Cindy D. Baker


Harriman Nelson, a retired Admiral from the United States Navy, is an irrefutable scientific genius with a deep love of the oceans. Once infamous as the world’s most eccentric inventor, Nelson’s controversial reputation diminished over time as his “way out” theories proved to be the contrary and he advanced scientific knowledge not by years, but by decades, much to the abasement of his colleagues. He personally financed and built the Nelson Institute of Marine Research on a vast plot of land in Santa Barbara, California, adjacent to the Pacific Ocean. It is a state-of-the-art complex, unparalleled in its scientific capacity.

Housed in a secret lair under NIMR is Nelson’s greatest triumph: SSRN Seaview. Built “in and for the future,” this unique submarine has the greatest speed, depth, firepower, and maneuverability of any boat in the modern, sea-faring world. Once labeled “Nelson’s Folly,” Seaview is now respected, envied, and coveted by entities all over the world.

In charge of Nelson’s pride and joy is Commander Lee Crane. Dark-eyed, dark-haired, and handsome, Crane is the youngest man ever to captain a nuclear sub. Although serious and devoted to his duty as Seaview’s commander, his suppressed sense of humor helps him to embrace and (usually) conquer any mission—or strange situation—assigned him and his crew. Willing to take risks, but not at the cost of innocent lives or his crew, Crane is loved and trusted by most who serve under and above him.

Next in Seaview’s chain of command is Lieutenant Commander Charles “Chip” Morton. With blond hair and blue eyes, Morton looks more like a surfer from his adopted state of California than the no-nonsense Executive Officer that he is. He, too, has earned the devotion of Seaview’s crew. Although his stoic demeanor keeps the men consistently on their toes, he is always fair in judgment and punishment, even allowing the crew the occasional shipboard shenanigans.



Stella Glacier glared at the red light, fingers taping furiously on the car armrest. “Oh for...,” she grumbled, giving the steering wheel an irritated slap. She’d been looking forward to getting to work early, but a morning traffic accident had converted the highway’s usual congestion into a massive deadlock, trapping her in nose-to-nose blockage for over an hour. Creeping forward, an inch at a time, Stella eventually escaped onto her desired exit ramp. The city streets on the outskirts of town were less used, but not by much.

Stella, bored when forced to stop at yet another long red light, peered up at the cloudless, sapphire sky. The April morning air in Santa Barbara was clear, crisp, and pollutant-free, signaling the onset of spring. Stella lifted her chin to absorb more of the sun’s penetrating warmth, but her appreciation vanished under her returning irritation. Drumming her fingers at the defiant light, Stella added an exasperated sigh. As enchanting as the day was, nothing could replace the welcomed sanctity of her beloved laboratory.

When the crimson light flipped to moss, Stella floored her clunker of a car, reaching the Nelson Institute of Marine Research in a record time of five minutes. Stella held her I.D. ready for the guards as she pulled up to the security checkpoint of the property’s front entrance. Cleared in seconds, she sped towards the back employee parking lot, cut the steering wheel hard to claim an empty spot, where she brought her beat up blue sedan to a grinding halt. Stella grabbed her maroon briefcase from the passenger seat, jumped out, exerting a forceful push on the rusted door to shut it.

Stella’s heavy braid of waist-long hair thudded against her back as she took off for the lot-side entrance of the Institute’s distinguished Administration building. A sudden blast of cool air hit her foot halfway there, and she hopped to a stop: her right leg had gone forward, but her black pump had stayed behind. “Damn!” Stella muttered, backtracking and wiggling her toes into the side-turned shoe. Sprinting up the concrete steps, Stella pulled open the heavy, metal fire door, caught her reflection in its thick glass, and paused. Can I look any worse? she frowned. Born on the thin side was one thing, and she’d long ago deemed herself “passably pretty,” but today the green pantsuit hung off her like a potato sack. “I have got to get me some new clothes!”

Inside, an imposing wall cut across the hall several yards down the corridor, blocking further admittance into the complex. Two stoic guards manned it, protected behind an oblong window made of herculite safety glass. A solid metal door, the entrance, stood to the right.

Stella slid her ID through the slot in the window, signed the clipboard on the counter, pressing her thumbprint alongside her name, while the guards verified her identification. When the female guard returned her ID, she gave Stella a confirming nod that she’d been cleared. Stella responded with a “thank you” nod, and then stepped to the door, waited for the distinct click releasing the latch, and tugged it open.

As Stella headed for the elevator bank at the heart of the building, relief filled her, and she began to relax, her taut face muscles giving way to a subtle, knowing delight; her anger and frustration replaced by analytical musings as each step brought her closer to the place she loved the best—her laboratory.

Inside the elevator, Stella hit the button for the sub-level “C” where Research was being temporarily housed. A chemical explosion had taken out the lab center six months earlier. Because of that, as well for additional safety and security purposes, Nelson had ordered Research to have its own state-of-the-art facility on the property. It would be finished within the year, and adjacent to it would be two water tanks. One for small-scale projects, such as Commodore Emery’s shark research, and a large tank, the size of a professional football field, for testing of new watercraft, among other things. There had been much discussion about adding a wind tunnel, too, but the Admiral opted, instead, to use those facilities already available to him.

“Hey, Stella!” she heard as she stepped from the elevator car. The yell had come way down the corridor from Helen Forbotini, her coworker and fellow marine biologist. Helen’s hand was still on the doorknob of C-4, the laboratory they shared.

“I was getting worried,” Helen called, approaching. “You haven’t arrived after me since you started here a year ago.”

Helen was about five years older, in her early thirties, and always had a warm, welcoming manner that Stella had come to look forward to seeing every day. Stella also envied Helen for her full-figured, raven-hair, and dark complection, which was a stark contrast to her own thin frame and fair coloration, genes she had inherited from her Lithuanian mother.

“I got stuck on the highway,” Stella frowned. “Traffic accident.”

“Well, I’m glad to see you’re okay.” Helen held up the remnants of a broken beaker as she passed. “I have to go to storage. I’ll be right back. Oh, and Stella,” she hollered over her shoulder...

Stella cringed in anticipation.

“...Admiral Nelson wants to see you.”

Stella’s relaxed mood decimated, tension invaded her every cell. “All right,” she answered with more annoyance than she had intended. “I’ll go see him just as soon as I set things up.” Teeth gritted, Stella marched into C-4. She knew what Nelson wanted, she had heard about his new underwater endeavor through the grapevine and that he wanted her involved. She also knew she was gonna hate it!

<<< >>>

Lee Crane’s mind was on nothing more than appreciating the beautiful day ahead as he strolled through the lot-side door to NIMR, up to the security post he had come to know well over the years. Lee passed his ID to the male guard behind the herculite glass, adding his signature and thumb print to the clipboard, along with the dozens of other employees who had arrived before him. Cleared, Lee moved to the door and waited to be clicked in. Hearing the click, Lee was about to pull the handle when a yell came behind him.

“Hey, Skipper!”

Lee turned, already knowing the face behind the voice: Seaview’s Chief of the Boat, Francis E. Sharkey. Lee grinned, happy to see his comrade as the man hurried to catch up with him. Like himself, Sharkey was off-duty and wearing civvies.

“Great to have you back, Skipper!” Sharkey greeted as he neared and eyeing Lee with open concern. “You’re sure you’re feeling all right now, sir?” He veered to security.

“Yes, Chief, I am!” Lee said with sincere reassurance. “My cold’s completely gone. I’m as fit as a fiddle and can’t wait to get back on duty.” Sharkey was returning from several days of shore leave, whereas Lee had been knocked off his feet due to a severe bout of influenza. Sharkey was dedicated, efficient, and also infamous for being a mother hen to his crew.

“That’s good to hear, sir,” Sharkey said, looking relieved. He retrieved his ID from the guard and joined Crane at the door. “Between the fever and your coughing, we were all afraid it had turned into pneumonia. Or something worse.”

“All is good, Chief,” Lee declared, pulling open the door and slapping his COB on the back. “Time to get back to Seaview.”

<<< >>>

Stella stored her briefcase and spring jacket in the closet, slipped into her lab coat, then trotted to the storage cabinet. Yesterday, new samples had arrived from the Hawaiian Coral Reef and she was biting at the bit to get started. For Stella, researching the deep oceans of the Earth was more thrilling than anything the movies or television could produce. She took out three bottles of chemicals, set them on the counter, and was turning to get more supplies when she felt an ominous tug at her wrist. Stella spun around, but it was too late: her sleeve had caught one of the containers and all three were plunging off the counter’s edge. The bottles hit the floor in one simultaneous crash, the combined liquids erupting with a bright swoosh, then bursting into a firewall of flames.

Stella watched the blaze for half a second, more fascinated than alarmed. She had been trained to fight fires, chemical and others, and had done so on several occasions. Plus the flames, in and of themselves, were quite fascinating.

“Oh…hell,” Stella sighed. She had to extinguish the fiery mess and do it quickly, otherwise the heat would set off the emergency signal, bringing an endless slew of personnel into her sanctuary, thus ruining the rest of her already frustrating morning.

Stella jogged to the main door grabbing the extinguisher hanging on the wall next to it. Reversing to the counter, Stella aimed the canister’s hose at the flames and pulled the trigger. A spit of foam came out—the rest was empty air. Alarm shot through Stella: this was not what she had expected. “Damn it!” Stella dumped the useless container on the floor and ran for the door. “This is all I needed...!”

In the hall, a yard down from the laboratory was an emergency telephone. Snatching it up, Stella swallowed hard, then forcing herself to speak clear and calm, pushed the button on the building’s intercom system: “Fire in C-4. Repeat, fire in Lab C-4.” She threw the phone onto its hook then hightailed it back to the lab. Inside the room, she ran to its far end to a second supply closet where another fire extinguisher was located.

<<< >>>

“...Repeat, fire in Lab C-4,” reported the feminine voice from the loudspeaker over Lee’s head as he and Sharkey waited at the elevator bay.

“Come on, Sharkey!” Lee shouted, sprinting for the stairwell. “Maybe we can help.”

Behind him, Sharkey raised a dubious eyebrow. Crane sounded excited and he wondered if the Captain was sincere about helping, or needed an adrenaline rush after being bedridden for three weeks. Sharkey shrugged at the moot point then doggedly followed.

Lee raced down the stairs with Sharkey not far behind. All naval officers are required to have extensive firefighting training and he and the Chief were no exception. Bursting through the thick fire door onto sub-level C, Lee snatched the extinguisher from its permanent position on the wall without missing a beat, continuing onto the destination. If genius wasn’t Harriman Nelson’s middle name, then safety would be, Lee mused. In every building on the property, on all floors, next to each and every stairwell was an emergency response station, complete with a first aid kit, ax, breathing mask, Kevlar blanket, and fire extinguisher.

Charging into C-4, Lee stopped short, his jaw dropping in astonishment, Sharkey plowing into him.

Jesus!” Sharkey exclaimed for them both.

The hungry flames were spreading fast along the floor despite the gallant efforts of the female lab technician, the top of the fire licking at the ceiling, while its breadth already obscured half of the ten-foot counter.

Lee’s immediate concern became the technician. Dropping the extinguisher, Lee grabbed the woman by the shoulders, swung her away from the flames, shoving her into the arms of the startled Sharkey, ordering, “Get her out of here!”

“No, wait!” the woman protested, struggling so fierce that Sharkey had to forcibly drag her from the room.

With her safe, Lee turned toward the blaze. Give me a nice, safe sub command any day, Lee ruminated as he aimed the canister, pulling the trigger. He had acknowledged long ago, during his initial training, that he didn’t like fighting fires. Flames were dangerous, unpredictable animals, finicky about what touched them, and deadly when caught off-guard. Lee’s alarm escalated as the foam reacted to the flames like a rowboat in a hurricane—useless! Fearfully aware he was losing the battle, Lee targeted the foam towards the floor where the main fuel source lay, hoping to have some effect. Wiping his eyes of the dripping sweat caused by the heat, something heavy hit Lee’s shoulder and he jumped. It was the Emergency Response Team.

The five-man crew, protected head-to-toe in silver, flame-retardant suits and boots flared out to attack the threat from all sides while their supervisor signaled Lee to leave. Thrilled to comply, Lee handed the man the extinguisher and sprinted out of there.

Sharkey paced in the corridor outside the lab’s doorway, spot-checking the progress and keeping a sharp eye and ear on the agitated scientist. The furious woman had made no qualms about how upset she was at being rescued and had since tried twice to go back in. After calling Sharkey a duty-happy, pig-headed chauvinist, she was seemed resigned at being kept out, and at the moment was stewing against the wall several feet behind him, her face flushed with anger, her eyes narrowed and blazing, her arms laced tight.

When Sharkey again peered into C-4’s window, he saw Crane jogging to the door. His anxiety dissipating, Sharkey stepped back, allowing the Captain to exit. “How’s it look, Skipper?”

“They’re...,” Lee broke into a delighted grin having spotted the blonde lab tech beyond Sharkey’s shoulder. She wasn’t bad looking. A little thin perhaps, he noted. When he saw her eyeing him, his grin grew bigger as she headed their way. “Chief, they’ll have it taken care of in—” Lee never saw the woman’s hand coming, hitting hard and dead on target.

“If I was incapable of handling a fire extinguisher, mister,” she shouted. “I wouldn’t have been in there! Remember that next time!” She turned on her heel and was gone, leaving Sharkey drop-jawed and Lee massaging his throbbing cheek.

<<< >>>

Harriman Nelson was deep into editing a report in his office on the highest floor of the building when a single knock at the door made him look up, except Stella burst in before he could open his mouth.

“Stella, don’t you ever wait for an answer?” Harry asked amused, at the same time, a little annoyed. Sometimes she took too much liberty with their relationship.

“Please, Uncle Harry, I’m busy,” Stella asserted. “Helen said you wanted to see me.”

Harry leaned back in his chair, tapping his pencil. Measuring his words, Harry prepped himself for the explosion he knew would be forthcoming. “Doctor Glacier, you’re going on assignment.”

“Forget it!” Stella snapped, about-facing and making straight for the exit.

“You open that door and you’re discharged!” Harriman Nelson warned commandingly loud and uncontestably clear. Stella stopped dead in her tracks. “Now get back here and sit down.”

Sulking, Stella marched to the desk but remained standing, her arms crossed in defiant protest.

Harry pursed his lips to hide his chuckle, waving his hand, indicating the chair beside her. “I said sit!” This time it was an order.

Well acquainted with that tone, however reluctant, Stella did as she’d been told.

“Now don’t say a thing, not a single word,” Harry ordered, “until I’m done talking, do you understand?” He paused, waiting for an argument and could tell from the tight look on her face that one wouldn’t be forthcoming, at least not yet. “As head of the Nelson Institute of Marine Research, I’m putting you in charge of a special marine project. In a nutshell, NIMR has built a new underwater research laboratory with a special salt water-resilient coating. It needs to be tested under the water,” he joked, “and I want you to be its lead scientist. As the lab is being tested, you and another scientist will be monitored for mental and physical endurance, etcetera, etcetera. While you’re down there, you’re to do as much research as the two of you can handle.”

“That it?” Stella asked, her chin raised.


“No.” Stella stood and headed for the door.

“And just why not, may I ask?” Harry’s irritation was growing.

Stella returned, and when she did, Harry noticed her expression had softened drastically, putting him instantly on guard.

“Uncle Harry, I can’t leave now,” she pleaded, her tone dripping with honey. “Yesterday, I received lots of new samples to work on. I have that, my studies, and—”

“—Stella, all you’ve done for the last two years is study! You’ve gathered enough knowledge of the sea-body to put two-thirds of the world’s best oceanographers to shame! You’ve been working so hard these past few months some people would even say you’re trying to work yourself to death.”

“That’s their opinion,” Stella grumbled, intertwining her arms.

“I would very much like to see you work on this project. I honestly think you’d enjoy it.”

“I don’t want to go!”

Harry’s patience broke—he slammed his palm on the desk! “Then as head of the Nelson Institute, and your godfather, I will be forced to have you placed under psychiatric evaluation!”

“For what?” Stella demanded, looking appalled.

“For attempted suicide by way of running yourself into the ground!”

“That’s a lie!”

Seeing Stella blanch, Harry knew he had won this battle. “Stella,” he said, his fury replaced by the parental affection he had for her, “I’ve been watching you—we all have—for the past year. You never go out anywhere, you’ve been sleeping in the lab, and Helen says you haven’t been eating. I know you’re trying to forget, but I won’t let you kill yourself to do it!”

“I am not trying to kill myself,” Stella said, mollified yet still defiant.

“Yes, you are! Look at yourself! You look like you haven’t seen the sun in months, and a scarecrow has more weight on it than you do. But that’s going to stop right now, is that clear? So take your choice: Project Venus or a psychiatrist. Which is it?”

Stella’s foot tapped fiercely as she stared at him and then the ceiling.

“Well?” Harry asked, hiding his amusement and leery that this conversation may not yet be over. Since her daughter’s death two years ago, the once-reasonable Stella had developed an obstinate and very much insubordinate, not to mention defensive, nature.

Finally, Stella turned to him, her eyes ablaze. Harry was well acquainted with that look. She didn’t hate him, but he was pushing himself real close.

“All right, you win,” Stella stated, “but this is the last time anyone tells me what to do!”

Stella barreled towards the door and this time Harry didn’t stop her. Instead, he cringed in expectation and wasn’t disappointed: Stella slammed the door with such a loud bang he was sure it had been heard across the entire floor. Harry shook his head. He loved the girl dearly. She had strength in her that never ceased to amaze him, and deep down inside she was as tenderhearted as they come. However, when she pulled this tough act on him, the man who had known her since birth, he couldn’t help but shake his head and laugh.


Harry took a sip from the coffee cup resting at his hand then continued reading the latest reports from Project Venus that had arrived at his desk that morning. As he did, he felt his pride swell. If all worked out, this newest prototype could be his greatest invention since Seaview.

Three months ago, the patented Nelson Mini-Lab 1, fondly called “ML-1” by staff, was integrated with his coral reef research project and lowered into position beneath the warm, salty waters of the Pacific Ocean. The lab’s revolutionary shape inspired from that of a beaker, Harry had ML-1 constructed with the same titanium alloy that hulled Seaview. Circular, to allow bypassing currents, its round base was flat and wide for stability, having the dimension of a two-car garage. Its bowing sides went up ten feet then cut in sharply to the centralized, 5 X 5 escape tube, one of two escape routes provided. The tube’s open elevator shaft acts as additional structural support to the tube, having a hand-pulley to be used for emergencies. The second escape trunk on the base faces Northeast toward land and away from the currents.

With safety factors of the utmost importance, the site chosen for the experimental lab was an atoll amidst the Line Islands chain. Located halfway between Hawaii and American Samoa, Palmyra Atoll is at the crossroads of the Equatorial Currents from the south, east, and sometimes west, making the island a hotbed of coral and marine life. Here, the natural threats were most nominal, the paradise virtually untouched and, as yet, undocumented. The Line Islands, at one time a United States territory, had since reverted back to its original Hawaiian descendants. The family, in regard for Palmyra’s environmental well-being, had sought out Admiral Nelson for advice, out of which developed a professional friendship.

Housed inside ML-1’s cramped space was the research-gathering component of the enterprise. Dubbed Project Venus during Nelson’s start-up stages, marine biologists Stella Glacier and Helen Forbotini adapted to their new home with quick ease, delving into their research with such zeal that they began sending invaluable data back to NIMR the first night of their stay. A third of the space served as the lab, the other third the living quarters, and the last third as a supply area, and additional storage overhead against the ceiling.

Project Venus will be situated near the southwest tip of the atoll where the depths are deep enough in the brine to test the endurance of the mini-lab, yet close enough to Palmyra so her scientists will have land to go to in case of emergency,” Nelson had reassured his Board of Directors. “Nor will Doctors Glacier and Forbotini be totally alone during this time. With permission by the island owners, the Nature Conservancy will have personnel stationed there conducting research of their own.” Harry also had implemented strict procedural guidelines for Venus’ two scientists to ensure their well-being. Included, among other things, the women were to maintain hourly contact with NIMR, and daily contact with the Conservancy.

Lastly, due to the ever-changing environment of the ocean, it was agreed upon by all personnel involved that, because ML-1 and its experimental salt resilient coating was in its testing stages, the first outing for the mini-lab and Project Venus would be limited to four months.

Months that passed with relative ease....

<<< >>>

SSRN Seaview glided atop the warm Pacific currents with fluent ease, the vibrant sunlight glistening off her gray metallic hull. Her destination: the scheduled site survey for Admiral Nelson’s newest underwater installation. There was a brief stop at the island of Oahu, Hawaii, where Nelson attended a business conference and the crew enjoyed forty-eight hours of much appreciated shore leave.

Two days after departing Hawaii, a loose radio mast halted the journey for emergency repairs. Communications once again operational, Seaview continued on her way.

Inside her Control Room, Lee trained the periscope on the sea, watching as it obliterated Seaview’s descending foredeck. “Bow under,” Lee called out per procedure, his arms resting casually on the scope handles. Circling aft, Lee watched the stern disappear. “Decks awash,” he announced with lay back authority. Within minutes, the teal waves covered his view, fading sunlight becoming all that was left for him to see. “Scope’s awash.” Lee flipped up the scope handles and punched the retract button. With a soft hum, the instrument slid downward into its berth.

Balancing on the sloping ten-degree deck, Lee made his way to the plotting table where Admiral Nelson, beaming with pride and anticipation, was pointing out their destination to Seaview’s executive officer, Chip Morton.

“ if this location works out,” Harry tapped the map with a pencil, “then Project Saturn will be on its way to becoming a reality.”

“Speaking of Saturn,” Lee finished entering the dive details into the logbook, returning the binder to its place under the table, “how long before the Venus scientists surface?”

