VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA
By Cindy D. Baker
In the dark depths of the Pacific Ocean, the SSRN Seaview gracefully cut through the currents as, inside her Radio Shack, two of her officers stood listening attentively to the man on the other end of the radio transmitter: "…between Dr. Matteo's appendicitis and Dr. Rossovich's pneumonia, we've decided it would be best to postpone the project, Admiral," relayed Peterson, third in command of Project Ice Cap.
Shooting a glance at Lee Crane beside him, Admiral Harriman Nelson did his best to understand, at the same time hide his agitation. "Did the doctor say how long they would be out?"
"Matteo's out for six weeks at least, and it's hard to say about Rossovich. A week, maybe two, possibly even three."
"All right," sighed Nelson heavily. "Nothing we can do about it. Not with both of the top men in charge of the project out ill. Seaview heading for home till further notice. Give my best to David and Chet. I'll contact them soon. Seaview over and out."
"I will, Admiral. Over and out."
With regret, Nelson dropped the mike stand back onto Spark's table, then looked at Lee. Six days out, six days back to port—a wasted trip on all accounts, the scroll on the his face read. Crane knew, because he felt the same way.
"Take her home, Captain," the Admiral then grudgingly commanded.
"Aye, sir." Turning to carry out the order, Lee nearly fell on his face, halting his sudden descent by grabbing onto the shoulder of the nearest crewman. The lights had unexpectedly blinked off, and consequently on again several times—too fast for even the emergency lighting to kick in—causing the Control Room crew to look up and around in curiosity and concern.
"Interesting," muttered Crane as he back-tracked to the Radio Shack, picking up the mike the Admiral had just put down. "Engineering, this is the Captain. The Control Room lights just blinked. Any ideas what that was all about?"
"Engineering…we're getting reports that the lights went out all over the boat, skipper, but nothing showed up here on our boards."
From behind his shoulder Crane heard the Admiral say: "Probably just a loose wire. I wouldn't worry about it. They can check Seaview out once we get home."
Agreeing with him, Crane clicked opened the mike. "Carry on, Engineering. Note the problem on the repair schedule, and check it when we get to port."
Clicking off the mike, Crane followed Nelson to the plot table where the perturbed Admiral grabbed the log book from its slot underneath, and hastily scribbled into it two words: "Mission postponed".
"Project Ice Cap" had been a two-fold project that Harriman Nelson had been planning for months. He and Rossovich had developed a coating which, when perfected, would greatly reduce echoes and reverberations of active pinging from opposing warships. They were to test the coating's endurance in the freezing Antarctica waters while simultaneously assisting Ross' friend and competitive colleague, Dr. Matteo, set up a research station in Antarctica's region known as "Dry Valleys". Discovered in 1903, no scientist had yet done any type of extensive research on the area, and Matteo was chomping at the bit to be the first.
Harry had looked forward to the coating's final testing as well as to the future progress of the research center—but now all he felt was disappointment.
Returning the book to its slot, he grumbled to Seaview's Captain: "I'll be in my office making a full report," as he turned towards the forward stairs.
"Aye, Admiral," replied Crane, searching for the pencil he knew he had left there.
Reaching the circular stairs the Admiral then paused, thoughtfully resting one foot on the bottom rung. "Lee? Chip's vacation is almost up, isn't it?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact, it is. Originally he was supposed to catch up with us at the research site, but now…."
"We're heading back to port, why not swing by Hawaii and pick him up? Save him a plane flight."
"Sounds good to me," smiled Lee. "I'll have Sparks radio him just as soon as I fix our course." Spotting the missing pencil on the deck, the Captain bent down to pick it up just as the room plunged into a second round of darkness, much to the disapproval of the officers.
"I hope that doesn't do that the entire trip back," Lee frowned, worriedly tapping the retrieved pencil.
Nelson grinned. Lee Crane never liked leaving unexplained details alone. That flaw was what made him such a good officer. "I wouldn't worry about it," he said, continuing up the stairs. "You know where I'll be if you need me," he called, disappearing onto the next level.
Chip Morton's head popped up from the warm Pacific water, hastily gulping air back into his protesting lungs. This was his sixth trip between two designated landmarks, which to his accounting added up to a healthy two mile swim. Not bad considering I could only do a quarter of a mile my first day of vacation, he grinned, self-satisfied.
Stepping onto the shore, Chip grabbed the towel from the lounge chair, drying off as he looked over the scenic landscape of the Hawaiian beach front hotel.
Chip loved it here. Not only was it beautiful, and off the beaten trail with few tourists, but also for sentimental reasons. His family had been coming here since he was a toddler, even before there was a hotel. An only child, he had spent many hours here, fishing and swimming with his dad, listening to him talk about Navy life; talk that easily convinced the impressionable boy to follow in his father's footsteps. Some day, Chip even hoped to retire here.
Flinging the towel over the back of the chair, Chip then dropped into it, enjoying the sun as warmed his wind-chilled skin. Drowsy from the work-out, he closed his eyes, thinking back to the vacations with his family. Those were good times, he grinned as he let himself drift off to sleep.
Sleep came quickly, but so did the dreams. The same unsettling dreams he'd been having for months now—only more of them—all passing in the blink of an eye…
"…WHAT'D YOU DO TO YOUR HAND?" HE SAID TO LEE CRANE IN THE CONTROL ROOM. "I GOT A SPLINTER IN IT WHEN SHE TIPPED," LEE ANSWERED. "HURTS LIKE THE DEVIL…."
"CHIP, IS THE FLYING SUB READY FOR LAUNCHING?" LEE MUNDANELY ASKED….
LEE GRINNED, "IF YOU FEEL YOURSELF GOING TO SLEEP, LET ME KNOW I'LL SEND YOU DOWN SOME COFFEE…."
"SIR, THEY'RE STILL WORKING ON THE BELL IN NEW LONDON," CHIP TOLD NELSON AS HE TIGHTLY CLUTCHED THE EMERGENCY AXILLARY PHONE….
"TIGHT AS A DRUM, SKIPPER," CHIP TOLD LEE. "NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT THERE…."
"ANY FAST MANEUVERING AND THIS OLD SUB IS GOING TO BE THE SEA AND THE VIEW WITH BOTH ENDS GOING IN OPPOSITE DIRECTIONS," CHIP EXPLAINED TO LEE.
"MISTA MORTON," LIEUTENANT GENET STARTED, "WE'RE DOIN' THE BEST WE CAN…"
FEARFULLY CHIP ASKED LEE: "WILL WE GET ENOUGH BUOYANCY TO SURFACE?…."
"CORRECTION—WE'RE DEAD IN THE WATER….!" LEE SNAPPED AT CHIP.
CHIP APPROACHED LEE: "WE'RE STILL GETTING ELECTRONIC INTERFERENCE." "CAN'T YOU TRACK IT DOWN?" CRANE DEMANDED…
"…MISTER MORTON!" KOWALSKI YELLED FRANTICALLY FROM THE HYDROPHONES. "Mister Morton!" but this time Ski's voice was detached; not lip-synched nor matching the action on the sub… "Commander Morton," the detached voice called again, only more insistent this time. And louder. It was then that Chip's consciousness kicked in. Acknowledging that it was not part of the dream, he was slowly pulled back to reality, and onto the white Hawaiian beach.
"Commander Morton," the voice said again.
Lifting a sleep-laden eye, Chip then blinked them both open at Aikane, the dark-skinned lad who stood over him.
"I apologize for awakening you, sir," Aikane expressed sincerely. A teenager, he and Chip had known each other since the boy could crawl. "But you asked me to remind you when it was three o'clock so you wouldn't be late for your date with Miss Tish."
"Thank you, Aikane," Chip replied, trying to wake himself up. He felt more tired now than when he had sat down.
"Also, Commander," the boy paused, pulling a note from his pants front pocket. "We received a message from your ship, ah, boat," he quickly corrected. "I thought it might be important so I brought it to you personally, sir…" and flashed Chip a big, knowing grin, "instead of leaving it at the front desk where it could easily have gotten lost."
Chip grinned too. He knew the message probably wasn't important, but they both knew Chip tipped him well for these little amenities. It was a game they played every time he came for a visit.
Taking the message, the officer quickly scanned it, a pleased look coming to his face. "Looks like I won't have to take a plane out after all. Seaview's coming to pick me up." Glancing at his watch, Chip's grin instantly vanished. "Holy smokes, I'll be late if I don't get a move on!" Jumping to his feet, he began gathering his possessions when he suddenly remembered the teenager. Padding his pockets for a tip, Chip quickly realized he was wearing his swim trunks, and gave the boy an apologetic look. "Catch you later?"
Aikane smiled knowingly. "Most certainly, sir."
Giving him a friendly wink, Chip hurried to hotel.
Five days later, Lieutenant Commander Charles "Chip" Morton stood motionless on the dock, looking out at the sleek beauty of the Seaview as she made her way into the bay, and towards the dock that would serve as her berth during the lay-over. The man never got tired of watching her sail, and his chest always filled with pride knowing that he was one of the few men who commanded the futuristic submarine.
But today, as he waited for her arrival, he watched the sub with apprehension—apprehension caused by the dreams that had again reoccurred last night. The dreams were a combination of old experiences, and new, unfamiliar dramas which Chip had barely remembered upon awakening. The one thing he did remember is that they all centered around Seaview and her crew.
But last night's dream was different. He couldn't remember why or how, all he knew was that he was afraid.
Alone in Seaview's Control Room, Lee Crane scrutinized the latest reports handed to him by Damage Control and Engineering before departing on their twenty-four-hour liberty. Each department had gone over the boat with a fine tooth comb, but had found nothing, yet the intermittent blackouts still annoyingly continued.
Hearing a soft thud behind him, the Captain jumped, spinning towards the noise. On the floor at the foot of the sail hatch ladder lay the familiar-looking duffel bag he had gotten to know well over the years. Delighted to be seeing his first officer and good friend again, Lee walked over to the ladder, and peered up just as the Control Room fell into darkness.
"Not again," he groaned as the lights blinked on.
From halfway up the ladder, Chip paused, lowering his head below deck ceiling level. "Permission to come aboard, Captain?" he smiled lightly, scanning the deck with some concern.
