"By Fates Ordained"

Cindy D. Baker

The sun warmed the day into perfection over Santa Barbara, California, its rays glistening in the waters next to the long, gray cylinder once known as "Nelson's Folly." Seaview bobbed lazily in her pen, the hub of much needed pampering by Institute engineers,while her crew embraced three weeks of well-deserved shore leave.

Upon hearing of a carnival in town, even her officers decided to take advantage of its hospitality to break up their well-practiced routine of reports, meetings, and maintenance.

Lee Crane and Chip Morton, commander and first officer of SSRN Seaview respectively, meandered past the colorful booths and persuasive sellers, eyeing their wares, delighting in the simple pleasure of talking about anything but the Gray Lady and her missions.

At the far edge of the festivities, a plain, mud-brown tent caught Chip's attention. Compared to the other multicolored booths, it was strikingly drab with telltale signs of a worn tarpaulin, seen even from Morton's distance. Chip, his curiosity getting the best of him, steered them towards it. Eyeing the tent as they neared, he arched an eyebrow as he read the sign in front of its entrance, "A Palm Reader!" he exclaimed.

Beside him, Lee looked up indifferently from the caramel corn he"d been munching on. "Only the fourth one we"ve passed so far," he said with light sarcasm.

"No, no...," Chip paused, crossing his arms and thoroughly scrutinizing the tent. "This one is different. This one looks like it means business." The blond man dug into his pocket as a mischievous glint came to his blue eyes. "I dare you twenty bucks to go in."

"Me? Why me? Why don"t you go in?"

"Because I'm happy where I am. You on the other hand," Chip gave him a devilish grin, "I'm curious as to whether you'll end up taking the Old Man's place at the Institute, or as a janitor in the Pentagon."

Lee gave his friend a double-take; he then finished off the popcorn with a wry grin of his own. "No one will ever replace Nelson at the Institute," he said with amused resolve.

"Yeah, but when he does go someone will have to serve as Executive Director and I"m betting it's you."

Wiping his hands on a napkin, the dark-haired man tossed it and the box into a nearby trash container. "Twenty, you say?" Lee reconfirmed, glancing between the tent and his Exec, the look of temptation on his face.

A sawbuck appeared in Chip's hand. "Yup."

In a blink of an eye, Lee snatched it from his friend"s raised hand. "You"re on," he announced with an impish grin. Striding to the tent entrance, he paused at the flap, peering inside. It was dark, but not for long as his eyes adjusted to the change in light conditions.

"Come in, sir," a deep, feminine voice invited. "Welcome."

Lee, his eyes now adapted, found a dark-haired woman sitting before a square table in the middle of the structure. In contrast to the plainness on the outside, colorful throw rugs covered the entire floor of the interior as numerous tapestries lined the walls, all seeming to emphasize the singular solid, red cloth that topped the table.

The woman herself was just as colorful. Much older than Crane, the kaleidoscopic of the surroundings only served to highlight her olive-toned face and dark, brown eyes made even darker against her stark white blouse.

"You have a question you want to ask of Madam Lucia?"

Her smile was warm and despite his misgivings, Lee found himself liking the woman.

"Or did a friend put you up to it?" her eyes sparkled knowingly.

Lee glanced over his shoulder as heat came to his face. He was glad it was too dark to see his embarrassment.

"Oh, don"t feel bad," Lucia said with a grin, as if reading his mind. "It happens all the time. Men, as much as women, want to know the future, they"re just more afraid to look. Come, sit down."

Stepping closer to her, Lee dropped ten dollars into the basket beside the table before lowering himself to the cushion that served as a chair. "My apologies, Madam. I didn't mean to offend."

Lucia waved her hand in dismissal. "Sticks and stones, Captain. The only real pain is when it comes from the heart." Taking Lee"s hands into her own, her expression turned serious as she studied them in detail. "You are right-handed," she said with much thought.

Lee frowned. Telling if a person was right- or left-handed was an old trick he had learned as a kid, and wondered if this was going to be more of a waste of time than he had originally thought.