“Two weeks to the day,” Chip shot back, looking immediately aware of his error.

Lee saw the mischievous glint come to Nelson’s eyes, the Admiral giving him a conspiring wink.

“Correct, Mr. Morton. I didn’t realize you were keeping such a close eye on things there.”

“Oh? Didn’t you know?” Lee joined in with an impish grin. “One of the scientists you shipped down there just happens to be a close friend of Chip’s. A very close friend.”

“They both are, Captain Crane,” Chip corrected, dreading the ribbing he was going to get from this.

“Skipper!” Patterson hollered from Sonar. “I’m getting a reading—”

“Admiral Nelson!” broke in Sparks’ alarmed call through the overhead speaker. “I’ve intercepted a distress signal from Project Venus!”

In quick, anxious strides, Lee and Nelson joined Sparks in the Radio Shack while Morton veered to Sonar.

“Put it on speaker,” ordered Harry.

“What is it, Pat?” Lee heard Chip ask Sonar, behind him.

But Patterson never got the chance to answer.

“...repeat. This is Project Venus calling Nelson Institute. SOS: being torn apart by subsurface waves caused by earthquake aftershocks.”

Lee glanced at Harry and saw his face drain of color. Although Glacier’s voice was strong and steady, in the background Lee could hear the dim groan of twisting metal, along with other noises he couldn’t identify.

“We’ll hold out for as long as we can, then try to swim to the atoll. Do you read?”

Needing an immediate update, Lee jogged to Sonar.

Patterson, upon seeing Crane coming, pushed back his headphones. “That’s what I was gonna tell you, sir. I’m picking up readings of an earthquake.”

“Morton,” Nelson shouted from the radio shack, “how close to Palmyra are we?”

“At flank speed, under an hour! Keep us informed, Patterson.” Chip bolted forward. He didn’t need to wait for the next order to know what it would be. At the plotting table, he scooped up the protractor to fix a new course. “Damn it! Of all the times for the Flying Sub to be down.”

Lee paused long enough to sound general alarm then followed Morton.

“Tell her Seaview’s on her way,” Harry told Sparks over the pulsating clang of the alarm. “Then call NIMR and find out what they know.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” Sparks nodded, his hand on the switch to reply to Venus.

“Sternsman,” called Lee, approaching the ship control panel, “fifteen degrees down bubble; take her to six zero zero feet.”

“Six zero zero feet. Aye, aye, sir,” redheaded Bushnell repeated.

“Helm,” ordered Lee, “right full rudder, course three six zero; stand by for course correction.”

“Three six zero; aye, aye, sir,” replied Crewman Sontag from the outer chair.

“Drive her hard, Lee,” Harry urged coming beside him, gripping the table’s edge.

Outwardly, the Admiral appeared calm, but Harry’s white knuckles confirmed otherwise. “Aye, aye, sir. All ahead flank,” Lee shouted out.

“All ahead flank,” echoed Sontag, signaling the speed change to maneuvering.

<<< >>>

Inside ML-1 on the bottom of the ocean floor, Stella Glacier and Helen Forbotini held tight to the elevator support girder, their eyes wide and teeth clenched as the latest round of violent tremors shook apart the small station. Listening to the ominous creaks of the shifting structure, both wondered what crowning event would destroy Nelson’s creation: the next impact wave, a busted seam, or an aftershock? Aware of potential annihilation, they had changed into scuba suits, prepped the tanks, making sure the gear was within hand-grabbing reach at all times. As the tremor dissipated, they picked up where they had left off in the emergency evacuation procedure.


Helen paused in storing away the lab equipment to peer behind her.

“I want you out of here!” Stella commanded, grabbing papers from the file cabinet, stuffing them into waterproof bags. “There’s nothing more you can do.”

“I’m not going without you!” Helen yelled back. She squatted, locking the lower door of the work counter. Cold wetness hit atop her head. Her gaze shot upwards, terror filling her: water was trickling in from the overhead seams! “Stella, this place isn’t gonna to hold up much longer!”

“I’m coming!” Stella snapped, jogging to the communications center. “I want to find out where Seaview is first. Now get out of here before this place collapses on both of us. And don’t forget the life raft!”

Helen was hesitant to leave, but understood she had no choice. At the locker where the emergency supplies were stored, she retrieved the compacted black Zodiac. “Lord, please don’t let this be needed,” she muttered.

Palmyra was a fifth of a mile away, yet the biggest danger to them at the moment was what they were trying to protect—the reef. However fragile, the coral was razor sharp. They could swim or raft over the submerged community but it had to be done at the right moment, otherwise the shock waves would slam them into the coral, cutting the boat and them to ribbons. Nor could they expect help from the Nature Conservancy, not with the tremendous waves that were pummeling the tiny island.

Helen geared up with the last of her diving equipment, secured the bulky black bundle to her waist, and stepped to the base escape trunk. She paused to take a long, solemn look around because she had no doubts that this would be the last time she ever saw the place. Peering at Stella, Helen saw her coworker urgently throwing levers, tuning dials, and activating signals.

“Don’t stay too long,” Helen urged to the back of Glacier’s emphatically nodding head. She entered the closet-size airlock. Seconds later, she was away.

Seaview,” Stella repeated into the microphone, “this is Venus. What is your ETA? Over.” While waiting for an answer, she glanced across her shoulder at the escape compartment. The handle was secure and the bubbles in the indicator tube were rising. Satisfied Helen was gone, Stella shot to the tan filing cabinet snuggled against the bunk beds. Taking out a brown, hand-sized bottle, she cushioned it inside plastic wrapping.

<<< >>>

Helen pushed open the pressure hatch and slipped out of the airlock. Frightened, she had to fight not to bite down on her mouthpiece. The ocean was much rougher than she had anticipated, the intermittent residual aftershocks flinging around anything and everything loose in the ocean: sand, coral, sponges, echinoderms, etc. It was hard for Helen to see and get her bearings, let alone stay in place long enough to do so as the tumultuous waters threatened to drag her around like a balloon in a windstorm. Grasping the hatch handle, Helen found only one solution: the surface waters too volatile to swim past the breakers to the atoll, ergo, she had to go out and go deeper into the Pacific where the earthquake undertows would be dispelled.

Helen didn’t have to go far, just far enough to find something she could anchor to, and the huge rock was a God-send. Helen clung to it, protected from the flying debris yet close enough to the surface to see their rescuers arrival. If Seaview could find them. In glancing back at the mini-lab, Helen noticed the marker buoy/location beacon was gone. But Nelson knew their coordinates, and Helen prayed she could maintain her ground until they came. She speculated on their chances should she and Stella need to reach the island. Her answer: not good. The Admiral had figured every contingency into the project except that of an earthquake and the lab collapsing. Helen peered at her oxygen gauge and broke out in a sweat. Their survival depended on Seaview, the timing of the aftershocks, and their oxygen supply, none of which was looking promising.


As Seaview neared the mini-lab’s coordinates, Harriman felt the air in the Control Room thicken. Palmyra Atoll was rich with marine life and the best area for the experiment, but not the easiest place to maneuver a full-sized submarine. The outer depths past the continental slope well accommodated Seaview’s bulk at over 2,000 feet, but ML-1’s drop site was a narrow platform of hard sand and reef-rock just off the atoll in 66 feet of water, within diving/rafting distance of the coral beds and coastline. Calm weather enabled Seaview close access without running aground, hence the location choice, but the current conditions were anything but!

Harry scanned the data sheet in one hand, his other latched to the vertical plotter to keep from toppling. The information, sent to him from NIMR, confirmed what he already knew: a minor earthquake had struck northwest of the island chain. The quake had ended minutes after it had started, but its resulting sporadic tremors continued to produce powerful impact waves. These blows not only interfered with Seaview’s delicate instruments, but had already displaced the huge submarine several times as well.

Chip remained glued to the plotting table and knowing they had to be close, he meticulously marked down each degree of their advancement. “Crew, report!” he shouted out. For the past half-hour, this shortcut had become the routine, bypassing official protocol.

“Unable to get a reading, sir,” the various stations called back.

Chip scowled in frustration. That, too, had become the norm. He despised being blind, but with this type of turmoil they were also dumb and deaf, putting Seaview and her crew in a very dangerous situation.

Lee glanced out the observation nose. Cruising at a shallow 200 feet, he would have expected to see beautiful, turquoise water, but all he saw was a mass of swirling debris through the surface light. And Seaview’s safety zone was diminishing fast!

“All stop; maintain neutral buoyancy,” Lee ordered as he jogged from one station to the next, double-checking readouts and looking for some signs of a letup. “Radar, Sonar, talk to me!” he yelled, peering over the shoulders of planesmen Bushnell and Sontag at ship control. These instruments, too, had been rendered useless.

“I’m blind, Captain!” Patterson called from Sonar. “There’s too much interference to get a clear sounding.”

“Same here, Skipper,” reported Sparks from Radio. “I can’t pick up their location beacon.”

“Even the Fathometer’s gone berserk-o, Skip—” started Riley, grabbing the back of Patterson’s chair to keep from getting tossed during the pitch. “I can’t get a lock on nothin’!”

Lee studied the two ship control pilots in front of him. The men were oblivious to everything except wrestling the rebellious drive wheels in their hands.

“Don’t know how long I can keep trim, Skipper,” said Bushnell through gritted teeth.

“Do the best you can, fellas. At least if we sink here, we can swim out.” Lee gave his planesman an encouraging pat on the shoulder then returned to the plotting table. There, he drew in a long breath, exchanging uneasy looks with Morton: if Seaview could be moved like this then the violent waters would be hell on a human being. “Do you know where we are, Chip?”

“We should be practically over the lab now, Skipper.”

“Lee, report,” called Nelson on his way from the Shack.

“We’re arrived at our destination, bu—” the sub rocked hard. In unison, the three officers gripped the table. “— we’re deaf, dumb, and blind,” Lee finished.

“Not so blind.” Harry went to the starboard monitor affixed over the Radar station and turned it on. “I redirected the midship camera control mount.”

The lens, perpetually aimed forward, now angled downward. Harry adjusted the set dials, manipulating, to a limited degree, the camera’s viewpoint, as well as the zoom ratio. The plying made little different, however. With what the agitated water was tossing around from the ocean floor, it was next to impossible to see anything.

“Back one third,” Lee commanded.

As the order was confirmed and applied, Chip trotted to the Radio Shack. “Sparks, anything?”

The radio technician pressed the headphones tight against his ears then shook his head. “No, sir. Nothing since twenty minutes ago even when the waters were calm.”

At the monitor, Lee glanced over his shoulder to make sure Chip was out of earshot before addressing Nelson. He had known Harry long enough to tell, despite Nelson’s calm tone, that the man was seething. “Admiral,” whispered Lee, “you look mad as hell. Something’s wrong, what is it?”

“I was going over the earthquake report the Institute transmitted to us earlier,” Nelson said through his clinched jaw.

Seething nothing, Harry was enraged!

“The earthquake was a 4.2. The mini-lab was built to sustain three times that amount of assault! Aftershocks are known to continue for hours after the initial quake, but there’s no reason, Lee—none whatsoever!—why the mini-lab should fall apart like this! But I’m damn well gonna—ALL STOP!” Harry bellowed.

“All stop!” repeated Lee, confirming the command. “Maintain hover trim.”

“All stop; maintain hover trim; maneuvering answers all bells,” Lee heard from Helm, his concentration on the monitor.

There!” Harry pointed, excited. “The mini-lab!”

Lee squinted hard, but all he could see was swirling muck in the agitated water. “Are you sure?”

“Positive!” Harry said proudly. “I built the damn thing, didn’t I?” Fear shadowed his face.

Morton raced up beside them. “Do you think they’re still inside?” His forehead scrunched in worry as he strained to recognize anything on the screen.

Harry took a deep breath. “Let’s hope not.” But privately he feared how Stella would react to leaving all that research.

Unable to see pass the murky screen, Chip peered at Lee, sharing the same tense look: they would have passed over the structure had they not known its exact location, but a lone diver was a separate story altogether.

<<< >>>

Helen kept her eyes shut tight to concentrate on nothing but her handhold on the boulder. She had debated about returning to ML-1, but her decision had taken too long and when this latest tremor struck, it took all the strength she had not to get swept away. Feeling the chaos ebbing, Helen opened her eyes, peering in the direction of the mini-lab, praying it was still there. To her immense relief, it was. But for how much longer?

Helen looked upwards with guarded hope, striving to see through the chaotic water. Jubilation took her breath away. Lights, many of them, hovered above her! So close, in fact, she felt like she could almost touch them. And those collective lights could only be one thing: Seaview! Helen detached the bulky raft from her waist and swam for all she was worth, praying that the sub was as close as her goggles imaged it to be and that she reached it before the next aftershock hit.

The men of Seaview felt the subsurface agitation ebbing and turned, watching the TV screen with guarded breath as the debris began to settle. It wasn’t long before the unmistakable glow of the mini-lab’s lights broke through the contaminated indigo water.

Harry shook his head, his brow deepening, his eyes locked on the monitor. “I don’t know. The lab looks intact, but—”

“Lower to two five zero feet,” Lee yelled over his shoulder. There was plenty of water between their keel and the ocean floor, it was the drifting into the reef-rock platform that scared the hell out of him. But with the turbulence slackening, it gave them an opportune rescue window.

“Lowing to two five zero feet—”

“Look! There’s someone out there!” shouted Chip, causing all heads in the Control Room to turn. The orange neon diving suit left him no doubt as to what it was. “She’s heading for the Missile Room! I’ll go see who it is.” Chip disappeared through the rear hatch in the span of a heartbeat.

Stella ignored her fears and growing anxiousness, fighting instead, to zip up her diving suit while maintaining her balance on the canting floor. At last succeeding, she strapped her tank in place then jogged to the communications center, grabbing the mic for what she knew would be her last communique: “Seaview, abandoning Venus. Over.” Clicking off, she snatched her flippers from the floor and sprinted to the escape trunk.

Under normal conditions, the lab was easy to get around in but having been shaken to its foundation core, everything moveable—and some which wasn’t—was now on the floor: chairs, lighting fixtures, storage boxes, equipment panels. The facility too was now also leaning, the seeping seams making the tiled floor slippery.

Scuttling over the tremor-induced obstacle course, Stella jolted to a heart-wrenching stop: a tall filing cabinet had fallen in front of the base airlock! Biting her lip, Stella peered overhead at the elevated escape route, well aware that it, too, was unusable, the twisting structure having earlier contorted the hatch frame out of visible alignment. Stella thought she might be able to get the hatch open, but doubted she could get it closed again. Therefore, she had to move the barrier!

Stella squeezed herself between the fallen cabinet and the metal, rectangular supply box. Her back to the cabinet and feet braced against the box, Stella gritted her teeth and pushed! The cabinet moved half an inch. Stella posed to repeat the act when the mini-lab began to shake with jarring, mounting intensity! Alarmed, Stella swallowed her terror, concentrated hard, and pushed the cabinet a second time, it scooting enough to revive her hope. A creak and snap over Stella’s head made she look up just as the elevator girder shimmied then detached completely. The end falling straight down towards her, Stella scrambled out of its way, but her foot slipped on the wet flooring and dropping her to her knees where the descending metal edge caught her flailing arm, cutting her left wrist deep.

Stella shrieked at the stinging salt water penetrating the cut. She wrung her wrist to stem the blood flow, scanning her surroundings. Behind her, the towel rack laid on the floor, its supplies scattered in all directions. Stella seized a towel, cutting several strips using the beam’s sharp edge. Wrapping these around the wound, she pulled the bounding as tight as she could, next wrapping a plastic bag over the bandaging. Let that be good enough to protect it from the water, Stella prayed, securing it with a second strip. And the sharks.

The lab violently shuddered with an ominous, deep groan. This was Stella’s last warning, she knew she had to get out or die there. Resuming her position on the floor, Stella raised her feet and shoved with all her might! The cabinet slid clear of the airlock entrance. Considerate of her tank, Stella forced herself past the hatch’s frame, thankful, for once, of her thinness. A minute later, she was in the Pacific Ocean.

<<< >>>

Lee and Nelson continued their intense vigil at the monitor, their faces grim as they waited for word on the first swimmer.

“If we—” Lee blurted out.

“Another shock wave, Skipper!” shouted Patterson from Sonar.

“Helm, hold her steady!” Lee ordered, reaching out for the Periscope Island in back of him and getting set for the bombardment. Beside him, Nelson did likewise, seeming to pale more with each tremor that hit them.

“Missile Room to Conn.” It was Morton via the intercom.

Harry sprinted to the plotting table, grabbing its microphone. “Conn, Nelson.”

“The diver’s Helen Forbotini,” Chip relayed.

“How is she?” Harry asked, shifting to maintain balance, and holding onto the table with the other hand while the boat rocked.

“She seems okay, but I’m taking her to Sick Bay anyway. Any sign of Doctor Glacier?”

“No, not yet.”

“Wait a minute, I see something!” Lee moved closer to the screen.

Both men stared fixated.

Suddenly, Nelson’s face lit up. “It’s her! I’m on my way! Conn out.” Shoving the mic on its clip, he bolted for the hatchway.

“Lieutenant O’Brien,” Lee called over his shoulder, close to Nelson’s heels, “you still have the Conn.

<<< >>>

Chief Sharkey’s eyes never left the Missile Room’s monitor as he ordered crewmen Marco Lopez, Bill Welch, and Ray Collins to stand firm in case they were needed. Once the woman scientist was aboard, Sharkey had Welch assist XO Morton in taking her to Sick Bay. Now Sharkey wished he had done it itself—this waiting was killing him! All he could see through the spiraling water was the yellow spot of the swimmer’s scuba suit.

“Captain Crane charged through the corridor hatch. “Update, Chief,” he asked, Admiral Nelson a half-second behind him.

Sharkey shook his head, his expression dark. “She’s having a hard time swimming, sirs. Skipper, permission to take the mini-sub—”

“Denied!” Crane snapped. “You know as well as I do that this water will throw the mini-sub into the reef or pummel it into the sand!”

“The depths are shallow enough, we can send out divers, Lee,” suggested Nelson. “With a safety line attached—”

“—They wouldn’t get two feet and—”

“I’ll go myself, Skipper!” cut in Sharkey.

“Damn it, Lee, we have to try something!”

Lee looked from the Sharkey to the Admiral. It was a painful decision and his options were disappearing by the second. In sending out two men, they could wind up losing all three! Still uncertain, his gaze fell to Nelson.

Months ago, Lee had started hearing unflattering rumors pertaining to Harry’s relationship with Doctor Glacier. Although Nelson’s personal affairs were none of his business, the men were friends and as such, Lee had been concerned. When he had asked Harry about the rumors, the older man merely brushed them off as being over-exaggerated gossip. Now, however, Lee was witnessing first-hand the intense, emotional bound the Admiral had formed with this woman, and he was sure that if anything happened to her, Nelson’s guilt would tear him apart.

We could lose all three, Lee debated. Or they could just make it back alive. “All right, Chief, GO!”

“Kowalski!” Sharkey shouted, stripping off his tie.

The younger sailor appeared from behind the missile silo, all ready in full diving gear. Kowalski trailed Sharkey to the scuba closet, seized an oxygen tank, and swung it onto the Chief’s back while the officer kicked off his shoes.

“Strap it on, Ski!” Sharkey said, hoisting the tank. “We don’t have time for everything, and the waters here are warm enough where I only need the tank and flippers.”

From beside the monitor, Lee and Nelson looked upon the men with amazement.

“No man can beat Sharkey when it comes to being prepared,” Nelson said with blatant admiration.

Lee nodded, returning his attention on the screen. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say she was getting closer.”

“She probably is,” Nelson said, with a hint of pride. “Stella’s one hell of a swimmer!”

Beside him, Lee bristled, but it went unnoticed. Lee checked the progress of his two swimmers—they were almost ready; he sprinted to the escape trunk.

“Done!” Kowalski shouted.

“Let’s go!” Sharkey replied.

They raced to Lee. He had the tether line connected to both men in a matter of seconds, shoving the rest of the line into Ski’s hand, admonishing, “Connect it to the external loop before you completely exit the chamber.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” Sharkey answered, entering the airlock.

Lee dogged the hatch behind them. He listened to the water rushing inward, watching the bubbles in the air tube indicator rise, along with his own impatience. Lives were at stake yet the escape capsule was taking forever to fill! The safety lights above the trunk flashed green, allowing the divers to exit at last. Lee rejoined Nelson at the monitor. “I don’t believe it,” Lee gaped. “She’s almost here!”

“And without the help of anyone,” Nelson replied proudly. “That’s my niece.”

The comment shot through Lee like a bullet. Being close friends for these past several years, Lee thought he had learned all there was to know about Harriman Nelson, but clearly he was wrong, concealing his hurt under compressed lips.

<<< >>>

Stella swam for all she was worth, terrified that if she lost sight of Seaview’s lights she would die. Her breathing laboring against the disrupting water, a burning sensation exploded in Stella’s arm, her agonized cry smothered by the air mask. Grasping her wrist, Stella kept kicking, forcing her breathing to keep steady while she examined the binding. The bandages had worked loose and were seeping blood. Her worst nightmare had become reality! Kicking harder, Stella prayed that the water was too stirred up for sharks to follow her bloody trail.

Stella focused her mind, pushing her way closer to the sub’s underbelly, but each stroke drained more and more of her strength. She pinpointed, in general, where the escape hatch was, but she still had several yards yet to go. I can make it! Stella ordered herself. If no shockwaves hit again.