Lee quickly returned the smile. "Hello, Chip! Welcome back! How was your vacation?"
"Great!" he replied, jumping the last few rungs to the deck. "Is it my imagination, or did the lights go out there for half a second?"
"No, we have a loose wire somewhere on the boat. It's been doing that for days, and we can't find the source. We'll do a thorough run-through when we get back to home port." Lee cocked his head. "I have to say for a man who just got back from vacation you look like you could use another one. Anything wrong?" Then couldn't keep from smiling. "Or is there something right?" he teased.
Chip grinned, faintly blushing. Lee knew he would be seeing Patricia Sweetly, Nelson's former secretary, this trip. "No, Tish's fine, and sends her greetings. I just haven't been sleeping well lately."
"Ah, you missed us," Lee feigned sentimentally.
"Don't you wish!" Chip joked before turning serious. "So what's the story with Project Ice Cap?"
"It's been postponed. Doctor Matteo-" The sudden steep pitching of the deck annihilated the rest of his explanation as both officers, thrown off balance, automatically reached out to save themselves. Grabbing the railing of the periscope island, Chip managed to hang on, swinging himself around to the side while Lee, attempting a similar maneuver, wasn't as successful; his grasp skimming the bar as he flew past the island into the fathometer chair, where he finally regained his balance.
"Now what's wrong with her?" he demanded, looking dazed at his beloved vessel, at the same time sucking the edge of his thumb.
Noticing the injury, Chip nodded at it. "What'd you do to your hand?"
"I got a splinter in it when she tipped."
Suddenly Chip felt an icy chill go through him—he had heard this conversation before.
"Hurts like the devil," Lee continued. Looking up, he did a double-take at his friend, who had lost color. "What's wrong, Chip?"
"I feel like I've been through this before."
Crane grinned. He could relate to that. After years at sea, all sailors ran through their course of unexplained happenings, tails of sea monsters, and the feeling of deja vu, himself included. "And on which pitching would that be?" he ribbed good-naturedly, though misunderstanding the comment. "Tip one-hundred and forty-seven, or one-million and two?"
But Chip hadn't heard; his mind locked on trying to remember his next line in the bizarre play: "Why don't you go see the Doc, and get it taken care of?" he asked slowly, unsure.
"Tell you what," Lee said, pushing himself out of the chair. "How 'bout I fill you in on the way to Sick Bay?"
Stiffly nodding, Chip scooped up his bag, and fell into step beside Lee as the officer caught him up on current events.
But Chip barely heard any of it. One of his nightmares had just come true…Would more be forthcoming? he asked himself as a shudder ran through him.
At 18:20 hours that night, Chip Morton reluctantly retired to his quarters at the Captain's insistence, but as he already knew, as most people in the world knew, that getting a good night's sleep was more a matter of luck than of control.
After having changed for bed he sat on his bunk, debating what to do next. Grudgingly his thoughts turned to his nightmares. He hadn't really thought about them since the incident that morning, nor had he forgotten about them either. But now back in his quarters, he had no way to escape them.
What he could remember of them, bits and pieces of them, were nothing to be afraid of, yet the type of fear he had experienced last night had penetrated his very soul. The fear you have when you've faced something terrible, such as death.
And Chip already knew that fear well. He had faced it many times on Seaview. What he couldn't understand is why death would manifest itself in his dreams now, when everything around them was calm, with no impeding threats from anyone or anything to put them on alert.
Stretching out on his bunk, he pulled from the recesses of his memory what he could remember from his classes at the Academy: Psychiatrists had theorized that nightmares were issues the awake consciousness couldn't yet deal with. Yet he had realized a long time ago that after so many close calls, he would either have to resign from submarine duty, or face the death factor. For him there was no choice. He'd rather die in the middle of the ocean then sit around feeling his arteries harden…Chip's eyes closed, taking him into the lull of sleep, and into the nightmares of his dreams…:
"I WOULD IF I COULD FIND THE SOURCE, BUT I CAN'T!" SPARKS YELLED. " I DON'T KNOW WHERE OR WHAT IT IS!"
"THE HULL WON'T TAKE THE STRAIN!" HE YELLED AS HE AND CRANE FOUGHT THE MANEUVERING CONTROLS. "WE'RE GOING DOWN AGAIN—THIS TIME WE WON'T BE COMING UP!"…
"THIS CHICK IS FALLING APART AT THE SEAMS," RILEY STATED FROM THE CONTROL ROOM FLOOR….
"IS HE STILL ALIVE?" CHIP ANXIOUSLY ASKED DOC ABOUT THE UNCONSCIOUS LEE. "BARELY" THE DOC RESPONDED….
CHIP WAS IN THE CONTROL ROOM WORKING ALONG SIDE LEE… ONLY A FEW OF THE DECK CREW WERE THERE, AND THOSE THAT WERE, WERE UP AND ABOUT, TALKING AND LAUGHING… STARTLED BY SOMETHING, HE AND CRANE LOOKED UP AND AROUND… LEE THEN BOLTED FOR SOMETHING, CHIP CLOSELY AT HIS HEELS—A SPLIT SECOND LATER A WAVE OF FIRE TORPEDOED THROUGH THE LENGTH OF THE ROOM, ANNIHILIATING EVERYTHING IN ITS PATH BEFORE EXPLODING THE SEAVIEW INTO A BILLION PIECES….
Chip bolted upright, gasping from the tightness in his throat. Finding himself alive, he stood up, staggering to his sink in spite of the violent shaking in his legs; splashing cold water over his face and head. It helped bring a saneness back to the insanity of the moment, but it didn't alleviate the horror of seeing himself and Lee Crane atomized in Seaview's Control Room.
Splashing more water on his face, Chip shook his head, forcing rationalism back to his senses. But, he demanded to himself, are we really going to die, or is it just my memories of the past being twisted into one horrifying nightmare?
The XO's military training said the latter, yet the terrifying fear he felt in the pit of his stomach was impossible to ignore.
Feeling a coldness on his pajama top, Chip looked down. It was soaked in sweat. But there was something else, he realized, trying to figure out what it was. Cold! He was cold. But it wasn't just him from the dampness, the entire room was cold.
Snapping on the nearest light, Chip sort out the temperature thermostat. It was fourteen degrees below its usual setting, but the control gauge itself was where it should have been.
"Terrific," he grunted, noting the irony. Even if I could sleep, I wouldn't be able to because the setting's gone haywire!
Wearily, he peered at his alarm clock. Only 04:27 in the morning. Too early to get up, yet too awake to go back to bed. He then snorted at himself. Last thing I want is to go back to sleep!
Despite deeply wishing he could as he suddenly felt fatigue wash over him, the thought of reliving that horrifying nightmare quickly helped change his mind.
Getting dressed, he barely paid attention to the well-practiced routine as his unwilling thoughts kept straying back to the exploding Seaview. Shuddering at the vision, he forced it from his mind. It was only a dream, and he had more important things to be concerned about than fanciful hallucinations.
A few minutes later as he made his way to the Control Room, he quickly discovered it wasn't just his cabin that was cold, but the entire boat.
Entering through the aft hatch, he was surprised to find Crane already there. The intercom mike in his hand, the Captain was paused on top the periscope platform waiting for a reply from someone.
"Morning, Chip," he greeted sourly. "I see you couldn't sleep either."
"Morning," he returned, automatically heading for the plot table and the log book. "Engineering… anything?" he heard Crane bark impatiently behind him.
"No, sir, I'm sorry, Skipper," came the nervous reply.
"Never mind," Crane snapped, "I'll take care of it myself!" Angrily clipping the mike back on its bracket, he joined his XO at the charts, noticing for the first time the bags under Chip's eyes. "Oh, you look great! How much sleep did you get last night?"
Chip stifled his yawn. "Not too much." And flipped to the last entry in the log. "What's with the air-" suddenly all he saw was blackness. "…conditioning."
"I'm really getting tired of this," Lee mumbled as the lights came back on.
"What is going on around here?"
"I don't know. Yet! I awoke oh-four-hundred this morning to find my cabin freezing!" Lee couldn't pull his troubled eyes from his friend. The man looked liked a walking zombie. Torn between friendship and duty, Lee decided being an officer did have some leeway. "Look, why don't you go back and get some more sleep. I'll cover for you."
But Chip shook his head decisively. "No, I'm fine. I'd prefer to be here, if it's all the same to you."
The Captain could have argued with him; could have ordered him back to bed for that matter, but didn't. After having lived such a structured schedule for so long, Crane knew, once an officer was up, his mind was on duty, and the performance of his boat, and nothing could take his mind off it until official down time. And sometimes, not even then.
"All right. You have the con. I am personally going to track down the problem with the air conditioning even if I have to check every wire on this boat!" he vowed determined.
The air conditioning unit—something jolted in Chip's memory. Something he had learned when he had first come onboard Seaview. Shooting out an arm, he halted Crane's departure. "Ah, Skipper? Would you mind if I took care of it?"
"Are you sure?" Lee asked, unable to shake his concern for his friend.
But there was something else Lee sensed yet couldn't put his finger on. "Any reason?" he asked, searching Chip's face.
But Chip kept it to himself, preferring to casually shrug. "No. Just want to do it myself."
Crane was reluctant, but again he had no choice, nor any reason to refuse the request. "Okay, if you insist. But if you feel yourself going to sleep, let me know," he grinned, giving his friend a pat on the shoulder, "and I'll send you down some coffee."
Chip's eyes suddenly shot wide open.
"Chip…?" Lee asked, worried.
"I'll get on it right away, Skipper," Chip said tightly, immediately taking off for his mission.
Watching Chip leave, Lee nervously tapped the pencil on the table. Chip was tired, that was obvious. And Lee was worried. Chip had always preferred to keep his personal concerns to himself, and as a friend, for he owed Chip his life on several occasions, he wondered how long he should let Chip's sleep problems go on before asking about them. He was still on his feet, and was clearly in control of his faculties, he reasoned, but… Lee Crane sighed heavily, as an officer he hoped it never got bad enough where he would be forced to intervene.
However…several hours later found both officers in different parts of the sub, tearing apart, literally and otherwise, equipment they hoped to be the malfunctioning culprit; for during those hours in between, Seaview's temperature had risen to a sweltering ninety-six degrees, and was still rising.