"And although you don't look it," Lucia raised her head, staring searchingly into his eyes, "your hands show an ancient lineage. One filled with much chaos and strife." Her eyes seemed to peer deeper. "A bridge from north to south...Armenian, I'd say," she grinned before returning her attention to his hands.

Lee's heart leaped to his throat"she was right. Most people were unaware, and even so more surprised, when they found out he was of Armenian descent.

Dropping his left hand, Lucia brought his right one closer to her. "You will meet a blonde; a woman with a fiery soul. You will help each other."

Lee grinned modestly. Sailors were well known for their romantic pursuits and he was of no exception. "I've met a lot of blondes, Madam, how will I know this one from the others?"

Lucia looked at him, her eyes level with his, her expression serious. "You have already met," she said, "It was your path that sent her onto hers," causing Lee"s grin to fade as his heart began to race. "Your fates are already joined," she solemnly continued, her eyes never wavering from his, "but not necessarily together."

Not liking where this was going, Lee began to withdraw his hand, "Madam, I-", but Lucia held onto it, curling his fingers tight into her own.

"There is another," she persisted. "Her heart is as cold as steel and she will give you her heart, yet will want even more in return, but beware! Do not give in to her even a little, or she will take it all."

Lee's mind instantly hardened towards the fortuneteller as his objectivity evaporated. It was already modern folklore how ships and submarines captured the hearts of the men who served on them, and since he was wearing his uniform, it wasn't a prediction as much as a statement of common belief.

"I think I've heard all that I need to hear, Madam Lucia," Lee said, his dry tone convening his thoughts as he stood, withdrawing his hand, this time with success. "Good-bye." Lee spun on his heels, not giving her time to protest as he hastily joined Chip outside.

"So what did she say?" Chip asked, hiding his smirk behind a stalk of cotton candy. "Are you going to become Director of the Institute, or President of the United States?"

"Neither," Lee relayed, in none too happy terms. "She said I would meet a woman with a steel heart who would take all that I have to give."

"Sounds like Seaview."

"Exactly!" Lee spat angrily.

"Wrong, Captain!" Madam Lucia's mellow voice rang out behind them, causing the two men to whip around. "This is why people are so skeptical of us; they never get their readings right." She shook her head as she walked towards them. "It is not of your submarine I refer to although she has caused you much pain and heartbreak, and joy as well. No...," Lucia's eyes once again fixed on Lee's. "This woman will not view the sea as you do," she warned her voice somber. "Take heed of her."

Lee stiffened. "Then tell me who she is so I can avoid her."

Lucia again shook her head, frowning. "No, for it is your choice that leads you to your future, and yours alone. However, take heed for it will be the crossroads of your life."

The fortuneteller's penetrating gaze shot to Chip, causing the man to feel like he was made of glass.

"I see much doubt in your friend's eyes." A slight smile came to her face. "You, sir, will be gray before you want to be." Looking back at Lee, her smile disappeared. She then, glancing between the two, gave them each a courteous nod. "Enjoy the day, officers," she said, turning towards her booth.

Watching as she walked away, neither friend said anything for a moment. Then seeing the tight expression on Lee's face, Chip broke the spell by giving him a nudge.

" don't really believe that hocus-pocus she gave you, do you?"

"No, not at all," Lee fired back, too quickly for Chip"s taste. "Come on, let's get back to Seaview."

On their way to the Nelson Institute, Lee Crane pushed the soothsayer's predication out of his mind. Yet, as hard as he tried, he couldn't vanquish the one lingering question that haunted him: How did she know I was Armenian? Most people guess I'm Italian or Greek.


Admiral Harriman Nelson leisurely accompanied Doctor Stella Glacier as they strolled nowhere in particular amidst the carnival grounds and its fairgoers. As they passed a very loud and annoying barker, Harry used the moment to observe his golden-hair companion. The young woman didn't seem to notice, or even hear the aggressive caller, appearing disinterested in all that was going on around her.

"You haven't said much since we got here, Stella," Harry said with concern. "Aren't you enjoying yourself?"

