By Trisha Allen
It was the pain from the wrist restraints that brought the man back to consciousness. He opened his eyes slowly, feeling the pounding of his head as he did so. The room was quite dark, and his eyes gradually adjusted to the dimness. He shifted to get more comfortable and found that not only were his wrists tied, but that there were also bands around his upper arms, and his legs were fastened to the chair. Trying to turn his head, he found that he was also in some kind of hood, restricting his movements. A spotlight suddenly shone in his face, causing him to gasp in surprise and blink hard. The light threw the rest of the room into deep shadow. In the darkness, he could just make out the shape of someone sitting on the other side of the light.
Did he hear that voice, or was it in his head?
"Who are you? Where am I?"
You are a guest of the People's Republic. We would like you to do something for us.
"No - I can't….!"
You know that the knowledge you have of the Seaview makes you important to us.
"I won't do anything."
That would be a stupid decision - and you are most definitely not a stupid man. Perhaps we can help you change your mind.
A sharp jolt seared through the man's body and he was surrounded by flashes of light. He struggled to move away but could not. After a minute or so, the pain ceased. The person behind the light made a gesture and someone emerged from the shadows. The man stared as his sleeve was pushed up, and tried unsuccessfully to prevent a needle going into his arm. He watched as the liquid was injected.
Now, where were we?
"No. Please. I can't… "
The pain came again, intense pain, as bolts of electricity sparked and flickered.
We can continue this as long as you wish. It is your choice. Now, I believe Seaview departs on another mission tomorrow evening.
"How… how do you know that?"
Good - you are not denying it. That is an excellent first step. We know because we planted the seed for it. The voyage will bring the Seaview very close to our waters. We want her to stray into them. That is your responsibility.
"But there's no opportunity - it's not just done by one person..."
Another jolt of electricity had him arching in the chair, gasping for breath.
I think you will find an opportunity. Now, remind me, to which country do you owe your allegiance?
"The United States of America."
I think I must have misheard. Please repeat your country of allegiance.
"The United….. ahhhh!"
The man's voice was cut off mid-sentence as once again the electricity pierced his body. As they stopped, his head fell forward, as far as his restraints would allow.
You were saying…..?
"The… People's Republic"
Excellent. And what is your task for this mission?
"To change the course… No! I won't do it!"
Another shout of agony as the pain shot through him again.
"Stop it. Please... make it stop!"
How will you arrange Seaview to come to us?
"I will make the course changes."
The man's voice was robotic, without any inflection or intonation. Behind the light, his torturer smiled. Progress was being made.
Captain Lee Crane of the SSRN Seaview stood at the chart table, rubbed his hand across his face and yawned. He was desperately weary, and beginning to doubt his own judgement. In the space of three hours, he'd realised there had been two minor course errors - just a couple of degrees off, but enough to make a big difference if Seaview had followed them for long enough. They could have ended up in the territorial waters of the People's Republic, and Lee had had enough of that country to last him a lifetime. They were sailing dangerously close to it as things were, anyway.
He sighed and glanced over to where Chip Morton, his Executive Officer, was conferring with Kowalski on sonar. Lee was eternally grateful for the measured calm that Chip brought to the submarine - no matter what happened, Chip always seemed to be there, the voice of reason, that sardonic look in his eye. His exceptionally dry sense of humour meant that the crew rarely got to see him smile or crack a joke. As a result, they held their Exec somewhat in awe, a fact that Chip knew and made extensive use of. Despite their long friendship, Lee himself still occasionally had difficulty knowing exactly when Chip was ribbing him over something.
Morton felt the Captain's eyes watching him and looked up, grinning slightly.
"Looking forward to getting out of this neck of the woods, Lee?"
Chip - and every other man aboard Seaview - knew what had happened to Lee at the hands of the People's Republic, and they were all a little uneasy at being so near their adversaries. Lee grimaced. "What do you think, Chip? But I can't forgive myself for not noticing those course errors any earlier. They could have brought us into a whole lot of trouble. We're close enough to their boundaries as it is."
"Hey, don't let it worry you. Maybe there's a problem with the inertial navigation. I'll get Sharkey to check it out."
He picked up the mike. "Chief Sharkey, this is the Exec."
"Sharkey here, Mr Morton."
"Chief, I'd like you to check out the inertial navigation system, and also see if we've got any problems in the circuitry room. There've been a couple of minor course variances and I'd like you to run a few tests."
"No problem, Sir, I'll get right back to you when I find out anything." The intercom clicked and Chip replaced the microphone on the stand.
The tall blond Exec walked over to his Captain. "Last weekend's shore leave was so short, I've got some unfinished business!" His blue eyes sparkled at the memory. "Anyway, what did you get up to? You never said, and when I called you on Saturday there was no answer."
Lee glanced at his friend. "You know, Chip, I honestly couldn't tell you what I did. Apart from dinner with the Admiral and Edith, and a few chores on Sunday, I seem to have slept the entire time." He frowned. "Funny, I don't recall even hearing the phone. I must have been right out of it. I have to say, I didn't think I was that tired, but maybe the encounter with those Ice Men took more out of me than I'd realised." Or maybe I'm just getting past it. He didn't voice that part of the thought. Despite having slept so long, Lee had returned to Seaview after the weekend feeling utterly exhausted. He didn't feel as though he'd had any shore leave at all.
"Chief Sharkey to Control Room." Lee's thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the intercom. "Captain here, what's the situation, Chief?"
"No problems with the navigation system, or any circuits. All AOK, Skipper," said the Chief. "Thanks Sharkey. Don't let me keep you from anything." Lee clicked the mike off and hung it back up. He picked up a piece of paper showing the working out for their course, and screwed it up in a ball. Looking ruefully at Chip, he spoke quietly. "Looks like those errors were down to me after all, Chip."
The Exec looked carefully at the Captain. Lee had dark smudges under his eyes and five o'clock shadow. He looked completely done in, as though he hadn't had a good night's sleep in weeks. The Seaview had been out for four days and they'd be heading back tomorrow after taking some final ore samples for the Admiral's latest research project. He glanced at his watch. Lee had another couple of hours on watch before he could take a break and get a meal and some much-needed rest.
"Take off, Lee. I'll finish the rest of your shift. You need some shut-eye."
Crane began to object, but stopped as he felt another wave of tiredness sweep over him.
"Thanks Chip. You're right, I do feel tired. But call me if anything happens." He moved to the stairs and headed up them. Chip was too astonished at his friend's unusually easy acquiescence to do little more than wave a hand in his direction.
Just at that moment, Admiral Nelson came forward through the control room from the direction of the laboratory. "Where's Lee disappearing off to? I need to discuss the sampling schedules for tomorrow."
"I've taken over the rest of the Captain's watch, Admiral. The Skipper's exhausted."
"Hmm." The Admiral frowned. "Captain Crane knew we were coming into this particular area, and he should have been more careful burning the candle at both ends before a mission. I'd have thought he'd know better."