The blunt thud hit the back of Stella’s head, shooting pain through her body while stars blinded her sight, allowing the raucous currents to take advantage. Tossed around like a leaf in a tornado, Stella lost all sense of direction. She was tiring, but she refused to give up and fought to stay conscious. A flickering shadow appeared in front of her, a vice-like grip clamping over her arm before she could identify it. Stella pulled demonically, but she couldn’t break the grasp. Disoriented, her mental and physical strength collapsing, Stella succumbed to the murky void.

<<< >>>

Harry stood beside Crane, his breath held in his lungs, staring wide-eyed at the Missile Room monitor. No sooner had Sharkey and Kowalski left the air chamber when the Control Room warned of another impact wave. Dread churning in the pit of his stomach, and desperate to keep track of them, Harry re-directed the starboard camera, his heart sinking when he found nothing amidst the oceanic turmoil. In a last ditch effort to find the swimmers, he aimed the camera at the airlock entrance. What Harry saw made his knees weak. “They’re back!” he shouted elated.

“There’s three of them! They got her!” Crane yelled.

Moments before, Kowalski, a stronger, faster swimmer than Sharkey, had battled the last couple of yards of violent water to reach the struggling scientist. The two Navy men were fresh and strong and, in spite of the currents threatening to tear them away from the ship, Kowalski had lashed onto Glacier’s wrist as Sharkey had lashed onto Ski’s arm. Yards from the hatch, the divers followed the tether line back to Seaview with minimum strife.

At the monitor, when Harry saw all three safe in the escape trunk, he gave Crane a joyous backslap, then raced to the chamber. Behind him, he heard Crane say, “Ray, get some towels,” to crewman Collins, a quick “aye, aye, sir” following.

Nervous and impatient, Harry paced beside the airlock while Crane stood sentry at its hatch, waiting for the crucial moment when it was safe to open the pressurized chamber. The indicator bubbles neared the tube bottom but before the red safety light clicked green confirming full drainage, Crane undogged the lock, threw open the door, his trousers drenched by several gallons of cascading seawater onto the deck.

Harry reached out to embrace Stella but caught a tumbling, unconscious woman in his arms instead. Surprised and thrown off balance by her dead weight, Harry fell forward to his knees. As he lowered Stella’s to the floor, Sharkey exclaimed beside him, “Admiral!” and pointed to Stella’s bandaged wrist. It was soaked with blood.


It only took seconds to rush Stella to Sick Bay, but for Harry, it had seemed like hours. The time that followed proved even more unbearable. He’d been forced to wait in the corridor while Doc sewed up Stella’s wrist and did several medical tests. Having quit smoking years ago, Harry did the one thing he could do to relieve his anxiety: he paced.

They can send men to the moon, why can’t they create medical tests that don’t take hours to achieve results? Harry peered at his watch again, his frustration shooting through the roof. A mere four minutes had passed since the last time he had checked.

“How is she?” Crane asked, rushing up behind him. In the interim, he had ordered Seaview into deeper waters and changed his drenched trousers.

“Alive,” Harry replied, massaging his tense jaw. “That’s all Doc would tell me, and that was forty-five minutes ago.”

“The Doc can patch up anybody. God knows he’s patched up this crew enough,” Crane said with a light laugh.

Harry chuckled at the inference, but concern for Stella turned him somber. “If anything happens to her....” Harry couldn’t bear to think of it. Nor had he meant to say it aloud, especially not to Lee, but he was so used to confiding in the young officer that he’d forgotten whom he was talking to, reminded only by Crane’s abrupt rigidness and subtle look of betrayal.

Harry cleared his throat, taking a deep breath. “I’m her godfather, Lee,” he explained as way of an apology. “I consider her my niece because, simply put, she has no one else.”

Lee’s expression got tighter. “With all due respect, Admiral, your relationship with Doctor Glacier is none of my business.”

“It is as long as Stella’s on Seaview. I think you, being my friend, have a right to know.”

With shame now thrown in, Lee tensed up even more. He never wanted his friendship with Chip or Harry to interfere with any relationship they might develop with a woman. “Admiral, you have no reason to explain it to me.”

“Oh, yes, I do,” Harry insisted. He trusted Lee Crane with his life and the man needed to know that the trust was still there. However, silently Harry cringed. The amount he could tell Lee was going to be a difficult balance at best. “Stella’s the closest thing to a child I’m ever gonna have. I won’t lie to you, Lee; I love the girl as if she were my own.” Harry guffawed. Girl? She’s a full-grown woman! “Her mother and I were friends for many years, but she died when Stella was young and her father was too busy with his career to pay much attention to her.” Guilt and regret filled his soul. “These last ten years, I haven’t been much better in the Dutch Uncle department, either.”

“Up until two years ago, that is,” Lee corrected, remembering when the Admiral first began referring to his niece. “The funeral....”

Harry nodded, grateful that Lee had remembered, but it also ignited his anger. “Her own father refused to be there for the funeral—his own granddaughter, Lee! Can you believe it? And her husband had walked out on her, blaming Stella for the baby’s death. That only left me.” Fire came to Nelson’s eyes. “After I heard that, the Van Allen Belt couldn’t have kept me from being there for her. And nothing else ever will again.”

“But you barely mentioned her to me.” Lee’s forehead creased with bafflement.

Harry shrugged. “We were mending fences, building bridges. I wasn’t sure she would let me into her life again, let alone have a relationship. Seemed prudent not to say anything.” He watched Lee mull it over, then smile slightly, the earlier frostiness having melted away.

“Well, from now on, if you have anything else to confess,” Lee joked, “don’t feel you need to hesitate.” He looked at his wristwatch. “Break time’s over, we’ll talk some more later.”

“Right.” Once Crane left, Harry let out the air he didn’t know he’d been holding. He hated lying to him, but this was one need-to-know mission Lee was better off not knowing about. Boy, am I gonna catch hell when he finds out later, Harry acknowledged with a shudder.

<<< >>>

Harry pushed back the loose strand of Stella’s hair that refused to stay put, reigning in his panic. It had been several hours since they’d brought Stella to Sick Bay, yet she remained ashen and unresponsive. Torn between his duties to Seaview and the needs of his adoptive niece, Harry had left several times for coffee, but his anxiousness always brought him back to her within minutes. Harry rubbed his forehead, his mind and body dragging, and after his conversation with Crane, what he really wanted was a shot of Scotch, but alas, he berated himself, he had neglected to replace his onboard stash after the last cruise.

Harry shifted in his chair to talk to the doctor, but the physician was nowhere in sight. Probably sick of me asking when Stella would wake up, he decided, returning his attention to the cot. Harry did a double take, his heart quickening, his spirits euphoric: Stella’s eyelids had fluttered. Her eyes then blinked repeatedly open until they stayed that way.

“Stella?” Harry asked with hesitation.

When Stella turned her pale face toward him, Harry almost collapsed with relief. And then he remembered what they had found on her.

“Uncle Harry?” Stella asked groggily, her throat hoarse from dryness.

“Aye, it’s Uncle Harry,” he said, his expression tight, his eyes narrowing. “How do you feel?”

“Tired. Sore.” Stella pulled her arms out from under the blanket and stretched upwards. They felt like lead, as did her mind. Realizing Harry hadn’t said anything more, she peered at him. The man’s face was as red as his Irish-inherited hair. Then Stella spotted the huge bandage on her wrist, and she knew why he was quiet—and seething—and bit her lip: Mount Vesuvius was about to erupt. “You’re angry,” she said. “Go ahead, say it. I can’t stand the suspense.”

Harry’s simmering anger had reached its boiling point. “Of all the stupid, idiotic, negligent things to do! Risking your life like that!” The medical staff, upon Stella’s arrival in Sick Bay, were astounded to find her diving suit stuffed with plastic bags containing vital research reports. “And that bottle of whiskey—”

“It’s two-hundred year old Irish whiskey, Uncle Harry! My—”

“I don’t care if it’s thousand-year-old Napoleon brandy!” he exploded. “You were stupid to do such a stunt!”

Stella’s own eyes narrowed. “I couldn’t leave all that research! I—”

“You almost lost your life! The complex became nothing but rubble minutes after you left it.”

“I didn’t intend—”

Sick Bay,” the intercom cut in, “Crane at the Conn, Admiral. Course plotted, we’re ready to leave.”

Harry stood, making stern eye contact with Stella. “Don’t go anywhere,” he commanded with a livid jab of his finger. “This conversation isn’t over yet!” In quick strides, he was at the wall, the microphone in his hand. “Sick Bay; Nelson. Belay departure, Lee, until further orders.”

“Control Room; belaying departure, aye, sir,” Crane replied, clicking off.

Hearing the name, Stella raised her weary head in disbelief. “Crane? Lee Crane? Lieutenant Lee Crane?!”

Harry shifted uncomfortably, his anger displaced in lieu of another immediate complication. “Aye. But he’s not a lieutenant anymore, he’s a commander now and Seaview’s captain.”

Astounded, Stella dropped her head to the pillow. Had she not been so tired, she’d be furious! “If I’d known he was on board, I would have stayed on Venus!”

“Too late. And you’d better get used to seeing him around because there’s no place you can go where you won’t see him.”

“Seeing him isn’t the problem,” Stella muttered with blatant annoyance.

“Nor is it your only problem,” Harry reminded her, crossing his arms, a clear warning that she wasn’t going to get off easy.

At that moment, the Sick Bay door flew open and Doc, seeing Stella conscious, came straight over. “Hey, my patient’s awake,” he greeted, pleased. “Admiral, would you excuse us for about an hour?”

“’Course.” Harry wanted to say more, but decided it could keep until later. Instead, he kissed Stella’s brow. “You stay there until the doctor says you’re well enough to get up. Understood?” He was dead serious. Stella gave him a humble nod. “I’ll be in later to check on you. Now get some sleep.” With that, Harry turned and headed for the corridor.

“Aye, aye, sir,” Stella exhaled behind him. She was thrilled to see Harry, but glad when he was gone: she’d never seen him so mad in all her life!

As soon as reached Harry reached his office, he called for a meeting with his two senior officers. With Stella settled in and taken care of, he could now direct his full concentration to the near-catastrophe. Harry’s next call was to the Institute.

“Angie,” Harry said over his shoulder from his desk to his secretary’s image on the wall videophone behind him, “pull all the contracts and supply lists pertaining to Mini-Lab 1.” Analyzing the immediate papers in front of him, Harry’s troubled thoughts deepened. The folder contained minuscule specifics about the mini-lab; therefore, he couldn’t evaluate how bad the situation was until he had the rest of the information and waiting wasn’t high on his list at the moment.

“Supply lists of the builder, or what provisions we sent down there with the scientists?” Angie asked, her pen flying across her stenographer pad.

“Everything and anything you have, particularly the material component list. I want to know exactly, right down to the last molecule, what ML-1 was made of ASAP. If it wasn’t built to my precise specifications then there’s no way in hell James Duncan and his company are going to build the lab for Project Saturn. Or any other future NIMR projects, for that matter.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” Angie replied unfazed, proficiently acclimated to Nelson’s sudden and urgent demands. The vexed Admiral was on a mission and when he was, people jumped and jumped high, especially when the safety of NIMR’s personnel was a factor. “Do you want me to fax it to you as I get it, or in one bunch?”

“I’ll let you know later. Thanks, Angie. Nelson out.” He punched the disconnect button as the door echoed with a quick succession of knocks. “Come,” he grunted.

Outside Nelson’s door, Crane and Morton exchanged apprehensive looks.

“He sounds angry and determined,” said Chip, his hand paused on the doorknob.

“When that happens, people run!” Lee replied, half-joking.

“Or get fired. So what’s our job description again?” Chip asked, pushing open the door.

Harry’s mind was working at a frenzied pace. Waving the two men to the chairs, he charged into the facts before they had a chance to sit down. “The Nelson Mini-Lab collapsed, gentlemen—why? She was specifically built with HY-80 steel—the same material used in our U.S. subs today—and designed to withstand forces much more intense than what our sensors recorded so why did she disintegrate so easily? I have to know the answer! Therefore, I’ve called Washington and requested an official investigation. However, what I propose, gentlemen, is this: we’re here, we have the equipment, and since Saturn cannot be implemented—and maybe canceled until we ascertain what went wrong with ML-l—I say we start delving into the site, right here, right now.”

“Sir,” spoke up Chip, “wouldn’t we need an independent team of investigators for an unbiased opinion as to the cause?”

“Absolutely! That’s why I’ve also called Dr. Deitch at the Department of Navy. He’s just as mad as I am. He’ll clear the channels and paperwork, taking over the ‘official’ inquiry part of things. Once that’s certified, he’ll assemble a team. I’ll pick them up in the Flying Sub and once they’re aboard, all we would provide is the manpower, equipment, and storage facility. All else is under Deitch’s strict jurisdiction. What do you say, gentlemen? Want a challenge?”

Crane and Morton looked at each other, then at Harry. “Let’s do it!” they said in tandem.

Harry lit up with renewed determination. “Great! We can start by photographing every inch of the site.”


“Doctor Glacier,” said Doc, lowering his stethoscope, “you are one lucky lady. Since your hair-breath escape yesterday, your biggest injury, the sliced wrist, is on a solid road to healing, and after a thorough examination, I’m satisfied you’re well enough to leave Sick Bay.”

“Fantastic!” Stella said, hopping off the table. “Thank you so much.” A thought hitting her, Stella frowned. “That’s great, Doc, but, ah...all our clothes are in the rubble known as ML-1? What are Helen and I supposed to wear?”

“Yeah,” Doc nodded in acknowledgement. “Admiral Nelson already considered that. And I apologize,” he said, looking uncomfortable, “but for you two women, this is your only option.” Pulling a blue bundle from the upper bunk, the physician unraveled a crewman’s jumpsuit.

Stella arcked a skeptical eyebrow, Doc answering with a lame shrug. “Sorry. This is the smallest one we had in store.”

“So’kay,” Stella said, taking it from him and trying not to look so disappointed. “I’ll live with it.”

“I’ll, uh,” Doc took a step towards the hallway, “leave so you can change.”

Stella locked door after him, mindful that she was on a ship full of men. Looking herself over via the mirror above the sink, Stella grimaced, her mood sinking: the large jumpsuit hung long and loose over her lanky 5’7” frame, making her look like a child playing dress-up. Feeling rather laughable, Stella sighed, resigning to the option. It could have been worse, she conceded, it could have been too small. Not wanting to break her neck on the draping material, Stella rolled up the sleeves and turned under the pant leg hems.

Despite the overall situation, Stella was thrilled to be up and about. She stretched and walked around to loosen up her stiff muscles. Flexing her fingers, Stella flinched at the soreness in her wrist. The cut was going take a while to heal, but that was the least of her worries. Nelson had left a standing order for her to go see him as soon as Doc had released her. Stella loved Uncle Harry, but this was one get-together she was not looking forward to.

Leaving Sick Bay, Stella headed straight to Nelson’s office as commanded. During the walk, she reflected with sadness and regret, bitterness and anger on the tragedy. All invaluable and now lost! she gritted her teeth. Stella turned the corner, colliding head-on into a solid object.

“I’m-m so, so sorry,” Stella stammered at the officer, her face red.

The man was several inches taller than her, dark-haired and good looking. And he looked familiar! Stella took two steps back in shock, her embarrassment displaced by her anger. Lee Crane looked the same as he did onboard the USS Brandywine, AND when he barged into her lab trying to “save” her from the fire. How she hadn’t recognized him that day she could only attribute to her blind fury at the time.

“My apologies, Doctor Glacier,” Crane politely returned. “Well, hello!” he exclaimed, grinning from ear to ear. “We meet again. Put out any fires lately?”

Stella held up her hands, warning him away. “Do us both a favor, Crane,” she growled, sidestepping around him in the widest berth possible, “and stay as far away from me as possible!” Out of respect for Harry, Stella hastened from him.

“Wait a minute,” Crane called, sounding confused. “You can’t still be mad over the fire, can you? After all, I’m the one who got slapped.”

Stella wheeled, unable to resist. “Yes, I am! Among other things.” Crane, to her surprise, looked genuinely perplexed. “You don’t recognize me, do you?” she said, returning.

Crane stared at her with a blank expression then shook his head. “No. Should I?”

YES,” Stella snapped. “Considering you ruined my life! The name’s O’Toole. You served under my father on the USS Brandywine.”

“O’Toole, sure, I remember,” Crane smiled fondly. “My first assignment as a lieutenant.” He cocked his head at her as though trying to understand where she fit in. “I was Engineering’s department head—” His mouth hit the deck. “No! You can’t be!”

“You got it, buster!” Stella braced her hands on her hips so she wouldn’t slap him again. “That little girl you shipped off to boarding school!”

“I did it for your own good!” Lee shot back, his cheeks flaring. Lee remembered those days with bitterness, considering the time served on there as the worst month in his entire naval career. The USS Brandywine had been dry-docked for repairs in its homeport of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and every time he turned around, he found Captain O’Toole’s fourteen-year-old daughter on the boat, hanging out with the men as if she was one of them. It had become clear that once she reported in with her father, her whereabouts went overlooked thereafter. A bad situation in and of itself, but foreboding of a worse one in the future, and he was not about to let it happen. “A girl your age didn’t belong on a boat with a bunch of sailors. You didn’t know—”

“I did know! I didn’t live on the ship I merely visited it and those aboard. What’s worse is my father liked you enough to listen to you, and he hasn’t listened to me since. Those seamen who you were so worried about were like brothers to me. They watched over me like—”

“—like a little girl. I don’t care how old you were, you didn’t belong on a ship with a bunch of sailors!”

“Then you’d better look around you, Lieutenant, and tell me where am I now?”

Glacier stormed away, Lee too flabbergasted to stop her. One thing he was positive of: if she was anything like she was when she was a kid, then she was going to be one big headache onboard Seaview.

<<< >>>

Harry heard the single pound on his cabin door and didn’t bother to look up from his paperwork: he’d recognize that knock anywhere. “Hello, lassie,” he greeted, hearing Stella charge in, following her with his peripheral vision as she marched to the chair opposite him, dropping into it. Annoyed with her thinking she could burst into his office whenever she pleased, Harry kept her waiting several minutes. When he did look up, Harry did a double take, sitting erect. “You all right? You look flushed.”

“I just had a friendly conversation with your Lieutenant Crane.”

“Oh,” Harry calmly replied, laying down his pen to give her his full attention.

“Right!” Stella shot back, folding her arms tight over her chest.

Prepping for the explosion, Harry flashed back to their reunion two years ago and her mentioning of a certain Lieutenant Crane. It had not been a pleasant conversation by any means, and in observing her angry face now, no doubt a warning shot had been fired across Crane’s bow. Harry had hoped after so many years, and despite what she had told him, that her hatred of the man had dissipated. However, it appeared that the status quo remained intact. “He still alive?”

“Yes, unfortunately.” Stella suddenly shook her head as if ridding her brain of the memory, then feigned an over-exaggerated, cheery demeanor. “Sooo...what is it you wanted to see me about?”

Harry leaned back in his chair, glad to be moving away from the touchy subject. “Seeing as Project Venus went to pieces, sort-to-speak, I was wondering if you’d like to continue your current research aboard Seaview?”

Stella’s face lit up like a beacon. “Are you serious? You know how much I love this boat.”

“That’s why I’m offering it to you. I asked Helen, but she said no. She equates working on a submarine as being a cigar in a humidor stored in the darkest corner of the closet,” he chuckled. “So as soon as we get the Flying Sub working, I’ll be taking her with me to Santa Barbara.” Harry saw Stella’s joy slip away.

“No, wait.” Stella frowned, shaking her head. “No. As much as I want to, I couldn’t stand to be here with Crane.”

“Do you want to stay?” Harry asked pointedly. Stella loved Seaview, diving, and the water, and for his own reasons Harry wanted her aboard.

“You know I do, but—”

“Then I’ll take care of Crane before I leave.”

“Oh, I’d love to take care of him for you,” Stella said with a devilish sneer. “But, all right, if you can get him to stay out of my hair, there shouldn’t be any problems. So how would this work exactly?”

Harry summarized the plan he had given to Crane and Morton. “...therefore, instead of working out of ML-1, you’d be working from Seaview. So,” he teased, “you interested?”

“Are you kidding?”

To Harry’s surprise, Stella sprinted around the desk, threw her arms around him, giving him a gleeful kiss on the cheek. “Thank you, Uncle Harry. You really know how to treat a girl!” And before Harry could say ‘You’re welcome,’ Stella flew from the room.

She is a handful, Harry chuckled. He looked at the framed picture on his desk of himself, Chip, and Lee, experiencing an immediate queasiness in his stomach. As thrilled as he was to be working with Stella again, Harry couldn’t forget that there was one person who wouldn’t be. Now to tell Lee about this, he sighed with dread. It was a conversation he wasn’t looking forward to. Harry again cursed himself for having forgotten his Scotch.


Stella leaned against the frame of Seaview’s massive observation window, enjoying the gentle sway of the deck under her feet, in awe of the wondrous sight outside. Harry, as a gift to her, had the boat hovering trim at periscope depth, not far from the mini-lab’s disaster site, till such time as another vessel approached, and then they were to surface. Stella cherished every second she had on Seaview; it was a rare opportunity and she knew it. Even as a child, whenever troubled, Stella always found solace in a body of water, and the nose window, with exception of the lab, was fast becoming her favorite place to be. Here, the sunlight pervaded the depths of the brilliant topaz waters, its beams showcasing the spectacular treasures and infinite occupants of the island. Her one deterrent, the window was located forward of the Control Room where Crane, naturally, frequented. Were it not for Chip Morton’s staunch assurances that the Captain was away on break or handling office work, would Stella have dared to go there at all.

With her fears alleviated and her tornadic thoughts soothed away by the peaceful swirl of the sea inhabitants, Stella descended into a rare moment of relaxed contentment, oblivious to everything else around her.