"Yes, I am," Stella nodded. But Harry noticed she avoided looking at him, concentrating instead on sucking down the last of her ice cream drink. "I can't remember the last time I had a root beer float or a corn dog. I'm enjoying them both very much."

He also heard a lack of conviction, despite her insistence. "But...?" he asked knowingly, waiting for the answer like a patient parent. As he did so, he watched Stella raise a hand to finger the oval, gold locket around her neck.

Peering at the carnival activities, Stella frowned, letting out a sigh that was long and deep. "But I had expected to be here with Brianna," she confessed, her voice full of sadness. "It's just not the same without her."

"Which is exactly why I brought you here. You can't keep shutting yourself off from the world, Stella. You have to get people...get some sun," he said, in no uncertain terms. Harry knew he was pushing the matter, but he had to, for her sake.

"I've been working towards my doctorate," she replied with indifference. "I don't call that shutting myself off." Veering by a trash can, she dropped the empty soda cup into it.

"You're using it as an excuse."

"I'm using it to live!" she snapped, her eyes hard. "It's the only thing I've got left!" She looked away, but Harry had already seen the pain on her face; the pain she hid from everyone, including him.

"You've got me," Harry said, and he meant it.

Stella laughed, but it was short and brittle. "My Dutch uncle to the rescue, is that it?"

Harry raised his head, feeling indignant. "And why not?"

"I haven't seen you in years, then all of sudden you show up at Brianna's funeral? Come on, Uncle Harry, that's a clich'e of the worst kind."

Harry's face clouded over as his Irish temper rose. "Somebody had to be there for you, and damn it, if your father wasn't, I wanted to be!"

"I can tak-"

"No!" He waved his hand impatiently. "Let's not get into "I can take care of myself" bit again. It's too beautiful a day to argue about that. I know you can take care of yourself, you've been doing it since you were eleven when your mother died."

Stella cringed. One bad memory was all she could handle in a day. Gazing down at her folded hands, she knew what was coming next; she just didn"t want to hear it. "So why did you bring me here?" she asked, her tone full of suspicion.

Harry shook his head and chuckled. Even at age five, she never pulled her punches with him. "I want you to join the Institute," Harry said in all seriousness.

"No." Stella shook her head hard. "You only asked because you feel sorry for me."

Harry felt his temper once more on the rise "the young woman could irritate him no end sometimes" but he nonetheless pushed it aside. "All right, I do feel sorry for you."

Stella stopped dead in her tracks, her eyes wide, stunned with hurt as she gaped at him.

"But only on a personal level," Harry quickly clarified, stopping to face her. "However, I'm asking to hire you on a professional level."

"A professional level?" Stella cocked her head, her eyes narrowing as if it were a con. "I don't understand."

"Doctor," Harry emphasized with restrained patience, "despite what you think, I've been watching you for years now. You've proven you have a gift in your field. It's a gift I want to put to work at the Institute."

Stella, feeling her pride kick in, withheld giving an immediate answer, choosing instead to continue their wandering. She and Harry had become close in the months since Brianna's death, but she despised the reasons behind it. "I can't," she said. "I've already taken a position with the University."

"Yes, yes, oh, I've heard about that position," Harry said in that subtle tone of sarcasm only he could deliver. "Strictly research, analyzing samples other people send back."

"That's what I'm good at, Uncle Harry."

"Stella, that's not for you! You love the water. Exploratory research is what I'm talking about. Diving to places many of your colleagues are afraid to go. Taking a chance and finding out what truth lies at the bottom of the ocean; not sitting back and waiting for the stuff to come in by people who don't know the difference between a tube worm and a starfish!"

Frowning, Stella glanced at the drab, timeworn tent they stood in front of "the same booth Crane and Morton had visited a short time before" and shook her head. "I've already signed a one year contract."

"I can take care of that."

"No!" Stella responded fiercely, surprising Harry. "If I go with the Institute, I don't want any favors. I don't want people to say my achievements were due to help from you, or because . . ." she winced, "because I'm Admiral O"Toole's daughter. I have to do this on my own."