Chip looked at him. "Admiral, can I speak with you? In private, Sir?"
They moved to the front of the submarine and Chip gazed out of the observation windows without really seeing what lay ahead. He chose his words carefully. "Admiral, I'm worried about Lee. He was out of contact for a good 24 hours over last weekend and arrived back looking shattered." He hesitated. "There have also been a couple of minor course errors. The Captain's not been himself, Admiral." There, he'd said it.
Nelson looked concerned and ran his fingers through his reddish-brown hair. Chip remembered a saying about red hair, hot temper, and he'd seen the Admiral angry on a number of occasions, an experience he never enjoyed. He hoped he wasn't going to see it again now.
"Thanks Chip. You've only voiced what I've been worried about myself for the past day or so. I'll go up and have a chat with him before he turns in." Nelson turned and followed Lee up the stairs in the direction of the Officers' quarters.
Lee pushed open the door of his cabin and entered the small room. Removing his tie, he dropped it on the desk and turned on the small reading light above his bunk. The light threw dark shadows into the corners of the cabin, making him feel uneasy. Why? Shaking his head, he rubbed his eyes hard. He couldn't believe how tired he felt; but more importantly, something was nagging at the back of his mind, something important that he needed to tell the Admiral. However much he reached for it, the more it eluded him. His head swam and the cabin tilted. Lee sat heavily on the edge of his bunk, then, still fully dressed, he gave in to the waves of exhaustion washing over him and swung his feet up onto the covers. Stretching out, he closed his eyes, and sleep overcame him in seconds.
As he slept, the dreams returned. He saw himself driving down the highway after dinner with the Admiral and his sister Edith; the shape on the road; pulling over and getting out of the car. And then the agony - the sharp jolts of electricity coursing through his body. What must he do to stop the pain? What must he say? What do you want of me? Stop it, please, make it stop…! His face bathed with sweat, and writhing in agony, the Seaview's Captain endured his nightmare - again, and again, and again.
Pausing outside the Captain's cabin, Nelson could hear sounds from within. He knocked gently and opened the door. Shadows pervaded the room, the only light coming from the small bulb above the bunk. Nelson could see that Crane was already asleep - but was tossing and turning, and seemingly in the grip of a bad dream. The Admiral moved closer, trying to get some idea of what was making his Captain so uneasy, but the words he heard chilled his blood. "Nelson will destroy the world." "No! No, he's my friend!"
Quietly, Nelson stepped back out into the corridor and pulled the door gently closed behind him. He headed to his own cabin, and sat at the desk with his head in his hands, reliving those moments in the missile room when Crane had tried to kill him, acting under some form of brainwashing by agents of the People's Republic. After a few minutes he clicked the intercom on his desk.
"Mr Morton, it's Nelson. Please come to my cabin at once."
"Aye Sir, on my way."
Five minutes later, Chip was sitting in the Admiral's cabin, hardly believing what he was hearing. "Do you think it's just a nightmare, Sir, or…" Chip couldn't bring himself to say any more, but Nelson knew exactly what was going through his mind. "I don't know, Chip. But we have to look at the evidence. On the last occasion, Lee was out of contact for 48 hours - this time, just 24. He comes back looking as though he has the cares of the world on his shoulders. He's desperately tired and is making silly errors in navigation." Or were they? Perhaps 24 hours wasn't quite long enough to have sufficient influence - or perhaps it was just reinforcing some vestiges of the earlier brainwashing episode. "Anyway," he continued, "I think we must assume that Captain Crane is currently a danger to the safety of Seaview and its personnel."
"What do you propose, Admiral?" Chip looked worried.
"I think we need to keep Lee out of the picture for the rest of this trip. We have no idea what, if anything, has been demanded of him - after all, we're on a pretty routine mission to gather ore samples. We'll be heading back tomorrow night anyway. I'll ask Doc to keep him in sickbay under sedation until we return to Santa Barbara."
"Last time, there was a replacement agent." Chip reminded.
"Yes, and we don't know if there is one this time. If the crew are aware that Lee is in sickbay, then it might blow the cover of any substitute."
"I hate doing this to him, Admiral."
"So do I, Chip, but Lee needs help, and we're going to make sure he gets it. Now, I'm going to see the Doc." The two men left the cabin and went in different directions to deal with their tasks.
"I'm sorry, Admiral, I won't do it. You're asking me to go against all my professional ethics!" exclaimed the Doctor.
"Doc, all I'm asking is that Lee is seen to be apparently taken ill, so that he can stay here, securely, under your care, until we get back home. Please, Doc, it's important."
Jamie looked carefully at the Admiral. He looked as tortured as he sounded - and the Doc knew that for him to have asked such a thing was entirely against Nelson's own personal code of conduct. He had to admit that the Captain had looked severely under strain since coming back on board. He turned and unlocked a cupboard, taking out a small packet of powder. Relocking the cupboard, he handed the packet to Nelson. "Drop this into his coffee. It'll make him dizzy and then pass out. Once he's down here, I'll keep him sedated until we get back to the Institute. At least for once I'll have some idea why he's here! But don't expect me to make a habit of it." Doc scowled at the Admiral, who took the packet gratefully and headed back to his cabin.
The following morning, Nelson joined Crane in the wardroom for breakfast.
"How are you, Lee? Chip said you didn't feel too good last night." As he said the words, Nelson recoiled inwardly at the look of his young Captain. Crane's handsome face was drawn and haggard, his normally lively hazel eyes lacklustre and dull. He'd shaved badly; his clothes were creased and his tie was loose in his collar. "I'm okay, Admiral, a bit tired, that's all. I didn't sleep very well. I just hope I don't doze off over the chart table!" Lee tried to raise a smile, knowing that the Admiral was worried about him. The Admiral stood and turned to the coffee pot bubbling on the hotplate. "Have a mug of Cookie's coffee; it has enough caffeine in it so you can stand a spoon upright! It should keep you awake for your shift, at any rate. Then Chip can take over to get us back to the Institute this evening."
As he spoke, Nelson glanced round at Crane. The Captain sat with his head in his hands, oblivious to everything going on around him. Quickly, Nelson tore open the packet the Doc had given him. Dropping the powder into the mug, he stirred it in and turned back to Crane. Handing him the coffee, he spoke gently. "Get this down you, Lee, then we'll head up to the control room and discuss the sampling schedule for today." Lee took the coffee and swallowed a mouthful, making a face as he did so. "That's a seriously bad pot of coffee! Cookie's let it brew too long - it's terribly bitter. Never mind - come on Admiral, let's go and create a plan of action." Gulping down the rest of the coffee, the Captain got up from the table.
As he stepped through the hatchway, Lee felt the world spin around him. Fighting to stay on his feet, he leant against the wall as the dizziness passed. He glanced at the Admiral and saw a look of concern cross his friend's face. Pushing himself upright, he turned and took several paces down the companionway. Kowalski was coming towards him - but since when did Kowalski have a twin? Lee rubbed his hand across his eyes and swayed; he felt his legs buckle and the corridor disappeared in a swathe of darkness. Kowalski and the Admiral grabbed for him - catching him as he fell, they lowered him gently to the floor.
