By Trisha Allen
The sea was choppy, with high, gun-metal grey waves flecked with white foam and spray. Strong winds and rain from a sky full of lowering clouds buffeted the small craft as it flew perilously close to the surface. The two men aboard knew that they were in a dangerous situation - darkness was closing in and they were lost.
"Try the radio again."
"Flying Sub to Seaview, come in. Seaview, do you read me?"
Static crackled over the speaker, but there was no response from their mother ship.
"See if you can get the wiring fixed. We've got no navigation system, and we don't know if anyone can hear the radio signals. I'm having trouble keeping us above the water. If we go down in this, there's no knowing how long we'll stay afloat."
The man in the co-pilot's seat swung round to the panel behind him and got up, staggering as the wind assaulted the vessel.
"I think we might have to ditch."
"No! We have to stay in the air as long as we can - we have no idea what state the hull is in."
Involuntarily, both glanced towards the rear of the vessel where a dark scorch-mark bore witness to the lightning bolt that had hit them a short while earlier.
"But we don't even know if we're heading in the right direction! That hit we took spun us right round."
"No, but we were heading back when we were hit, so we must be close to Seaview's last reported position. They'll be trying to contact us and will realise something's wrong. Now, see what you can do with that wiring."
Privately, the pilot was worried about their course. The heavy storm clouds obliterating the setting sun meant that he had no real idea which direction they were heading in. But there was no reason for them both to worry. He fought with the controls to keep the craft as steady as possible while the other man turned back to the wiring panel. He opened it up and looked in dismay at the sight before him. The wiring was blackened and seared, wisps of smoke drifting up into his eyes. Not much chance of fixing that, he thought, but nevertheless started to strip back cables and reconnect what he could. After a few minutes, during which time he'd been almost thrown across the deck on several occasions, he closed up the panel and re-took his seat.
"Try again," he suggested.
"FS-1 to Seaview, do you read me?"
"Mayday, mayday. Seaview, FS-1 is in trouble. Navigation dead. Possible radio failure. Our last known position - co-ordinates M23, L17, vector D, flying due south for your last reported location. Severe weather conditions. Suspect critical hull damage."
The co-pilot listened to the details of their situation. Who knows if anyone can hear us, he thought. But I'm sure we'll have to ditch soon, damaged hull or not.
No sooner had the thought crossed his mind than the pilot gave a yell.
"The controls have gone. We're going down!"
Despite its low level flight path, the Flying Sub hit the tips of the waves with a resounding crash and bounced along for several hundred yards like a child's skimming stone. Sparks and flames sprang from the various panels and, notwithstanding their safety harnesses, both men were flung about in their seats like rag-dolls. The vessel drifted to a stop and floated on the top of the sea, at the mercy of the waves and the storm. The lighting fizzled and fused, and the emergency generator started up, bathing the small cockpit in a dim and eerie light. Smoke began to drift around. Neither man moved.
In the silence, the radio crackled.
"Seaview to FS-1, we read you. What is your situation, over?"
Captain Lee Crane stood next to his radio operator and thumped his hand down on the top of the panelling.
"There must be something! They were just broadcasting. Try again, Sparks."
"Seaview to FS-1. Come in, please. Repeat, what is your situation, over?"
Nothing. The two men looked at each other.
"What was their last known position, Sparks?"
"Sir, according to Mr Morton's last message, they were way off where they were supposed to be. It's possible that electrical interference from the storm caused their global positioning to malfunction."
"That doesn't help us much." Crane sighed heavily. "We have no idea if they're alive, what damage they've suffered or even if they're still in flight. Can you get a fix between their last message and any earlier communications?"
"I'll try, Sir, but it might take a while."
"Do what you can, Sparks. I'm going to see the Admiral."
Crane headed towards the nose of the submarine and up the stairs towards the Admiral's quarters. Knocking on the door and hearing a voice from within, he pushed it open and entered the room.
"Ah, Lee. Any more news from the Flying Sub?"
Nelson was worried. Both Chip Morton and Chief Sharkey were his close friends, and they'd served together on Seaview for a long time - Chip Morton was in fact Seaview's longest-serving officer, having been on the complement since her first voyage. They should have been out on a routine reconnaissance mission, until a tropical storm had blown up out of nowhere. At the first sign of bad weather, Nelson had instructed them to turn back. The last message from the Exec had been that there was lightning all around them. Since then there had been no contact until the scratchy communication of a few minutes earlier.