Leaning back on his heels, Harry studied her long and hard. She had a stubborn streak he hadn't noticed in her before. "Agreed. A year then?"

"Agreed," Stella answered easily, gazing vacantly out at the grounds.

Too easy, Nelson noted, fearing she would later renege on the deal. Behind her, the sign before the brown, weathered tent caught his eye. "You still don't believe I'm sincere, do you?" he asked, an impish grin appearing.

With a look of guilt, Stella peered away. Too many people had let her down to make her trust in anything anymore. "I believe you're sincere," she said. "It's just your reasons behind it that make me wonder."

"All right." Harry nodded, indicating the brown tent a few yards from them. "As a superstitious old Irishman, I dare you to find out." A ten appeared in his hand.

Following his lead, Stella glanced between him and the tent. "A palm reader? You've got to be kidding!"

"You're of Irish blood. You believe in fate and destiny, and all that stuff." Taking her hand, he shoved the money into it. "Ask someone who knows."

Stella clinched her teeth. Harry was patronizing her and she knew it. She also hated it. Once again, her eyes hardened, but this time with determination. "Fine. Wait here!" she ordered over her shoulder as she marched towards the tent.

Raising the entrance flap, Stella paused, allowing her gray eyes to adjust to the darkness.

"Hello," the woman inside greeted with a warm smile.

"Hello," Stella returned, feeling her anger dissipate at the woman's kind face and friendly welcome. Self-consciously putting the money in the basket beside the table, Stella then took a seat on the cushion. Aware of the woman's studious eyes on her, Stella felt redness come to her cheeks.

"My name is Madam Lucia," the older woman announced, her voice low. "I see much pain and confusion in your face."

"I tend to wear my feelings on my sleeve." Stella frowned, channeling her gaze about the room to counter her uneasiness.

Lucia took Stella's chin in a soft, gentle hand and turned the young woman's face to her. "As well as your love and your passion. Don't ever forget that they can be even more attractive than beauty."

Stella's heart began to beat fast as she gazed at the fortuneteller's face. There was no hint of deceit in the woman's expression.

Lucia next moved her hands to Stella's. Turning the thin appendages upwards, she leaned in close, examining them. "You do a lot with your hands," she stated with assurance. "You are precise, methodical. You also need to eat more," she teased, raising her eyes to Stella's; pleased to find she had gotten a faint smile from the young woman. Her expression again turned serious.

"You trust your hands more than you trust people which is why you carry a heavy heart." Lucia felt Stella flinch, but held on, continuing to gaze at her palm. "You've had a lonely life, but that is about to change," Lucia nodded, her brow folded in thought. "I see many . . ." the woman hesitated, unsure and frowning at her own confusion. "You are surrounded by a lot of people...many changes are coming up. A new job possibly."

"With all due respect, Madam," Stella cut in, jerking her hand away. "You overheard me talking outside with my uncle."

Lucia cocked an eyebrow then nodded towards the entrance. "Can you hear him?"

Curious as to what she meant, Stella turned around. Outside the tent, several yards away, Admiral Nelson and another man were talking, even laughing at times, but most of the conversation was lost in the distance between them and the structure. Even Harry's boisterous laughter was barely audible. Stella's head whipped back to the grinning woman; her astonishment saying everything.

"Now." With a smug look, Lucia retook Stella"s hand. "As I was saying...and there will be...." She shook her head, uncertain. "I also see someone in your life. Ah," she smiled, "a man. I'm embarrassed to say this, but he is tall, dark, and handsome." Peering at Stella, Lucia gave her an apologetic shrug. "It was bound to happen someday."

Stella's stomach tightened. She didn't like where this was going

"The changes surround him as well."

Her expression hardening, Stella tugged her hand away. "Enough."

But Lucia held firm. "There is more."

"I don't want to hear more."

"You have to, Domicella!"

Stella froze, staring wide-eyed into the face of the fortuneteller: no one knew her middle name! No one!!