"Kowalski, call sickbay. Get the Doc here on the double!" the Admiral barked. As he knelt next to his friend, Nelson whispered a silent apology. We'll sort this out, Lee. I'm sorry it had to be this way.
Nelson and the Doc stood quietly in sickbay, studying Crane as he lay in a bunk. "Not quite the peaceful sleep I hoped he'd get from being under sedation," commented Nelson. The Captain moved restlessly, murmuring disjointed words that made no sense to either Nelson or the Doc.
"He's obviously got some deep-set trauma, something that's not allowing his subconscious any peace. Do you have any idea what it might be?" Doc asked Nelson.
Nelson looked at the Doctor. He could see his own concerns reflected in Jamie's face - the same concerns that would get around the crew within a very short space of time, if the Admiral was any judge.
"Doc, remember a while ago when you removed a bullet from Lee's shoulder? I think he might be having flashbacks as a result of the brainwashing." Nelson watered down what he really thought.
The Doctor stared him, and then studied his patient. He recalled the event that the Admiral referred to. Lee had been shot whilst himself trying to kill Nelson. The shock of the bullet had brought the Captain back to himself apparently unscathed - or so it had appeared. The brain was a strange organ, the Doctor mused, nobody really understood the way it worked, not even those who tried to mould others into doing their evil work for them. "I suppose it's possible that Lee could be getting flashbacks, but what makes you think that it stems from that particular situation? After all, the Skipper's no stranger to difficult circumstances."
"I went to see him last night. Chip sent him off shift early, but when I got to his cabin, Lee had already crashed out. I overheard him talking in his sleep. He was repeating some of the phrases he used when he was coming out of it after the shooting," Nelson sighed. "Oh, what the heck... Doc, you need to know. Lee went missing for 24 hours last weekend. Nobody knows where, and he can't account for it."
The Doctor gazed in horror at the Admiral. "Do you think he was got at again?"
Nelson slammed his fist down on the table. "I don't know! The only thing I do know is, Lee's my friend, and he's hurting, and I can't do anything to help!"
Jamie's face softened as he contemplated the anguish in the Admiral's eyes. He was aware of just how much Nelson thought of the younger man, not just as the Captain of the Seaview, but almost as a son.
"Leave him to me, Admiral. I'll look after him, and we'll work out what's happening."
Nelson looked at the Doc, then turned towards the bunk. Touching Crane briefly on the shoulder, he retreated from the sickbay. I'll be back shortly, Lee. Hang in there. "Take care of him, Doc."
Slowly, almost on autopilot, Nelson walked through the corridors towards the control room. Arriving at his destination, he saw that the crew were all focussing closely on their various jobs, as if by sheer willpower alone they could bring the Skipper back from sickbay. It wasn't that Chip was a bad Skipper, far from it, but Crane would go the extra mile for all of them, and despite a rocky start when he'd joined the Seaview, there wasn't a single man there who wouldn't have done anything for his Captain.
Nelson looked around for Chip Morton. "Where's the Exec?" he asked Patterson, who was on the hydrophones. Patterson looked round. "Admiral, he asked if you would go to his cabin when you arrived, Sir."
"What the devil's he there for? Oh never mind, I'll find him."
Nelson headed upstairs and knocked on Chip's cabin door, barely waiting for a response before entering the room. Chip turned as he went through the door. He was ashen-faced. "Admiral..." he blurted out "look!" Nelson's gaze took in the object that Chip held in his hand. It was a small metal comb. "I found it on the table." Morton explained.
Nelson swallowed. "It's too much of a coincidence, Chip."
Morton nodded miserably in agreement. "But why? Last time it was to destroy the missile launchers. This time, all we're doing is collecting stupid rock samples."
Nelson raised an eyebrow at the description of the research he was doing, but withheld making any comment. "We're on the edge of the People's Republic territorial waters. The course variances would have taken us into them. Maybe they were going to try to hijack Seaview - or destroy her, and us." he considered. He thought about the report that had first highlighted the potential of these minerals. It had come to him from one of his own scientists at the Nelson Institute of Marine Research - a highly qualified professional, as were all those working at NIMR, but nevertheless, someone relatively new.
He clicked the intercom on Chip's desk. "Sparks, get me Angie at NIMR, would you? I'll take it on scrambler in my cabin."
"Sure Admiral. Making the connection now," Sparks replied.
Nelson looked at Chip. "I need to do some checks on someone. All the background stuff should have been done already but perhaps someone slipped up somewhere. Meanwhile, go take the Con while Lee's in sickbay. Tell the men that he's collapsed and that you're Acting Captain until we arrive back at the Institute. I think you'll find that they know already - Kowalski was there when Lee passed out."
Chip closed the door of his cabin and paused. "Admiral, do you think it's possible that Lee's been trying to tell us something? After all, we've realised the comb in my cabin isn't a coincidence. Maybe he put it there as some sort of signal. After all, this one doesn't appear to be magnetic, and there are no missiles for it to neutralise even if it were." Nelson stopped his passage down the corridor and gazed back. "It's possible, Chip. We're reckoning that they only had access to him for 24 hours. Maybe it wasn't enough time for them to do a proper job, and Lee's subconscious is rebelling; maybe he's trying to find his way back. He's certainly not getting any decent rest. I just don't know." He sighed and veered into his cabin as Sparks put his secretary through. Nelson explained briefly what was going on, and asked her to find independent copies of the papers and publications that his scientist and the man's referees had written and published in.
Having set that in train, he went back down to sickbay. As he stopped outside, he could hear Lee's continuing incoherent ramblings; pushing the door open he saw the Doctor regarding the Captain with worry etched deep on his face.
"How's he doing, Doc?"
"It's tough on him, Admiral. The brainwashing seems to require an outlet, and because he's sedated, that's not happening, so the Captain's internalising it all. To be honest, I'm not sure that this is helping; we might need to let him come round, and deal with it in a different way."
"Doc, if it's your opinion that Lee will do better by being awake, then I have to bow to it. You're the professional around here, not me. Perhaps my judgement is being clouded by my friendship for him. I only did what I thought was best. I also have to consider the safety of everyone on this boat. At least we'll be back home soon…" his voice tailed off. Jamie smiled. "OK, Admiral. I did agree to help, remember? I'll keep him under for a bit longer. He'll probably need one more shot, in an hour or so - the powder for the coffee wasn't particularly strong. Then we can let him wake naturally, by which time we should be back in Santa Barbara."
Nelson opened his mouth to reply, but instead found himself shouting a warning as the submarine rocked violently. Both he and the Doctor grabbed for the nearest solid object to retain their balance - which in Nelson's case was the rail of Crane's bunk. He instinctively turned to his friend and held him securely as the boat rolled from side to side. Suddenly, he felt a hand grip his wrist, and looked down to see Lee's anguished expression. "Please, Admiral, help me. Help me!" "It's ok, Lee, we're here for you. Just hang in there!" Nelson replied. Lee's grip relaxed and his eyes closed as the sedation took hold once more.
