about her that he did not understand.  Entirely too intuitive for her tastes, Commander Morton would require that the goddess be very sure of her ground when dealing with him.  She would need to win this one over. 

There would be time for that later.  She was waiting upon another.  He would be along soon.  Turning away, she headed for the observation nose.

 

* * * * *

 

Sleep wasn't happening for Lee Crane this night.  He was idly imagining an evening with Ellen, running possible scenarios through his mind.  A ride through the mountains in his Jag, followed by dinner at Cold Spring Tavern, the moonlight filtering through the trees as they sat and talked.  Or dinner at the Biltmore, where he could take her out on the dance floor and show her off to the room.  She might even enjoy a “top down” ride all the way to Malibu.  They could hang out at the Sea Lion and let Chris the owner whip up a mean Martini, laughing the afternoon away.  For a moment he regretted not being a member of the Class of ’37, then rejected that idea.  That wouldn’t be the right atmosphere, anyway.  She’d be preoccupied with keeping an eye on her grandfather.  No, he’d want her all to himself, unencumbered by responsibilities. 

While these prospects were exciting, the prospect of being up all night was not.  Tossing back and forth and willing his eyes to close only made it worse.  He couldn't figure it out; they were headed for a weekend in San Diego and free time, nothing stressful on tap, nothing filling his brain with jumbles of tasks or complaints or concerns.  And as long as Navy won the football game, they could expect nothing but smiles from the admiral.  Sure, Chip had mentioned it, but that hadn’t caused more than a momentary pang.  His mind had shunted the trial away to that mental compartment where all such troubles resided.  Falling into his rack for a few hours of well-deserved rest should have been easy.  The only problem was, just when he was about to drift off, Ellen Westerman smiled that mysterious little smile and he was awake again. 

Grumbling, Lee threw back the blanket and grabbed his bathrobe, then opened the door to his cabin, making sure that no one was in the p-way.  Moving as silently as possible he made his way forward, praying he wouldn't run into any of the crew.  It wouldn't do for the watch to see their captain in his skivvies making for the nose.  A few minutes there watching the ocean plunge by and he’d be back in his bunk in no time.

He was relieved to see that the crash doors were still closed.  Lee settled down in the middle chair, wiggling back and forth until he was comfortable, then folded his hands over his stomach and stared towards the windows.  Almost immediately his eyelids grew heavy.  He pulled himself up straight and gathered his robe close.  It also wouldn't do for anyone to come in here and find him snoring away.  Then again, maybe just a couple minutes....

Galené watched as he fell into sleep, his chest raising and lowering gently as he slipped down into the chair, long dark lashes resting lightly on his tanned cheeks.  The lines of his sharp cheekbones practically cast shadows.  The robe had fallen away from his body -- how that had happened, she simply couldn’t imagine as she smiled playfully.  Skin the color of dark honey lay exposed.  The body wasn’t perfect; there were too many pockmarks of scar tissue, jagged circles of mangled skin where violence had left its mark.  That only added to the urge to explore, trace the edges, and take the memory of the pain away.  For a moment she considered running a hand along the taut field of muscle that rippled under his well-defined abdomen.  The khaki uniform he had worn earlier concealed these hidden treasures.  She was happy to revel in their discovery. 

His arms were hidden inside the robe, strong arms that could trap and tantalize.  She would not mind being captured by those arms, held against that body while she combed her fingers through the mass of dark curls that covered his head, bent to hers as he crushed a kiss against her lips.  Women fell hard for him, she was sure.  She was also sure that he would be more reticent.  He could be immediately attracted to someone, of course.  Certainly she had instantly intrigued him when she’d first slipped her hand into his, but she knew he would not allow himself to be unduly influenced by merely a pretty face again.  She was well aware of the evil woman who had come into his life and caused havoc to his reputation and self-respect.  The goddess had sent the lawyer who had been the commander’s triumphant champion.  With her help, he had exposed the real murderer.  Lee had come away with added emotional strain that would further reinforce his reluctance to expose himself and his feelings.  Here before her was a man who was determined to never allow his head to be ruled by his heart.