Crane shook his head.
"Nothing. Admiral, I can't understand why Chip indicated they were still airborne. Surely it would have been safer for them to be submerged in a storm like that."
"We don't know what happened, Lee. Chip's an experienced pilot. He suspected hull damage. If that was the case, it could have been safer to stay in the air, otherwise they might have shipped water."
The Captain nodded slowly.
"Anyway, Admiral, Sparks tells me that their reported position was way out from where they should have been. I've got him attempting to get a fix on that message and their last known location. When we get that, we can set up a search pattern. Of course, if they transmit again, it'll be much easier."
"Good. Keep trying the radio, Lee."
Crane opened the door to go back to the control room.
"I'll let you know the moment we hear anything, Admiral."
Nelson nodded. As Lee closed the door behind him, the Admiral put down his pen, put his head in his hands, and prayed.
Lt Commander Chip Morton opened his eyes slowly and raised his head. Looking around the cockpit of the Flying Sub, he knew immediately that they were in serious trouble. The main power was out but the emergency generator had kicked in, providing some dim lighting and air circulation. Chip glanced to his right and saw Chief Sharkey lying on the deck of the cockpit, clearly unconscious. His harness must have torn loose, Chip thought. He unbuckled his own safety belt and got to his feet, fighting dizziness as he did so. Going to the Chief, he noticed a deep cut across the man's forehead, which was bleeding profusely. Chip turned to a locker behind him and got out a first aid kit, from which he extracted a pad and some plaster. Kneeling beside the Chief, he taped the pad across the wound and tried to make him more comfortable.
Having done that, he sat back on his heels and tried to evaluate their situation. At least the emergency generator was working. Who knows how long we'll be stuck here. Did that message get through? How long was I knocked out? Will the hull hold? A myriad of thoughts went through his mind.
Just then, the radio gave a burst of static.
"Seaview to FS-1, come in please, over."
Chip grabbed the microphone.
"FS-1 to Seaview, I read you, over."
"Chip!" Lee's voice echoed in the small sub. "What's happened? Are you and the Chief okay?"
Chip took a deep breath.
"It's not good, Lee." Morton's voice came back into the radio shack on board Seaview. The Captain frowned. Chip sounded distracted, distant, as though he wasn't entirely focussed on what he was saying.
"Chip, what's your situation?"
"Well, the main power's out, and the controls. The emergency generator's kicked in so we've got air and some lighting. Other than that, about the only thing working is the radio. I took a knock when we crashed; Sharkey's injured and in a bad way…" Chip's voice tailed off.
"Chip! Chip, stay with me. What else?" Lee demanded.
There was silence.
"Chip! FS-1, come in!" By now, the Captain was almost shouting into the microphone.
"Still here, Lee. Sorry… I just felt a bit dizzy for a moment. Although the air re-circulation is working, we've got a lot of smoke in here."
"You had me worried, pal. Look, just hold on. We're trying to get a fix on your position. We're going to come and get you, okay?"
"Lee, the hull - I'm not sure how long it'll hold. We're on the surface right now but without power I don't know how long we'll maintain buoyancy." After a pause, the Exec continued, "we've got about 5 hours of air left on the gauge, Lee."
"Okay, Chip. Report your condition every ten minutes. Sooner if you need to. We're on the way. Seaview out."
Crane looked at Sparks.
"Have you got a fix on their position?"
"Yes Captain. But they're a long way from Mr Morton's original flight plan." He handed the Captain a piece of paper with some co-ordinates written on it. Crane looked dismayed.
"This is nowhere near where they were meant to be. Their mayday signal said they were flying south. This suggests they were actually heading east. It's going to take us a good six hours to get to them, even at flank speed."
"They probably don't have six hours, Lee." The Admiral's voice came from behind him, and he spun round to see Nelson's worried face. "The emergency generator may not work that long, even assuming that it's not sustained any damage. Within five hours, their air supply will start to fail. We need to get there sooner."
"Admiral, I don't see how we can!"