"Admiral Nelson, to the control room - emergency!" Chip's voice floated across the room from the speaker. Nelson grabbed the mike. "On my way, Chip." Glancing back briefly at the comatose Captain, Nelson ran from the room.
"What on earth is going on? Damage control, report." Nelson snapped as he arrived in the control room.
"We're not sure what it was, Admiral. It felt like we hit something, but there's been no contact. It's like we've been trawled by a big invisible net! No hull damage, but there are some short-outs in the circuitry room. Sharkey's working on them now and we should have full engine power in a few minutes. We seem to be caught in a really strong current and are drifting - in the wrong direction, towards the People's Republic waters." Chip responded as the Admiral prowled around.
"Mr Morton - submarine contact 500 yards dead ahead; stationary." Kowalski reported from sonar. "How did it just creep up without you seeing it?" asked Chip.
"No idea, Sir, but it's there now." Kowalski responded.
"Looks like that's the source of the attack, Mr Morton," said Nelson. "Kowalski - what's it doing? Any indication of weapons loading?"
"Just sitting, Admiral. No sound from it, no movement."
Nelson scowled. "I think we can take it that our friends have realised that their plan isn't going right, Mr Morton. What's our position?" Poring over the charts, and looking at the display, Chip read off their location and looked up at Nelson. "We're into their territorial waters," he confirmed.
"Well then, they must know we're here. Let's try to back off very, very slowly."
Chip gave the instructions over the intercom and Nelson studied the sonar carefully as the Seaview reversed imperceptibly. Suddenly another jolt shook the submarine and she lurched from side to side once more. "Damage control, report." "No additional damage, Sir" was the immediate response.
"Mr Morton - perhaps we'd better sit tight. Whoever is in that sub doesn't seem to want us to go anywhere. We need to find out how they are tracking us so closely and why we can't move. They might be using some kind of laser; perhaps homing in on something…" he paused, thinking. "Chip - get me that comb, would you?" Chip took off upstairs to his quarters and returned a few minutes later bearing the object he'd found in his cabin.
"Maybe this has something to do with it. I'll take it down to the lab and see if I can come up with some answers." Despite the uncertainties of their situation, Chip had to smile. No matter what happened to them in, on, or outside the Seaview, invariably Nelson went into scientist mode and constructed some gadget to solve the problem. And he was almost always successful in finding a solution.
Just as Nelson disappeared through the hatchway, Sparks called to him. "Admiral, I've got Angie on scrambler. She says she has the information you wanted." Nelson turned and came back. "Thanks Sparks, patch her through please. I'll take it in here." He switched on the screen.
"Go ahead, Angie, what did you find out?"
"Admiral, I've double checked all the papers and publications, and it appears that the ones provided to us were not the same as those that were on sale. The professors who gave references clearly exist, but their names have been anglicised. They've "published" - Nelson could hear the inverted commas in her tone - "in a number of journals for several years, presumably developing a profile for just such an occasion as this."
She paused in her narration, and Nelson jumped in with a question. "Anglicised from what, Angie?"
She looked up from her notes. "Admiral, the professors are all from the People's Republic." A ripple of sound rose from the men in the room. All of them were aware of the effect that country had had on their lives, and in particular on the lives of their Admiral and Captain. Nelson sighed. "I was afraid of that. These people just don't give up, do they?"
"Admiral, how is Lee?" Angie didn't bother to try to disguise the concern either in her voice or on her face. Nelson looked serious. "Angie - I…."
"Captain Crane has suffered a severe mental breakdown. He collapsed this morning and is now in sickbay in a critical condition. The Doc's not sure if he'll make it."
This time the gasps of horror were distinctly audible around the control room. Kowalski tore off his headphones. "Admiral, I was there. He was just walking towards me, then he passed out. Now you're saying that the Skipper might die?"
Nelson looked around at the crew. Shock registered on all their faces. He was aware that he'd been more direct in his comments than he'd intended. But at least if there was another agent on board, this might force their hand. He looked back up at the screen. Angie had tears running unchecked down her cheeks. "Admiral…"
"Angie, I know Lee means a lot to you; he does to all of us here. We're doing the best we can for him. But we have to face facts - it might not be good enough. Now, I have to get on and find out how we can get out of this situation." He left the room, not looking at anyone.
Chip moved to the screen. "Angie - you know we're doing everything possible. But things are pretty manic here right now. We'll get back to you if there's any news." She tried to smile, then nodded. Chip reached forward and turned off the screen.
"Right, you all heard the Admiral. We don't know what's going to happen. At the moment, Captain Crane is being looked after in sickbay. He'll give us hell if this boat gets captured, so let's deal with things, huh?" Once again, his unruffled demeanour calmed the men and they got back to watching their screens for any clues about the vessel guarding their every move.
Stu Riley came over and touched the Exec's arm. "Um - Mr Morton, Sir, is it true what the Admiral said about the Skipper?" Chip stared at the charts on the table in front of him. "I guess it must be, Riley. I haven't been to sickbay since the Captain collapsed. In the circumstances, I know he'd want me to be here."
Riley looked at him. "Mr Morton, go see the Skipper. We're pinned down and it seems that if we don't move, nothing's going to happen. If it does, you can come running." Riley held his breath. He knew he was pushing his luck talking to the Exec that way, but he felt the risk was worth it. Mr Morton hadn't looked so tense in a long while. Chip stared at him, then looked around the control room. "Sparks, you have the Con. Notify me immediately anything changes. You know where I'll be."
He left quickly and within a few minutes was entering sickbay. Lee lay in one of the bunks, moving fitfully. Chip leant over him and felt his forehead - it felt like he was burning up with fever.
"Doc, what's wrong? The sedation shouldn't be having this effect, surely?" Chip asked.
"No, it shouldn't. I'm not sure what's happening. I'm doing a blood screen. I'm afraid he's been given something else - perhaps a cocktail of drugs to make him more amenable to suggestion over a shorter period of time. There might be some conflict. Maybe we should bring him out of the sedation and try to treat the cause more aggressively."
The Exec flinched at the word "aggressively" and frowned. "But Doc, don't we run the risk of Lee acting on his subconscious, and possibly losing it completely once he's awake?"
"Yes, we do. But we'll know what to look for and should be able to take steps accordingly."
At that moment, Lee's eyes flickered open and he looked directly at Chip. "Chip… I'm sorry…I tried… to tell…" "Take it easy, Lee. We're doing everything we can. Can you tell me what happened?" "There was someone - in the road... I stopped. I… can't remember, Chip… can't remember…" the Captain's voice faded and his eyelids closed again. Morton turned to the Doctor. "It looks like he's really fighting the sedation. Don't give him anything else. We need him awake. I'll clear it with the Admiral."