"Sharkey!" Captain Crane shouted, gnashing his teeth. He had come to the end of the wire he had been following. "Anything?"
In the Environmental Control Room where the heating system was housed, Crane was on his back, half-way into an auxiliary conduit. Elsewhere in the room were Sharkey, and two men from Engineering. None of them looked happy either.
"No, sir, Skipper." Sharkey's voice was tired as he peered glassy-eyed at a massive board of lights overlaid onto the open main control panel. "Not a thing. It's working just fine."
"Everything's in perfect working order, Captain," came Mosier's overly-confident reply.
"Perfect working order, my—then why is it like an oven in here?!
Dubiously the two engineers looked at each other, wondering if it had been a rhetorical question, or had the Skipper really expected an answer.
Fortunately fate saved the two from putting their foot in their months as the door opened, admitting Admiral Nelson. His coat was slung over his arm, and he was sweating as profusely as the rest of them. Pulling his loosened tie from around his neck, Nelson inwardly chuckled when he saw the relief on the faces of the two young crewmen. They had been reprieved…at least for now.
Taking advantage of their brief stay in Hawaii, Nelson had arranged a meeting with an old friend, and opted to spend the night on the island. Having arrived back at Seaview just a short time ago, he was surprised to learn of his submarine's continued temperament.
Sensing something different in the room, Lee peered over his forearm. "Greetings, Admiral," he called sweetly, with a hint of sarcasm. "And how's your morning going?"
Understanding his officer's grumpiness, Nelson suppressed his amusement. "Better than yours obviously. O'Brien filled me in. You can find no reason why the heating system went haywire?"
"None whatsoever," Crane replied, his attention now trained on a loose blue wire, and hopefully the suspect. "I've checked it over, Sharkey's checked it over, Engineering's checked it over. Nothing can be found for it behaving like this. That makes the fourth incident in just about as many hours.
"The fourth?! What else has happened?"
"Besides the blinking lights, air conditioning unit, and now the heating system, Kowalski's reporting problems with his radar screen. I'm afraid to say this, Admiral, but if this keeps up, Seaview may have to be dry docked, and completely overhauled!"
"You might be right. Well, at least with Project Ice Cap postponed, she couldn't have picked a better time to have a breakdown."
"The way I see it is—Sharkey, anything?" Lee unexpectedly yelled, having secured the wire, and causing the three crewmen to jump.
But no bulbs on the diagnostic board had changed. "No, sir," the Chief wearily called back.
"With the exception of sonar," Crane continued, "none of the equipment failure is exclusively essential or life threatening. Santa Barbara is less than a day's sail from here, I suggest we head for home without further delay."
The room momentarily did a strobe effect as the lights performed their now familiar old tricks.
Mulling it over, Nelson peered at the overheads, then gave a short nod. "I agree. It'll be easier tracking down the problem if she were in her own home berth." The lights again flickered, and Nelson rolled his eyes. "The sooner the better."
"Done!" Ready to stand to happily execute the order, Crane halted, holding up his greasy hands. "Ah,… would you mind?" he asked the Admiral with a crooked expression.
"Not at all," the man replied with an impish grin. Using the mike from the nearest wall, Nelson clicked its button. "Attention all hands, prepare to make sail. Repeat…"
The order was heard by all onboard—all except Chip Morton, despite an intercom strategically placed within ten feet of the compartment where he was working. He hadn't heard the announcement because no announcement came through that particular squawk box….
On a sub, there were only so many places design engineers could store electrical wiring, and on Seaview, it was in an access duct that ran from stem to stern. For ease of inspection and repairs, twenty doors gave entrance to this access duct; each positioned near the floor on the upper deck, and strategically located along the length of the boat.
With Crane and Engineering working to track down the heating problem, it was in this forward section, directly over the Control Room, that Chip Morton had purposely focused his attention. The section that had jolted his memory with an obscure, yet vital bit of information.
In this part of the Inspection Passage, the electrical circuitry split from the main duct. One set of these cables veered into the Control Room while another fed power directly to the Flying Sub's compartment. Despite all of Admiral Nelson's safeguards, a short circuit anywhere along this division, no matter how remote, could easily cause a chain reaction that would lead to Flying Sub's berth, and therefore, to the Sub herself, igniting her nuclear core without any human living long enough to know about it.
It was for that reason that Chip Morton had spent the last ninety minutes scrutinizing every wire in the forward section, but to no prevail. The wiring was as tight as a drum. There was no corrosion, no sign of damage, nor any smell of smoke or burning rubber, and therefore—no threat.
Reluctantly Chip admitted it was a good sign, but it didn't appease his new-found anxiety any.
Crawling out from the duct, Chip leaned thoughtfully against the bulkhead, pushing away the fatigue that threatened to overtake him. Should I talk to Lee about it? Or am I letting my imaginary fear take over me? he silently debated. Lee would know where to look for such a problem…suddenly Chip felt ridiculous. If it also turned out to be his over-active subconscious, then the Skipper would know his executive officer was a lunatic. No, he decided, rubbing his tired eyes. There was no reason to bother the Captain. He was just tired, and the nightmares were, after all, just sleep-time delusions.
Raising a hand to smooth his tousled hair, Chip halted mid-air, frowning. Both he and his uniform were covered in grim. Not very presentable for the Exec, and being such, if he didn't want to be put on report, he'd better go change.
The change itself took less than fifteen minutes yet when he entered the Control Room, he was stunned to find found himself the center of Crane's undivided and angry attention: "Mister Morton, where the devil have you been?! I've been calling all over the boat for you!"
Utterly baffled, Chip nevertheless stood his ground. "Checking circuitry like I was supposed to, Captain."
"Didn't you hear the announcement? I gave the order to make sail forty minutes ago!"
Chip felt the blood rush to his head. "Skipper, I didn't hear a thing!" His eyes locked onto his superior, and never wavered. "You know I wouldn't disobey an order! Not for something like this anyway."
Crane searched his face thoroughly, unable to ignore the nagging doubt that penetrated his rationalism. Chip was exhausted, maybe…but there was no hint of deceit in Chip's tired expression, only astonishment. Lee relaxed. He believed Chip, but that only added another problem: "Great! Now the intercoms are on the fritz! All right, Mister Morton, carry on," he ordered, holding out the clipboard, "then inform Engineering of the problem."
"Aye, sir," Chip dutifully answered, taking the clipboard.
"Oh, and, Mister Morton? How did circuitry check out?"
The Exec grinned proudly. "Tight as a drum, Skipper. Nothing to-" Chip's grin suddenly went taut. "Nothing to worry about there," he hurriedly finished, shaking off the deja vu.
"Very well," Lee returned, acutely aware of Morton's sudden tension. "Carry on," he nodded, once again concerned.
"Aye, sir." Turning on his heel, Chip headed for Sonar, totally unaware of the stares of the crewmen around him. For them it was rare event when a senior officer received a dressing down, especially an officer like Mister Morton.
But Chip hadn't noticed. Another scene from his nightmare had come true. Reaching the instrument where the irritated Captain had left off, Chip stared absently at the system as he swallowed to moisten his dry throat. Up until now he had only been apprehensive, now he was filled with foreboding….
Studying his retreating officer, Crane unconsciously tapped his finger. Other then being tired, the man seemed just fine. Maybe we're all becoming a little edgy, he abruptly reasoned as he made his way forward, acknowledging he was a little tired himself.
"Control Room, this is Engineering," announced the overhead intercom.
Currently working calculations at the plot table, Admiral Nelson had paused only long enough to listen to the conversation between his officers. About to resume his work, he instead took up the mike. "Control Room, aye."
"Good news, Admiral," came the cheery voice. "The temperature is starting to drop."
"Did you, ah, figure out the cause?" Nelson asked, his voice full of guarded criticism.
"Not yet, sir."
"Well, let us know if and when you do, " he replied, making no mistake about his contempt.
"Aye, sir," came the chastened reply.
Replacing the mike, Nelson eyed the approaching Captain.
Feeling guilty, Lee knew the Admiral had heard the confrontation—the entire deck had heard it! Plopping both elbows onto the table, he wearily dropped his head into his hands. "Great! Something else to add to the repair list!"
"We should be thankful they're only minor incidences."
"Yeah, but for how long?" Lee's tone made it clear he was no longer amused. "I don't get it. Everything was working fine up till a few days ago."
"Relax, Lee," Nelson insisted. "For all intent and purposes, everything is working fine. We have full response on all controls, the main generators are working, as is the air purification system, navigation, ballast, etcetera, etcetera. Whatever the problem is, it's minor—it has to be, otherwise we'd already be sitting on the bottom."
"You're right," Lee returned, though not entirely convinced. Abruptly he straightened, a look of determination on his face. "All right," he said loudly to the deck. "Let's get this sub moving!"
Within the hour SSRN Seaview was submerged and on her way home.
After a few hours, and despite the tricks the sub continued to inflict upon her crew, Seaview's officers, with the exception of Nelson, gave up trying to find the reason for the electrical malfunctions, just happy that she was moving at all!
And while officers and crew alike managed to relax somewhat, having become accustomed to the shenanigans, each incident found Chip Morton silently praying that nothing more happened….
Taking instrument readings by steerage, Chip rubbed his tense neck muscles while waiting for the lights to finish doing their show. He had experienced a few more deva ju experiences since the morning, all mundane instances, but just as disconcerting in his already stressed condition.
Crinkling his brow, Chip looked up and around. Likewise, slowly, one by one, as each crewman became aware of it, they also looked around for the strange sound that they too had begun to hear. It wasn't a buzz, or a whine, or a hiss, but an uneven squeal. At first so low as to be inaudible, the sound gradually grew louder until every man onboard heard it.
In the Radio Shack, Sparks had long ago begun his own search for the disrupting squeal the second it had become detectable to him. At first he followed standard trouble-shooting procedure, and when that failed to reveal the problem, he began to use every trick he had gained over the years. Yet despite his determination, the source continued to stubbornly evade him, slowly growing louder with each passing minute.
Sparks knew it wasn't a danger yet, but he feared if the pitch got high enough, it would effect Seaview's controls. Not the instruments itself, but the glass that covered them. If the glass shattered, the shards could cause extensive internal damage.