"I'll go down to the reactor room. I may be able to channel some additional power to the engines. In the meanwhile we have to use every ounce of our capacity to make the fastest speed possible. Do what you can, Lee." Nelson turned on his heel and headed aft.
The Captain nodded. He moved forward to the plot table and charted their course, notifying Navigation of their new heading. Picking up the microphone, he addressed the crew.
"All hands, this is the Captain. The Flying Sub has crashed six hours north-east of our position. Mr Morton and Chief Sharkey are in a serious condition. We need to make as much speed as possible to recover them before their air runs out. I want all unnecessary power units turned off and all available capacity accessible for the engines. We're going to push this boat like she's never been pushed before. Captain out."
Throughout the submarine, the crew exchanged worried looks and began to think what they, or Seaview, could do without for the next few hours - anything so that the power would be available to channel into the reactor and increase the engine capacity. Crane had the lighting switched to emergency levels and a red glow suffused the working areas of the sub. In the circuitry room, Patterson watched closely as the dials began to fall, indicating a decrease in power consumption. He picked up the microphone.
"Admiral Nelson, this is Patterson."
"Go ahead, Pat."
"Power usage down by 35% throughout the boat, Sir."
"Excellent. Come down to the reactor room, Patterson, I need you to help me link up the extra capacity to the atomic pile."
"Aye aye, Sir."
Patterson left the circuitry room and headed down to where the Admiral was waiting. In the meanwhile, Sparks had called Captain Crane to the radio shack. The Flying Sub had made contact.
"Chip. What's your condition?"
"Not much change, Lee. At least the storm seems to have eased, but it's pitch-black out there. I think we're starting to lose the buoyancy - the water seems to be higher up the observation windows than before."
"He came round for a few moments but he wasn't lucid. He took a nasty crack on the head and he's drifting."
"And how are you?" Lee's worried tones came across the speaker in the Flying Sub, and Chip shrugged, forgetting momentarily that his friend couldn't see him.
"I'm okay but I'm getting light-headed. The air's a bit stale but I guess with all this smoke that's to be expected. How long will you be?"
The Captain frowned. He hadn't wanted to answer that question until he had something positive to say.
"Chip, we have a bit of a problem. Your GPS must have malfunctioned. You're a bit further off your flight plan than we'd thought, so it's going to take us a little longer to reach you."
"How long, Lee?"
"Lee, tell me."
"Possibly six hours, Chip."
There was silence in the radio shack for a few moments, then Morton's voice came over the intercom once more. It had changed. It was flat, lacking the slight inflection of hope that it had held just moments before. Lee cringed.
"Well, Skipper, I guess that means we're not going to make it."
"Chip, listen to me. We're channelling all available power to the reactor. We're pushing Seaview at emergency flank speed, and then some. We'll get there!" Lee urged.
"Okay. I'd better conserve what air we have. I'll make contact again in fifteen minutes. FS-1 out."
Lee Crane replaced the microphone and smacked his fist angrily into his open palm.
"Damn!" He picked up the mike again.
"Admiral, this is Crane. What's the situation with the reactor?"
"Lee, we're just building up the power to the pile. You should have an extra third of power within a few minutes. Have you heard from the Flying Sub?"
"Yes. Chip knows we're going to be cutting it fine."
Nelson scowled and watched as Patterson tweaked the last of the dials to increase the capacity of the reactor.
"That's an understatement. Lee, you should have that extra power now. Let's go get them."
"Aye aye, Sir."
Crane contacted Engineering and gave the order. "Engineering, all ahead, emergency flank speed. Push into the red by an extra third."
"Engaging now, Skipper."
Throughout Seaview, men felt the extra surge of power as the submarine ploughed through the water. Surreptitiously, they checked their watches as if by doing so they could make the boat reach her destination faster.
In the cockpit of the Flying Sub, Chip Morton checked again on Chief Sharkey. The man was becoming delirious, tossing and turning on the hard deck floor. He was rambling; jumbled, incoherent words that made no sense to the Exec. The pad on Sharkey's forehead was stained red, but Chip didn't dare remove it to check on the wound. Instead, he turned to the first aid kit and removed another pad, which he bandaged tightly over the first. He then looked up at the wiring panel, from which wisps of smoke were still drifting. Maybe I could get the auxiliary power to work, he thought. Then at least I'd have some manoeuvrability.