He left the sickbay and walked quickly to the laboratory. Entering quietly, he watched Nelson putting the finishing touches to a strange-looking contraption.
"Admiral…" he ventured.
"Ah, Chip, glad you're here. I think we can determine if this comb has anything to do with us being monitored so closely without our being aware of it." He placed the comb on a small dish and aimed the device at it. A low hum emanated from the machine, and the comb began to glow with heat. As Chip watched, it went through the scale from red, through orange to white, finally disintegrating in a puddle of molten metal.
Chip raised an eyebrow and looked at the Admiral. "Did you learn what you needed to know, Sir?" Nelson looked regretful. "Not exactly. It appears to have been just that - a metal comb. We need to start looking elsewhere for their homing mechanism. By the way, what was it you wanted?"
"I was just in sickbay. Lee seems to be fighting the sedation and Doc thinks it best if we let him come round. I happen to agree, Sir. Lee woke up while I was there. He was trying to tell me something, but he went back under. I think he'll be more help to us awake, Admiral."
Nelson nodded slowly. "You know I'm worried about Lee, Chip. I'm fighting my conscience in case my decision to put him under sedation has done more harm than good. If you and the Doc think he should be allowed to wake up then I'll go along with it. Maybe he can help get us out of this mess." He walked to the intercom and gave the go-ahead to the Doctor. "Let me know when we can speak to Lee, please, Doc."
The two men headed back up to the control room. "No change in our situation, Mr Morton," Sparks reported. "Thanks Sparks. The Exec has the Con," replied Chip. Nelson looked around.
"Let's try to surface," he suggested, but as Chip moved to relay the order, a voice piped through the submarine.
"Admiral Nelson, Lt Commander Morton and crew of Seaview. I welcome you to the territorial waters of the People's Republic. However, I think you are here without permission. Why?"
Nelson picked up the intercom. "This is Nelson. Can you hear me?"
"I can, Admiral. Speak."
Nelson thought quickly. "You have us at a disadvantage, sir. To whom am I speaking?"
"My name is not important but if you wish, you may call me the Master. What is it you want to say?"
"I suspect you know we have been sabotaged. We did not deliberately stray into your waters. We are here to collect ore samples on the international edge of your territories. Today is our last collection schedule, after which we are due to return to our home base. How are you tracking us? We can find no homing device aboard our ship."
"Nevertheless, it is there, Admiral. Tell me, how is the good Captain Crane?"
"He is very ill. Am I right in thinking that it's as a result of your actions?"
"It is possible that he has reacted badly to something he - ingested - at the weekend. We will nevertheless be able to counteract that when he returns to us. Of course, it is possible that if he has reacted too badly, there will be nothing we can do. That would indeed be unfortunate and it will be simply a matter of time - as it is for all of you."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, Admiral, that within a short time, we will board your Seaview, take what we need from your tapes and other computing systems, and then destroy not only the submarine but also the rest of you. Captain Crane has an excellent knowledge of your American intelligence operations, so he will return with us. He is a strong individual and we can find some more use for him before he too meets his end. You have approximately two hours left of your life, Admiral."
"Wait a minute, there must be some way…" Nelson paused. "Let us treat Captain Crane with whatever antidote he needs. Then he'll be more use to you. You have to accept that he's worth more to you alive than dead."
"What are you suggesting?"
"Let one of us collect whatever it is he needs. We can administer it and then you can have him."
"You would be prepared to deliver a member of your crew - your friend - to us, rather than allow him to die with the rest of you?"
"I'd prefer to see him alive than dead," Nelson said simply.
"We will think about it. Now, begin to make preparations to receive us on board your submarine. You are currently being held in a traction beam, but we will allow your boat to surface without hindrance. However, do not attempt to escape or retaliate. Any change in distance between us, or any loading of weapons systems, will be immediately noted and appropriate action taken."
Nelson nodded to Chip. "Make preparations to surface." Morton gave the orders and the submarine began to rise. "Sir, the other submarine is keeping pace with us. It's going up at the same time, same speed." Kowalski reported.
Soon they were on the surface and the hatch was cracked. Nelson and Chip climbed the ladder to the bridge in order to see what was going on outside. A few hundred yards away, they could see the other submarine, and a boat was being launched from it.
"Looks like they're not wasting any time, Admiral."
"Or maybe they've seen the sense in letting Lee get an antidote sooner rather than later."
"What good will it do him? He's already sentenced to death, just like the rest of us. Why not let him die amongst friends?"
"Chip, if Lee is fighting the brainwashing the way we think he is, we might be able to use it to our advantage to have him there rather than here. We might be able to make a few suggestions of our own."
Before Chip could reply, the raft was alongside and a man was waving a gun towards them. "I am the Master's aide. He requests that you provide this to your Captain. It will help in his recovery - before he helps us further." "This" was a small vial of liquid. The man threw it to Nelson who grabbed for it. "Do not try anything stupid, Admiral. It will shorten your waiting time considerably. Meanwhile, we will return momentarily with additional equipment." The man chuckled as the raft turned and headed back the way it had come.
Nelson disappeared down the hatchway and headed for sickbay. When he arrived, he noticed with relief that Lee was much closer to full consciousness than he had been previously.
"Doc, we need to give this to Lee. It's an antidote to whatever it was he was given recently. They're keen to keep him alive - he's worth more to them. And to us…" Nelson added.
Jamie looked dubious. "We don't know what it is. It could kill him."
"It might, but I don't think it will. Crane is worth more to them if he can tell them things."
Nelson knelt next to Crane's bunk. He was shocked at the man's drawn expression and pallor. "Lee, can you hear me? We have to talk."
"I... I hear you, Admiral." Crane opened his eyes and focussed on Nelson. "I'm sorry… I tried to resist but…."
"Don't think about that now, Lee. Listen to me. Somehow they've been tracking us and now we're being boarded. When they have what they want, they'll destroy us. But they need you. They think you're deeper within their control than you actually are. You have to make them think you're still their agent."
Crane looked confused. "What do you mean, Admiral?"
"They've sent an antidote to the drugs you were given at the weekend. It seems as though it was part of their plan to make you more susceptible to suggestion in a shorter time. But you reacted badly. It might have been something to do with the sedation you were on here, too. Anyway, you're to be taken over to their sub. It's our only chance - that you can somehow destroy them, before they destroy Seaview. We've barely two hours. Can you handle it?"
"I'm not sure, Admiral. I'm so muzzy I don't know if I can even stand up, let alone destroy a sub."
The Doctor approached with a syringe of liquid. "This is what they sent over. Do you want to take the risk?"
Lee nodded. "If the Admiral is right, they want me alive. They wouldn't send something to kill me. If it backfires, I'll be dead before long, anyway."