Reading a report in his office, Nelson peered up at the intercom box, and cursed under his breath. The static, whatever is was, was getting irritating.
With growing impatience, Crane glared at the Radio Shack. It had been over an hour since the sound had first become noticeable. He knew Sparks was doing all he could, but the noise was beginning to get on his nerves!
Frustrated and almost frantic, Sparks extracted one communications panel after another from its cradle, testing all wires and connections, yet the source refused to be found.
Having had similar thoughts, Nelson and Crane reached the Radio Shack at the same time from two different directions.
"Sparks, can't you stop it?" Crane growled as Nelson automatically joined in Sparks' search.
"I would if I could find the source, but I can't! I don't know where or what it is!"
Hearing those words, Chip breathlessly turned towards the commotion. Staring hypnotically at the scene he had experienced so often in his nightmares he was abruptly reminded of something he had said during his first days on submarine duty: I'd rather die in the middle of the ocean than be bored to death on land he had confided to his shipmates.
But I'd rather not die at all, his mind suddenly screamed back! Propelled into action, Chip, his jaw set in determination, systematically checked all stations, continuing where the distracted captain had left off. Double-checking that trim was satisfactory, he was about to join Crane and Nelson in the shack when the annoying squeal abruptly stopped.
Everyone froze. Not knowing what to expect, each listened intensely for the squeal but heard only the familiar sounds of the deck instruments.
"All right, everyone," paused Crane long enough to swallow as his own heart raced in his ears. "Resume your stations."
Standing forward, Chip automatically repeated the order loud and clear, then wiped the sweat from his brow as he tried to control his trembling. It was only a noise, Morton, he told himself. A glitch in the system—get over it! In and of itself, the squeal didn't matter, but combined with the vision of Seaview exploding…
Chip shook his head hard—Seaview was as secure as she had ever been, he insisted. Dutifully checking the crew, he saw the men returning as ordered to business-as-usual. Yet none of them were afraid like he was. Drawing in a deep breath, the man held it a moment. If assurances he needed, assurances he would get. But later. Right now he had a job to do.
Despite the squeal having ended, Sparks and Nelson finished their cursory examination of the Radio Shack as a concerned Crane stood by. Still no reason for the disruption had been found.
"I'm sorry, Admiral," Sparks' voice trembled as he pushed the final rack back into its place. "I don't know what happened."
Admiral Nelson had never seen the officer so shaken before. Sparks was the best communications man in the business which was why he had pursued him so readily, and for Sparks to be baffled scared even him.
"Right now a lot of things can't be explained," Nelson offered, trying to give some reassurance. "And I'll bet, once we get back to port and tear her apart, we'll find it'll be the simplest solution possible. Like a mouse having chewed through the cables or something."
"Not my cables, sir—" Sparks started to say indignantly before abruptly cutting himself off.
"Have an electrician's mate thoroughly go over it, just to make sure."
Taking Lee's arm, Nelson guided his stern Captain to the Navigation Chart. "Relax, Lee, it was a minor incident."
"Another minor incident," Lee emphasized harshly. "I'm beginning to think we have a saboteur onboard."
"To what purpose?" Nelson chuckled unexpectedly. "These incidences are disruptions, but that's all, and they are not—I repeat not serious ones at that. Nor do we at this time have anything anybody would want! Come on, I'll buy you a cup of coffee, and RELAX!" Nelson ordered as he steered him aft. We'll be home by tomorrow morning!"
Once Crane returned to the deck, Chip took advantage of his own scheduled coffee break; however, skipping the coffee he instead went directly to Engineering. They knew Seaview just as well, and maybe even better, than Admiral Nelson did, for they routinely ran safety tests on all the systems. If they didn't know where a problem might occur, nobody did.
Understandably the Engineering staff was frizzled, having been constantly scrutinizing every piece of electrical hardware onboard the boat since the trouble had started, excluding nothing, even the coffee-makers; and most certainly feeling the heat when they couldn't offer an explanation nor resolve the problem. Not only were their jobs on the line, but their pride, and these men prided themselves on being the best engineers in the Navy Reserves. Yet now they were beyond tense and patience.
"Did ya check da voltage detectors? Maybe somethin's wrong with them?" Engineering Officer Genet asked of Repair Crew Six.
"Sir, I even checked the screws and caps that held the pieces together!" insisted Muller defiantly.
Genet's sigh was long and deep. He'd been doing this type of work for over twenty years, and had never seen anything like it. Strange things had happened on Seaview before, but this really agitated him to no end. And to make it all worse, the XO had just stepped into the room….
"Mista Morton," Genet started, his shoulders slumping. "With all due respect, sir, we're doin' the best we can. I don't know what's wrong, but I can guarantee ya everything is right!" Tired, the Lieutenant knew he was being improperly blunt with the senior officer, but at this point he didn't care. He was probably going to lose his job anyway, and didn't see where it mattered.
But Chip didn't say anything for a moment, taken aback by another deja vu. Taking in Genet's appearance, he was also glad to see somebody onboard looked worse for wear than he did. "I didn't come here to chew you out, Genet. The Skipper and I know you're doing the best you can."
Genet wanted to collapse in relief. At least somebody was aware of it.
"I need to ask you something." And keeping his reasons hidden, Chip explained what he was looking for, at the same time circumventing his reasons why. "So…can you go over Seaview's plans to see what might cause an explosion?"
"Mista Morton, if I had 'em, they'd be yours, 'cepting da Admiral picked up all da specs earlier today. I believe he said he was gonna go over 'em with a fine tooth comb."
Silently Chip cursed this new revelation. This was not what he wanted to hear. But with no other outlet available to him, he had no choice. Thanking the officer he then left, much to the relief of the entire engineering department.
Alone in the corridor, Chip allowed himself one angry punch at the bulkhead before heading forward. Without going to Nelson or Crane there was nothing more he could do except keep his fingers crossed and pray that it was all his imagination.
In the Control Room, keeping watch on their instruments, the men couldn't help take an occasional peek at the generator board's glass protection panel. Instead of covering the hundreds of "light bulbs" that assured them that the generator was working as it should be, the panel now leaned uncharacteristically against the Navigational Chart. And the reason why was eerily clear—half those light bulbs were dead.
"And you're positive all the generators are working?" Crane persistently asked into the mike as he watched Sharkey and Patterson approach.
"Absolutely, Skipper!" replied Engineering, just as insistent. "We have no indications down here that there's any malfunctions anywhere in the Control Room! And if there were a problem, we would have known it immediately—but there's nothing!"
Exasperated, Crane ran a hand threw his dark hair. "All right, Engineering, we'll, ah, we'll get back to you if we have anything more to report."
Working at the board in front of him Sharkey's irked expression said it all: Years of training and I end up changing light bulbs!
Beside him, Patterson hurriedly took out several of the dead bulbs, casually dropping them into the box at his feet while Sharkey quickly and easily tested each empty socket with an electronic voltage meter. After doing several, the results were the same—the gauge flew off the scale as each socket proved itself to be alive.
Furrowing his brow, Sharkey annoyingly shoved the meter box into Patterson's hand. "Hold this," he growled as he pulled out a fresh light bulb, screwing it into the just-tested socket. The bulb, however, did not light up.
"What that…?" he muttered as he screwed several more new bulbs into empty sockets. None of those lit up either.
Stupefied, Sharkey turned to Crane, the Captain's baffled expression matching his own. Crane momentarily said nothing as he stared at the display while his mind silently tried to come up with a plausible explanation.
"Maybe…," Crane quietly answered, pausing as the crease on his brow deepened. Frowning, Crane gave a bewildered shrug then nodded solemnly towards the generator board. "Ah…, for the time being, Chief, why don't you, ah, just—just close her up."
Supporting himself on the island railing, Crane absently watched as Sharkey made sure the newly replaced bulbs were at least in tight. Picking up where he had left off, he screwed in a new bulb—which immediately lit up with brilliancy.
Swallowing, Sharkey turned once more to his superior. "Permission to get some coffee, sir?"
"Only if I can join you, Chief," Crane said soberly, straightening.
"Only if you let me buy, Skipper."
Giving a shallow nod, Lee would have laughed at the joke had he not been so preoccupied. Turning, he was about to follow Sharkey when new recruit Lydecker appeared from the aft hatch. Having spotted the Captain, he made a bee-line for him, stiffly holding out a file. "Skipper, here's the file from Admiral Nelson."
"Thank you, Lydecker." Taking it, Lee quickly scanned the information while the crewman waited for further instructions. A moment later, Crane handed it back to him. "All right, Lydecker, take this to Mister Morton."
Surprised, Lydecker's eyebrows went up. "Mr. Morton, sir?"
"Yes, he just went forward."
Craning his neck to scan the bow, the young man's eyes got wide upon spotting Morton.
"What's wrong, crewman?" asked Sharkey, noticing the puzzled look.
Staring at the XO, Lydecker swallowed hard. "I-I could have sworn I just talked to Mister Morton not more than five minutes ago. He asked me to check the Reactor Room, and then…he went aft."
Skeptically, Crane glanced between him and Morton. "Impossible. The Exec hasn't left the deck for a couple of hours. Not even to go to the head."
"That's what you said, sir, and I…" Lydecker shook his head, paling "don't know what to say, sir."
Patiently, Crane thought it over. Maybe the revitalization system had been affected, and the crewman had suffered an hallucination. However, that was doubtful as he had received no other reports to that effect…so far.
"All right, Lydecker, whoever you talked to, it's a moot point. The XO needs to see this report. Take it to him."
"Aye, sir," said Lydecker uncertain as he made his way forward.
Apprehensively coming up beside Mr. Morton at the Navigation Computer, Lydecker took in a deep breath before speaking: "Mister Morton?"
Oblivious to the crewman's arrival, Chip jumped; his reaction so animated as to attract the attention of several crewmen, including Crane and Sharkey, who exchanged concerned looks of "What was that all about?"
His heart racing, Chip, stared blankly at the young recruit. "Lydecker," he then said sharply, after gathering himself. "What is it?"
"Sorry, sir. The Skipper asked me to give this report to you," he explained, holding out the file. "I also checked over the Reactor Room like you asked me to."
Thinking he must have misunderstood him, Chip absently took the file, simultaneously shaking his head annoyed. "When did I ask you to do this?"