Chip stood up from where he'd been kneeling next to the Chief. The sudden movement caused another wave of giddiness to sweep over him. Dark spots danced before his eyes and he blinked hard, rubbing his hand across his forehead. There was a roaring sound in his ears and the already dim light in the cockpit faded to black. Chip gave in to the dizziness and closed his eyes, falling to the floor. He was unaware of the moment when the weight of his inert body landed on his arm, and didn't hear the ominous crack of breaking bone.
Once again, there was silence in the Flying Sub.
Twenty minutes later, Crane and Nelson were standing by Sparks in the radio shack, waiting impatiently as he continued his seemingly futile attempts to raise the Flying Sub.
"Something's happened, Admiral." Crane's face was tense and anxious as he turned to Nelson. "Chip knows he was supposed to make contact on schedule. He's five minutes overdue!"
Nelson nodded in frustration. "There's nothing we can do, Lee, other than try to get there as soon as we can. What's our ETA with the additional power?"
The Captain looked at his watch. "Just over four hours, Admiral."
Nelson spoke to Sparks. "Keep trying." Sparks nodded, and Nelson turned away so that the radio operator wouldn't see the concern etched on his face. What was happening out there?
Back on FS-1, Chip opened his eyes slowly. At first, he couldn't understand where he was; then he remembered and realised he was lying on his side. He could see Sharkey nearby. His head hurt - he must have banged it against the deck when he fell. But the over-riding pain was coming from his arm. Chip rolled over onto his back and an agonising pain instantly shot through him, almost causing him to black out once more. He felt sick, realising that now he had an injury to himself to worry about. Chip struggled to sit up, and glanced down. He could see immediately that his lower arm was badly swollen. Probably broken, he thought. He tried to move his fingers, but nothing happened, confirming his fears. He sighed and looked at his watch. Twenty minutes overdue for my contact call. I'd better try to get through… Lee will be worried.
As if on cue, the radio crackled into life and Sparks' voice reverberated around the cockpit.
"Seaview to FS-1, Mr Morton, do you read me? Come in, FS-1."
With a great effort, Chip stretched for the microphone from where he sat, managing to pull it towards him. He coughed violently. The air's definitely getting worse in here. He clicked the mike.
"FS-1 to Seaview, receiving."
"Chip. What's happening?" Chip could hear a rough edge to the man's voice. Lee's certainly concerned, he thought.
"Had a bit of trouble, Skipper." He coughed again, gasping as the motion jarred his injured arm.
"Talk to me, Chip," Lee ordered. He could hear the strain in the Exec's voice and knew that something was very wrong on board the other craft.
"The gauges show barely 3 hours of air left. I think one of the tanks must be leaking. Anyway, what we do have is contaminated by smoke. Sharkey's wound doesn't seem to want to stop bleeding…" Chip's voice faded as he started another coughing fit.
On Seaview, Crane was aghast. His friend sounded in a really bad way. Lee felt totally helpless. He didn't know what to do to make things any better for the Exec. He focused on the only positive thing he could say at that moment.
"Chip, we've increased power output to the engines. We'll be with you in…" he looked at his watch, "…less than four hours. You might have to use the scuba gear for the last few minutes."
There was no reaction. Lee tried again.
"Chip, did you hear me? If your air runs out, you'll have to use the scuba gear until we get to you. That means you'll have to help Sharkey."
"Skipper, I'll do what I can but that might be a bit tricky. I was late making contact because I blacked out. Must have fallen on my arm. Lee, I think it's broken."
Crane's heart sank. He knew how difficult it would be for the Exec to manhandle scuba gear with one arm, let alone the fact that he was already weakened through lack of oxygen.
"Chip, I'm going to talk to the Admiral - see if we can increase the engine capacity any more. We're on the way, pal. Just hang in there. Maintain contact - make the next call in fifteen minutes from now, okay?"
"Sure, Lee. Fifteen minutes. Morton out."
The Captain headed up to the Admiral's quarters. He knew that the Admiral was very anxious over the situation regarding the Flying Sub. The three senior officers and the Chief were all close friends, and had been through many scrapes together. But this seemed more serious, simply because the quartet was split - together, they were invincible; apart… Crane pondered on what they could do to reach their friends.