He held out his arm and Doc injected him quickly. Lee felt the sting of the needle and momentarily was back in the world of darkness and pain. But within seconds his head began to clear. He looked at Nelson. "I'm beginning to recollect some weird things. I was supposed to steer the Seaview into their waters. The course variances… the working out seemed correct but I … I somehow knew they were wrong. I changed them. I thought there was something I had to tell you, but I couldn't remember what. I left something for Chip…"
"The comb. We wondered if it might have had some significance. I hope you don't want it back. We don't know how they tracked us though. Sharkey's had the men looking all over Seaview and they can't find a homing device of any description."
"It's me. They told me, it was one of the things I was injected with. Some kind of low-grade isotope in my bloodstream. With our existing levels of radiation, it wouldn't be apparent. But somehow they could focus on it and know our location." It was obvious that Lee was still struggling with the things that had happened to him, and Jamie made a note to check him for radiation sickness - if they all came through this alive.
"Lee, can you deal with this? You're still very weak. Do you think you can fool them?"
"I'll have to, Admiral. It seems that we don't have much choice." He sat up slowly and put his feet to the floor. Standing upright, he swayed. Nelson caught hold of his arm. "Careful, Lee. You've been flat on your back a while." Unsteadily, Crane moved towards the door, where he almost bumped into Chip coming in. "Lee, what's going on? Where're you going? Admiral, the Master has been in touch. He's sent the raft over with his men and equipment and he wants Lee returned straightaway."
"Lee is back with us. He's going to try to destroy them." Nelson glared at Chip as he started to object. "We have no other option."
"Hey, come back, won't you? You still owe me a round of golf," was all Chip said. He clapped his friend on the shoulder and watched as Lee slowly went out, helped by Nelson. The Doctor came over and stood by his side. "What kind of living hell do we put people through?" he wondered aloud. "And why do we keep on doing it?" was the response. They glanced at each other and went their separate ways. Chip watched from the bridge as Lee slid down to the raft and was taken back to the enemy submarine. Good luck, Skipper, he thought as the raft arrived at the other vessel.
Crane was still feeling very drained, and struggled to board the new boat. He grasped the hand that was held out to him as he reached the top of the rope ladder to the submarine's sail. "Welcome aboard, Captain. It is gratifying to note that our antidote works so quickly. Admiral Nelson told us you were very ill. We have been tracking you and noted the course variances you were instructed to carry out, although it seems that someone on Seaview realised that the changes you instigated were incorrect. Luckily we were able to use our new traction beam to bring Seaview into the edges of our waters."
"I didn't…" Crane checked his thoughts. He had been going to say that he didn't do it voluntarily. "I didn't begin to feel ill until yesterday. My allegiance is to the … People's Republic." He recoiled, anticipating the jolt of electricity which accompanied an incorrect statement. There wasn't one. Why not? His allegiance was to the United States. He thought carefully. He was pretending. He had to make them believe he was still their agent. "What are your plans for the Seaview?"
The Master looked at him warily. "My men are there now, taking information from the submarine's tapes; we will take what we need and then destroy her and her crew. These people were your friends until you joined with us. How will you feel when you see them blown to pieces?"
Lee felt his knees give way and grabbed for a stanchion rail in order to keep his feet. Without answering the Master's question, he apologised. "You must excuse me. I'm still exhausted from my experiences. Is there somewhere I can rest?"
"Take our guest to the rear quarters," the Master ordered. "Shortly however, Captain, I will have someone bring you forward to the observation windows, so that you can see the demise of your submarine and your crew."
As Lee followed a seaman through the submarine, he was encouraged by its similarity in design to the Seaview. Not as advanced, although the basic layout indicated that he would be able to find his way around easily enough - as long as he wasn't to be guarded all the time. But he had less than 90 minutes to decide on a plan and carry it out.
Back on Seaview, Nelson was pondering their next move. He didn't have many alternatives. At least Lee was away from the sub, and should be able to get himself safely away from his captors, assuming that he had the strength to maintain the façade. Would he be able to carry out the request Nelson had made of him? He knew that Crane would do everything in his power to help his friends - as long as he was able to focus on who those friends actually were. Maybe he was expecting too much. In which case, he thought to himself, we did the best we could. He pulled himself together and moved to the control room with the men who had arrived on the launch, and watched as they began to systematically copy the data from the Seaview's tapes and other systems.
Chip came over to him. "What do you think Lee can achieve, Admiral? He looked barely strong enough to lift a mug of coffee."
"I don't know, Chip, but our lives are in his hands right now, and he knows it. If he can do anything, he will."
"Perhaps we can create some kind of diversion here, maybe take off some of the pressure?"
"Just what I was thinking, Chip. Get Kowalski, Patterson and some of the other crewmen here. I've got an idea."
Chip walked amongst the crew, talking quietly to each man. One of the boarding party gestured at him. "Do not do anything too hasty, Mr Morton. You would not want to precipitate the deaths of your men, of that I am certain."
Morton looked at Nelson, who shrugged his shoulders slightly. The meaning was all too plain - that option just ended.
As Lee Crane walked through the enemy sub, he noted there were very few crew aboard. Those who were, seemed to be mainly in the engineering section. And probably the missile room, he thought. That might help him. An idea was slowly taking shape in his mind. He'd need to see that area of the submarine. "I'd like to see if your missile room is similar to that on Seaview." he told the man accompanying him.
"I was thinking that if it is, some of our - I mean, their - equipment might be adapted for use. If I can see it, then I can advise the Master before he destroys the Seaview." His guard looked at him.
"We are near the missile room. I will take you there."
The two men walked through a short corridor, Lee taking careful note of his surroundings. As they ducked through a hatchway, he noticed that the enemy sub's missile room was also of a similar design to that on Seaview. Had they got hold of the plans, somehow? He wondered idly. He wandered around, examining closely some of the equipment already present, seeing that the firing panel was almost identical, and that the missiles themselves were in silos.
"Have you seen enough? Is it possible to remove some of the apparatus from the American submarine?"
"Yes, it is. How do I tell the Master? Can we contact him from here?"
The guard handed Crane a small device from the shelf. "Click this." Lee did so. Immediately the Master's voice echoed through the room. "Yes, what is it? I am very busy."
"It's Crane. I'm in the missile room. You might like to ask the Admiral to provide you with the torpedo ignition starters from the locker in their engine room. Tell him you want the magnetic ones. They might be of use to this submarine for covert operations."
"I am glad you are seeing sense and working with us, Captain. I will do as you suggest. We have almost finished recovering the information we need from the Seaview. Shortly we will have no further need of her - or her crew. I am sure you will want to see the fireworks."
"Indeed. But now I need to rest. Please call me when the time draws close." Lee handed the device back to his guard, and followed him out of the missile room to a small wardroom nearby. Would the Admiral realise what he had in mind? He hoped so. It didn't appear as if they were going to leave him unguarded for a moment.
"Admiral Nelson." The Master's voice came over the intercom on board Seaview. "Captain Crane is being most informative about your submarine. He has advised me that some of the equipment you carry might be adaptable for use in our operational duties. I will require the magnetic torpedo ignition starters that can be found in your engine room. Please provide this equipment to one of my men."
"Crane is a traitor."