"Only about fifteen minutes ago. You were heading aft, sir."
Perplexed, Chip feigned casualness as best he could despite his irritation. "Okay. How'd she check out?" he asked.
"Fine. Ticking like a clock, sir."
"Thank you, Lydecker. That'll be all."
"Aye, sir." About facing, the young sailor was more than glad to be going. The other crewman had warned him that Morton was a no-nonsense officer, but they never said anything about tense. As far was he was concerned, the man was wound tighter than a thousand-pound cable.
Concerned, Crane decided he'd better find out. "What's wrong, Chip? You look confused."
"I am," he confessed uncomfortably. For a split second he had thought about lying, but in this case, there was no reason to. "Lydecker said I had asked him to check the Reactor Room, only I didn't. I couldn't have. I haven't left the bridge in hours."
"I know that," Crane nodded, in agreement.
"Sirs, may I offer an explanation?" Sharkey quickly cut in, coming beside them. "The kid's new, and still learning names. One of the other officers probably asked him to check it, and he just got the names confused, that's all."
Chip could feel the tension suddenly drain from his face—at least some of it. That had to be the answer.
"We're going for coffee, Chip, would you care to join us?"
Thoughtfully, Chip shook his head. "I have instruments to check."
Disbelieving him, Lee leaned in, purposely keeping his voice low. "Relax, Chip, these incidences are getting on all our nerves."
Chip looked at him sharply. It had not been a request.
Watching as Crane and Sharkey left, Chip felt a ping of regret in not confiding in Lee just then.Thinking about the explanation, Chip chuckled softly, nervously, to himself. The strange incidences I can live with, it's the Seaview exploding that's driving me to the brink!
Taking a long, deep breath, Lieutenant Commander Morton pushed his fear aside, and for the next few hours did his duties on automatic pilot as one half of his mind mentally scrutinized every piece of equipment in the Control Room, while the other half deliberated what his next move, if any, should be.
Reluctantly retiring for the night, Chip did not want to go to sleep. Just remembering the nightmare made his stomach turn.
Nor would his mind let him. He felt guilty about not hearing the set sail order, and he was worried. Had I not really heard it, or could I have fallen asleep, and not realized it? Or he debated, am I just plain losing my mind?
Admittedly irritable and jumpy, the man gave up all hopes of sleeping. Hoping to relieve some of it, he decided to take a walk.
Meandering through Seaview's corridors, he eventually found himself in the Control Room, much to the nervousness of the night shift's skeleton crew.
Staring out the forward observation nose, he again tried to remember anything else about the dreams, but there was nothing. They had all been frustratingly vague in content.
For the second time that day, Chip nearly jumped out of his skin.
"Sorry, sir," Lieutenant Bob O'Brien said, embarrassed at having surprised his superior. "I didn't mean to disturb you. It's 01:40 in the morning, sir, what are you doing up this time of night?"
"Couldn't sleep," he replied, wrapping his chilled arms around himself. "Is it my imagination, or is it cold up here?"
"It's cold all right. The vents closed for no reason, and Engineering can't get them open again."
Chip looked discouragingly over the deck. "So what else is new?"
"Nothing outside of that I'm relieved to say." The lights blinked as if to prove a point. "Except for that," O'Brien sighed. "To be honest with you, sir, the way Seaview's been acting lately, I'm surprised we're still afloat! I have to go on rounds. Have a good night, Commander."
"You too, Bob."
Suddenly Chip felt exhausted. Defeated even. Reluctantly returning to his cabin, he deferred pajamas, instead dropping fully clothed onto his bunk, grabbing the novel he had started a few days before. However, this time sleep came unexpectedly quick, and Chip was asleep before he'd gotten to the second paragraph.
Chip jolted awake. I've been asleep he realized. An actual deep and refreshing sleep with no dreams. Feeling more rested than he had in a long time, he glanced at the clock, surprised to find he'd only slept for a few hours; yet instinctively he knew something was wrong. Then it hit him—Seaview wasn't moving!
Catapulting out of bed, he ran to the Control Room, noting on the way that the annoying squeal was again in the P.A. system. This time, however, it was hovering at a low volume.
Entering the deck, an odd sense of relief washed over him when he found Crane already there, still in his bathrobe and pajamas—when Seaview exploded, Lee Crane was definitely not in his pajamas! The night shift had naturally awakened the captain when the trouble had started, but Lee, thinking it was a simple matter, hadn't bothered to get dressed, nor had he had time to do so since.
"Lee, why didn't you wake me?!" he demanded as he hurried over.
"O'Brien told me you were up walking around last night. I figured you could use the sleep, but I'm glad you're here. We have a problem. Look! " And pointed to the observation nose.
The external headlights were on, showing no movement on the windows.
"What?" he shrugged, not sure what he was supposed to be seeing. "We've stopped-"
"Correction—we're dead in the water!"
"Dead…?!" Pushing aside the now familiar deja vu, Chip quickly scanned the Control Room, noticing for the first time that several instrument panels were indeed devoid of life.
"You tell me! Everything was working fine up till a short time ago, and like everything else going on around here, we can't seem to locate the problem. At least the ballast tanks are still working, otherwise we'd be sinking like a stone."
"We'd better wake the Admiral."
"I already did. He's just as confused as we are."
Taken aback, Chip held his anger. Lee knowing he had a problem sleeping was one thing, but now the Admiral knew it, and would demand some type of explanation, and consequently, action. A note of it would also be put into his record. As well, as second-in-command he should have been notified directly—even before the Admiral.
"I'll work on things here while you go get dressed," Chip announced, turning to take command. However, receiving no instant response, Chip's head whipped around, catching the split-second flicker of doubt on Lee's face.
"All right." Apprehensively Lee nodded, giving a brief grin. "Looks like it's going to be a long night." Then noticed the wrinkled uniform, and crookedly smiled. "If I didn't know better, I'd swear you had slept in your clothes." Then rushed away before his friend could answer.
Chip's expression tightened. Not only did he have the exploding Seaview to haunt him, but now the doubt of Lee Crane in him as well.
Just like the Captain had predicted the night dragged on as all personnel—officers and enlisted men alike—scrambled to get the submarine moving again. Meanwhile, the lights continued to blink, the irritating squeal shrilled through the intercom system (although Sparks had managed to dampen its presence making it hardly noticeable at all), and Ski's radar board continued to tease him, among other things….
Holed up in his cabin during this time, Admiral Nelson relentlessly combed over Seaview's blueprints, determined to have every conceivable problem-area checked, double-checked, and triple-checked. Yet after hours of searching, the great man himself reluctantly admitted defeat in finding a reason, or at least a logical theory concerning the shenanigans.
Agitated, frustrated and at a loss, and after having tried everything else, Admiral Harriman Nelson decided on one last drastic measurement—he ordered all fuses, connections, and circuit boards to be changed simultaneously….
Chip tried to stifle the yawn but couldn't. As refreshed as he had felt hours earlier, he was now beginning to feel numb all over from his sustained lack of sleep.
From the radar panel, Crane saw his friend yawn for the umpteenth time that hour, and felt his stomach tighten. He was the captain, and now as reluctantly as he was to act as one at this time, he had a higher responsibility towards the boat and crew.
"Mister Morton…." Crane kept his voice low as he neared his executive officer. "Go get some sack time."
But Chip shook his head. "I'm fine."
However, Crane's voice was stern: "That wasn't a request." His eyes held steadily onto Morton's, clearly conveying the message.
Clinching his teeth, Chip self-consciously peered over the Control Room. The crew had been too busy handling their stations to notice the meeting between the officers.
"Aye, sir." Laying the pencil on the table, Morton wordlessly took his leave.
By this time, the drastic overhaul was almost complete.
In the Circuitry Room, Nelson was overseeing the work himself for this assemblage was one he had personal designed specifically for Seaview. With an electrician's mate working at each bank, Nelson and Kowalski had taken on the largest and most complex of the panels.
"Well, I'll be…!" Kowalski heard Nelson mutter from behind the panel on the far side. Out of his sight, Ski could only guess at what the man was exclaiming about. A moment later, Nelson's head peered out from beyond the wiring case, sporting an ear-to-ear grin and holding up something for the crewman to see. "Look what I found."
Taking the distorted tiny black object, it took Kowalski a moment to recognize it for what it was: "A fuse!" he exclaimed amazed. "And it's burnt to a crisp!"
Nelson slide out from behind the panel. "In one of the main terminals. No doubt, this is probably what's been causing most of the problems. The terminals have been shifting electrical power all around the systems, even to sources that weren't supposed to—or couldn't—handle the energy flow. This one was buried behind the wiring, and easily missed by anyone who didn't know it was there. Start her up, Sharkey," he ordered the man at the main power source.
"Aye, sir," he joyously answered.
In the Control Room, all systems suddenly came to life, the crew all over the boat letting out grateful cheers.
"Lee…" Nelson called over the p.a. system. "We found a burnt out fuse that I believe was the cause of all our problems. How's she looking from there?"
Taking mike in hand, Crane couldn't help but grin as he visually examined the Control Room. "Everything seems to be up and running, Admiral. Even the generator lights are all now functioning."
"Good. Let's get her prepped, and take us home!"
Lee's smile got bigger. "You won't hear any complaints from us!" Hanging up the mike, he turned to his crew mates. "You heard the man, report the status of your stations."
Stretched out on his bunk, Chip heard the order, and suddenly felt like the world had been lifted off his shoulders. He also felt like a fool. Seaview was perfectly sound, and as if to second that motion, he felt the gentle vibration of her propellers kick in.
At that moment he made a vital decision. If he continued to have the nightmares, he would tell Captain Crane, and when they got home, he would voluntarily go see a psychiatrist. Saving his career and regaining his friend's trust was the only thing that mattered to him now.
Chip then closed his eyes. He was still fearful about the nightmares, but at least now he knew in what direction he was turning…:
"THE COLLISION DOORS ARE ACTING LIKE THEY HAVE A MIND OF THEIR OWN…." KOWALSKI SAID.
"THAT HAPPENED," THE DOC SAID REFERRING TO THE KNOB ON CHIP'S FOREHEAD, WHEN YOU…HIT THE DECK."