Giving in to temptation, she traced a line down his chest with a suddenly solid finger, smiling as the skin reacted to the unexpected, icy touch.  “It is perhaps a good thing for us both that we do not find ourselves in your cabin, Captain,” she said pensively.  “Come, time to wake up.” 

Lee's eyes flew open, and he hesitated only a moment before bolting out of the chair.  He turned in a full circle, searching for the owner of the melodious voice.  OK, that's it, I'm sleepy enough to be hearing things!  Then something else assaulted his senses, and he breathed in the unmistakable scent of salt air.  Now I’m smelling things, too. 

“Here, Captain.  I'm here.”  And in an instant Galené was there, flowing over his shoulder in a cascade of curls, turning to face him.  His robe had slipped off one shoulder, and a thick skein of her hair grasped it and pulled it upward, straightening it properly.  Flustered, Lee pulled it even tighter around him.

It took a lot to shake Commander Lee Crane.  He'd lived through terrifying accidents at sea and confronted enemy agents that wanted nothing more than to destroy him and all he stood for.  But the apparition that bobbed gently up and down in front of him, green skin shimmering, dressed in nothing except her Medusa-like hair was something else entirely.  But she had Ellen's eyes! 

"I'm asleep, and this is not really happening," he whispered, hoping the crew on the other side of the crash doors wouldn't hear.  He took a step back and bumped into the console, hard enough to bring a muffled curse to his lips.  Asleep he was not.  "Okay, I'm awake.  But you can't be Ellen.  My mind is playing tricks on me.  Either that, or I'm going crazy!”

“Oh, you're definitely awake, and you're not going crazy,” she said, laughing at his discomfiture.  “And you’re right - I’m not Ellen.  Not at the moment, anyway.”

With the color coming up in his cheeks, and shock igniting his heart rate, he was breathing a little heavily.  Even with incredulity animating his features, Lee was deliciously sexy, she thought wickedly.  A wisp of her hair curled out and encircled his wrist.  He pulled back, and she smiled knowingly.  “My name is Galené, and I am the goddess of calm seas.  Here, I will demonstrate.”  She turned from him and melted through the Herculite windows, becoming a shimmering line of undulating form and substance barely visible as she leaned back against the bow of the ship, her long hair cleaving to the large windows like a translucent blanket. 

As Lee watched incredulously, the waves that normally crashed against the thick glass slowed down, their power and intensity softening as they struck her body.  It might have been a minute and then she was floating next to him again.  He looked into her eyes, the shocking blue radiating a depth of age and wisdom he could not begin to understand.  By the imperious way she held herself this was someone used to being admired.  This was the woman he had met earlier.  There was no doubt about it. 

Lee said the first thing that came into his mind.  “You'd make a fine ship's figurehead.” 

She threw back her head and laughed, the hair shifting around her like the wave tops the Seaview was plowing through again.  It was mesmerizing to watch, and Lee recalled what he had thought the first time he'd seen her.  Chip had been right, too.

He sat down, more heavily this time, and drew a hand across his forehead.  “OK, you've told me who you are and what you are.  I guess I have to take that on faith for now.  But what are you doing aboard my boat?”

Speaking in an accent that reminded him of his London friends, she began with Ellen’s story as she explained herself to him.  “It is obviously much easier to move about in the world of humans when a human form is utilized.  It is also much easier when a familiar form is used.  Ellen Westerman has been her grandfather’s companion for some time and he is very much used to her caring for him while he has been in Europe working tirelessly for NATO.  That a drunken driver could destroy his life was unacceptable to those who watch over such affairs.  Without Ellen, Admiral Westerman would be ineffective, imperiling months of work and endangering once again the peace of a region that has seen so much tragedy.  Unfortunately it was not possible to save her life as well.  And so -- you find me standing before you.