Kowalski shook his head, taking lead down the circular stairs. “I tell ya, Stu, Mr. Morton would know,” he insisted. “He knows more about computers—” Ski swung off the last step but then spotted the slender figure at the window and pulled up short, causing Riley to run into him. “Hey, who’s that?” Kowalski hitched his chin forward.

“That’s one of the lady scientists you saved from Davy Jones’ locker yesterday,” Stu explained.

Ski squinted hard. “She looks like an old friend of mine.”

“I thought all chicks were old friends of yours,” Stu said impishly.

“No, I’m not kidding.” Ski was dead serious, cocking his head for a better angle. “She really does look like a girl I knew a long time ago. But it can’t be.” Curious, he wanted to find out for sure. Going to the woman, Ski managed to get out “Excuse me, miss” along with a tap to her shoulder before he found himself flying through the air, landing with a jolt, face up on the floor. Ski laid there stunned, trying to figure out what had happened as the woman shrieked, “Oh, I’m so sorry!” while Stu, trying not to laugh, stared down at him.

“You okay, buddy?”

“Oh hell…I am so terribly sorry!” the woman gushed, also peering down, her face beet red. “I get so wrapped up in the view....” Tilting her head, the woman circled him, her forehead crinkled in what looked like dubious recognition. “Marek?” Her face lit up with glee. “Marek Kowalski, it is you! I don’t believe it!” Stella dropped to her knees. “Are you hurt?”

“Just my pride,” Kowalski frowned. He sat up, allowing Riley to pull them both to their feet. “But I’m glad to see you haven’t lost your touch.” He began massaging his hip.

“I told you, you were the best teacher there ever was.” Stella let out a gleeful squeal then threw herself into Ski’s arms, giving him bear hug. “It’s so great to see you again!”

Ski returned the enthusiastic hug. “Let me look at you.” He put her at arm’s length, and gave her the once over. Her face was the same, even hair length and body-type; she was simply taller. “I didn’t hear your name called over the squawk box so you must have gotten married. Congratulations!”

Stella’s ecstatic expression dissolved. “More like condolences, but we can talk about that later.” She again hugged him. “It really is you!”

“I still don’t believe it myself.” Ski grinned from ear-to-ear. “How long has it been?”

Kowalski! Riley!” bellowed Captain Crane from behind them.

Ski and Riley snapped to attention.

From the corner of his eye, Kowalski noticed Stella had done the same, and he would have laughed if he hadn’t been so scared. When Crane came before them, his face was taut, his cheeks flaring which meant one thing: he was furious! “Sir.” Ski uttered respectfully, swallowing hard as Crane circled round them like a buzzard after fresh meat.

But the Captain ignored Ski, pausing in front of Stella instead. “Doctor Glacier, need I remind you that this is a military ship and any action on your part should be conducted as such! Kowalski, Riley, you should know better!” Crane gave Stella a long, disapproving glower before giving Ski and Riley the duplicate treatment. “You two! Get to where you’re supposed to be!” Crane marched off without waiting for confirmation.

“Aye, aye, sir,” Ski and Stu chorused meekly to their departing Captain’s back, too petrified to move.

“That lousy....”

Kowalski shot a look to Stella on his right: her eyes were narrowed, her fists clutched. Ah, hell. He had seen Stella’s temper erupt like this once before, long ago on the Brandywine, when her father had told her she’d been expelled from the ship. Her explosive rant had been heard on every level of the boat. It had broken his heart to witness it. Ski shook it off. Now was not the time or place to remember, nor to repeat the scene.

“Who the hell does he think he is?”

When Stella went to charge, Ski was ready for her; he hooked her arm, jerking her back. “He knows he’s the captain, and he’s right!” he asserted. “Come on,” Ski took her hand. “There’s a couple other guys who’ll want to see you again,” and pulled her towards the circular stairs, the fuming Stella shooting daggers at Crane for as long as she could see him.

Stepping onto A deck, Kowalski let out a violent sneeze.

“Better not have a cold, Ski,” Riley half-teased from on the stairs below him, “or you know what’ll happen.”

“Don’t worry about me,” Kowalski scowled at him over the railing. “I’m fine.” No stupid cold is gonna get me shipped home early, he vowed, despite the contagious cold-virus that had made the rounds at NIMR during the previous four months. Although it had run its course by the time Seaview returned to port, several of her men still caught it, including Captain Crane. By the time shore leave was over, with those men excepted, no one else from the sub had shown signs of being inflected. Nevertheless, Doc, apprehensive and vigilant about the crew and the tight living conditions, had placed strict orders with Crane before they sailed, with that anyone who came down with anything resembling the affliction was to be shipped home immediately.

Minutes after getting reacquainted with Kowalski, Stella found herself sitting atop a table inside Crew’s Quarters: Riley and Kowalski on either side of her on the bench and surrounded by other members of the crew, including several old friends from her Brandywine days. “...and I learned all the prim and proper things a lady should be,” Stella over-enunciated, waving her pinky-extended hand in an exaggerated gesture, generating laughter from the men.

<<< >>>

Seething, Lee had to get away from Glacier and out of the Control Room. Luckily, he had a legitimate procedural excuse and went midship to the Reactor Control Room. Checking the logbook notations, Lee’s teeth remained clenched. The reactor was as it should be, but as soon as Lee closed the Log, he flashed back to Glacier. No one had ever agitated him the way that girl did! And she was still showing a propensity toward irresponsibility. Lee shook his head. He had promised Nelson he would stay out of her way—as long as she stayed out of his—and he saw no reason why it shouldn’t be otherwise.

“Carry on,” Lee said, handing over the binder to Reactor Technician Marco Lopez.

In the corridor, he took the nearest stairwell to the upper deck, heading to Nelson’s cabin for their pre-arranged meeting. As Lee neared the ajar door of the Crews Quarters, he heard laughter from within and smiled. He liked hearing the crew in good spirits. It made for better overall working conditions, and it always gave Lee a sense of accomplishment knowing that he was doing something right with the men under his command—

“They also taught us to dance,” came Glacier’s unmistakable voice. “That I really liked.”

—Lee stopped dead in his tracks, his body rigid. He didn’t like the idea of Glacier being in the men’s’ quarters and, in so far as he had faith in his men, her hanging with them made him quite uneasy. Lee debated the possibilities concluding that, as captain, it remained his duty to make sure nothing inappropriate was going on. Keeping his thoughts objective, Lee reluctantly stepped closer to the cabin. For the moment, all he heard was innocent bantering and joking. Reassured, Lee began to relax. There’s no real harm being done, he acknowledged, and the scientist was, after all, going to be with them for a whileNO! The woman, Lee remembered, tension ricocheting through him, is going to be with us awhile! The obstinate teenager who

“I met John when I was seventeen, we got married a year later,” Lee abruptly heard Glacier explain, “end of story.” But Lee could tell by her sorrow-filled words that there was more to it than that—much more.

“But somebody told me you had a baby,” one of the men said.

On the table, Stella looked down at her hands to keep her composure. “I did,” she said, hiding the resurfacing sorrow. She looked around at her friends. “She died. Crib death. John blamed me, walked out, and never looked back. Lousy story, isn’t it? And all because of Crane.”

“You can’t blame it all on the Skipper, Stel,” Kowalski half-heartedly argued, the other half-filled with empathy.

“If he hadn’t shipped me to the mid-west, I never would have met John.”

In the corridor, Lee shot upright: he had her banned from the boat, not the state! Nor was he going to take the blame for what happened to her afterward.

“Hey, Stel, when we get home, how ‘bout coming over to my house for dinner?” said crewman Langevin, a Brandywine alumni. “Eleanor would love to see you again.”

“Eleanor?” Stella swung around on the table to face him. “Not that same gorgeous redhead you were always drooling over?”

“Sure is,” Langevin beamed, his chest puffed up. “And she’s as gorgeous today as she was then!”

“That explains the four three kids you have,” Kowalski chimed in, a chorus of good-natured hoots and hollers sounding from the others.

Lee clamped his teeth. He had had a damn good reason for insisting her father send her away: she had been too friendly with the crew then and, listening to them now, he found history repeating itself. Lee flung open the door, stepping into its threshold. “Doctor Glacier,” as mad as Lee was he kept his agitation to a minimum, “would it be possible to speak with you, please? Now? If it isn’t be too inconvenient?”

The room went dead silent as the crew froze where they were. His stern expression and flaring cheeks told them he was angry, but to what degree they could only wait, pray, and find out. To their astonishment, Stella gave the Skipper a sugar-sweet smile. One laced with poison, they had no doubt.

“Anything you like, Commander.” Stella made no effort to move.

“Thank you,” Crane returned with forced politeness. He gave the crew a disapproving scowl before returning to the hallway.

As soon as he was gone, Stella grabbed a mug and aimed.

“Hey!” Several men yelled.

“Whoa!” Kowalski exclaimed, staying her arm and snatching the mug away, handing it to Riley for safekeeping. “Not at the Skipper!”

“He was a louse then and he’s a bigger louse now!” Stella grumbled, sliding off the table. “I hope Seaview’s big enough to hold the two of us, but I doubt it.” She gave the men a finger-wave good-bye as she disappeared into the hall. Strolling to Crane, Stella pasted on the feigned sugar-sweet expression. “Yes, Commander?”

Crane locked his arms, his gaze drilling into her eyes like the military man he was. But Stella refused to be intimidated by him—by any man—any longer. And it was no wonder her father admired him so much, Stella realized; Crane was no push over.

“Doctor Glacier, you have a tendency to forget that this is a military ship.”

Stella could tell he was biting at the bit to chew her out, but to Crane’s credit, he kept his fury to a neutral tone, and therefore, she did likewise. “I haven’t forgotten anything. I went in there to see some old friends.”

“This is still my boat and those men are my crew, and I’m ordering you to stay away from them.”

“I told you, those men are my friends! We weren’t doing—”

“I don’t care what you were or weren’t doing! You’re still a visitor on this vessel, and as such you are to refrain from fraternizing with the crew. Is that understood?”

“Aye, aye, sir, Commander!” Stella shot back. “Anything you say, Commander.” She gave a mock salute, spun, and stormed away. But at the junction ahead, Stella stopped, “You must be a very lonely man, Crane.” With that, she was gone.

Lee gnashed his teeth. That woman is beyond aggravation! He touched his jaw, wincing at its soreness, the result of all his teeth-clenching. By the time this cruise is over, I’m gonna need to see my dentist!

<<< >>>

Harry leaned back in his desk chair, fingers tented patiently as a furious Crane paced in front of him.

“Admiral, I’m afraid of her disrupting the men,” Crane ranted. “She acts like she’s part of the crew instead of—of....”

“A woman?”


“No, Lee,” soothed Harry, waving him to sit down; the Captain doing so with reluctance. “Stella’s all right. These men are like brothers to her, but I’ll have another talk with her if that reassures you.”

“It would.”

“I do suggest you two try to avoid one another if that’s at all possible, or you might end up killing each other.”

“Don’t I know it!” The notion was too truthful for Lee’s comfort. “In all my life, I’ve never known another woman who could irritate me so much, so fast, with so few words!”

“Go on, go grab some lunch,” Harry chuckled. “We have several long days ahead of us.”

Harry studied Crane’s back as he made for the door and silently exhaled. Dealing with the Lee/Stella situation was becoming as complicated as playing chess. But at least for today, the game is over. And for that Harry was grateful.

At the door, Lee reached for the knob, but his hand never made it as all the scattered puzzle pieces of the Nelson/Glacier relationship slammed together into one whole picture—a picture he had been duped into seeing as something entirely different!

Harry, feeling the atmosphere in the room change, looked up, saw Lee’s hand paused mid-air, and recognized he was about to catch hell. As if on cue, Lee spun about, staring at Harry as if he had just confessed to murder.

“Your ‘niece,’ as you call her,” stated Lee, his hazel eyes smoldering as he slowly descended upon Harry’s desk, “is Stella Glacier O’Toole.” It wasn’t a question. “Two years ago you and she, after a decade apart, reunited.”

Harry wanted to nod, but was too afraid to do so.

Lee, his eyes unwavering on his target, continued forward. “She needed a shoulder to cry on, that’s what you told me.”

This time, Harry gave the slightest of nods.

“You were aware of the history between us.” It still wasn’t a question.

Again, Harry ever-so-slightly nodded.

“And yet,” Lee was at the edge of the desk, “I ran into her on the sub-level labs at the Institute—how long has she been working there?”

Boy was he pissed! Harry cleared his throat. “A year,” he said as nonchalant as possible.

Lee’s eyes shot open. “A year! Yet you never brought her up. As a matter of fact, I remember asking you about ‘your niece’ several times, and as I recall, your answers were always evasive. When it came time to set ML-1 down, you practically ordered me on vacation.” He leaned down, his palms spread eagle on the desk. “You kept O’Toole hidden from me on purpose. Why?”

Game over, Harry mentally sighed, knowing he’d have to come clean. “Because I knew how she felt about you, and that I had hoped, in time, to reconcile the situation.”

“But you couldn’t have, at least, warned me?”

“You were appalled by Stella’s freedom on the Brandywine. It broke every security regulation you were trained in. She was a thorn in your side, same as you were a thorn in hers, and because of that I decided it best to keep you two apart. Nor did I think you’d appreciate her nickname for you.”

“Which was?”

“That ‘bastard lieutenant’.”

Lee shot upright. “She called me that!”

“That’s all she ever called you, which is why I purposely avoided the subject at all costs.”

“She—who was swearing like a sailor the first day I met her—calls me a bastard!?”

“There is a lot more to Stella than you know, Lee.”

“I don’t want to know her! She’s already ingratiating herself to the crew, same as she did before. I don’t want her here!”

Harry’s mouth tightened, his reply commanding: “She’s a scientist too, and therefore, she stays.”

Opening his mouth to argue, Lee closed it, knowing he had just been warned.

“There’s more to all this than you know, Lee. Have patience with her, avoid her if you need to, but give her a chance. I’m asking you to.”

Harry’s sincerity was doing the trick and Lee could feel his anger defusing. He didn’t like Stella O’Toole Glacier, but. “All right, as your friend I’ll give her a break and as Seaview’s captain, I will treat her with the same respect due any guest we have aboard, but next time we’re in port,” his eyes narrowed, “dinner’s on you, my choice where.” Marching to the door, Lee took the handle—and again stopped dead. Wheeling, he folded his arms, eyeing Nelson with a knowing glint. “Chip Morton was in on this too, he had to be!”

Harry barely nodded. “Aye.”

Lee shook his head, a crooked smile sprouting. “I always thought it strange he never tried to hook me up with Helen’s coworkers. Now I know why. Both of you are gonna pay for this!” Lee chortled evilly on his way out the door. “Oh, boy, are you gonna pay!”

After his “conversation” with Lee, Harry decided he needed to clear his head and stretch his legs, and getting lunch, plus a fresh cup of hot coffee, was the perfect solution. Upon returning to his office, his mind centered, Harry concentrated on the reports regarding ML-1 and Project Venus.

Harry propped his elbows on the desk, massaging his temples, giving the clock a quick glance. No wonder his head was throbbing, he’d been at it for over two hours. Nothing like the destruction of a dream to give a man a ton of paperwork to do, Harry lamented as the intercom buzzed.

“Admiral, Sparks. I have an in-coming call for you from Rear Admiral O’Toole.”

Harry went rigid. “Put him on videophone.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

Harry swung his chair around to activate the video monitor behind his desk. A moment later, the image of Patrick O’Toole appeared. O’Toole was ten years younger than Harry, had thinning, gray hair, rugged features, and sported a perpetual frown, the mark of a man who took life in earnest, including his womanizing. Facilitating these activities was the man’s large aqua blue eyes that charmed women of all ages, yet remained a sore point for Nelson, who happened to had been a close friend of O’Toole’s deceased wife.

“Hello, Pat,” Nelson said without any warmth whatsoever.

<<< >>>

Stella, upon her release from Sick Bay yesterday morning, had begged Doc and Harry to let her go scuba diving, both men answering with an adamant no, neither wanting her to push herself. Stella had fervently argued causing Harry to relent, but on two conditions: Stella spent the next 24 hours resting, and she couldn’t go diving per se, instead, he’d have Chief Sharkey take her out in the mini-sub, thence she could do brief explorations.

Palmyra Atoll started its existence as the rim of an ancient volcano. Over the centuries, the platform submerged, the warm, shallow sandbars becoming the perfect breeding ground for the coral reef. When weather and the currents had cooperated, Stella and Helen had studied the western shoal nearest ML-1, categorizing over a hundred species of indigenous life form; a mere scratch on their research surface by the time the disaster occurred.

For Stella, being in the mini-sub was an unimaginable thrill, and she gawked out the cockpit shield like a five-year-old enthralled by the sea creatures darting around the magnificent rainbows of Palmyra’s stony formations. The trip wiped out her morning argument with Crane, lifted her spirits, and revived her determination to preserve the territory’s endless spectrum of life and beauty. Stella’s glee became boundless when Chief Sharkey navigated them beyond ML-1’s original perimeter, encircling the atoll’s nine miles of coastline, allowing Stella to take short swims to collect samples in the other pristine shoals she hadn’t yet visited.

When the mini-sub’s battery warned it was running low, forcing them to return to Seaview, it was hard for Stella to contain her disappointment, but she was grateful for opportunity and made no complaints. It wasn’t long before Sharkey had the mini-sub cradled into the mechanical arms that hauled them into the Missile Room’s pressurized space.

Out of the submersible and back on Seaview’s deck, Stella and Sharkey began shedding their diving gear with the assistance of numerous crewmen. Feeling the tank removed from her back, Stella tugged off the hairband, releasing her wet hair from its extended braid.

“You need anything else, ma’am?” Sharkey asked, reaching for a towel on the rack, subtly minding the crewmen stowing away the scuba gear.

“Yes, Chief.” Stella took a deep breath. “I-ah, need to apologize for my behavior outside the lab that day, for calling you a chauvinist pig. I’m not proud of myself, and I want you to know I’m really sorry. I also want to say thank you for saving my life after ML-1 collapsed.”

“Glad I was there to help, ma’am,” Sharkey replied, most sincere. “And as far as the name,” he shook his head, “don’t give it another thought. I’ve been called far worse by other women,” he gave her a conspiring wink. “Will that be all?”

“I’m good, thank you, Chief.” Stella felt like the proverbial boulder had been lifted off her back as she donned the terry-cloth robe handed to her by a crewman. She had worn the robe over her swimsuit for the trip to and from her cabin. It was long, thick, and covered her entire body. She had asked for the largest robe in store just for the purpose of not pissing off Crane any more than he already was.

Throwing a towel over her shoulder, Stella made a quick stop at the laboratory to store away the new samples. Onward to the quarters she shared with Helen, Stella began unraveling her waist-long plait. Rounding the corner, Stella spotted Helen ahead of her by several yards, about to go below deck. She, too, wore a blue crew’s uniform except, unlike Stella, Helen’s ample frame filled hers out nicely. “Helen!”

“Hey!” Helen greeted, her bright eyes gleaming per usual. “How was the dive?”

“Fantastic! I’ll tell you all about it over a late lunch. Right now, I want to change out of this wet bathing suit before I catch pneumonia, okay?”

“No problem.” Helen held up an accordion folder. “I have to send this report to the Institute anyway. I’ll meet you in Mess in an hour.”

“I’ll be there,” Stella said, giving Helen a final wave as she descended the stairway.

Continuing on, Stella began patting down her damp hair with the towel. Several yards into officers’ country where her cabin was located, Stella halted, bending over to flip her loose tendrils into the cloth—and froze—her throat tightening at the loud, agitated, familiar voices behind Nelson’s slightly-ajar door.

“Pat, I can’t force Stella into something like that!” It was Harry.

“There’s got to be at least one bachelor aboard Seaview,” a second male insisted. “Make him her assistant!”

Stella’s heart pounded as she rose. She couldn’t mistake that voice either.

“Look, Pat, I agreed to ask Stella to stay on and continue with the research, but that’s going too far!”

“Harry, this is my daughter we’re talking about. All she does is work!”

<<< >>>

Lee turned into the adjacent corridor, saw Glacier yards ahead and halted, wondering if he should consider a different route. But it was his submarine and he should be able to walk where he wanted, when he wanted. Lee squared his shoulders, forced himself to be brave, and—praying he could get by the woman without a confrontation—went forward, approaching her with utter caution. As he got closer, Lee heard yelling from Nelson’s cabin. Suspicious, he slowed his pace, at the same time wondering why Glacier had yet to move from the spot. Lee’s jaw dropped to the floor when he realized the woman was eavesdropping! “Doctor—!!” The furious wave of her hand cut him off.

“Damn it, Harry, I want Stella married again!”

Lee snapped upright. He, too, recognized the speaker! Never had he imagined...Lee looked at Glacier, his stomach tightening. She was stiff as a board, her expression shell-shocked.

“And most of all I want another grandchild. Find somebody! I don’t care who it is. There has to be at least one man onboard who likes her!”

Speechless, Lee felt heat radiate through his body. He gave Stella a discreet look: there was profound hurt on her face and wetness in her eyes. Stella’s eyes suddenly narrowed and before Lee could say something, she charged into Nelson’s cabin like a bull, the door hitting the wall with a ear-splitting bang. Lee followed, beholding Harry’s shocked look when he whipped around and saw her.

“Stella!” Nelson gaped.

“How dare you!” Stella glared. “How dare both of you!”

“Stella, you need a husband!” her father argued from the video screen.

“I don’t want a husband! I don’t need a husband! These are my friends, not can I look at those men out there knowing my father’s looking for a stud for his daughter?!”

“It’s not that way!”

“Oh, isn’t it? ‘Assign one of the bachelors to be her assistant’! What would you call that, Dad? Matchmaking? If you’re so damned desperate to have me married, why don’t you just put me on an auction block and sell me! At least then you’d get what you want. You always did.”