"WELL, AT THIS RATE I WOULDN'T EVEN TRUST THE COMPUTER," LEE COMMENTED
CHIP WAS IN THE CONTROL ROOM WITH CRANE. FEW OF THE CONTROL ROOM CREW WAS THERE, AND THOSE THAT WERE, WERE NOT AT THEIR DUTY STATIONS, BUT INSTEAD, WERE UP AND ABOUT, TALKING LIGHT-HEARTEDLY AND LAUGHING. SUDDENLY SOMETHING HIT THE HULL FROM ABOVE. IT WAS LOUD—AND BY THE SOUND OF IT—DANGEROUSLY HEAVY. THE CONTROL ROOM CEILING FELL DOWN AROUND THEM….
Gasping for air, Chip bolted upright, swinging his legs off the bunk. Taking long, deep breaths, he wiped the beads of sweat from his face. There was no getting around it, he swallowed, I've got a problem. He would tell Crane everything just as soon as he could pull him aside.
Quickly showering and dressing, the man next headed for the Control Room. Jogging down the spiral stairs, Chip slowed half-way down as the dread in the pit of his stomach forcibly returned—things weren't right in the Control Room.
One again the squeal was singing from the intercom. Stepping onto the deck, he found the nose crash shields, while normally retracted during calm periods, were completely closed, as at the same time the collision doors stood halfway open themselves.
Off to Morton's side, Kowalski and another crewmen worked frantically at the collision doors control panel while on the far side of the doors, Chip could hear various degrees of shouting and responses.
On the other side of the Control Room, an agitated Crane shot from one instrument board to the next; Chief Sharkey close on his heels as he too checked various instruments along the way at the Skipper's sporadic commands.
"I don't understand it!" Crane sputtered, marching to another instrument. "Why can't we go full speed?!" Reading the latest indicators, he shook his head. Everything was as it should be.
Behind him, Sharkey knew better than to answer. At this point, he couldn't even guess at an answer as he glanced between the forward section of the Control Room, and Riley at the periscope island.
Coming to the plot table, Chip could see Crane and Sharkey hustling about on the aft side of doors. Intending to step through the gap between the collision doors, he extended a leg only to jump back when the doors began to close around him. The doors then abruptly halted a second later leaving only an narrow gap between them.
"All right, try it," he heard Patterson yell from somewhere beyond the screen.
Sensing something, Kowalski glanced over, doing a double-take at the Exec. "Oh, hey, Mister Morton," he greeted pleasantly, if a little tense as he leaned into the switch panel.
"What's going on?" Chip nodded towards the doors, and feeling his throat tighten.
When nothing happened, Ski pulled out another screwdriver, scrutinizing the control in bewilderment. "The collision doors are acting like they have a mind of their own."
And as if to prove his point, the collision doors pulled back half a foot then stopped as behind them the crash shields on the nose opened just about as far.
Recognizing the deja vu, Chip ignored it out of concern for his vessel.
On the aft side, Crane returned to Riley at the periscope island. "Can you open the nose shields any farther?"
The innards of its control panel draped down like a hung man as the young crewman stripped another wire, then hastily reconnected it. "I'm trying, sir."
The shields then moved, but only another two inches. Reading the voltage detector, Riley shook his head dumbfounded. "She's juiced, but she's not moving! This is just too far out for me, Skipper! Equipment isn't supposed to not work without some logical, mechanical reason."
"There is a logical explanation for it, Riley, we just haven't found it yet!"
Again the nose shields responded, but only to close the few inches it had gained.
"Seaview, so help me!" Lee cursed, balling his hand into a fist. Glancing forward and spotting the familiar face, he hurriedly made his way over.
Standing before the collision doors, Chip was eyeing them critically when he saw Lee approaching. "Morton reporting for duty, Captain."
"Mister Morton, what are you doing here?" Crane snapped angrily to Chip's surprise. "I ordered you to your cabin for sack time!"
"I took sack time, Skipper!"
"What?!" Shocked, Crane looked at his watch then furiously back at him. "You've only been gone ninety-five minutes!"
"That can't be right!" Chip peered at his own watch, astonished to find it was true.
"Sparks, can you shut off that damn squealing?!" Crane roared over his shoulder.
The doors that separated the two officers suddenly shifted, parting several more inches, giving the Lieutenant Commander just enough room to daringly squeeze through, joining Crane on the other side.
Arriving safely, Chip gaped in bewilderment at his boat. "Seaview's done a lot of weird things in her time, but this has got to be the clincher!"
"Not quite," Lee grinned bitterly. "Now she's also stuck at half speed!"
"This chick is falling apart at the seams," Riley commented from the floor behind them where he laid, peering into the periscope island itself.
"As long as the seams aren't falling apart, we have less to worry about!" Crane replied sharply as he turned to call Engineering one more time.
"Lee!" The sudden call came from the aft hatch.
Both men turned as Admiral Nelson hurried towards them, carrying a large, several-page computer printout in his hand.
"Chip!" The Admiral greeted warmly, despite the grimness of his expression. "How you feeling? Lee said you were feeling somewhat under the weather."
"I-ah," guiltily Chip glanced gratefully at his friend, a silent conspiracy passing between them, "am feeling much better, thank you, sir."
"Good. The way things are going, I'd rather have my two senior officers here on deck."
As the lights blinked in their now usual m.o., the collision doors closed to the amazement and frustration to all on deck—then suddenly fully opened. Beyond them, the nose shields also fully retracted
"Finally!" Crane exclaimed relieved, just as the lights blinked again.
But this time the lights stayed on, leaving everyone in the Control Room to wait breathlessly by to see what, if anything, the Seaview did next…she did nothing.
"Okay…" Crane muttered dubiously before turning to Nelson. "Did you find out anything?"
Balancing the report on one hand, Nelson held the sheet up with the other so both men could read it.
Scanning the sheets, Chip recognized them at once as diagnostic printouts of Seaview's major systems. "What's she have to say?" he asked, hopefully.
Nelson gave his head a brief shake, then shrugged. "According to the computer, she's in perfect condition. She could use a new coat of paint, but that's beside the point."
"Well, at this rate I wouldn't even trust the computer," Lee said, taking the printout from him, and zeroing on specific details. "But overall, and despite everything, I still think it's best if we continued onto Santa Barbara." Folding up the report, he handed it back to the Admiral.
Taking a deep breath, Nelson held it as the lights blinked anew as if answering the question for him.
"She acts almost as if she doesn't want to go home," Kowalski said, in returning to his post.
"Well, she may not, but we do," Nelson said, nodding towards Lee. "We actually have no choice. We'll past the halfway point. But I will have Sparks radio the Institute," he added, spontaneously breaking into an Irish brogue, "And let them know that we're having a wee bit of a problem here."
"Home it is! And if half speed is all she'll go, then half speed we'll take! All hands, prepare to transit the surface!" Lee ordered, causing several crewman to look from captain to admiral to the exec in concern and disbelief.
"Transit the surface?" Nelson, too, was worried. "That's the most dangerous place for a sub to be even under the most normal of conditions. With the way Seaview's been acting-"
"Exactly!" Lee eyed him soberly. "With the way she's been acting, do you really want me to run her below?"
"No." The Admiral rubbed his neck mindfully. "No, I guess not."
Marching starboard, Crane stopped mid-center opposite the periscope island, loudly addressing the two operators at either end of the control boards: "Radar, sonar, keep your eyes and ears peeled for anything and everything! I want to know the second your instruments act up, or you spot something. Is that clear? Sharkey!" he yelled, without waiting for affirmation from his men as he went over to the man at steering.
"Aye, sir," Kowalski and Patterson chorused together to their departing captain from their opposite-ended posts. The two then nervously exchanged looks with their immediate coworkers. None of the crew had thought the problems themselves had been serious, but transiting the surface was, giving them new cause to be uneasy.
"Chief…," Crane began.
"Yes, sir, I heard the order," Sharkey proficiently nodded. "And I know the drill: a man on periscope, two men topside in the sail reporting every five minutes if they see anything."
"Right! And even if they don't see anything. Tell them to look sharp, I don't want another Titanic on my hands!" Giving him a pat on the shoulder, Crane spun towards the Navigation Computer.
"Aye, sir." Sharkey returned with a wry grin, not thrilled with the analogy as he picked up the mike to relay the order. The one thing he never told anyone, and that was despite all his years at sea, transiting the surface always made him edgy.
At the periscope island, Chip Morton stood paralyzed. He vaguely remembered this scene in his nightmares, but one other factor became as clear as daylight—whatever had destroyed Seaview had first come from above!
The blackness came suddenly, but this time only to Chip Morton.
Several hours later, Lieutenant Commander Charles Philip Morton awoke in Sick Bay…
"Welcome back to the land of the living, Mister Morton," swam the Doc's voice through the twilight.
Chip blinked his eyes opened, simultaneously drawing moisture back into his dry throat. This time it wasn't a dream.
"Overall, how are you feeling?"
"Like someone dropped my hull during dry-docking," he groaned, touching the knot on the side of his head.
"I was told that happened when you—if you'll excuse the expression—hit the deck," the physician grinned apologetically as he slapped a blood pressure gauge around Chip's arm, pumping it up. "Mind if I ask what you did on vacation?"
Chip thought back, grinning briefly yet happily. "Everything I could, Doc, everything I could."
"Uh huh…does the word overdoing it mean anything to you?" he asked, sarcastically. "Your blood pressure is at an all time high, you've lost weight, and you're as pale as a sheet…." Pleased with the results of the gauge, he pulled off the cuff, dropping it onto the nearby tray stand. "If you hadn't just come back from vacation, I'd say you were showing signs of stress. However, your having slept for the past several hours has given your body a good head start on recovering, although it will take a few days before the total effects wear off.."
Several hours…? "How long have I slept?" he asked worriedly, his mind replaying everything that had occurred in the last few days.
"Long enough for us to finally be getting home," Doc said cheerfully, taking his wrist, and checking his pulse. "We should be entering the channel in about fifteen minutes."
Chip felt his stomach tighten. He knew he should be happy. They were almost home, and yet whatever was supposed to happen hadn't happened yet. Maybe it wasn't supposed to happen this trip? How was he supposed to know for sure? How was he supposed to know it was going to happen at all?!
Next to him, Doc studied the officer suspiciously. "Mister Morton, something wrong? Your pulse is suddenly charging like a racehorse's."