"There is a turning point coming in your life. A big one. I see water." Lucia's brow furrowed as she drew Stella's palm closer. "You and water are connected, but this time, there is much more, much more." She then cocked her head as if doing so would make it clearer. "Turmoil...and danger. Maybe even death." Lucia's head snapped up. "Your destiny is joined to this one man, but that does not mean for all eternity."

Feeling Lucia's eyes bear into hers, Stella felt a chill run down her spine.

"It is a fate neither of you will be able to change except to effect those around you." Reaching over, Lucia grasped Stella's other hand, holding it firm, her voice gentle. "Trust in yourself, and do not be afraid to fight for what you love."

Stella swallowed hard. She didn't have the strength for another failed relationship.

As if reading her mind, Lucia leaned into her. "You want children. I see that in your palm, as well as your eyes."

Her words stung more than Stella wanted to admit, and she bit her lip to keep the pain from showing.

But the hurt wasn't lost on Lucia. Standing, the woman squatted before her client. "Domicella," her voice was tender, as though talking to a child.

Hearing her name, Stella's heart pounded as her eyes locked onto Madam's.

"Domicella," Lucia said with a warm, tender smile, "the path you take will determine whether you will be a successful scientist," her grin got bigger, "a successful wife and mother, or -"

Stella's heart dropped like a stone, pulling her hand away from the baffled woman. "I've already been a wife and mother," she said sadly, staring down at her own palm. "So I guess that leaves -" looking up, Stella's insides went cold: she was alone in the room! Whipping about, frantic, Stella found the tent was empty; the fortuneteller was positively gone!

"Oh...hell..." Stella swallowed hard, stood, scrutinizing every inch of the tent as her shaky legs carried her to the entrance. Nobody she knew could disappear that fast!

Stella ran outside to where the Admiral and his friend had just parted company, anxiously latching on his arm. "Harry! Did you see the fortune teller leave?"

Seeing her flushed face, Harry raised a befuddled eyebrow. "She could have, I don't know. I wasn't paying attention. Why?"

"I need a drink! Is there a beer tent anywhere around here?"

"I-" Harry wanted to ask more, but his questions were thwarted when Stella unceremoniously dragged him towards the giant beer can in the distance.


Arriving at Seaview's dock, the two senior officers started examining the fresh paint job being applied to their Gray Lady.

"Looking good, Kowalski," Crane called up to the crewman on the sail.

"Thank you, sir!"

A few feet away, Chip stepped around the conning tower to inspect the other side when his eyesight was suddenly obliterated, followed by panicked shouting from overhead.

"Mr. Morton! Sir!" sputtered the horrified Patterson. "I'm sorry! I'm really, really sorry!!" "The board must not have been level."

Chip reigned in his anger as he pushed the paint away from his eyes. Patterson was a good man, and rarely messed up; he just wished he hadn't messed up this time.

Lee, having heard the commotion, hurried around the sail, stopping short and tried hard not to laugh, but it wasn't every day he saw Chip wearing gray paint. Gray paint! Lee stared dumbfounded at his Exec. "Chip, you're wearing gray paint!"

"Tell me something I don't already know," Chip growled as he gazed over the side of Seaview, wondering if the salt water would at least take off most of the paint.

"No," Lee said, ignoring Chip's sarcasm. "The psychic at the carnival, she said you would be gray before you knew it."

The two men peered at each other, speechless.

Feeling a drip drop from his forehead, Chip cleared his throat. "Guess I'll get started with that paint thinner," he said in his usual stoic tone. "I guess I should be grateful it didn't happen on Friday when I have my date," he added as he walked away.

Lee felt a chill run through him. He wasn't a superstitious man, but thinking back to the carnival and Madam Lucia, he became uneasy. In trying to remember what she had said, Lee found, to his annoyance, that his self-induced brainwashing had worked, and he remembered nothing about her predications --- only the severity of her warning.

Gazing thoughtfully into the water he loved so much, Lee Crane could only hope that Lucia's warning had been more exaggerated than it had sounded at the time....

...their fates were sealed...

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