Glacier whirled on her heel, barreling for the door, Lee heedfully sidestepping out of the way.

“Stella, please,” Nelson called, jumping to his feet. “Try and—”

Snapping about-face, Stella’s hard look stopped Harry cold. “Admiral Nelson, you have my resignation. I’ll be out of here as soon as you find someone to replace me!” In seconds, she was gone, the door slammed shut behind her.


Lee couldn’t stop tossing and turning in bed that night: the confrontation replaying in his mind with disturbing, vivid clarity, and despite hearing with his own ears what Admiral O’Toole had said, he still couldn’t bring himself to believe it. Neither could he forget the soul-wrenching anguish on Stella’s face. Lee wished, with all his heart, he hadn’t witnessed the parent-child betrayal because now it gave credence to what she had told him about her father never again listened to her after Lee insisted she be sent away. Haunted by those long ago actions, Lee knew additional sleep wouldn’t be forthcoming, so he gave up trying and left his bunk.

However..., Lee reminded himself vehemently as he entered his tiny bathroom, I may have banished Glacier from the boat, but after that her life was her own, and I sure as hell never forced her to get married! Nor did I tell her father to ship her out of state! With at, Lee felt somewhat reconciled.

Lee shaved and dressed, and then meandered forward, the a.m. hour being early even for him. He descended the circular stairs to the Control Room, coming to an abrupt stop midway. Glacier was in the chair, statue-still, staring at the inky blackness on the opposite side of the glass nose. He observed her out of curiosity, it striking him how alone and lost she truly looked. Lee continued down, going to Patterson on duty at Sonar.

“Morning, Pat,” Lee said, his voice low.

“Morning, sir,” Pat said, looking surprised. “What are you doing up so early?”

“Couldn’t sleep. How long has Doctor Glacier been there?”

“All night.”

All night!

Pat’s nod was solemn. “After you and Mr. Morton retired, she came down and, according to Lieutenant O’Brien, hasn’t left since.”

“Thank you. Carry on, Patterson.” Lee strolled to the plotting table, pulled the logbook from its shelf, and began perusing over the evening reports; however, because Seaview was hovering trim at a safe depth of 600 feet, the details listed were routine mundane. He peered at the nose window, merely out of habit, though he knew he couldn’t see anything at this depth anyway even if it were daylight. Nothing except Glacier. Given the opportunity, Lee studied her some more, attempting to understand what made Stella Glacier tick. Soon he soon declared defeat. Not only did Glacier confound all his reasoning, but throw in her explosive temper and the bitter history between them, and it all added up to clear signals that warned Lee it was best to keep his distance. However, there was one concern Lee had to address and it made him tense just thinking about it. Someone had to talk to her and as captain of Seaview it was, regrettably, his job to do so.

Using upmost discretion, Lee approached Glacier, giving her a wide berth so as not to startle her. “Doctor Glacier?” Lee kept his delivery gentle on purpose and free of confrontation. When he stood before her, only then did Lee see her puffy face and tear-swollen eyes.

“What is it, Commander?” Her words were barely audible, her eyes locked forward.

A twinge of guilt hit Lee. He didn’t like confronting someone when they were down. “I came here because I’m worried about Admiral Nelson.” He saw her stiffen.

“Oh?” Glacier said, trying to sound casual, but Lee heard the quiver in her voice.

Since the confrontation yesterday, Glacier had refused to speak to the Admiral in every way possible and although Harry had hid his feelings, Lee knew better. He and Nelson had known each other for many years, and to Lee’s recollection, he hadn’t seen Harry this tormented since the Polidor exploded. “That argument you had with him has got him quite distraught, and as his friend I don’t mind telling you I don’t like it.”

Glacier bit her lip then raised her chin high as though bracing her pride. “And what,” she paused, swallowing to moisten her dry throat, “do you want me to do about it?”

“Apologize to him.”

“Apologize?” Glacier guffawed, hastily wiping away a tear.

Lee waited for her usual temperamental explosion; instead, her shoulders slumped as her face fell.

“Sure, why not,” she shrugged. “If it’ll make you happy—if it’ll make everybody happy—I’ll go apologize to the great Admiral Harriman Nelson. Now go away and leave me alone.”

Lee’s own shoulders drooped as shame and regret overwhelmed him. The fighting spirit the woman had shown earlier was gone. She looked utterly defeated. He hadn’t wanted this, nor had he expected it from her. The little girl he had known had been strong-willed and defiant, but until this moment, he never considered that, as a full-grown woman, she could also be vulnerable.

“I-uh...,” Lee stammered, wanting to repair some of the damage, “I also know Harry loves you like a daughter. I’ve never seen anything upset him the way that this argument with you has.”

“This upset him!” Glacier jumped to her feet, flinging tears off her cheeks. “What do you think it did to me?! He was the last person in this world I could trust, and here all the time he was in league with my father.”

“He wasn’t—”

“My father asked Harry to keep me aboard, why? Because my father decided, out of hundred-some men stationed here, that one of them should take a liking to his daughter. Not because of my skills, or my intelligence, or my knowledge, but as something that could give Rear Admiral Patrick Dennis O’Toole another grandchild, specifically the son he never had. So you tell me, Crane, who’s been hurt here?” Glacier bolted, yelling as she continued up the circular stairs, “I’ll be off your boat as soon as Nelson returns with my replacement, Commander!”

<<< >>>

Thirty-six hours later, the overall mood in the Control Room was subdued at best, especially among the enlisted men. Every word of Stella’s emotional, pre-dawn tirade at Crane had been heard by the men on duty, therefore, had spread like a sonar ping throughout the entire crew. Helen, Chip, Kowalski, and Langevin, among others, had gone to Stella to offer support, but she remained staunch, refusing to talk about it, insisting she was all right. However, anyone who met with her swore differently.

The Flying Sub now repaired, a somber group consisting of Admiral Nelson, Helen Forbotini, XO Morton, Reactor Tech Lopez, and Lee Crane gathered in the Observation Nose.

Perturbed about the Nelson/Glacier situation, Lee shot several parental glances at the subdued Admiral. Harry had confided to him earlier that Glacier had, indeed, apologized the previous afternoon, but it had been curt, the meeting over with before Harry could say a word. In addition, Stella continued to avoid Nelson in every imaginable way possible. So Harry, in truth, hadn’t really seen or spoken to Glacier since her resignation. Harry, nevertheless, had remained hopeful that she would come say good-bye, continuing to scan the deck for the woman’s presence.

Lee could also tell that rage was simmering below the Admiral’s surface. Last night, Nelson had received a land-based call from Washington. Someone high past naval authority had ordered Nelson and Seaview back to port, canceling any further exploration of the mini-lab site as well. Although they had given Nelson a flimsy reason why, Harry knew it was about the investigation into the lab’s collapse. “They’re gonna hear from me, all right,” he had warned Crane. Knowing the Admiral, Lee was glad he wouldn’t be there for that meeting. Nelson would give them a piece of his mind all right, no doubt breaking a few windowpanes in the process.

Nelson turned to Lee, their eyes meeting. “And you have your orders. Seaview doesn’t move from this spot until I get Washington straightened out. Understood?

“Aye, aye, sir,” Lee nodded.

Footsteps clunking on the Flying Sub’s ladder drew their attention. It was Patterson.

“All set?” Crane asked Pat as he ascended past the hatch’s coaming, pulled to the deck by Kowalski.

“Ready as she’ll ever be, Skipper.”

Beside Lee, Chip scanned the room, raising a baffled eyebrow. “Where’s Doctor Glacier? I thought she’d be here to see everyone off.”

Helen turned to Chip, sporting a patient but uneasy look. “She and I said our good-byes earlier.”

“But Admiral Nelson—”

Helen glanced at Nelson and saw the man stiffen. “Chip, honey,” she said, holding a finger to his lips, “don’t worry about it.” Leaning forward, she gave him a gentle, brief kiss him on the lips. “We’ll talk about it when you come home. Take care of yourself, okay?” She finished with the warmest of smiles.

Chip grinned back, distracted by her enticing smile and the silent promises that went with it. “I will. Take care of yourself, too. As far as I’m concerned, those chemicals you play with are more dangerous than being on a submarine.”

“They’re just like men,” Helen purred, “you simply have to know how to apply them. See you when you get back to port,” she waved as she made her way down FS’s ladder.

“It’s a date,” the gleeful XO called down after her. Looking up and around, Chip saw several nonplussed stares and raised eyebrows among his subordinates. His smile dropped like a concrete block, his characteristic staid expression replacing it.

“Eyes on the task, Welch,” Chip barked to the crewman at the Flying Sub’s control station. “The same for the rest of you!”

The crew did as ordered with happy, silent approval: that was the Morton they knew and loved.

Marco Lopez, acting as regulation backup pilot, descended next.

Nelson waited as long as he could and then, reluctantly acknowledging that Stella wasn’t coming, turned to Crane, giving him a single nod. “Time to go.” He stepped down into FS’s ingress.


Pausing on the rung, Nelson looked up and, seeming to know Lee’s question, said, “Don’t allow your past with Stella to get the best of you, Lee. Let her continue to burn off her steam. I’ll talk to her when I get back.” His eyes narrowed with resolve. “Even if I have to tie her to a chair to make her to listen!”

“I’ll have the rope ready and waiting for you, Admiral,” Lee replied with serious intent, bringing a soft chuckle to his friend.

Nelson joined the others below. Minutes later, the Flying Sub dropped out of her berth, propelling her way home to Santa Barbara.

“All right, XO,” Lee announced, “let’s take the Gray Lady around the block.”

“Aye, aye, Skipper,” Morton replied from the plotting table. “You swab jockeys heard the Captain: retain present depth, ahead one-third.”

Kowalski lingered at the observation nose, tapping his fingers against the frame beam, thoughtfully following FS as it disappeared amidst its cavitation. He was off-duty, but he had wanted to be there for the sendoff. In truth, Ski wanted to see if Stella would show up to say good-bye to Nelson. To his great disappointment, she hadn’t. And he knew why. Ski gave the beam an irritated slap, then headed to the circular stairs, double-timing it to the upper deck, not stopping until he reached Seaview’s lab. There, he found exactly what he had expected to find: Stella at the main counter, her back to the door, eyes pressed tight against the microscope eyepiece lens.

Due to Nelson’s insistence and perseverance that Seaview also be known as a research facility, her oblong laboratory was the largest, state-of-the-art shipboard research center to date. Against the wall to Ski’s left were storage cabinets and a wide, deep sink; to his right the refrigerator and incubation units; straight ahead were numerous salt-water aquarium tanks for live specimens. Down the center, from one end of the room to the other, were two slate-topped counters, each holding a two-tier shelving unit the same length as the table. Scattered over its top sat several microscopes, Petri dishes, Bunsen burners, and other assorted pieces of equipment that Kowalski had no names for.

Ski shot a cursory glance at the uneaten sandwich on the counter next to Stella, beside which was a magenta-colored branch. No doubt, her latest project, he figured. Ski looked at Stella and filled with sadness. He had seen her like this before—this obsessive single-mindedness—and it scared him the hell out of him to see her go through this again. But it wasn’t going to continue, not if he could help it. Nervous, Kowalski drew in a long breath, choosing what he was about to say with careful thought.


“Yeah?” Stella peered at him over her shoulder, a deep frown creasing her brow. “Hi, Marek.” She returned her eyes to the lens.

“You haven’t been in to see us lately. The crew misses you. Did the Skipper come down on you that hard the other day?”

“No, I-uh...have at least twenty-five samples I have to categorize, and you know how I get when it comes to work. I can’t break away.” As if to confirm her point, she made a notation on the yellow, legal tablet aside the scope.

“Yeah, I know,” Ski said tightly. “I know every time you’re hurt, you seclude yourself away from everybody, choosing to be with that damned bit of metal instead of people!”

“Don’t do this, Ski,” Stella begged.

“It’s not gonna solve things, Stella. You have to quit running away from people.”

“People?” She whirled at him. “You mean the same people who’ve abandoned me all my life? Disappointed me? Why should I?”

“We’re your friends. You can talk—”

“I don’t want to talk! I want to be alone! I’m still trying to understand what happened. That was my father, Ski! The same father who refused to come to his only grandchild’s funeral; the father who’s acting more like my pimp an—” Stella choked. “I can’t imagine what the men must think of me now. Hell, I don’t even know what to think of myself!”

She jumped off the stool, but Kowalski grabbed her forearm before she could hurry away, pulling her back to him. “That’s why you need me to talk to.”

“Oh, like years ago when I was shipped off the Brandywine?”

Hurt, Ski dropped his hand to his side. “That was uncalled for, Stel, and you know it.”

Anger and frustration surged inside Stella: it was like the first time, all over again. “But the truth—look!” She held up her hands to fend off his arguments. “The bottom line is, I can talk to you all you want, but I’m the one who has to deal with this. I’m the one who needs to find the inner strength to put it all into perspective, and for that I need time alone.”

“But that’s what I’m trying to tell you.” Ski grasped her shoulders turning her toward him. “You need friends around you so you know you’re not alone, and you aren’t. Not as long as you have me, Riley, and the rest of the guys aboard.”

“As long as I have you,” Stella guffawed bitterly. “Oh, wouldn’t Crane just love to hear that one!”

“You know what I mean,” Ski declared.

Stella stared at his face. She had seen that dire expression on Kowalski before, a long time ago. He was worried and even more important, he was sincere, touching a spot in her heart that she believed was long dead. No one, with the exception of Harry, had ever made this much effort on her behalf before. Feeling her eyes water, Stella bit her lip. “You bastard . . .” was all she could think of to say.

“Hey, what did I tell you about cursing?” he playfully admonished, chucking her chin. “Do it again and I’ll wash your mouth out with soap.”

“A compromise then,” Stella sighed, straightening his collar. “Give me a few days to work out my anger, and then I’ll come see you guys. By that time, I should be fit to deal with the human race again.”

“You sure? You’re not lying just to placate me, are ya?”

His caring made Stella feel warm inside. “A few more days, I swear.” She held up her palm. “And if I don’t show up, you can break my microscope.”

“Deal. I’ll let you get back to your research then.” Kowalski gave her a long, reassuring hug then left. Once out of Stella’s sight in the passageway, Ski dropped his upbeat masquerade. He was dubious about her promise and that troubled him. He was also frustrated because he hadn’t been able to help her more at this point. As he headed for Mess, he vowed this wouldn’t be the end of it, and he would devise a plan to get Stella out of her lab and in with real people again.

After Kowalski departed, Stella went to the sink, soaked a towel with ice water then buried her face in the freezing element. The stinging refreshed her and helped clear her mind of the thickened cobwebs. Stella felt wrung out, emotionally and physically, yet her spirits were flying in a way she hadn’t experienced since...she couldn’t remember when. Ski is here for me, she ruminated. Really here for me. Only Harry has ever given me that type of emotional support, but even he wasn’t— Stella cut off that line of thinking. Those memories were negative and destructive, and she couldn’t, wouldn’t, deal with them at the moment.

Still, Stella sighed, resting against the sink, drying her face, what do I do from here? Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of the wide enamel specimen tray on the work counter. That would be a good place to start. She strolled over, finding next to it the sandwich she didn’t remember bringing in. It was ham and Swiss cheese, her favorite. Realizing she was hungry, Stella started munching on it, at the same time, peering down at the coral in enamel tray.

When she and Sharkey were out exploring in the mini-sub the other day, they had swung by the rubble of ML-1. There she had found, atop the disseminated debris and clearly dislodged from its natural habitat, an enormous “tree” of black coral. Intrigued, she gathered it with the rest of her samples. Late this morning, Stella had transferred the three-by-four foot branch from its salt-water storage tank to the enamel container, but distracted by Helen’s imminent departure, she had forgotten all about it. Now, several hours later, Stella observed that the white “live” tissue covering the hard, black skeleton (hence the coral its name) had fallen off, revealing an uncharacteristic bright magenta, tube-like host under it.

Her curiosity renewed, Stella pulled magnifying lens from the drawer. “Okay, you’re not black coral, like I thought,” she mused, examining it with long-handled tweezers. “And your tube looks like it should hold a worm, but I’ve never seen a worm tube this small before, so what exactly are you?”

<<< >>>

Lee made a mental checklist of what he needed to address as he strolled midship to stretch his legs, happy to realize that the items, outside of the Nelson/Glacier dilemma, were all quite minor. Jogging up the stairs to A deck, Lee turned the hallway corner and collided straight into Kowalski.

“Sorry, sir,” Ski said distrait, stepping around him, adding, “My apologies,” as he continued on his way.

Looks like I’m not the only one with their mind elsewhere, Lee observed, pausing concerned. One of Kowalski’s many strengths was that he was always aware of his surroundings, which made him a valuable asset to the ship. Troubled by the man’s distraction, Lee called to him, “Kowalski?”

Ski stopped and turned around. “Yes, sir?”

“Anything wrong?”

Kowalski trusted Crane explicitly and would have liked nothing better than to talk to him about Stella, but he, more than anyone aboard with the exception of Admiral Nelson, understood how much Stella hated the Skipper for her banishment from Brandywine. With that fact in mind, Ski shook his head. “No, sir. Nothing’s wrong. May I go?”

Lee debated dismissing him, except Ski appeared disappointed, sounding regretful.

“May I go, sir?”

“Carry on.” Lee nodded, mulling things over. He peered in the direction that Kowalski had come. It didn’t take a genius to guess what was on the sailor’s mind. But what really bothered Lee was that Ski had lied to him. He worked hard to nurture the men’s trust in him, and vice versa. Kowalski was a man Lee trusted his life to because he had already done so several times. The sailor’s loyalty was second only to Sharkey, so Ski, better than anyone, should know that he could come to his captain about anything.

Anything, except .... However apprehensive, Lee knew he’d regret it later if he didn’t follow-up now. “Is it about Doctor Glacier, Kowalski?”

Ski halted, turned, and looked at him with uncertainty. “Yes, sir,” he said, backtracking to Lee. “I’m very worried about her, Skipper.”

“Oh?” Lee said, steeling himself to listen. Scuttlebutt had it that Ski and the men were peeved at him for ordering Glacier to stay away from the crew. However, notwithstanding the relaxed protocol on subs, Seaview included, there remained regulations that had to be adhered to.

“Since your confrontation with her outside Crews Quarters, she’s avoided talking to any of us, me as well. I know you don’t approve, Skipper, but there’s no harm being done, and the fact that she stays away bothers me.”

Ski’s face was etched in worry, dissolving Lee’s resistance. It was also clear that Kowalski’s distress for the woman he considered a friend outweighed any annoyance he’d had with his commanding officer, and given the emotional turmoil of late, it was a point of contention Lee couldn’t casually dismiss in all good conscience. “Have you talked to her about it?”

“Yeah. Just now in her lab. She said she needed to work things out.”

“Given the circumstances, Kowalski—”

“Skipper, I’ve known Stella for a long time. The only time she isolates herself is when she’s mad, upset, or depressed about something. She doesn’t work things out she entombs herself in her research, forsaking everything else around her.”

“She is a scientist, Ski, and you were friends many years ago,” Lee argued, trying to convince himself as well.

“Captain, I was serving under Stella’s father when her mother died. It took us four months to pull her out of her depression, but before we could, she lost fifteen pounds, went through twenty books, and brought her school grades up from a C to an A, which for Stella was no easy task. No, sir, I’m afraid one of these days she might literally bury herself in her work if somebody doesn’t do something about it.”

Kowalski’s face was full of sincerity, and as much as Lee would have preferred to staying away from the temperamental scientist, a highly regarded crewman was asking—no, depending on him to intercede. Lee drew a deep breath before nodding. “All right, Ski, I’ll talk with Mr. Morton. Maybe we can work something out.”

Ski’s demeanor brightened. “Thank you, sir. I appreciate it.” He burst into a hard sneeze.

Lee looked at him with new concern. “I hope you’re not coming down with a cold, Ski. You know Doc’s orders.”

“I’m okay. A little dust in the air, that’s all, sir. Thanks again, Skipper,” Ski said, looking much relived.

Lee nodded. “Anytime.”

Kowalski passed the Captain, feeling lighter than he had in days. His mind back on Mess and the Stella conundrum off it, he was left with one huge appetite.

Now if Stella would ease up on the Skipper, maybe they could learn to— About to step down the stairwell, his world violently spun in all directions. Instinctively, Ski grabbed the handrail, swinging himself back onto solid A deck. Terrified, not knowing which way was up, Kowalski kept his hand lashed to metal rail as he slid to the floor. Thinking about what almost happened, his heart skipped a beat: if a man tumbled down these wells, it could be fatal. Anxious for the vertigo to subside, Ski took large gulps of air to steady his nerves, at the same time, praying no one found him like this. It would be humiliating! It could also get him shipped home.

Kowalski glanced at his watch: a mere four minutes had passed. At least the dizziness is abating, he realized, relaxing. With careful maneuvering, Ski climbed to his feet, his hand glued to the railing. Relieved yet vigilant, Ski took a shaky step forward. When the floor and ceiling stayed where they were meant to be, he straightened. His confidence restored, Kowalski was about to tackle the stairwell again when Mister Morton came bounding up it.

“You all right, Ski?” the XO queried, giving Kowalski a scrutinizing once-over.

“I, uh, tripped over my own feet, Mr. Morton, and almost fell down the stairs.”

“After all these years, Ski, you should know better. Be careful, next time!” Morton gave him a pat on the shoulder then hastened toward officers’ country.

“Aye, sir,” Ski muttered. He gave his head a shake: nothing happened. Satisfied that the unusual episode was indeed over, he continued down, his shaken wits returning to the obstinate Stella.


Seated at the lab counter, Stella studied the book lying open before her, the uneaten half of her sandwich hanging mid-air in her hand. The pages contained several pictures of rare tubeworms, but none of them matched the sample in the tray.