“Now that the treaty has been signed Admiral Westerman’s work is finished.  This will be his last trip.”

“You mean...?”

Galené nodded.  “The accident did more damage than your doctors found.  It is time that he be allowed to rest.  Vice Admiral Benjamin Westerman will have safe winds and following seas very soon.  He has lived his life magnificently, a credit to his country, to his country's Navy and to his unerring sense of duty.  Much like another admiral you know,” she added.  “When the time comes, I will accompany him to Arlington.  I hope that you and Admiral Nelson can be present." 

Her expression darkened for a few moments, and then she smiled again.  "The invitation from your admiral was very timely.  It has given me the chance to come aboard Seaview and introduce myself to you without complications."  Her lips thinned.  "I regret that he is not here.  Then again, I am not sure it is the proper time to meet him yet.”

“Why not?”

“You are captain of this ship.  She is yours.  It is to you I must present myself.”  In some matters I play fair.  In others -- we shall see.  "Myself as the goddess I am, that is.  As you can appreciate, you must keep this secret to yourself.  For now you know me only as Ellen Westerman."  She faced him squarely, eyes suddenly stern.  "When it is time to reveal my true identity to others, I will do so."   

Secrets could be dangerous things.  It was as Ellen that she had presented herself to him.  Young, beautiful and vibrant, flesh and blood desirable.  A part of him had wanted her then.  What was he to think now?  And what was he to call her?  A ghost, perhaps, one that was telling him that she was skillfully playing a part, a ghost that claimed to be a goddess, someone who could use deceit to her will.  

“What you saw earlier was only a guise, Captain.  It is Ellen who is the façade, not me,” she said, as if she could read his thoughts.

Then what of the beautiful woman, the one that he was still attracted to?  The idea was utterly disconcerting.  “So obviously the Ellen I thought I met is dead?”

“She has become an -- illusion,” Galené said firmly, with a hit of exasperation in her face.  However, I am real, Captain.”

His eyes moved up and down.  “I can see definitely see that."  Her hair moved to wrap about her more closely, and he grinned inwardly.  At least he could distract her a little bit.  It was a victory of sorts.  "Something tells me that this isn't the way you normally go about things." 

She hesitated and then nodded.  More explanations were in order for this one to understand and believe.  “Your ship has called to my sisters, Captain.  Have you never felt a soft breeze catch your attention as you came aboard?  Or perhaps felt a brush past your legs as you stood scanning the night sky from the bridge?”  His face registered that he had.  “I have chosen to reveal myself because Seaview is a special case.  She has many hearts, but only one head, Captain.  It is perhaps Admiral Nelson’s baby,” she grinned, “but she has become your responsibility.  If I am to be her guardian, her master must accept me.  That, sir, is you.”

The statement, made so matter of factly, sent a thrill down Lee’s spine.  The disappointment at ending his regular Navy career advancement had long ago faded.  To command the Seaview was the epitome of anyone’s career ladder. 

“I see my words have pleased you.  Do I also please you?” she teased.

Lee tore his eyes away, concentrating on a spot over her head.  "You've given me a lot to think about," he said evasively.  "It's going to take a while to sort through everything you’ve said."

"Since when did you become such a coward?"

"Oh, from about ten minutes ago," he answered softly, his eyes twinkling.

She laughed again, then turned and floated over to the model of the Seaview, running a hand down its surface.  "We shall speak to more serious matters, then.  Your admiral has demonstrated that he feels it his duty to guard the oceans, as we do.  This submarine is a testament to that.  She is in my charge now, along with her crew.” 

The disappointment at not being able to meet Admiral Nelson flared up again.  She could have taken the chance in Santa Barbara during the trial, but something had not seemed right.  She needed to meet this man, needed to confirm that he was worthy of her and her protection.  Addressing Lee again, she said, “But we cannot be everywhere.  The oceans are too large, and there are too few of us.  You humans must use your talents -- and your luck -- to keep out of harm's way as much as possible.” 