Closing his eyes, Chip rubbed his throbbing forehead, letting out a heavy sigh. He was tired of arguing with himself. "Doc…," he started carefully, not sure how to ask, fearful that Doc would think him crazy. "Can lack of sleep cause nightmares?"
Shifting his stethoscope to his ears, Doc snorted: "Of course. Anything can cause nightmares. Fatigue in turn can cause hallucinations, memory loss, irritability, difficulty in concentration … you push the body too far, and it's going to tell you, but as you and I both know, most men don't listen. Not till they fall on their faces," then grinned proudly, "like you did."
"I get your point, Doc," Chip absently replied, his thoughts turning inwards as Doc listened to his heart.
It took a second for Doc's explanation to hit home, and when it did, for Chip Morton relief was an understatement. He had over-done it on vacation, that was all. The nightmares and fears had been a signal, but not the one he had interpreted, and now they were back home again, safe and sound in Santa Barbara. For once in his life, the usually reserved Morton was so happy, he could have shouted it out loud.
"How soon can I report back to my post?" he asked impatiently, unable to restrain his excitement.
Returning the scope to his neck, Doc frowned, guiltily averting his eyes. "Mister Morton," he began quietly.
By the expression on his face, Chip knew the news wasn't good.
"The Skipper and I had a chat right after they brought you in. He told me you had been having problems sleeping, and given your condition upon your arrival, he and I both agreed that you should be temporarily relieved of duty."
Chip felt his heart go to his throat. He shouldn't have been surprised since he had seen it coming, but it was a shock just the same.
"Can I go back to my quarters, or do I have to stay here?" he asked, hiding his disappointment.
"Given your vital signs, I'd say it's all right for you to return to your quarters for now."
"Thank you." Still numbed by the news, Chip slowly sat up, swinging his legs off the bunk.
Doc paused, wanting to say something, but his mind had unexpectedly gone blank. He liked Chip Morton, and knew how much his career meant to him. No officer likes to be relieved of duty.
"It is only temporary," he sympathized, trying to reassure the younger man.
"I know, Doc," Chip quietly responded. But Morton wasn't so sure.
Returning to his quarters in the Sick Bay-issued sleep wear, Chip dropped heavily onto his bunk, cradling his aching head in his hands. He felt like hell. Everything he had always believed in had suddenly become fluid, like standing in the middle of a life raft.
Running a hand through his hair, he felt the knob on his head. Adding embarrassment to injury, he had passed out in front of the Crane and Nelson, not to mention the deck crew, and the only explanation he could give was that he was "tired". Even the newest recruit knew better than to use such a lame excuse.
Uneasiness also continued to hang on him like a wet fog, and he was sick of that too. Sick and tired and frustrated at trying to guess at what it all meant.
Rage suddenly exploded in him like a volcano. My career hung in the balance because of what?! Stupid dreams that had meant nothing!
Springing to his feet, he blindly flared out his arm, catching everything on top of the dresser, and knocking it to the floor in one swift, sweep of his hand.
Instantly sorry, he stared tight-lipped at the scattered objects. With heavy heart he then squatted, gathering up the items and dumping them back onto the dresser without ceremony. He'd worry about straightening them up later.
"All hands, this is the Captain, prepare to make dock…." The intercom announced.
Chip let out a tired breath. Relieved of duty or not, Seaview was about to dock, and he would be required to make an appearance. An appearance he'd rather not make in pajamas.
In a few minutes he was dressed. Finishing up with his tie, Chip couldn't help but notice how cold his cabin was again. But there wasn't time for that now. Wishing that the entire ordeal was over with, he couldn't wait to get his feet back on Santa Barbara's terra firma.
Stepping back to check himself in the mirror, Chip felt something hard under his heel, and looked down. It was his Annapolis ring. Crouching, Chip reached to pick it up when something slammed into his shoulder from above. Landing beside his feet, it was the family portrait he had had on the dresser.
Leaning back on his haunches, Chip looked up curiously. He hadn't remembered setting the picture upright. Then something about the ring caught his eye. Turning it over in his hand, he glanced inside. The initials read "CEM".
"Charles Elliot Morton.… Not so proud of your son now, are you?" Fingering his father's ring, Chip's forehead furrowed. Then cold terror shot through him like an ice pick.
Chip Morton sprinted for the Control Room as if his life depended on it—because it did. Skidding precariously around another corner—his mind centered on getting to the Control Room—he stopped only long enough to pull off his socks, his bare feet giving him better traction on the polished surface then the cotton had.
What most outsiders of the Nelson Institute did not know was that Seaview had not one berth, but two. When Admiral Nelson first proposed building the nuclear sub, the Pentagon had insisted on a secret lair for obvious security reasons. The original berth, fondly referred to as "The Cavern", was carved from solid rock, five hundred feet directly below the Nelson Institute.
And while the Cavern kept the submarine safe from those who would steal her technology, it made loading and unloading supplies, personnel, and equipment, as well as maneuvering in and out, quite difficult, and often times, very dangerous. Therefore, after the presence of the sub had become more commonplace, Nelson, out of fear for his crew and creation, managed to strike up a compromise with the powers-that-be. Seaview would be berthed in the surface pen for short returns to port with optimum security, whereas The Cavern would be used for major repairs and dry-docking. Of the numerous people who had actually breached The Cavern's security, most of them were dead, and the others were imprisoned—all except one man, who now served as Seaview's commander.
However, in order to get to her hidden lair, Seaview first had to go through a underwater channel, a channel that had been formed by the continent shelf's natural foundation.
Sprinting furiously through the aft hatch, eyes locked on Chip as he dodged past Crane to the Observation Nose. There he gaped at what he had feared—they were already in the channel to the Cavern.
"Mister Morton, explain yourself!" Crane yelled, coming up behind him.
"No time!" Spinning around, Chip's eyes were wild as he bolted to the plot table, grabbing its mike. "Maneuvering! All back, full emergency! Do you hear me?! All engines reverse full!!"
Descending upon him, Crane yanked the mike from his fingers. "What the hell do you think you're doing?!" Then clicked open the mike. "Maneuvering, be-"
"NO!!" Chip's fist came fast and hard, hitting Lee's jaw squarely, and sending the officer sprawling unconsciously to the deck, and stunning the entire room into immobility.
Unconcerned, Chip snapped his attention to steering. "Keep her level!" he ordered, clutching the back of their chairs. "Maintain the same depth going out as we had coming in!"
Frightened by the wild man, neither crewmen were about to argue with him.
Trained for battle conditions, the rest of the deck crew, however, also remained immobilized. Not out of fear, but indecision. This was Mister Morton and despite his erratic behavior, none of they could believe he would do anything to endanger Seaview and her crew. Exactly what he was doing they didn't know, and in those few split seconds of uncertainty, none of them had any idea what to do about him.
"Engine Room to Control Room. Repeat that last order…."
In his cabin, having heard the earlier interrupted exchange over the intercom, Admiral Nelson's expression turned hard. "Engine Room," came Morton's frenzied voice again, "All back full emergency—NOW!" Throwing down his pen, Nelson jumped to his feet, slamming his chair into the wall in his rush to get to the Control Room.
"Maintain neutral buoyancy!" Chip commanded. Below his bare feet, he felt the engines come to a dead stop, then proceed agonizingly slowly into reverse. Seeing the water swirl in front of the nose, Chip broke out in a sweat. She's not going fast enough! Wiping his brow, he snatched up the mike. "Engine Room…give her all she's got and more!"
"Engine Room. We can't, sir. Not in this channel!"
"Damn it, I said do it or you'll be facing a court-martial, mister!"
"Engine Room, aye."
"Kowalski, get on the hydrophones. Let me know if you hear anything! Riley, take over on Radar!" Swiftly yet wordlessly Kowalski shifted positions with Riley, exchanging uneasy looks with Patterson. He didn't know what was going on, or what he was supposed to be listening for, but he wasn't about to argue with the Exec at this time either.
"Mister Morton…?" Sharkey breathlessly called, rushing through the hatch.
"Help me or stay the hell out of my way, Sharkey!!" Morton snapped at the top of his lungs, stunning the resilient man into silence.
Treading cautiously down the front stairs, Nelson halted mid-way, surveying the situation, which to his immediate eye did not look good. Lee Crane lay crumbled at the bottom of the stairs near the weapons locker, oblivious to the world. A second later he felt the nose dip downward.
"Steering, I said maintain trim!" Morton barked somewhere towards Nelson's distant left.
"I'm trying, sir, but our direction and speed are making it hard to maintain control."
"Mister Morton, we're going to scrape the channel wall!" Patterson shouted from sonar.
Chip ran to his side. "Are we going to crash into it?"
"No, sir, but-"
"Then don't worry about it! Helmsman…!" called Chip, issuing the order to adjust their course. Knowing Morton was far aft, Nelson hastened down to Crane, two steps at a time. Examining Lee's head, he saw a deep bruise already forming on the man's jaw, and was relieved to find that that was all. Siding back and over, he quietly secured a revolver from the locker, silently praying he didn't have to use it.
"Mister Morton, sir-" Sharkey begun, still confused.
But Morton's order had come a fraction too late, and as Patterson promised, Seaview let out a low screech as her side scrapped the side of the channel.
Meanwhile, all on board held their breaths.
A moment later, the course adjustment took hold, and the screeching stopped.
"Damage Control, report!" Sharkey yelled into the mike.
"Damage Control, minimum damage to aft starboard. All compartments airtight."
"Sonar, how close are we to being out of the channel? All of Seaview?" Chip demanded.
"One-third left to go, sir," replied Patterson, tight-lipped.
"Good," he sighed heavily. She'll make it. But she wasn't out of danger yet, he knew, wiping more sweat off his forehead.
From the shadow of the circular stairs, Nelson waited, silently studying Morton as he analyzed the situation. Chip's actions were erratic and unfounded to be sure, but at least none of the crew seemed to be in danger.
Hearing Crane groan, Nelson squatted down, helping the dazed man to sit up.
"What happened?" Lee asked softly, stopping abruptly when he heard Morton issuing orders. Everything came back to him in a flash. His expression turning rigid, he braced his hand to stand up, but a wave of vertigo kept him from going any further.