Arriving at the Admiral's cabin, he knocked quietly. The invitation to enter came instantly, and he opened the door. Nelson was sitting at his desk, paperwork strewn over it but no visible sign of activity. Cigarette butts overflowed the ashtray and Crane's eyes watered in the haze of smoke that filled the room. Nelson noticed the look on the Captain's face.
"I know, Lee, Doc'll have me for this."
"He won't hear about it from me, Sir." Lee entered the room and closed the door behind him. "I've just talked to Chip. Things are bad, Admiral."
Quickly, he filled the other man in on the events of the past few minutes. Nelson seemed to grow older before his gaze, and shook his head.
"Lee, I don't know how we can generate any more power. We're already pushing the reactor to its limits and beyond, and we've shut down everything we can to make that difference."
"There is one other thing we can try, Admiral." Nelson raised his head and looked at the Captain. He noted his own anxiety reflected in the face of the younger man and wondered what he had in mind.
"Go on, Lee."
"We could feed the power from our own air revitalisation unit into the engines."
Nelson stared at the Captain. Slowly, his mind began to compute what they would need to maintain their own air supply for the next four hours, and how much they could cut back. As Lee watched, the Admiral's expression began to change from that of defeat to one of possible victory.
"Let's do it. We can probably get another 10-15% capacity. I'll need Patterson to help me in Engineering. Send him down, please, Lee."
Crane stood up, happy to have another plan of action. "Chip should be making contact again shortly. At least this time I've got some good news for him. With any luck, they shouldn't have to use the scuba gear at all." He left the cabin and headed down to the control room.
"Patterson, go and join the Admiral in Engineering, would you? We've had another idea to get some more speed."
Patterson got up from his station on the hydrophones and Riley slipped into the vacant seat. Crane picked up the microphone and addressed the crew throughout the submarine.
"Attention all hands, this is the Captain. Mr Morton and Chief Sharkey are having some serious problems on board the Flying Sub. Their existing air is contaminated and they've got less than three hours left on the gauge. The Admiral and I have decided to divert some power away from our own air revitalisation units to enable us to increase speed once more. It'll mean that we'll find it a bit of a struggle ourselves over the next few hours but it's their only chance. I want no unnecessary talking or movement - nothing that'll use up our own air supply quicker than necessary. Needless to say, the smoking lamp is out until further notice. Captain out."
He moved over to the radio shack, having decided to tell Chip the promising news as soon as possible.
"Sparks, patch me through to the Flying Sub."
Moments later, Crane was explaining the latest plan to the Exec. "That means we should get to you just around the time you have to use the scuba gear, Chip. You know those tanks usually have some residue of air not shown on the gauges."
"You're right. And Sharkey seems to be less feverish; I'm sure we'll be able to keep going until you get here. It helps just knowing everything you're all trying to do, Lee." Chip felt sick and exhausted, but knew he had to maintain some degree of confidence and reassure his friend.
Over the next few hours, the Captain and his Exec maintained this basic contact between the Flying Sub and Seaview. Chip had managed to fashion a simple sling for his arm, and some painkillers he'd found in the first aid kit had dulled the throbbing for a while. But Lee grew more and more anxious about Chip as shock from his injury and the contaminated air slowly began to affect his rational thought processes. Nelson joined him in the radio shack at the next designated contact time. They weren't far away now and expected to see the Flying Sub on radar at any moment.
"Chip, this is Lee. What's the latest on your situation?"
"The generator packed up a short while ago. It's cold and dark. We've finally started to lose the trim. We're going down… how much longer, Lee?"
"We're almost there. Chip, what does the depth gauge read?"
"Chip, I'm listening. What does your depth gauge say?"
No response. Nelson grabbed the microphone.
"Mr Morton, this is Nelson. Report your condition immediately, over," he ordered abruptly.
Chip responded formally, as though repeating by rote the status of the Flying Sub.
"Admiral, this is the Exec. Flying Sub is losing trim. Air gauges indicate only 15 minutes of air left. It's so cold, Admiral… the Chief… I can't tell if he's breathing, Sir."