“We do our best.  This is a special ship, with a special crew.  The best in the world.” 

“I agree with you.  Come,” she said, lifting him effortlessly up by the shoulders and turning him towards the hatch.  “The hour is late.  You need your sleep.”  She would not tell him that it was she that had kept him awake, she that had willed him to come to her.  She would parcel out the knowledge of herself as it became necessary.

“After you leave the Seaview, will I know you when -- if -- I see you again?”

“Of course you will see me again,” Galené said quietly.  “There will be times when other guises are necessary."  She would not explain that with Admiral Westerman's passing, Ellen Westerman would go away also.  She would leave that for another time.  "Seaview is needed in this world you humans have made.  Protected she will be, as much as it is in my power to achieve.  And may I remind you that I am the goddess of calm seas,” she said, emphasizing the word with a hint of laughter in her voice.  She was rewarded with one of his magnificent smiles.  This was another secret she would keep to herself.  Placing herself in danger at every turn was something she did as a matter of course.  If that meant being aboard this vessel when it happened, so be it.  She would welcome the challenge.  She was a goddess, after all.

“Here, a souvenir to seal our pact.”  With a slice of a long fingernail she clipped a curl from her mass of hair and placed it in his palm.  “My real identity must always be safe with you.  For now you know me only as Ellen Westerman.  Are we agreed?”  Coming around in front of him, Galené took both his hands in hers.  She heard him suck in his breath, and willed her hands to become warm, not the cold pieces of chiseled green marble that held him in a firm but comfortable grip. 

Lee thought of Admiral Nelson and how he would react to all this.  Knowing the admiral as he did, he doubted that he would be pleased with this turn of events.  “Admiral Nelson is not going to like this.”

She waved that away.  “It will be a simple matter to overcome his objections, if any.”

“You haven’t met him, have you?”

She looked up at him through dark lashes, the silver-blue eyes flashing.  “It makes no difference.  He will come around to my point of view...just as you have.”

Have I?  “And if I say, ‘thanks but no thanks’?”

“You will not.  You are intrigued by this turn of events, and will reserve judgment.”  And you are intrigued by me.

“Hmmmm...you won’t get any argument from me, then.”  Her hair shifted and he looked her up and down again. 

She tapped him lightly on both cheeks.  “Such thoughts, Captain Crane!  I say again, are we agreed?”

He nodded, laughing.  “We are agreed, Miss Westerman.” 

“Excellent.  Now, I need to finish my tour of the boat.  I have not yet seen all there is to see.  We will speak again soon, Captain.  However, remember," she put a finger to his lips, "the next time we see each other I shall be Ellen again." 

She floated up and away and faced the vast windows.  The waves were breaking hard as the Seaview plowed through the water, moonlight and phosphorous combining to illuminate a mighty roiling that carried all the power of the sea within it.  With a whiff of seaweed and seawater she was gone, blinking from his eyesight as if she had never been there at all. 

He stood still for a few moments, still finding it difficult to believe what he had just seen and heard.  That there really was no such thing as Ellen Westerman...saddened him.  A young life taken so abruptly seemed so wasteful.  Then again, this woman, this goddess that could become anything -- or anyone -- in the blink of an eye set his senses to reeling again.  She was fascinating, beautiful, unbelievably intriguing.  There would also be something new to discover.  Lee dragged a hand over his face and headed for the ladder.

“Don't think I'll be logging this any time soon.”


CHAPTER 3

 

 

The rest of the night passed uneventfully.  Lee had gone back to his cabin and immediately fallen into a deep sleep, rested enough upon awakening to think that what he remembered was only a dream.  But the lock of grey-green hair on his desk immediately removed any doubts of the events of the past evening. 