In the meanwhile, intensely gripping the back of the helmsman's chair till his knuckles turned white, Chip's vigil at maneuvering prevented any further scraping to the submarine, much to everyone's relief but Morton's.
Despite having done the procedure a thousand times, and sensing they were close, Chip fearfully—hypnotically—stepped forward past the chart table, staring as the nose flood lights suddenly fanned out, signaling the end of the channel, and Seaview's successful, and undoubtedly, complete exit out of the passage.
His eyes still locked on the nose, Chip blindly reached for the mike. "Slow to one-third," he ordered, next directing them to bring Seaview parallel to the continental wall. He didn't want to take Seaview any further. Taking her through the breakwater was tricky enough going forward, he was not about to take her through it going backwards. Not without help, and not in his current condition.
When Seaview was tucked safely next to the shelf, and satisfied they were safe, Chip clicked open the mike. "Engine Room, come to dead stop," he ordered with a deep breath of relief. "Hold trim here." She was still underwater, but at least she was still in one piece.
His voice suddenly weary, his shirt totally soaked, Chip Morton leaned against the table, then slid to the floor. He had no strength left.
"Engine Room, aye…."
Feeling eyes upon him, he looked over, aware for the first time of Nelson's presence. Lee's expression was that of dismay and disappointment, while the Admiral's scorn told him his association with the Institute was at an end.
"If I was wrong, Admiral, I'm sorry," Chip said weakly. "But I still wouldn't have changed what I did. I know you'll never understand it-"
"Mister Morton! I'm picking up something!" Kowalski's frantic call brought new tension to the deck.
Scrambling to his feet, Morton wasted no time in getting to him. "What is it?"
Fearfully, Nelson helped the shaky Crane to his feet.
Pressing the headphones into his ears, Kowalski squinted, then shook his head. "I don't know, sir. There's too much sound to disassociate!"
"Mister Morton!" Patterson yelled sharply from sonar. "I'm getting a reading from bow and starboard! And above!"
"So am I!" echoed Riley at Radar. Despite being submerged they were still close enough to the surface to get a reading, but-
"What type of reading?!" But Chip's own question was answered by the heavy thud topside, causing the deck crew to look around with concern.
Close enough to peer out the nose window, Nelson and Crane did so. Shadows were dropping just to the right of the bow, but they couldn't see exactly what.
An even heavier thud next shook the entire sub. Concern turning to alarm, the officers needed no further persuasion.
"Chip, evasive- " Crane called over his shoulder as he sprinted to close the crash shields, but Chip was already shouting into the mike: "Battle Stations! Battle Stations! Sharkey! Activate sail and nose cameras!"
"Aye, sir," the man answered, sprinting to fulfill the order amidst the havoc of the men and the klaxon. "Sonar, report!" Crane yelled.
"I'm getting massive feedback, Captain."
"Same here," called Riley, a tremor in his voice.
Mindful of the shallow water, Chip ran to the topographic indicator. Too close to the ground and we could be…but for the time being they had plenty of water above and below them.
In the meantime, Nelson had joined the awestruck Sharkey at the viewscreen, starkly seeing what Chip had already known: "The channel's collapsing!" The Chief gapped, paling.
"No, the entire shelf is collapsing! Right beside us!" Nelson replied tightly. "We can't take the chance of staying here. Lee!"
But Lee was already at his side. Disbelieving what he had heard, Crane had run over to see for himself, his jaw dropping at the incomprehensible sight—the passage that took them to the Cavern was disappearing before their eyes.
Behind them, Chip ran to the seismograph, flipping its lever. The needle immediately jumped off the scale. "It's an earthquake!" he yelled.
"Lee, we have to get out of here! The pressure impact alone from the falling rocks could send Seaview to the bottom, and the damage it will do to us just sitting here…!"
A loud crash at the bow made them all spin around. Reaching forward, Nelson turned the dial. They had lost the nose camera!
Sprinting back to the plot table, Crane thought hard and fast. This was his worst nightmare come true. They could maneuver Seaview forward and to port, closer to the breakwater barrier until the danger was over, BUT… that side of the barrier curved in sharply, having less maneuvering room than this side which was longer, but dangerously shallow. Add in the currents….
Seaview suddenly tipped and tipped hard. The water was becoming turbulent. The more violent the water became, the more Seaview would be pushed all over the ocean. When that happened they would lose all control over her.
But Lee Crane was not about to let his boat get crushed to smithereens. He knew he had to get his sub out of there any way he could, and there was only one way left he could think of.
"Maneuvering, reverse engines full!" he shouted into the microphone, breaking into a sweat.
The crew mechanically obeyed commends as they consciously held their breaths with each falling object. The bombardment was becoming heavier and more frequent by the second, the starboard side getting the blunt of the assault.
Feeling the pull of Seaview's reversed engines, the crew knew she was the fastest sub in the world, but right now they wished she could go even faster!
His eyes once again locked onto the topographer, Chip watched each click, swallowing hard. They had studied the breakwater terrain as routine procedure, but he never figured they'd have to turn Seaview around in it. Have to be careful, he thought, furiously trying to remembering the maps. More thuds on the hull interrupted his thoughts. If my memory is correct, the sea floor should start to up-grade about…now.
Chip's memory held true as the needle shifted upwards.
"Skipper!!" Chip shouted, "Reverse engines! NOW!!"
His earlier doubts about his XO now totally forgotten, Crane complied without hesitation. Grinding his teeth as he waited for Seaview's reluctant response, and listening to the bombardment overhead, Lee knew the worst part was yet to come. Seaview couldn't stay where she was, she couldn't go down, therefore, she had to go—
"Chip! Set a course through the breakwater!" he yelled.
Chip's heart nearly stopped. "At this angle?!"
"I didn't say it was gonna be easy!" he shot back. His next order was obliterated by the sudden tipping of Seaview.
"Sharkey, take over!" yelled Chip as he took off forward.
"Engine Room—one-third ahead! Steering, hard to port! This is gonna be tricky!" Lee blurted as Morton sprinted past him to the chart compass.
The boat jolted, its engines having momentarily stopped, yet she continued to roll back as it's reversed momentum kept them moving backwards, using up precious seconds before the forward engines kicked in and took hold, slowly propelling the huge boat forward once more.
"Lee, do you think we should?" Nelson asked.
The topside bombardment hit incessantly.
"We've NO choice!"
Having calculated their course, Chip slapped the numbers down in front of Crane, then sprinted to steerage to do the same.
"Steering…course?" Gripping the sides of the plot table tightly, Crane barely draw a breath, waiting…
"Course set, Captain."
"Blow all ballast tanks!" he commanded into the mike. "Front planes up and rear planes down! Full ahead!"
Seaview jolted, causing everyone to wonder…and cross their fingers.
This time Nelson grabbed the mike. "Control Room to Damage Control, report!"
"We have several weakened hull plates," they relayed, "but watertight security maintained. But another hit like that and we will have a breech!"
Patterson's face paled. "I've lost sonar!!"
All eyes turned to Morton.
"Keep on course!" he ordered without hesitation.
Underneath them the deck tilted sharply as each and every one found something to hold onto.
Coming beside Chip at steerage, Crane's foot slipped, his fall saved by the outreach of his friend's hand. Pulling Lee to the chairs, the two peered over the shoulders of the planesman and helmsman, as all in the Control Room waited breathlessly. It was a tight maneuver, but all instruments indicated they were right on target. But if they weren't….
Seaview broached the surface, her great form flying into the air for a few seconds before gravity forced her downward. And down she came, hitting hard. But Morton's calculations had been accurate; they slapped down dead center of the breakwater's opening with room to spare. The only damage the submarine would receive was that from the falling rocks.
In Seaview's open-air lair, the gray lady sat quietly as several crews attended the damages she had sustained in the incident. As well, in consideration of the collapsing underwater berth, ground crews thoroughly inspected every inch of her above-water pen for the second time in two weeks; the first inspection having been done only a few days before due to the occurrence of a minor quake.
From Seaview's observation nose, her three senior officers watched the deck crews hurry about the dock as they themselves celebrated their survival by partaking of Admiral Nelson's jealously guarded one-hundred-year old scotch.
"How could you be so sure it wasn't part of the stuff you threw off the dresser?" Lee mused, examining Elliot Morton's Annapolis ring.
"Because I don't want to lose it," Chip replied, taking the ring from his friend. "so I specifically keep it in my shaving kit for safe keeping. And that's where I saw it last, in my shaving kit yesterday morning."
Nelson next took the item from Chip, shaking his head astonished. "And you believe everything that went on was because of your father?"
Quickly Chip held up his hands in denial. "I'm not saying anything. But you have to admit, it is rather coincidental. Dad was a construction engineer for the navy. He died when the structure he was working on collapsed from faulty material. And you said yourself that all the trouble began right after you canceled the rendezvous with Matteo and Rossovich. Had we been home when we were supposed to be, at least half the crew would have been onboard when The Cavern collapsed, and there would have been no chance for-"
Impatiently Nelson waved a hand, "Yes, yes, we know what the end results would have been. I'm just grateful we weren't there, and that everyone in The Cavern got out safely before she did collapse. And I did double-check… the inspection team did do a survey right after the earthquake, but their instruments turned up nothing detectable."
"Obviously we need new earthquake technology," stated Lee sourly, at the same time savoring the taste of the aged liquor, and appreciating the fact he was alive to enjoy it.
"Oh, I'll get right on it," replied Nelson with a wry grin, "after we're done here." Holding up his glass, he took another sip.
Hearing footsteps from aft, the three looked over. Sparks stubbornly refused to leave for shore leave "until his job was done" as he told them. Now, looking pale, he came to the trio with a portable tape recorder.
"Sorry to interrupt, sirs, but I-ah, thought you might want to hear this." And set the player on the table.
"What is it?" asked Lee, straightening up.
Hesitating, Sparks seemed to lose even more color. "The squeal we heard over the intercom. I taped it, hoping to analyze it later. After playing around with it, I finally got this…." Reaching over he pushed the play button.
There was a moment of static, then of different degrees of garble—fast, faster, then slow, then all of a suddenly a voice became recognizable. The tone was deep, and the words barely audible at times, but when they were clear, the words were plainly heard:
"Don't go home…danger."
T H E - E N D
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