"The Captain has realised where his allegiance lies, Admiral. He has suggested that we obtain this equipment. Now, please do not try my patience."
"I know the devices Crane is talking about. I will have one of my crew get them."
"Admiral…" Chip said, urgently. Nelson waved him away and motioned to Patterson.
"Pat - do you know the equipment the Skipper means? Exactly what equipment he means?"
"Yes, Sir, but …"
"Just go get it, Pat." Nelson's voice precluded any argument, and Patterson headed aft.
"Chip," Nelson said quietly, "Lee is giving us a chance to help him. That system is new. It's a magnetic timing device that can be attached to a bulkhead within 20 feet of a missile or torpedo, to allow it to be fired either on a timer or remotely. With a detonator here, we could destroy that sub ourselves, but they've already told us that they can detect any preparations in our weapons systems."
"But what about Lee? How will we know he's got away?"
"We won't, Chip. But Lee will know from the position of the dial how long he has before a timed detonation. I'll set it for 30 minutes. I only hope they don't destroy us first."
Back on the enemy sub, Lee sat down hard on a chair and rested his head on his arms on the table. He was tired beyond all recognition and his mind was getting hazy again. He closed his eyes briefly but as he felt himself drifting into sleep, he snapped them open again. He couldn't allow himself to give in to whatever was going on in his head, not yet.
"My allegiance is to… the United States. I'm an American."
No, you're an agent for the People's Republic, a little voice whispered.
"How… the People's Republic has betrayed me!"
What about your oath to the People's Republic? the voice asked. Why do you want to save the Americans?
"My oath is…I don't know. I can't remember! Those men are my friends… they need me…." Lee's exclamation echoed in the small room. Instinctively he realised that this turmoil had to be kept inside his head. Just then, the door opened and the Master entered, preceded by the guard.
"Captain Crane. I hope you are comfortable. We will provide you with better quarters once we are underway. The Admiral has sent over these items, as you suggested," he indicated, placing some pieces of equipment on the table. "I will be interested in their function. We have seen nothing like them before. Meanwhile, our men are returning from Seaview and shortly we will prepare to destroy her. Perhaps you will join me in the observation area in a few moments. My man will escort you. I would not want you to get … lost." The Master turned and left the room.
Crane looked at the equipment and tried to concentrate. Why had he suggested that these be recovered from Seaview? What was he trying to do? He wracked his mind. He had to destroy this submarine before they destroyed Seaview. He remembered the Admiral asking him. But why were they destroying Seaview? They'd agreed… He rubbed his hand over his face as if to erase some memory, and stood up. Would it be enough to leave these on the table, or should they be closer to the missiles and torpedoes? Closer, was his conclusion.
"Let me put these in the missile room, then later I can explain their benefits to the Master," he suggested. The guard looked at him suspiciously but led the way from the wardroom. Lee cast around for a suitable place and opened a small locker on the wall nearest the missile silos. "I'll store them in here," he said, placing the devices carefully on a shelf. As he did so, he noticed that the dial on one of the devices was set to 30. So, given the time to transport the items from Seaview, I have about 15 minutes, he thought. Or, more to the point, everyone on Seaview probably has even less time than that. They told me they'd be spared! Closing the door securely, Lee turned and made his way to the observation windows, closely guarded all the way.
He could see the Seaview about 500 yards distant, glistening in the sunshine. Two small rafts were returning from her.
"Why does Admiral Nelson not try to escape, or fire weapons?" he asked.
"The submarine is held in a traction beam. They are unable to manoeuvre and we will know if they engage any of their weapons. It is an ingenious mechanism which is part of our laser array." The Master told him. "We are testing the prototype. However, the Admiral will have barely a few seconds to realise what is happening when it is disengaged, before we destroy Seaview, and it will be impossible for either him or the crew to act in time."
The rafts had regained the submarine and men were boarding. The Master moved to the laser and flicked a switch. Lee saw that something that had appeared to be a heat haze above the waves had disappeared.
"Wait!" He'd spoken too loudly. He had to stay calm; to stretch this out until the devices exploded.
The Master looked at him with some surprise. "What is the matter, Captain? Are you concerned about something?" The haze re-appeared.
Lee thought rapidly. You are still their agent. "What is that haze on the surface of the water?"
The Master gazed at him curiously. "Why do you ask? What importance does it have to you?"
Crane looked at him. Please let the Master be proud enough of this new technology to want to elaborate on it. "If this is a new weapon for the People's Republic then I would like to be aware of its potential."
"The traction beam is in testing phase. Its one drawback is that in order to fire our laser, the traction beam has to be disengaged. That is what you see. It makes no difference to them as they have no time to react."
Lee saw a glimmer of hope. Perhaps he didn't have to keep the Master talking until the timed detonation.
"Of course. Thank you. The People's Republic clearly has excellent scientists." He saw the haze disappear again. "However, I would like to say something to the Americans, so that they are aware of the power of the People's Republic - before they die."
The Master laughed. "You may do so. Pick up the microphone. Your words will be heard by all those aboard Seaview."
Lee picked up the mike. "This is Captain Crane. Can you hear me, Admiral?"
"Admiral, before you die, I wanted you to be aware of the immense power this country has. One indicator is the revolutionary traction beam, which you were previously held in. It is now disengaged, but a fitting demonstration, I think you'll agree, of some of the finest scientific minds the world has. There is just one additional thing to say, before we exchange our goodbyes, and that is simply … don't wait, Admiral! Hit the button now!" This last was delivered in a shout as two guards tackled Lee full on. He was thrown off balance and crashed to the floor, winded and unable to fight back as the men kicked and punched at him. After a few minutes, the Master stopped the beating with a sharp command.
"A masterful act, Captain Crane. However, it was a futile attempt. Whatever your Admiral had in mind appears to have failed. Now, let us watch the last moments of Seaview."
Semi-conscious from his beating, Crane was hauled to his feet and his heart sank. He'd failed to save the Seaview. The Master lined up the laser.
"Say goodbye to your friends, Captain."
Lee closed his eyes, not wanting to witness Seaview's last moments, but opened them again as he heard a growl of sound from deep within the submarine. The noise increased quickly and the vessel rocked violently, throwing everyone to the floor. Disembodied voices echoed through the speakers.
"The hull's breached… we're shipping water!"
"We're sinking….. get those men out!"
"Help us - we're caught in here… the water's coming in… open the hatch!"
The screams of the trapped sailors seared through Crane's mind. Men were dying… This is what would have happened to my crew! He thought angrily. And I've got to get out of here!
He struggled to his feet, fighting to maintain his balance as the deck listed sharply. Using seatbacks and railings, he clawed his way to the ladder up to the bridge, and began to climb. A hand grabbed his ankle, and he looked down at the barrel of a gun.