Crane listened in fear as the Exec's tone drifted into a whisper.
"Mr Morton, I want you to look at the depth gauge. What does it say?" Nelson snapped.
"Depth gauge - reading 250 feet."
"What is the condition of the hull, Mr Morton?"
"Mr Morton, you reported that the hull was damaged. Tell me its condition. Is it leaking water?"
"Admiral, there's some seepage - it must be cracked. But it's holding… just. There's water on the deck. The Chief's lying in it. I can't wake him."
"Mr Morton, put the microphone down. Go to the Chief and move him so that his head is up and away from the floor. Do it now, Mr Morton, and report back."
Nelson was talking calmly and clearly to the Exec, giving him simple orders that so far seemed to be penetrating the man's confused mind. A few minutes elapsed before Chip returned to the microphone.
"The Chief is away from the water, Admiral, but it's coming in quicker. It's about 6 inches deep."
"Mr Morton, go to the scuba gear. Get the oxygen tanks and strap them on. You'll need to maintain the Chief's airway if he's not able to do it himself."
"Admiral, I…" Chip sounded tired, his ability to think and speak was obviously deteriorating rapidly.
"Mr Morton, that's an order!" Nelson retorted sharply. Just then, Kowalski gave a yell from the control room. "I've got the signature of the Flying Sub on radar, Captain!"
Crane moved across to Kowalski.
"About six thousand yards. She looks to be sinking, though, Skipper. The external pressure's going to be building."
Nelson overheard the exchange. His immediate thought was that the hull might implode. He instructed Lee to switch on the external spotlights, then spoke again to Chip.
"Mr Morton, get that scuba gear on now!"
There was no reply. Nelson listened carefully. Everyone in the control room was willing the Exec to carry out the order. Once more, a few minutes had elapsed before there was a response. By now they were only a few hundred yards away.
"Okay, I've got an oxygen tank on us both. Flying Sub air gauges read empty. Depth is now 400 feet but we seem to be stationary. Water's coming in faster now…" once again his voice grew faint and tailed off.
"Chip - we're almost there. Look out of the observation window - you should be able to see our lights. Chip, look for Seaview's running lights!"
This time the silence from the Flying Sub was absolute.
Crane was looking at the topography of the ocean floor. It showed a small ledge in the vicinity of the Flying Sub's position. She must be sitting there, he thought. 400 feet - we can get a rescue team out!
He turned to Nelson.
"Admiral, we can get a diving party out. If we attempt to use the magnetic lifting gear, the down draught might send FS-1 off that ledge."
"Do it, Lee. Make it fast." Nelson waved him away and Crane turned back to the control room, calling for Kowalski, who was one of the Seaview's best divers. They ran down to the missile room, where Patterson, forewarned by Nelson, already had scuba gear and wetsuits waiting for the two men. Within minutes they were in the escape hatch and water was bubbling in around them. Kowalski cracked the hatch and they swam into the murky sea. Seaview's spotlights were illuminating the small craft, now only about one hundred yards distant. Crane swam quickly to the observation windows. He switched on his throat microphone.
"Admiral, do you read me?"
"Loud and clear, Lee. What's the situation?"
"I can see Chip and Sharkey. They appear to be unconscious but they're both in scuba gear. The water seems to be seeping in quite quickly - it looks about two feet deep. They're almost under. The hatch is just about accessible - the weight of the engines seems to be keeping the sub on the ledge. We're going to effect entry, Admiral."
"Be careful, Lee."
Crane motioned to Kowalski to undog the hatch. As he did so, the water from the cockpit drained into the air space but there was still more than enough inside to maintain a level several inches deep across the floor. The two divers scrambled up into the cockpit. Lee swallowed. He'd been correct - the two occupants were quite clearly unconscious. He knelt next to Chip, trying to find a pulse. His friend was very pale, with a large bruise on one side of his face and an obviously broken arm. He'd managed to get the oxygen tanks on both himself and Chief Sharkey before collapsing. Lee didn't like to think at what cost. Kowalski meanwhile was beside the Chief, whose head bandage was sodden with blood but who otherwise showed no indication of any other injury.
"Lee, how are they?" Nelson's voice came over the intercom in the cockpit. Crane thumbed his throat mike.