Was this apparition spiriting him into a world of possibilities and promises that he would not be able to pull back from?  The thought gave him pause.  He’d already been nearly destroyed by a beautiful female form!  Could a guy get close to such a creature?  Was that a good idea? 

First things first.  Picking up the cabin microphone, he cried, “OOD, report!”

An answer came back almost immediately.  “Lieutenant O'Brien reporting.”

“Mr. O'Brien, I'm going to take a shower and get a shave, and then I'll be up.”  He fingered the strands of hair.  “How far out from San Diego are we?”

“Just passing the Ocean Beach pier.  Day has dawned cold but clear.  Slightly choppy seas.  Bring a jacket, sir.”

“I will, thank you, Mr. O'Brien.”  He set the microphone down and headed for the shower.  “More surprises I do not need.”

There were none.  Seaview slipped around Point Loma and was soon safely berthed at the Sub Base.  When Lee came down from the bridge Admiral Westerman was talking quietly with Chip and Ellen in the Control Room.  She threw a glance his way and he caught the scent of seawater, and wondered if he was the only one who could smell the familiar fragrance.  The parka was under her arm this time, and just as before, the crew was entranced.  Mr. Morton's scowl soon had them engrossed in their instruments again.

Admiral Westerman had added a huge blue and gold scarf to his outfit of the day before.  “Smooth sailing, smooth sailing, Crane.  I slept like a baby last night.  And once again, I appreciate the ride.”

Lee searched the Admiral's smiling face, sealing it into his memory.  It was difficult to contemplate that here was someone he would most likely never see again.  A small cough from Ellen brought him back to the moment.  “It was an honor to have you aboard Seaview, Admiral.  Commander Morton, any news from Admiral Nelson?”

“Admiral Nelson is waiting at the club to welcome his special guests.  There's a car already outside.”  Chip turned and grasped the admiral's elbow.  “With your permission, I'll accompany you topside, sir.” 

Ellen took one last look around and reached out to grasp his hand.  “Your hospitality was much appreciated, Captain.  I’m very pleased to have experienced it.”

Lee surreptitiously thumbed her skin.  It was pink, warm, and alive.  “Goodbye, Miss Westerman,” he responded.  “It was a...pleasant surprise meeting you.”

“Thank you, Captain Crane.”  One blue eye disappeared in a slow wink as she smiled.  “Believe me, the pleasure was all mine.”  She let go of his hand and followed her grandfather out. 

Chip appeared again in a few minutes.  “All squared away, Lee.”  In a quieter voice, he said, “I feel much better now that they're off the ship.”

Lee thought about that for a moment and then nodded.  “I guess it does make it easier, Chip."  Before his friend could ask what he meant by that, Lee clapped Chip on the shoulder, saying, “What say we hit the “O” Club and watch the game?”

“Sounds like a plan to me.”

“I've got to get something in my cabin.  I'll meet you on the pier.”

 

- - - - -

 

Lee walked slowly towards the gangway, thinking about what the last few hours had brought.  He was used to the strange things he saw in the sea and sometimes, even stranger things on board.  But this was the topper.  He had gone back to his cabin specifically to pick up the lock of hair, which now occupied a place in his wallet.  He'd think of it as a good luck charm for the Midshipmen.

“What the--!”  He clamped a hand down on his cover as a strong breeze brushed up the back of his head.  A whispered Keep her safe, Captain was followed by a giggle that echoed in his ear as the breeze, softer now, wafted past his face.  He would stake his professional reputation and his life if necessary, to keep his boat and his men secure.  Having a beautiful goddess offer help couldn't hurt, though.  He'd have no problem looking forward to that. 

Picking up his pace, he went to meet his X.O.

 

Thou rememb'rest
  Since once I sat upon a promontory
    And heard a mermaid, on a dolphin's back,
      Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath
        That the rude sea grew civil at her song,
          And certain stars shot madly from their spheres
            To hear the sea-maid's music.

 

William Shakespeare,

A Midsummer Night's Dream

 

 

 

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