"Captain, were you going to leave without saying goodbye?" Crane saw that the Master's finger was turning white as he increased the pressure on the trigger. It was now or never, and Lee kicked back hard. The gun went off but the bullet was wide, and by a miracle, Lee was free. He scrambled to the bridge and looked aft. The submarine was already well down in the water, the waves washing over the stern. Another shot echoed, and he flung himself onto the rope ladder and slithered down to the deck. As he reached it, the sub lurched violently and he fell as water washed around his feet and over the metal. Grabbing for a handhold, he could barely see the Seaview, but knew that the Admiral would be sending out a rescue boat. He just had to hang on…. another bullet ricocheted from the deck beside him, and looking up at the conning tower, he saw the Master silhouetted against the sky.
"You may think you have won this time, Captain, but there will be other battles in this war."
Lee watched helplessly as the Master lined the gun up once more. He had only one chance to survive this. Loosening his grip, he slipped into the icy sea. He felt the swell break over his head and coughed as he swallowed the salty liquid. He struggled to keep his head above the waves, but his already ravaged body was unequal to the task. Lee no longer felt the chill of the water and began to relax as the numbness spread through his body. No longer really knowing or caring what was happening, he was tossed around by the sea, hearing as if in a dream a distant rumble which heralded the death of a submarine. His last conscious thought was At least it wasn't the Seaview.
Chip Morton stood perilously close to the prow of the rescue boat, looking across the surface for his friend. Thank heavens Lee was wearing his Flying Sub jacket when he left, thought Chip. As long as he's still wearing it, it should have inflated as he hit the water. But in these freezing waters we need to find him quickly. They reached the last position of the enemy sub and Chip scanned the debris for signs of life.
"Mr Morton, over there!" Riley shouted, pointing to the right. Chip turned in the direction indicated. He could see Crane, floating, but face down in the water, motionless.
"Get this boat over there, Riley" Chip snapped, but the raft was already moving, and within a few seconds the crew were hauling their Captain out of the water. Crane didn't appear to be breathing. He was blue with cold and Chip felt for a pulse.
"It's there, but very faint. Come on, men, the Skipper needs warmth and the Doc." A few minutes later, Crane was being lifted carefully back onto Seaview. He was lowered onto a stretcher and the Doctor administered oxygen. He looked at Nelson.
"It's touch and go. He's hypothermic and has swallowed a lot of water. Probably inhaled some, too. I need to get him to sickbay at once."
A rush of volunteers to carry the stretcher paid tribute to the concern felt by the crew for their Skipper. Nelson motioned to Chip. "Stay with him, Chip. Let me know the moment there's any news."
A couple of hours later, the two men stood in the sickbay as Jamie outlined Crane's situation. He'd been wrapped in a thermal blanket and his core body temperature had returned almost to normal. His pulse was steady, if still a little weak, and he was breathing unaided. Apart from some bruising to his body and arms, he seemed uninjured.
"It was probably the low water temperature that saved him in the end," Doc explained. "The shock of sudden immersion made his body start to shut down. It's documented, but it's the first time I've ever seen it."
"This is the quietest I've seen him for a while. Will he be okay, Doc?" asked Nelson.
"The physical signs are good. We'll know more about his mental condition when he regains consciousness. I don't know how long that will take. At the moment it's almost like he's in a coma - I've not sedated him at all." Just then, Lee moved his head slightly and groaned.
The Admiral bent down to his young Captain, whose eyelids flickered open slowly. Nelson looked at him closely. Lee's eyes were unfocussed and he had a haunted expression.
"Lee, it's Nelson. Can you hear me?"
"Nelson…" Lee intoned. "Nelson is an enemy of the People's Republic"
"Lee - you're on Seaview. Try to remember."
Crane screwed his eyes shut. "Make it stop. Make the pain go away… I will make the course changes."
The three men standing above him exchanged worried looks. The Doc shook his head.
"I don't know what to do, Admiral."
They watched as Crane's body arched into spasm and he shouted in apparent pain. "I'll do what you want! Just tell me they'll be set free."
Realisation dawned on Nelson. "They must have told him that they only wanted Seaview. He bargained her for our lives. At the end, he realised he'd been lied to. No wonder he's in such distress. He can't reconcile it - you both know how deeply embedded Lee's senses of right and wrong are."
"But - we're here, and alive, so why is he struggling?" Chip was clearly bewildered by the Admiral's deductions.
"Lee thought he'd betrayed us so that they could get their hands on Seaview, but allow us to go free. Then we - I - sent him back to them, and they betrayed him in their turn. So he turned against them, to save us - and Seaview." The Doc nodded slowly in understanding.
"And as a result of what happened - men died. Lee would have heard their screams as the sub went down. We all know what that can do to someone's mind. It doesn't matter that they weren't his crew, or that they were about to do the same to us - he still feels the guilt." All three men were silent for a few moments, as they relived various missions on Seaview when situations had taken a turn for the worse, and men had died as a consequence.
Chip knelt by the bunk and touched Lee's hand.
"Hi pal. So you decided to come back, then?"
Lee turned his head and looked at Morton in dawning recognition. "Chip. Seaview - she's safe?"
Morton nodded. "And all the crew. Thanks to you, Skipper."
He closed his eyes again. "I can hear the screams, Chip. They died, because of me."
Chip opened his mouth to speak, but changed his mind. He just stayed there, maintaining the contact with his friend. Lee spoke again, very quietly. "But it wasn't me, was it?"
"No, Lee. It wasn't you. For a few days, it hasn't been you."
The Captain sighed, but didn't speak. After a few minutes, it was clear that he'd drifted off to sleep. Chip stood up and looked at the two older men. "What next?"
Jamie looked exhausted. "We wait some more."
The Captain had slept for several hours. Seaview was making preparations to berth at NIMR when he awoke. The Doc summoned both Nelson and Morton.
"Admiral… what happened? What am I doing in sickbay?"
"Lee, what do you remember?" asked Chip.
Crane shut his eyes and concentrated. A dreadful nightmare hovered around the edges of his mind but he didn't want to think about it. "I was at breakfast… I was talking to the Admiral, I had a coffee… we were going to plan the sampling schedule… that's about it. What... why are you looking at each other like that? What's been going on?"
Nelson, Chip and Jamie traded glances and Nelson smiled.
"It's been a tough few hours, Lee, and you were right in the thick of it. Right now, we're almost home. After we've docked, I want you to have some tests to make completely sure you're okay, then take some sick leave. We're not due to sail for another couple of weeks, so you'll have time to take things easy. And get some rest. That's an order."
"What tests? Admiral, I feel fine." Lee attempted to sit up, but fell back. "Okay, maybe I don't. But I want to know everything that's been happening!"
"All in good time, Lee, all in good time. Now, relax. Chip is about to berth Seaview in Santa Barbara. By the way, it's good to have you back." Nelson touched Crane briefly on the hand and disappeared through the door, closely followed by Morton as the Doctor fussed over his patient.
"Doc..." pleaded Lee. "Skipper, do what the Admiral ordered. Stay there and rest."
Crane lay back against the pillow and closed his eyes. He'd find out, sooner or later. Meanwhile, he really could do with a good snooze…
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