"They're alive, but they're both out cold, Admiral. It's going to be a struggle to get them down through the hatch. You might have to try the lifting gear after all. We just need a few extra inches of space away from the ledge. You might be able to give us that."
"Fine, Lee. I'll get that organised. Hold on."
Through the observation windows, Crane and Kowalski watched as Seaview manoeuvred closer to the Flying Sub. As she hovered above them, Lee felt the smaller craft move slightly. He spoke again.
"Admiral, we're shifting. Hold it there while I check outside."
He moved to the hatch and looked down. He could no longer see the rim of the ledge below the hatch, and realised that they had the opportunity they needed to get their friends out. He gestured to Kowalski to move Sharkey over to the hatchway. Kowalski slipped down into the water and Crane lowered the Chief down to him. Kowalski's voice came over the wetsuit intercom.
"Skipper, the Admiral's sent over another couple of divers."
Crane looked down through the water to see Patterson and Riley take the Chief's unresponsive body from Kowalski and begin to swim back to Seaview. He sighed with relief - that would certainly make things a lot easier. He moved back towards Chip and dragged his friend across the floor of the cockpit. As he did so, the Flying Sub moved again and he lost his balance in the swirling water, landing on his knees. He struggled to keep Chip from hurting himself any more but realised that as Chip was unconscious, regardless of what might happen, he had to make the effort to get them both out before the Flying Sub slipped from her resting place and plummeted to the floor of the ocean. He got to his feet again and pulled his friend to the hatchway. Kowalski was looking up anxiously. The Captain indicated that he was going to lower Chip down, and proceeded to do so. He slipped down into the sea himself and between the two of them, they swam the Exec back to the Seaview.
As the escape hatch opened, they saw the Doc tending Sharkey on the floor of the missile room. He'd been wrapped in a thermal blanket. Crane and Kowalski stripped the oxygen tank off the Exec before laying Chip down carefully on the deck next to him. They were taking off their own scuba gear and wetsuits as the Admiral hurried into the room.
"How are they, Doc?"
Jamie looked up from his position next to Chip.
"They've both got hypothermia and probably inhaled quite a lot of smoke. Sharkey's got a bad concussion and a nasty cut. It looks like he's lost a lot of blood but head wounds always seem worse than they are. A few stitches and he'll be fine. The Exec has a broken arm which I'll need to set, and he'll probably also have one heck of a headache when he comes round." He stood up and motioned to the corpsmen to get the two men onto stretchers and down to sickbay.
The men standing round the room gave a collective sigh of relief. The Admiral turned to Crane.
"Let's get that air revitalisation back up to full working order, Captain, and pass the word that all systems can return to normal running. Kowalski and Riley - come with me and we'll start recovery on the Flying Sub. Patterson - get to the reactor room and let me know when we're maintaining normal output. Doc - let me know when they come round."
A chorus of responses resounded around the room and everyone set off on their respective tasks.
A few hours later, Nelson and Crane headed down to sickbay, where Doc reported both Chip and Sharkey to have come through their ordeal with only minor injuries. Both were sitting up in their bunks and grinned at their friends as they entered the room.
"How are you feeling?" Nelson addressed both men, who looked at each other before Chip answered on their behalf.
"We're fine, Admiral. Doc's letting us both out of here on light duty tomorrow."
"That's good to hear."
"What about the Flying Sub, Skipper?" Sharkey enquired.
"We managed to recover it and we've identified the necessary repairs. We've got to dry her out before tackling the wiring, and the hull will have to be fixed in dry dock. There wasn't much holding her together by the time we got to you. It's pretty clear that the lightning strike knocked out your navigation system, which is why you thought you were heading back, when in fact you weren't. With that storm raging, you were right about having no opportunity to spot the sun and navigate by it." Crane stated.
"Well, next time there's a simple reconnaissance flight, I'll pass, thanks, Admiral," Chip commented. "This one turned out to be anything but simple."
"True, Chip. Seriously, though, it's good to have you both back on board. Captain…" he looked at Crane, "…let's give these men some space, and get this boat back to port."
"Aye aye, Sir!" All four men smiled, and the Exec and the Chief relaxed as the Admiral and his Captain left sickbay to get the boat on course for home.
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