“Arrr!” Stella groaned, defeated, snapping the hardcover shut.

She took an aggressive bite of the sandwich, dropped it on the plate, and slid to her feet. She was low on the preserving solution and now was as good a time as any to get it. Propping the step stool in front of the storage unit, Stella climbed up and stretched for the bottles on the highest shelf. In a wild blur of motion, her world disappeared. She grabbed the first thing at hand, the cabinet door, and with her eyes shut tight, hung on for dear life while fighting the vertigo that threatened to pull her to the floor. Little by little, despite her racing heart, Stella felt the wave ebbing, and braved opening her eyes. The room remained in place. Releasing her held breath, Stella tentatively let go of the door panel. When the whirling did not reoccur, she climbed down. Shaking as she did so, Stella held onto everything within reach, relief flooding her when her rubbery legs touched down on the solid, level floor.

Having landed next to the sink, Stella filled a glass of cold water, gulping it down in one effort. She took a long, deep breath and waited. After a moment, when nothing more happened, Stella looked skyward, thanking the Heavens above. “It has to be the stress,” she muttered with a heavy sigh, thoughts of Crane and Nelson crossing her mind. “I have got to get off this boat!”

Stella, remembering her mission, eyed at the bottles on the high shelf. To hell with it, the solution can wait! Instead, she pulled from the lower shelf of the same storage cabinet, a box of glass slides, taking the supply to the counter. She took a seat on the stool, and then used the scalpel to cut a paper-thin slice from the magenta tube, sandwiching it between the slides. Stella’s heart quickened, excited, as she slipped the sample under the scope. But after a minute of studying the specimen, her expectations plummeted: the plant’s biological make-up was quite familiar.

“Damn it! I was so close!” A flash appeared at the corner of her eye and Stella looked over, her grief-filled heart slamming into her chest. On the floor by the sink was her four-month-old daughter, Brianna.

Stella snapped her eyes tight, pressing her palms against her forehead, attempting to block out the torturous image. “I must have the flu or something. Brianna died two years ago. I am not seeing her!” Stella choked back her grief, but then terror took its place. What the hell is going on? Am I going crazy? NO! She grounded herself. I know I’m as sane as ever. In spite of her shaking body, Stella concentrated, imagining the kitten she wanted to own someday. Over the course of several minutes, the reality of that dream overtook the pain of losing her beloved child, Stella further reasoning with herself that that tragedy was long past. Stella swallowed, steeled herself, and looked over. The brutal memory was gone. But what the hell is going on! she demanded. Why did I hallucinate about Brianna, and what does it mean, if anything?

<<< >>>

The droning of the Control Room instruments played to Chip’s back as he manipulated the triangular ruler atop the chart, running his pencil alongside its stationary edge. Confirming the points against the Coordinate Log, Chip grinned widely to himself. On the nose like always!

Because Seaview was being gradually displaced by the two powerful currents converging around the Line Islands, it was necessary, from time to time, to adjust her positioning. Accounting for that, plus to break up the monotony of the last couple days, Crane had ordered them to “take her around the block,” which translated into them taking a nice, leisurely, 360-degree cruise around the region. For Chip, it was a pleasure (and a relief!) to take his Gray Lady into deeper depths, away from the shallower, precarious waters nearer the atoll.

As Chip stowed the Log, his mouth began to salivate. Once we’re back in position over the mini-lab, I’m heading to Mess for some of Cookie’s fantastic meatloaf! He peered at his watch then over his shoulder. He could hear Crane somewhere abaft chatting with the men, something the Commander often did when performing the routine instrument check.

Next, I need to—Chip glanced at the nose-port: “BUSHNELL, PULL HER UP!” he shouted at the top of his lungs. “Seamount! Dead ahead! Pull her up!!” But Bushnell wasn’t moving fast enough. Chip charged the ship control console, seizing the sternplane wheel, pulling it back with all his might. Around him, the boat plunged into confusion as everyone got thrown off their feet, but it didn’t matter unless Chip could avert the collision. “Up twenty degrees! Up twenty degrees!” Chip ordered. But Seaview was slow in elevating. Come on, come on, he pushed, breaking into a sweat.

Lee grasped the Sonar seat for dear life as he fought to bring his legs back under him, at the same time, searching out Morton. Chip had yelled about something dead ahead.... Lee spotted him at steerage. Lee’s footage regained, he sped forward. As he came beside his second in command, Lee glanced between him and the nose. There was nothing past the window except pitch darkness, yet Morton was behaving like a terrified lunatic.

“Chip?!” Lee yelled.

“The seamount, Lee! We’re gonna hit it!”

Lee grabbed Morton’s arm to yank him away, but Chip held tight in his delusion to save the boat. Determined to end this before they ended up in actual distress, Lee wrapped his arms around Morton’s chest and pulled up both his legs; the maneuver causing the desired effect: Lee’s unexpected dead weight ripped his frantic XO from the wheel, sending them crashing to the deck. Lee rolled them over in tandem, gaining the advantage. Once he had Chip face down, Lee pinned Morton’s arms to his back.

“Bushnell?” Lee called as Kowalski and Ray Collins charged over, each taking ahold of Morton.

“I’ve got the bubble, Skipper!” returned the redhead. “Resuming six zero zero feet, per previous orders.”

“Very well,” Lee answered. Curbing his fury and when sure the crewmen had Morton secure, Lee clambered to his feet. “Lieutenant, what the hell is wrong with you?” he glowered as Ski and Young brought Morton upright.

Morton’s eyes were fierce as he struggled against his handlers. “Didn’t you see the mount? We were heading straight for it!”

“We’re nowhere near a seamount, Chip!” Lee snapped. “Our instrumentation would have alerted us otherwise. And Chip, we’re in a thousand feet of water; too deep to see anything outside.”

Morton’s frantic gaze whipped forward to the blackness outside, his mouth dropping open. “But I saw it! It was right there!”

A lump filled Lee’s throat as he observed Morton’s rationale sinking in: Chip’s eyes dulled, his expression fell, and he slumped in resignation, teetering against Kowalski. “You’re right.” Shame flashed over his face. “How could I...? But it looked so real!”

“Go to Sick Bay,” Lee said with a permissive nod, “and have the doctor check you over.”

“Aye, aye, sir.” Chip’s response was subdued, his visage full of thoughtful bafflement as he turned to obey.

“Ron, escort Mr. Morton to Sick Bay.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

As Lee watched them go, he mentally registered the incident, along with a reminder to talk to Doc about it later. He next addressed to the ship control operators. “Everything okay?”

“Affirmative, Skipper,” answered young Helmsman Sontag with cocky inflection. “We have the Lady under our command.”

“Steerage in control,” quipped Bushnell.

Lee stared around at the Control Room wondering: his men may be the best in the U.S. fleet, but... he zeroed in on the viewport... but they were also human, and only human frailty could have made Morton behave the way that he did. Regardless of the reasons, Lee couldn’t disregard his worries about his executive officer—and his friend.

<<< >>>

The Crews Shower Room was located on the top deck between pharmacy and ships laundry, the narrow, rectangular room paralleling the corridor. The far long wall has four shower stalls, while the hallway-side is lined with metal hooks and small wire baskets for clothes and essentials, having a built-in bench running its length. The forward brief end-wall has two small sinks with a wide mirror above the vessels.

The comb of Radio tech Jon Holland paused mid-scalp as he gawked at Stuart Riley via the mirror’s reflection. “It’s not possible,” Jon insisted with blatant disbelief.

“Dude, I keep telling ya, I know what I’m talking about.” Riley shook his head, an amused Cheshire-cat grin in place, confidence oozing from him as he tied his shoe propped up on the bench.

“Sorry, Stu,” Jon returned with an adamant headshake, “but no sub, not even one as sophisticated as Seaview, can go that deep.” Holland shoved his comb into his breast pocket, joining the former surfer at the bench, the two continuing from there to the door in unison. “It is simply not possible.”

Holland,” Riley argued with light-hearted smugness, pushing through the door, “you’re new to the dolphins, and I’m giving it to ya straight. This—FIRE!” Stu screamed, charging down the corridor before Holland knew what was happening. “The corridor’s on fire!”

“What?” Holland whipped around, searching for flames, smoke, or smell, but there was zero. “Riley!” he shouted, sprinting after him. By the time Jon caught up to him, Stu was on the intercom handset next to the fire canister.

“Fire detail to B Deck, Frame 47! On the double!!”

Holland snatched the mic from Riley, throwing up an arm to block Riley’s frantic, offensive attack. An ex-linebacker in the college, Jon T. Holland had no problem holding him off. “Cancel Fire Detail. Repeat, cancel Fire Detail to B Deck, Frame 47.”

Holland, are you off your nut?! The fire—”

“No, Stu,” Holland shot back, “you are! There is no fire!”

<<< >>>

Lee, using the plotting table’s pencil, encircled the area on the map where he wanted Sharkey to visit. “We may not be able to officially ‘investigate’ the ML-1 site; however,” Lee grinned slyly, “by taking photographs we won’t be interfering with evidence, and they might actually be preserving some. Take Patterson, Chief, and document as much as—”

“Fire detail to B Deck, Frame 47! On the double!!” The Control Room squawk box shouted.

Lee’s heart stopped for half a second. Next to sinking, a sub’s greatest danger was fire. When one broke out, orders from officers weren’t necessary because a response was automatic by the ships trained fire brigade. Nevertheless, hearing the call always put a knot of dread in every seaman’s soul, and Lee was no exception. Exchanging an anxious look with Sharkey and Lieutenant O’Brien, Lee was about to unhook the intercom mic for a follow-up report when the abrupt counter-command was piped through. Although relieved, Lee saw the perturbed Sharkey roll his eyes.

“Sir, I’d better go see what’s going on,” Sharkey sighed, doing an about-face.

“I’ll go with you,” Lee decided, unable to shake a new, uneasy feeling. “O’Brien,” he said to his third-in-command, “you have the Conn.

“Aye, aye, sir,” O’Brien answered.

<<< >>>

Riley struggled to keep on his feet as his muscle-bound buddy dragged him down a third hall in search of his elusive blaze.

“See, Stu, there’s nothing here either.” Holland flared a hand at the empty corridor. “No flames, no heat; I don’t even smell any smoke.”

Stu stared aghast at the empty hallway, his stomach roiling. It had been right in front of him!

“What’s wrong with you?” Holland demanded. “That’s the second hallucination you’ve had today.”

“I want to hear it as well, Riley!” declared someone behind them.

Stu groaned in recognition. Holland turned toward the inquisitor, abruptly snapping to attention. Stu, too, turned to the Captain forming the protocol position out of respect, but his heart wasn’t in it. He was positive he had seen a blaze, but since proven wrong, he was feeling a little green and a lot embarrassed. He peered at the Skipper. His commander looked concerned, but Sharkey was downright pissed!

As the officers neared, the Captain looked questioningly between them. “At ease, Holland. Men, what’s going on?”

Stu glanced at Jon, his face vivid red.

“It’s a little hard to explain, sir,” Holland fumbled, stalling for a plausible answer. “We were—”

“There is no explanation, Skipper,” Stu blurted out. He knew he could be sent home for being ill, but lying wasn’t his style. He raised up his head and squared his shoulders. Crane may have been a tough commander, but he was fair one, and he always listened to his crew before making judgment. “I had a hallucination. The second one today, sir.”

Crane studied him long enough to make Stu break out in a sweat. The Skipper then nodded. “I appreciate your honesty, Riley. Second hallucination today, huh? All right. Get yourself to Sick Bay and have Doc check you out.”

“I’ll take him, Skipper,” volunteered Sharkey. “Holland, lay to where you belong.”

“Aye, aye, Chief,” replied the radio tech, taking off.

Lee crossed his arms, mulling over the situation as Holland disappeared in one direction, Sharkey and Riley in the other. First Morton, now Riley. He clinched his teeth disturbed, fear beginning to gnaw at his common sense. The cases were too isolated to say there was a pattern, yet two men hallucinating within a twenty-four hour period was anything but a coincidence. Well, whatever it is, it’s now in Doc’s hands, Lee reasoned. If it’s anything serious, he’ll inform me. I still have a boat to run, and it’s time to get back to it and the Control Room.


The jingle of Crane’s bunk-side telephone exploded in the dead silence of his cabin. Instantly awake, Lee had the receiver to his ear before it rang a second time. “Crane.” His heart pounding, Lee glanced at his wristwatch: 04:00 in the morning. The only reason he would be summoned this early was for an emergency.

“Captain, you’re needed in Sick Bay, on the double,” the corpsman said, his tone urgent.

“On my way.”

It took Lee half a minute to get on his clothes and shoes and another to reach Sick Bay on the deck below. Rushing in, he came to a dead halt: All the bunks were filled! Unprepared for the sight, Lee panned in the room, feeling like he’d been punched in the gut with each turn. Next to Morton and Riley, now lay Patterson, Welch, Langevin, and a dozen others. Silently, Lee calculated what stations were affected, the answer frightening him to the core: at least four men from every watch! Spotting the Doctor in the corner administering medicine to one of the sailors, Lee jogged over.

“What’s going on?” he demanded.

“An epidemic,” Doc replied.

“Of what?”

Doc straightened up, his expression grim, signaling Lee to follow him to his small alcove office. “I have no idea,” he whispered, his face tired and drawn from being up all night tending patients. “No more than a few came in yesterday, but since, over half the crew—”

“Half the crew?!” Lee scanned the room, his mind quickly recalculating....

“Half of them came in during the last few hours. The corpsmen set them up in the Mess Hall next door. Whatever it is, it’s hitting like lightning.”

“Can you do anything?”

“I’m doing everything I can, but it isn’t helping much, if not at all.”

“Well, I can do something!” Lee retorted. “I can head us to the nearest port!”

Lee bolted from the room and was halfway down the corridor when a violent roll of the boat pitched him into the bulkhead. As Lee waited for the deck to level out eradicating the modest tilt, he began massaging his throbbing shoulder—except Seaview’s nose plunged deeper and to the left. His injury forgotten, Lee half-sprinted, half-slid to the Control Room over a floor with a slope near that of the famous Lombard Street in San Francisco.

<<< >>>

Stella cautiously rose to her knees from the lab’s floor, trying to piece together what had just happened. A half-second earlier she had had her hand on the doorknob to return to her cabin for some long-delayed sleep when Seaview’s abrupt tilt hurled her off her feet. Hanging onto the knob, Stella caught her breath, waiting for Seaview’s downward nose to be corrected. Instead, the negligible angle got worse! Dread roiled in Stella’s stomach. No sub goes that steep unless there’s a problem. She climbed to her feet and fighting to stay upright, rushed to the Control Room. Clambering down the circular stairs, Stella gasped. “Oh, hell.”

<<< >>>

Teetering into the Control Room, Lee latched onto the vertical plotter, assessing his turmoil-engulfed boat. Many of the men lay immobile on the floor—key men, including several officers—and Seaview was still diving! Their exact location unknown, and afraid they would be below crash depth by the time he issued a “full reverse” order to Engine Room, Lee let gravity expedite him forward to ship control, holding onto whatever he could on the way.

Sharkey bolted in from the aft hatch, hooking his arm on the escape ladder and stopping his forward momentum. Practically thrown out of bed a minute earlier and still in his bedclothes, Sharkey had broken his personal record for running over a drastically sloping deck. He began processing the chaos, his gut tightening at the havoc. Sprawled out on the floor by Sonar was O’Brien. The rest of the crew, Sharkey noted with fear, were not looking too good either. He spotted Crane descending forward and snatched up the Periscope Island mic, but stopped there. Sharkey had two choices he could make, but if he picked the wrong one, he could cause a disaster instead of preventing one. He glued his eyes to Crane. At the speed Seaview was descending, and with his years of training, Sharkey knew what the Captain was heading for: the Emergency Blow. When the Skipper sidestepped left and raised his arm, it confirmed for Sharkey what he had to do next.

Lee found Officer of the Deck Bishop unconscious near the steerage seats; both pilots were also out cold, still strapped in their chairs. In the port chair closest to the bulkhead, Planesman Bushnell was leaning forward and to the left, his body weight conjoined with the severe, downward slope of the deck, was pushing down on the yoke, putting the sub into the dive; whereas Helmsman Sontag in the starboard chair, also was slumped over the wheel, keeping the submarine in the perpetual left turn. Around Bushnell, Crewmen Lake and Momsen, despite footing being precarious at worse, were doing their best not to step on the comatose Bishop in their frantic struggle to free Bushnell from his chair’s tight, awkward confine between the bulkhead and the helm station.

Lee stepped over Bishop, shoved Lake toward the helm chair ordering him to “Get Sontag out of there!” then sidestepped left to the port hull. Although Lee dreaded the possible consequences of what he was about to do, there wasn’t time to speculate, men’s lives were at stack. He reached overhead to the two interlock plungers on the Main Ballast Control Panel. Pulling off the covers, Lee flipped the first pin lever that controlled the forward tanks from straight down to straight up then held his breath, and prayed. An Emergency Main Ballast Tank Blow was initiated only in dire circumstances and to Lee, this qualified big time! When the valve plungers were opened, 3,000 psi of high-pressured air were blown into the main ballast tanks sending any submarine shooting skyward. In the best conclusion, Seaview would broach safely; in the worst, she could slam into an innocent surface ship.

Lee heard the sudden unexpected ooh-gah of the diving alarm split the air three times followed by Sharkey’s shouting command of “Surface, surface, surface!” via the intercom. The boisterous, unmistakable roar of air came shooting into the forward tank. For a half-second, Lee found it comforting. Whatever happened, their chances of surviving would be better on the surface than at the bottom of the sea. Seaview’s downward gradient swiftly diminished, leveling out at one point before her bow proceeded upwards, effecting an even steeper grade than before. With Seaview pointed in the right direction, Lee initiated the second plunger to the aft tank, its engaged action propelling Seaview toward the surface like a rocket.

From the stairs, Stella observed Crewman Lake grapple to obey Crane’s order, but with the deck’s steep slope, he couldn’t keep the unconscious Sontag upright long enough to find, let alone release, the seat belt despite several determined attempts. Stella wanted to help, but was frightened of Crane’s reaction if she tried. This moment is crucial! her gut screamed. To hell with Crane, Stella decided.

Tottering to helm, she leaned over the chair, grasped Sontag around the chest, pulling him backwards. It was difficult because of his dead weight and the slanting deck, but Stella managed to raise him enough to make a difference. As she did, Stella felt the deck under her feet rapidly shifting direction. She heard a muted click: Sontag was free! As she let go of Sontag, Lake grabbed the man under the arms, hoisting him so quick out of the chair that he almost lost his balance. Seaview’s nose was skyward by this time and had Lake fallen, both men could have slid down into the Radio Shack. Lake dropped Sontag beside OOD Bishop, bounded into the chair and grabbed the yoke, bringing an end to the wayward sub’s leftward spiral.

Lee looked over as Lake took control of the rudder. With helm out of dire straits, that left Bushnell and the diving planes. In the interim, Momsen had taken control of the wheel from the immobile Bushnell, freeing his seat belt—however, Momsen couldn’t properly steer, not with Bushnell in the way, nor remove the pilot’s dead weight by himself. Adding to the problem, the emergency procedure had shifted everything backwards, making everyone, including Momsen, fighting to keep their balance and from falling.

Lee grasped Bushnell around the chest and lifted, but the man slipped from his hands. It was essential they have full control of Seaview when they broached the surface, otherwise there could be another potential disaster on their hands. Lee growled in frustration: he was next to the bulkhead, Bishop was under foot, and given the boat’s drastic slant, there was little room for him and Momsen to maneuver, let alone get solid footing. Nor could Lee get a firm grasp on Bushnell, not with the man’s arms and the chair arms in the way. Lee tried again, and again dropped him. Lee dug his fingers into the man’s jumpsuit material and pulled. This time, Momsen tried to assist him by grabbing Bushnell near the waist and push up, but the planesman remained solidly in place.

“Damn it!” Lee grunted. “What the hell’s the problem?”

“His leg’s caught on something under the panel!” Momsen yelled. He reached down with his left hand to search, but each time he did, his body pushed forward on the steering column forcing the planes downwards; Seaview’s structure groaning a clear warning about the contrasting directions she was receiving.

Lee moved backward to get a better hold, but stepped on something—Bishop! His balance lost, Lee wheeled, his fall stopped by someone steadying him from behind.

Stella was about to move Bishop out of the way, but before she could, Crane landed on him and stumbled. She couldn’t let him fall; she wasn’t that vindictive in spite of their differences. Stella braced Crane, her palms against his back, pushing him forward. His footing secured, Crane made a glance over his shoulder, registering shock at her being his savior, but then re-focused on steerage. Well, he knows I’m here so the lecture will probably come later, she sighed. Taking hold of the arms of the incapacitated Bishop, Stella dragged him to the starboard nook housing the forward video monitor. The short wall there would keep him from sliding into the Control Room. Next, she did likewise with Sontag.

Lee heard Sharkey shout from somewhere abaft, “Nine hundred feet!” The Chief was at the auxiliary depth gauge. “Son of a bitch,” Lee muttered. They were getting close to the surface, and if they didn’t get control of the planes—

“His shoe’s caught on something!” Momsen cried out. “I can’t see it! It’s on the other side.”

“Seven hundred feet!” yelled Sharkey.

Stella shot around Crane to the hull-side, dropping to the floor between the ballast control panel and ship control console. The space was too narrow for both men, but she had no problem squeezing in her lanky frame.

“Five hundred feet!”

Lee immediately caught onto Glacier’s intention. He braced himself, his arms around the Bushnell’s chest as Momsen, in his awkward position, steadied the column. When she yelled, “He’s free, he’s free!” Lee didn’t hesitate. This time Bushnell came away with ease, his feet barely clearing the top of the seat before Momsen vaulted into it.

“I’ve got the bubble!” Momsen yelled ecstatic.

“Three hundred feet!”

Stella swallowed hard and not knowing what to do or where to go, she decided she would stay right where she was!

“Ninety feet, broach!”

Lee gripped the metal frame of the port chair, his fingertips digging into its vinyl padding, prepped for the inevitable.

Seaview shot past the watery verge, briefly flying in the air, her rapid dropping levitating her inhabitants for several long seconds, sending their stomachs to their heads.

Lee held his breath, praying and waiting for the aftermath. She bounced atop of the ocean then become as level as a surfboard. Lee listened hard. He felt no grinding metal shattering under his feet, heard no screeching bulkhead, and saw no water cascading through the hull, nor did any systems scream in alarm—by some miracle, they had made it topside without killing anyone! Lee let out a deep breath, muttering a sincere “Thank you!” However, he had to make sure Seaview, as well as any other surface ships, were out of harm’s way. Jogging aft, Lee saw the empty Sonar chair. “Kowalski, take over Sonar.” Lee jumped onto the island, raising the scope as Ski flashed past him to the station. Lee knew the crew was shaken, on edge, so, as the instrument detracted, he called out loud, clear, calm: “Sonar, report.”

“No surface contacts, Skipper. We’re clear,” answered Kowalski in his usual confident self.

But Lee needed visual confirmation. Setting his eyes on the scope viewfinder, he heard Sharkey say from behind him, “Sick Bay, Corpsmen to Control Room, on the double!” Given what just—and could have—happened, Lee was never more grateful to have Sharkey watching his back.

“Sharkey,” Lee called over his shoulder, “Maintain neutral buoyancy.”

“Neutral buoyancy; aye, aye, sir,” Sharkey repeated, relaying the order to steerage; Lee hearing the confirmation from Lake, followed by the engine-order telegraph bell as helm alerted Maneuvering.

Stella peered around. Seaview had “landed,” was undamaged, and appeared to be stabilized, and was unsure what to do next. She decided that it was at least safe to leave the tight confine of the control station, and shimmied out. Stella then took a seat beside Crewman Bushnell, who was still out cold, and began gathering her scrambled thoughts.

Lee rotated the periscope, scanning the surrounding surface, verifying with great relief, that they had the immediate ocean all to themselves. Even better, Lee could see Palmyra Atoll, and by his reckoning they remained close to the coordinates where they were supposed to be.

“Confirmation: no visual contact.” Lee straightened, snapping the handles into place, sending the instrument into retraction. Seaview was safe. Time to take full account of the situation. He scoured the Conn counting the downed men and evaluating the multiple concerns and factors in his mind. He spotted Stella—he’d completely forgotten about her—sitting against the hull by steerage, looking baffled and a little shell-shocked. He would deal with her later.

Stella eyed Bushnell, her compassion getting the best of her and although he was no longer in danger of getting stomped on, she decided it would be best to move him to the alcove with Bishop and Sontag. After dragging him, Stella checked the three men’s pulses, her stomach clenching with each one. They were alive, yet showed no signs of waking up. Nor could she find a cause for their unconsciousness. Hearing feet running behind her, Stella swiveled on her knees and saw two corpsmen rushing in her direction. She stood, getting out of their way by moving to the circular stairs. While they worked, Stella peered at the chaos in the room, every nerve in her body filling with dread: the deck looked like a battlefield. She’d never heard of something like this happening on a sub before. A POP exploded behind her head, making Stella jump. Flames danced from the fire control board! This time, without any nagging doubts, Stella seized the extinguisher, attacking the flames with vengeance.

At the plotting table, Lee was getting the latest damage report when he heard the fire break out behind him. “Engineering, hold!” he ordered into the mic, then spun around in time to see Glacier snatch the extinguisher from the wall and take charge of the situation before any of the conscious crew could do so. Lee poised to give assistance, but found there was no reason to: Glacier was fighting the fire like a seasoned pro. So she really does know how to handle an extinguisher, Lee smiled surprised. Next to him, Sharkey, who had been pinpointing their position, made a motion to run over, but Lee stayed him with his arm. “Leave her, Chief,” he said. “If she needs help, I think she’ll yell for it.”

Sharkey raised a baffled eyebrow then broke into a knowing, lopsided smirk, answering, “Aye, sir,” then returned to the chart.

“Engineering,” Lee resumed, at the same time keeping an eye on Glacier, “finish collecting reports and get back to me, ASAP.” Clicking off, Lee stowed the handset. Leaning back on his heels, he took a moment to breathe. Glacier was annihilating the last of the flames with well-directed hits from the nozzle. He didn’t know another woman who had ever done something like that, and she hadn’t panicked like most women—like most men he’d known. Lee bristled. He recognized admiration seeping in, but then guilt slammed into his chest: he had thrown her out of the lab without even trying to listen to her. But Lee fought back. It was dangerous in there that day and no time for chatting, nor is one small act of bravery enough to wipe out all the grief she’s created. Lee turned.... “Damn it! GLACIER,” he yelled.

Stella had her hand on the blackened panel, searching for more hot spots when Crane’s roar cut through her like a bullet. She looked over. Crane was barreling towards her like a bull! She cringed in expectation of a berating, but instead, Crane grabbed her wrist, dragging her aft.

“What the hell?” Stella argued, unable to defend herself with both hands occupied. Without answering, Crane whipped her around and grasped her shoulders, steading her as they faced the Radio Shack where a second fire now blazed on the communications board. “Have at it,” Crane whispered into her ear. Startled, Stella raised the red can with pleasure and pulled the trigger. Moments later, the flames were out.

“Well done,” Lee said, peering around. “Without communications we’d be—” Lee bolted to Sonar, his fears surging. Sharkey was using his handkerchief to apply pressure to Sparks’ profusely bleeding head while Ray wrapped the gauze from the first aid kit around the dazed man’s laceration.

“Sharkey, how—”

Was all Lee got out when Seaview’s power died, plunging the deck into total darkness. Lee was blind and helpless, and without power his 7,000-plus ton boat dropped like an anchor until the backup systems came online. Eternal seconds later, the yellow emergency lights flashed on in response.

“Helm, all ahead one third!” Lee shouted, fighting his way forward for a second time that hour.

“Aye, aye, sir!” Lake yelled back, signaling Maneuvering.

Lee latched onto the plotting table. “Stern, up fifteen!” But something was wrong; maneuvering wasn’t answering, thus Seaview continued to sink despite having power, and although she was level, she was rocking a lot more than Lee was comfortable with during this horizontal descent. Balancing on the balls of his feet, Lee took up the mic as a white-faced Glacier zipped forward past him. “Engineering, wha—” a hard lurch sent Lee to his knees, his splaying arm ripping the microphone from its home base.

When the lights blacked out, Stella had managed to grab ahold of the escape ladder. Once lite, she started past the vertical chart to return to her cabin, except a sudden dip of the nose careened her forward. Stella didn’t fight the forward momentum, instead she targeted the other exit. She had just reached the plotting table when a second violent jolt hurled her the last few feet into the circular stairs. Stella took that as a hint and stayed where she was, clinging to the metal structure for dear life.

A loud crack overhead startled Stella, and she was pummeled by cold water her before she had the time to look up. She reached above to the two water control valves and began shutting off the broken pipe to stop the water from flooding the compartment. Someone appeared at her side, cutting off the second pipe. Stella peered around her raised arm, her body going as cold as the water. It was Crane. Instead of a scowl, he gave her what appeared to be a quick nod of appreciation. Distrustful, Stella turned away.

Kowalski surveyed the Control Room from his Radar Station with clenched jaw. Seaview was dropping, Sharkey and Crane were shutting water valves at opposite ends of the boat, and Stella was the one snuffing fires, that just left him, Ray, and the two guys at steerage as crew!

Marek John Kowalski had signed on with the Nelson Institute shortly before Seaview’s completion and was first of the enlisted crew to set foot on her polished deck. Since that time, as one of the boat’s senior and more seasoned crewman, Kowalski had been asked to do many things, exceling the bounds of rate without serious consequences, often with much gratitude from Nelson and the other senior officers. When lives were at stake, rank didn’t matter much.

Kowalski tore over to Sonar, commenced a sounding, then to the Fathometer on the aft bulkhead. The needle graphed a clear sea floor at 125 fathoms—750 feet—below their keel and it was coming up fast! They were gonna hit and Ski knew from previous experience just how hard. He gave the general alarm handle one turn, setting off its fourteen gongs. Next grabbing the mic from the communications panel above Sonar, he rotated the indicator to the ship-wide PA system and shouted, “Brace for impact! We’re gonna hit bottom!” He dropped down beside Ray and Sparks, pinning his buddies against the scope platform using his arm and leg, then grimaced in anticipation of the bone-shattering impact. He eyed Sharkey fighting the fire but seconds later, Sharkey had his enemy smothered and quickly latched himself to the escape hatch ladder, not a breath too soon.

Hearing the warning, Lee clamped the staircase with one hand, flung his other around Glacier’s waist, and pulled her tight to him, plastering them both against the metal structure a split-second before the boat hit the bottom. The heavy jolt tore Lee’s hand from the railing, and they tumbled hard to the floor. Lee stayed where he was, studying the boat’s welded seams. Seaview tilted one way then the other, the pressure on the hull causing her to groan ominously until one final jarring told Lee she had at last settled on the bottom. Lee jumped up scanning the deck while helping Glacier to her feet. “You all right?”

“Yeah,” Glacier replied, checking herself over.

Lee took her word for it. Racing to Periscope Island, he whisked off its mic, “Captain to Damage Control, report!”

“Water-tight integrity intact. No damage reported, Skipper.”

“So what the hell happened?!”

“We don’t know, Skipper.” Lee heard the fear in the young technician’s voice. “We weren’t notified of any—”

“Engineering to Conn,” squawked the overhead speaker.

Lee clicked the transfer button. “Conn to Engineering, this is the captain.”

“Skipper, several of the men are ill, including Chief Ingles.” Lee recognized the shaky tenor voice as Hood, one of their newly promoted junior officers. “Chief Ingles had some sort of hallucination, thought we were flooding, and used the chicken switches to shut off the Hydraulic controls. There was nothing I could do!”

Lee closed his eyes, taking a very long, deep breath. Ingles shut off the seawater-piping system! “Very well,” he replied. “Get the men to Sick Bay then stand by for further orders.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

Lee rubbed his throbbing forehead. By cutting the water that cooled the machinery, Ingles caused the propulsion plant to shut down. It’ll take hours to get the reactor and generator on line again, and we can’t do another emergency blow because there isn’t enough air in ballast to do a second one. He ran both hands through his hair, noticing a worried-looking Sharkey coming toward him. And I can’t do much else until all reports are in.

“Yup. Seaview’s on the bottom, all right,” Chief said as if finishing a joke. “At least we’re nowhere near crush depth.”

“Are you sure? Have you confirmed it?” Lee said sharper than he meant to. His nerves were frayed; he wanted answers, not assumptions.

“Ah, Kowalski did, sir, right before we hit. We’re near the atoll in waters about 750 feet.”

Lee rubbed his forehead. “At least, Seaview’s not damaged. That’s one positive aspect we can be grateful for.” It was a small comfort, and a comfort nonetheless.

“Need help, fellas?” Sharkey called to Ski and Ray. They were helping the conscious yet disorientated Sparks toward the aft hatch.

“We got it, Chief, thanks,” said Kowalski.

Sharkey drew in then let out a long breath. “So how many men do we have left to keep the Lady moving?” he asked, scanning the room.

Lee stared at him. He’d been so busy reacting to the immediate crisis, he’d forgotten about the root terror that had caused all this. He studied the room, his jaw dropping in astonishment. Besides himself, Momsen, Lake, and Sharkey, the only crew standing were the corpsmen who had come to take the ill men to Sick Bay. Lee started for the closest door. “You have the Conn, Chief. I’ll be in Sick Bay!”


Lee found Doc at his desk: pale, sweating, exhausted, and leaning wearily over a spiral notebook, one hand supporting his head, the other scribbling.

“Oh, no,” Lee groaned, “not you, too.”

“It hit me right after you left.” Doc could barely keep his head up as he talked. He held the book out to Lee. “I’ve written down everything I know, Captain, which isn’t much and definitely not enough. I don’t need to tell you that it’s vital for you, for somebody, to find out what this disease is.”

Lee leaned in, palms on the desk. “All I need is men to maneuver her,” he said, trying not to show his desperation.

Doc shook his head. “You’re better off staying where you are.”

“The closer we get home—”

“Men are dropping like flies, Captain! You lose those last few men at the wrong time and you could find yourself going flank speed into the continental slope, or nose-diving into a canyon below crash depth. Is that what you want?”

Lee clenched his jaw, analyzing his options. “If we do stay put, it’ll take three days for a rescue ship to get here. In that time, we could all be dead. I have to get her moving!”

“You have to find out—”

“Nobody’s gonna find out anything unless I have enough men to move Seaview off the bottom!”

“You already don’t have enough men, that’s what I’m trying to tell you! If a man doesn’t have it now, he’ll come down with it in a matter of hours!”

“Doc...,” Lee pleaded.

“Captain Crane, listen to me.” Doc locked his eyes to Lee’s. “There is something you can do.”

“What? Anything!”

“Get Doctor Glacier to help you.”


“She’s the closest thing to a doctor you have. Nobody has died yet, but if we can’t get a handle on this thing than nobody’s leaving here even if help comes. Not if this is some type of infectious bacteria.”

Lee studied Doc’s somber face and, with dread, concurred that what he said made sense. “All right, Doc, you win.”

“Tell me that on land, Skipper. Now get going.”

Lee rushed back to the Control Room and after a quick scan of the deck, sprinted to Sharkey at plotting. “Where’s Doctor Glacier?”

“I don’t know, sir,” Sharkey said, mic in one hand, pencil in the other, paused over the clipboard. He looked to be assembling information, critical info, if Lee knew his COB. “She left without saying a word.”

“The lab...,” Lee muttered. He took off again. “You still have the Conn, Sharkey,” he called to the man behind him.

<<< >>>

In the laboratory, Stella felt weak and light-headed, liked she’d been drained of blood. She pushed her concentration onto her research to keep her mind off the fact that they were sitting on the bottom of the Pacific waters. Stella lifted the tray full of beakers from the sink area with extra care and started for her microscope. Halfway there, her hands erupted into out-of-control shaking, the glassware jingling so hard she thought they would shatter. She rushed forward, dropping the tray on the counter’s edge. Staring hard at her hands, Stella swallowed the fearful lump in her throat, willing herself to stay calm. “There’s a reasonable explanation,” Stella insisted. “And I need to figure out what it is.”

Brushing a stray hair off her mouth, she caught faint movement by the doorway. “Brianna!” Stella gasped just as Crane charged through the hatch; she jumped, her back striking the balanced tray, knocking it to the floor with an ear-splitting crash.

Crane pulled up short, startled, gaping at her and the shattered glassware. “I’m sorry,” he said quick and sincere. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

Perturbed, embarrassment blazing on her face, Stella didn’t—couldn’t deal with Crane at the moment. She purposely ignored him with expectations that he would go away, hurrying past him to retrieve the dustpan and brush from the closest.

Lee felt bad as Glacier kneeled down, cleaning up the broken mess that was his fault. “Here,” he crouched beside her, “let me help you.”

Glacier slapped his outreached hand, snapping, “I don’t need your help.”

Lee bit back his heated retort, allocating his fury into his clenched jaw. Nor was he about to be intimidated by her contemptuous, blatant animosity! He crossed his arms with deliberate showmanship, regarding her with overt intensity even as she stubbornly continued to pretend he didn’t exist.

“Come to read me the riot act for being in the Control Room, Commander?” Glacier snarled.

That insulting tone again! “No,” Lee replied, forcing his anger out of his delivery. “I came to ask you for your help.”

“My help?!” Glacier sniggered. “Tell me another joke.”

She went to stand up when Lee grabbed her wrist. He gaped at her, stunned. “Haven’t you seen what’s going on around here?”

“Crane,” Glacier glared back, “outside of today, I haven’t left this lab in forty-eight hours! Everything else was declared off-limits per your orders, remember?”

Glacier shot to her feet, Lee doing likewise. “Ninety percent of my crew have come down with some kind of illness!” he argued, dogging her.

So?” Glacier demanded with an insolent sneer, tipping the glass shard into the trashcan, tossing the tray and dustpan onto the counter with an agitated fling. She marched to the microscope, taking slides out of the oblong box next to it.

Lee was doing everything he could to control his temper, but her callousness was enraging him. “The doctor has it,” he growled. “He can’t solve this thing because—” She wouldn’t even look at him! Lee seized Glacier’s forearms forcing her to face him, ignoring her fright. “The whole medical crew has it! Chip Morton, Riley, Patterson...they’re all down with this thing!”

“So what’s that got to do with me?”

“I need your help to find out what it is.”

“Are you crazy? I’m not a doctor!”

“No, but you’re the closest thing I have to one. You have to help me or else men could die!”

Studying Crane, Stella realized—Crane was frantic. And if he was scared.... Her mind raced over what paltry medical training she had. Could she help him? What about…? Stella looked over Crane’s shoulder, her heart falling to her feet: the small plump figure lay on the floor, happily cooing at her. Stella closed her eyes, blocking out her baby daughter. “I can’t,” she choked out.

“WHY NOT?!” Crane roared.

She couldn’t look at him. “I...just...can’t....”

Crane shoved her away, his cheeks flaring in anger, his eyes consumed with hate. “Then we’re all gonna die.”

Stella watched him storm for the door, her heart tearing apart in her chest, frightened, angry at everything that had gone wrong in her life.

“Aaarrggh!” Stella screamed, sweeping the counter end clean of everything; the splitting glass and clanging metal obliterating her trailing cry.

Crane whirled, poised to defend himself.

“I can’t help you because I have it too!” Stella shouted.

What?!” Crane ran back to her.

“If this illness consists of hallucinations then I’ve got it too.” Stella looked to where her beloved Brianna lay still smiling at her. “Damn it!” She whipped around, clamping her hands on the counter, shutting her eyes tight to keep from sobbing. “I keep seeing my baby gi—.” The words caught in Stella’s throat. “But she’s dead. I know she’s dead, yet plain as day I can see her lying over there by the door.” She turned to face Crane. “So how can I help you when all I see is my dead daughter?”

Lee stared speechless: Glacier’s words, her face, her eyes were a jumble of sincerity, sorrow, regret, and grief.

“But I’ll help however I—” Glacier morphed into sudden panic and she careened, her arms flailing wildly like she didn’t know which way was up.

Lee saw her legs crumble and reached out, ensnaring her in his arms as gravity pulled her towards Earth, her jaw missing the floor by inches. “Doctor!” Lee raised her up in a firm, stabilizing embrace, his heart pounding as she clung to him in frightened desperation. “Doctor Glacier?”

Glacier’s lolling head turned to Lee. Her expression disorientated her eyes vacant, she muttered a fleeting, “Uncle Harry?” before her eyes rolled back in her head, her body becoming dead weight.


Lee sat statue-still in the metal chair, staring at Stella O’Toole Glacier yet he did not see her; too engrossed in facts and solutions yet, at the same time, well aware of the minutes passing at a snail’s pace, and of the precious time evaporating as he waited and strategized. He again peered at the wall clock: ten minutes had passed since he had carried Glacier to the closest quarters—ironically, his own—but it had seemed like an hour, leaving Lee speculating about how much time they might, in truth, have left.

Subtle movement on the bunk drew Lee’s attention and he saw the biologist’s hand twitch, then her eyes blinked erratically until she managed to keep them open. Glacier looked around confused, her hand flying to her forehead, fingering the cold washrag resting there. Her questioning eyes, at last, settled on Lee.

Without a word, Lee stood. He had assessed the facts and options of the crisis, and now he had to do the same with this woman’s scientific abilities, regardless of his dislike and distrust of her. Lee went to his desk, activating the intercom system, his inflection mirroring his compartmentalized, placid composure. “Crane to Conn. Chief Sharkey, report.”

Conn; Sharkey here.”

“Crane; update, please.”

“We’ve lost five more men, including JO Hood and Ray Collins. I sent Kowalski and Ron Forester on patrol to check systems, water integrity, and to make sure none of the men are in immediate danger—from something other than it, I mean.”

“Well done, Sharkey. Carry on.”

“Sir, if you don’t mind my asking, what’s our next move?”

“I’m working on a long shot now,” Lee said, eyeing the scientist, “but it’s a very long shot. I’ll be down soon to talk to you. Until then, tell the men to relax and—”

“Ah... sir...,” Sharkey sounded awkward, reluctant, “There’s only two of us here now: me and Radio man Holland. I sent Momsen and Lake to help out in Sick Bay.

Lee rubbed his fingertips against his aching forehead while processing the bleak information. Mustering all the confidence he could, Lee replied, “Have Holland monitor the Shack and to contact the Nelson Institute alerting them as to what’s going on here. After that...,” Lee drew in a long breath, “do your best to relax and stand by for further orders.”

“Aye, sir.”

Lee looked at Glacier. Color had returned to her face and she must have been feeling better because she pushed herself into a sitting position then swung her legs over the side, but that was as far as she went. Camped on the bunk edge, she winced, dropping her head into her hands.

“How do you feel?” Lee asked.

“Rotten. I’ve got a piercing headache and this whole thing feels like a bad dream.”

“It’s not, I assure you,” Lee said with more intensity than he intended.

Glacier’s head snapped up and Lee was positive she was going to ream him, yet something stopped her. And although her perturbed expression vanished, her scrutinizing did not. Feeling uncomfortable, Lee took the washcloth from her, stepped into the miniscule bathroom at the corner of his bed, ran the cloth under some cold water, and then returned it to her.

Stella studied Crane, evaluating his truthfulness. There had been strained curtness in his reply and anxiousness behind those dark, assertive eyes of his. But it was hard to think with the pounding in her head.

“In Harry’s cabin, I believe there’s, um, aspirin in the cabinet over the sink, if you wouldn’t mind.” Stella reapplied the damp rag, this time to her neck. Without a word, Crane did as she asked, except he went to his own cabinet instead. Returning, he handed her a glass of water, next opened the bottle, offering her two of the tablets. Taking them, she downed them with the water in a single gulp.

“Thank you,” Stella said meekly, handing him back the glass. Crane took the bottle back to the bathroom where she saw him down two for himself. The headache dealt with, Stella felt a new terror seep in. “Just, um...,” she heard her voice shake, “how bad is it out there?”

Crane squared his shoulders. “Ninety-eight percent of the crew are ill and Seaview remains on the bottom. Doc gave me his notes, explaining what he found in the short time he had to do it in. Unfortunately, that’s all I have to work with right now.”

“Go on. I’m listening.” Stella closed her eyes, pressing the cold cloth over her whole face, trying to take everything in. The wetness refreshed her somewhat, but Crane’s comment to Chief Sharkey did not, his skeptical words reverberating relentlessly in her mind.

“Doc suspects it’s a foreign microorganism that was somehow brought onboard. He had preliminary tests done on Seaview and the men. Seaview, so far, is clean; ergo it’s nothing she herself was carrying. He had started testing the men when he, too, came down with it.”

“Did he say what type of organism it is?”

“No. He didn’t get the chance to finish the tests, but the symptoms don’t belong to any known disease he’s ever heard of or seen before. That far he did get.”

Stella whipped off the cloth and looked up at him, her mind whirling. “He’s never seen before.”

“Yeah,” Crane nodded, his brow creasing at her intense reaction. “Why?”

“The other day when I went out in the mini-sub, I found a black coral I’ve never seen before. At least, I thought it was black coral until the live tissue fell off, then it resembled a tube worm, but it isn’t.”

“What is it then?”

“I don’t know. I still haven’t figured it out. Think there’s a connection?”

“Only one way to prove there isn’t, we’ll have to take a look at it.”

“Crane—” The sharpness in her voice gave away Stella’s fear, stopping Crane in his tracks. Stella looked him straight in the eyes. She had to; she couldn’t lie or pretend about a thing like this. “My medical training is little better than yours, you need to know that.” Inside, Stella was terrified, but she couldn’t wait around and do nothing. “I might not be able to help you at all.”

Lee could see the doubt in Glacier’s eyes, but he also saw something else: determination. “I know,” he replied, understanding her fears. He had experienced them many times himself. “But it’ll take days for the rescue ship to get here, let alone set up quarantine. In that time, this thing could kill us all. We have to give it a shot, even if all we leave the rescue ship is known facts and leads.”

Glacier bit her lip, raising her chin as though steeling her courage. “I agree. That’s why I’m gonna help you in any way I can.” She stood and took two steps, her knees buckling. Again she would have fallen had Lee not caught her, alerted by her heightened paleness. Alarmed at how her thin body trembled against him, Lee wondered if he may have made a mistake in seeking her help. He should also release her, but given her unstable condition, he hesitated. His choice became moot as Glacier pushed away from him, her cheeks a bright pink.

“I’ll do it, Commander, but on one condition.” Glacier’s voice quivered despite her bravado. “I want somebody with me at all times. If I start hallucinating, I want someone to bring me out of it. I don’t care who it is as long as there’s somebody. Is that a deal?”

His eyes on hers, Lee saw the solemnness of her demand. He gave her a lone nod. “It’s a deal. Let’s do this.” Lee offered Glacier his arm, but she ignored it, resolved to making the short journey on her own power.

Entering the lab, Glacier pointed to the white enamel tray on the left far counter. “There.” She hurried to it, Lee beside her. At the counter, Glacier’s mouth dropped open. “No, no, NO!” Inside the tray, there was no magenta tube to speak of, nothing but a pool of pinkish mush. Glacier grabbed long handled tweezers and began shifting the contents around. “Damn it!!”

“What is it?” Lee asked, wondering why she was stabbing at the flaccid contents that resembled mashed potatoes. “What’s wrong?”

This is the specimen.”

Lee’s jaw hit the floor. “That! What happened to it?”

“I don’t know! Dendronepthya—”

Lee muttered, “Soft coral,” a la refresher course to himself.

Glacier stared at him astounded, Lee answering with a casual shrug. “When you’re around Admiral Nelson, you pick up things.”

“You’re right.” Stella nodded, thrilled that Crane wasn’t totally ignorant about the oceans he worked in. This knowledge will make their research easier. “It is soft coral. Soft coral has no hard skeleton and will collapse when exposed to air, as well as attitude changes, but—”

“But you said you’ve never seen it before.”

“I haven’t! Originally, it resembled scleractinians—“

“—black coral,” Crane said.

Crane, again, stunned her. “Also known as hard coral. But when the live tissue fell off, it looked more like a tubeworm, except smaller. The casing, the worm’s home, is directly related to hard coral, yet it completely dissolved, which is a characteristic of soft coral, but it had none, none of the characteristics of soft coral.”

“Do you have any more of it?”

“A small branch and that’s not big enough to do the massive testing we need to do on it.” Stella hurried to the refrigerator and brought out the smaller tray, showing Crane the five-inch piece within. Except he didn’t say anything, he just stared at her. “What is it?”

“Your symptoms...they’re gone!”

Stella was astonished as well. Canting her head, she held her hands out in front of her. They were steady as a rock. “You’re right. My headaches gone, too. I feel…quite normal, in fact. Like I’m cured.”

“Is it possible?” Crane asked with a lot of hope.

Stella shook her head. “No, this has to be temporary. Whatever the reason, let’s take advantage of it and get as much research done as we can.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“If you have a camera onboard, take pictures of it.” Stella pointed at the refrigerator. “After that...,” she extracted a big, black book from the shelf in front of her, handing to him, “try to find it in the marine journals. While you’re doing that, I’m gonna try and record as many of its specifics as I can before this piece, too, turns to mush.”

“Done. But we’re gonna need re-enforcements for this.” Crane made for the intercom. “Crane to Control Room,” he said into the mic, “Sharkey, are you there?”


“Damn it!” Lee shoved the thick hardcover into the accumulated books he and Sharkey had already gone through. “I’ve scoured every marine resource material we have onboard, and I haven’t seen anything that even remotely comes close to that coral!”

When Glacier didn’t answer, Lee looked at her across the motley instruments that lined the slate counter’s center. A day ago, mere hours ago, Lee would have believed she was ignoring him, but not now. She was in rapt concentration at her microscope and it was clear she hadn’t heard him. Earlier, she had prepared a square-inch slice of it for studying. Then, anxious about what the heated lights would do to the specimen, she had returned the rest to the refrigerator. During her efforts, Glacier would lift her head from time to time, mutter aloud her confusion, debates, and reasoning, then pursue another direction in her search for an answer.

Frustrated, his butt sore from sitting for so many hours, Lee slid off the stool. As he stretched to clear his head and get his blood flowing again, his thoughts raced to his last conversation with Nelson. A rescue ship was on its way, but Lee had to wonder what next after that? Quarantine? For how long? Lee stopped speculating. It was a useless distraction that wasted his time and energy.

Lee walked around, redirecting his ruminating to Glacier and her coral, and reluctantly had to admit, he was impressed by her tenacity. A splinter of shame pricked his consciousness: maybe he had gone a little over the top in the lab that day. Lee had clearly misjudged her, in the work aspect anyway. Gnawing at him too was Kowalski’s statement concerning Glacier “burying herself” in her work when she was upset. It had gotten back to him that, after her Crane-induced apology to Nelson, the woman had made it known she was going to follow Lee’s orders to the “T”, and had thereafter, confined herself to the lab, her cabin, or the Missile Room, going so far as to take her meals in her room. The crew later confirmed to him that she had scarcely spoken to them since that day. Lee had disapproved of her behavior, considering it childish at the time, but now recanted his opinion. What he had concluded to be rude, Irish stubbornness was, in truth, die-hard determination. When Stella O’Toole Glacier believed in something, right or wrong, she put everything she had into it. He always admired that in a man, but it was a trait he hadn’t found in woman. Until now.

“How’s it going?” Lee already knew the answer, but he wanted to disrupt the oppressive silence and hear some human voices.

“Nothing matches this coral.” Glacier tapped the image on her sketchpad laying to her right. “I’m thinking it could very well be an unknown variety. The more we’re in the ocean, the more new life forms we discover every day.” She blinked her tired, reddish eyes, trying to draw moisture into them. “Uncle Harry still might be able to track it down, though.”

“Have you discovered anything new so far?” Lee asked, massaging his neck muscles.

Glacier blew out air, shaking her head. “Only that I’ve never seen such an unstable specimen in all my life. The cells keep shifting out of focus making it hard for me to get a clear look at it. And what I do see, I think I’m mistaken because it looks like Holobasidiomycetes, uh, fungi spores. These cells resemble fungus.”

“Fungus?” Lee gaped. He didn’t know a lot about marine biology, but he had learned enough over the years at sea to appreciate what she had told him. “Unbelievable!”

“I know!” Glacier exclaimed with excited reverence. “I don’t know if this is a new hybrid species or—”

“Hey, Skipper,” Sharkey greeted, a foot-high stack of accordion folders in his arms and heading for the counter. “Per your orders, I did the scheduled check-in with Admiral Nelson. Let me tell ya, that was the shortest report I’ve ever radioed in. And I, ah, also instructed Holland to transfer all communications to up here. Ski and Ron are continuing their patrols; so far there’s nothing new to report there.”

“Good. Thank you, Chief.”

“Doctor, here’s those personnel records you asked for.” Sharkey dropped them near to her microscope.

“Thank you, Chief,” Glacier said, getting to her feet.

Lee noticed the warm appreciation she gave Sharkey for his efforts; another confirmation she wasn’t the cold-hearted bitch he had mistaken her for.

“How’s the blood collecting going?” Glacier stretched her arms ceiling-wise, flexed her fingers, tilting her head in opposite directions to loosen up her stiff neck muscles.

Lee looked at Sharkey, their eyes connecting; the Chief’s expression reflecting what Lee was thinking: the woman was exhausted. Her face was drawn, there were dark circles under her eyes, and her voice was turning raspy.

“When you asked for the records, I had already gotten samples from the first five cases,” Sharkey replied. “Me and Phil are gonna collect the rest now from those still standing. When you want ’em, let me know.” He pointed a thumb over his shoulder. “I’ve got ’em stored in Sick Bay’s cooler so they won’t get contaminated by...,” he hesitated, confounded for a word, “IT.”

“Smart, Chief.” Glacier nodded with approval. “Thank you.”

“Well, you know where to find me if you need me.” Sharkey turned to the door.

“We’ll do. Thanks, Sharkey,” said Lee. He returned to the counter, picking up another marine book. He glanced at Glacier. She was biting her lip again and looking conflicted. “Ah, Chief?” she suddenly called out, swerving around on the stool.

Sharkey halted lab-side of the hatch. “Doctor?”

“How’s it going out there?” An apprehensive shadow crossed her face. “Truthfully.”

Sharkey hesitated, unsure how to answer, glancing between her and Crane. He didn’t want to tell her the truth that Seaview was empty and silent like a tomb. But then Sharkey remembered who and where he was, He squared his shoulders, raised his chin, and gave her a big proud, confident look. “We’re hanging in there, ma’am. I’ve got Cookie’s assistant, Lydecker, brewing a pot of coffee and ordered him to keep it comin’. Oh, and I asked him to do up some sandwiches, too.

Lee saw relief flood over her. “Good,” she said. “Thank you.” Glacier turned back toward her microscope. Lee looked to Sharkey knowing that the man had been holding back for the woman’s benefit. He would have done the same thing himself.

“Anything else, Skipper?”

“Yes. Hold up, Sharkey.” Lee eyed Glacier, thinking and wondering..., “You look tired, why don’t you go get some sleep.” But the biologist did what she had consistently done since they started working: shook her head, refusing to take a break or walk, not even for coffee. Lee debated about his next step. Glacier was pushing herself too hard and, if they survived this, he was troubled about what this extreme behavior would have on her overall health. “No one else has come down with symptoms in the past two-three hours,” he persisted. “I think we’re safe for a while, and you do need the break. Why don’t you go to your cabin and get some sleep.”

“No.” Glacier replied in no uncertain terms.

By the door, Sharkey raised an astonished eyebrow. No one said ‘no’ to Captain Crane.

“Excuse me?” Lee challenged.

“I beg your pardon,” Glacier replied, not looking up. “No, Commander.”

Sharkey swallowed a chuckle while Lee cocked an incredulous eyebrow.

“Okay.” Lee folded his arms firmly over his chest. “Now I order you to your cabin.”

Glacier, her eyes glued the lens, held up her left hand, emphasizing its ring digit. “Do you see your wedding band on this finger, Commander? Nope, neither do I. Chief?”

Sharkey snapped to attention. “Ma’am.”

“Is there a store near here?”

“Yes, ma’am. One floor below us.”

“Bring me several blankets, please?”

“Right away, ma’am.” Sharkey gave Crane a befuddled shrug then left.

Lee leaned against the counter, crossing his ankles, matching his arms. “And just what are you gonna do with the blankets?”

“I’m gonna bunk in here. That way I’ll be close by if you need me.”

“That’s what I thought,” Lee smiled smugly. “Compromise accepted.”

“Well, it would be a lot easier than escorting me to and from the cabin each time, now wouldn’t it?”

Lee bit back his retort, this wasn’t the time. However, there was one thing Lee couldn’t let go and he bristled every time he thought about it. “Um, before I...forget...,” he wet his suddenly dry mouth, “I want to thank you for your help in the Control Room today. That was a nice maneuver, releasing Bushnell the way you did.” He saw Glacier frown behind the scope.

“My ex-husband was a submariner,” she said with indifference. “When they had the Tiger Cruises, I would insist on going despite my husband not wanting me to, because that was the one time in my life where my being Admiral O’Toole’s daughter and John Glacier’s wife was an advantage for me.” Her entire demeanor lit up. “The Captain would let me do pretty much anything I wanted on his boat, and how I loved that steerage!”

Lee cocked an eyebrow and chuckled. “I never heard of anyone loving steerage before. Why?”

Glacier looked at him, her expression beaming. “The captain may give the commands, but ahhh that helm…,” she sighed with adoration, her eyes sparkling. “We take her left, we take her right, and we control the speed. All that power in my hands,” she shook her head, “nothing beats that experience. If a woman were allowed on a sub, that’s the job I’d want.” She returned to the lens.

Lee could not get over how happy she was in relating the story. Oddly, he was pleased knowing that there was something that could make the contentious scientist joyful. Or at least smile, considering he couldn’t recall her being excited about anything before, except her daughter. Which reminded Lee of another thorn in his side. He again moistened his throat, venturing with care. “Ah, speaking of love,” —he never felt so awkward in all his life— “Harry really does love you like a daughter, you know.”

“I love him, too.” Glacier’s reply held deep warmth and sincerity. “And I have every intention of apologizing to him—a real, heart-felt apology—when we return to port.”

“When, not if?”

“Absolutely! And leave this discovery for someone else, not on your life!”

The sound of footsteps in the hallway made Lee look over. “It’s Sharkey,” he said, straightening up. He’d recognize that stride in a pitch-black room among a hundred men. On cue, Sharkey stepped through the door, his arms laden with pillows and blankets.

While Lee and the Chief set up the improvised bed, Glacier finished her notes. When done, Lee went to her, all prepped for another fight. “Time to rest,” Lee urged, keeping the authoritativeness to a minimum. To his amazement, Glacier didn’t argue. In fact, she looked glad about it.

“You okay?” Lee asked his worry climbing. Glacier nodded, lowering herself to the cushions albeit looking paler than she had a minute ago.

Sharkey appeared beside them with a glass of water in his hand. Kneeling, he offered her the glass along with two aspirin tablets.

Glacier gave the Chief a grateful look, took the water and aspirin, downing both. “Thank you,” she said, sounding drained of energy as Sharkey took the glass back. Her gaze centered on Lee. “Promise me you’ll wake me at the slightest discovery.” It wasn’t a request but a demand containing subtle anxiousness.

“I will,” Lee vowed. “Anything you’d like us to do while you’re asleep?”

“Yes, find more aspirin,” Glacier snorted, massaging her forehead. “ the personnel records of the crew. Look for something they all have in common: vacation spots, favorite eateries, bunk assignments, girlfriends, housing situations. And I don’t suppose you know anything about blood?”

Lee guffawed. “Let’s just say since joining Seaview I’ve gained a lot of knowledge in the medical field. Get some sleep, Sharkey and I can handle it from here.” Lee waited till she had settled down before leaving. In the short time it took him and Sharkey to retrieve the rest of the medical files, the exhausted scientist was asleep.


Lee hovered over Sharkey’s shoulder listening while the Chief, seated at the laboratory counter end, slid his finger along facts in the medical record belonging to an electricians mate. “And here is where—”


Glacier’s chilling scream pierced Lee to his bones. She’d been asleep for over an hour and hadn’t made a sound until then. Bolting to her side, Lee found her sobbing and muttering, “Brianna ...oh, honey...,” but her eyes were closed! Lee kneeled, giving her shoulder several nudges. “Wake up, Doctor Glacier.” When he received no reaction, he increased it to a gentle shake. “Doctor Glacier, wake up.”

“What’s wrong, Captain?” Sharkey asked, appearing at his side.

“I don’t know. She isn’t rousing.” Lee tried to keep the urgency out of his voice, but Glacier’s slumber resembled more like a coma and if Lee couldn’t wake her.... “Come on, Glacier,” he urged. “Come back to us. Wake up!” Again, no response. Lee pulled Glacier to full sitting position, and with one hand holding her up, he used the other to turn her lolling head toward him. “Open your eyes, Stella!” he commanded. “Come on, Stella, we need you. WAKE UP!” Lee shouted directly into her face. Her eyes flashed open. “Oh, thank God,” Lee gasped. Except Glacier’s eyes remained vacant and incomprehensive. “Stella, you’re on Seaview in the laboratory. Do you know that?”

“I...ah,” Stella blinked and tried to focus through her daze. Lifting her head, she peered around. Yup, she was still on Seaview. But the way the men were staring at her scared the hell out of her. “What’s wrong?”

“You were crying,” Crane said.

“Crying?” Aware of something on her cheeks, Stella reached up and found wetness. “Crying...I was dreaming of my daughter.”

“You weren’t dreaming, you were having a nightmare! That’s why I woke you. And given the circumstances, I think you should call me Lee.”

During their exchange, Sharkey had left, reappearing a moment later with his customary water and aspirin.

Thirsty, Stella downed both in one swift gulp.

“Feel better?” asked Crane, still looking unnerved.

“Yes, I do. Thank you. Umm...,” Stella hesitated in saying it; it seemed so odd, wrong even, “...Lee? Help me up? I want to get back to work.” She raised her arms and both officers hoisted her to her feet. Stella was tired and felt unsteady standing, and because of that, she didn’t protest when Crane—Lee—stayed with her, his hand on her forearm as he escorted her to the microscope, where he let go of her arm long enough to push the stool closer to the work station. Once situated, Stella took a deep breath and ruminated on the events, quite aware of Lee lingering nearby.

“You okay?” There was a touch of fear in his question.

“Yeah,” Stella nodded. “But I feel like I’m in a fog patch. Mentally everything is crystal clear, yet my body doesn’t feel like it’s entirely attached to my head, you know?”

Lee sprouted an amused grin and nodded. “I know.”

“It’s annoying, but easy to deal with. Otherwise,” Stella inspected her steady hands, “I feel fine. I have to confess, though, it also feels strange, my ex wasn’t even this attentive when I was nine months pregnant.”

Lee’s face hardened. “Yeah, well, I’m not your ex,” he said with clear indignation, much to Stella’s surprise. He picked up the yellow tablet from the counter, tugged the second stool closer to her, showing Stella the pad. “Sharkey and I started doing some tests while you were asleep. My human biology is limited, but from what I could find from Doc’s medical books, the blood from those unaffected are, well, healthy. The way they look is the way they’re supposed to look.”

“What about the men who are ill?” Stella asked, scanning the first page of his notes.

“I haven’t compared them yet. I realized, if one of us was on the verge of becoming infected, it would be best to record those characteristics before they deteriorated, or it became a full-blown infection.”

“Great job,” Stella blurted out, sounding sincere. “For a pretty face you do know more than how to jockey a sub.”

“Thank you,” Lee said looking caught off guard. “I think.”

Sharkey raised an inquisitive eyebrow but chose to remain silent.

“Yes, Captain,” Stella teased with reassurance, “believe it or not, that was a compliment, and buried somewhere deep inside I do have a sense of humor.” Her mind returned to the serious mission. Biting her lip as she flipped to the second page, Stella wondered, “Have you compared your own blood sample yet?”

“We were about to when you woke up,” Lee replied, opening the file in front of him.

Stella turned to Sharkey. “How far on those personnel records did you get?”

“Ah, not too far, ma’am,” he said, looking a sheepish. “With Doc’s handwriting and all the medical jargon, it’s kind of hard to read.”

“Please, Chief, call me Stella. Everybody else does.” Stella cringed, remembering Crane’s previous order, and threw him an uneasy glance.

“I’ll try to remember that, ma’am.” Sharkey, too, peered uncertain at Crane.

But either Lee hadn’t heard them as he perused his file, or was ignoring her invite because he gave no reprimand. Glad for it, Stella continued to a new page. “Of those men still on their feet, the cells do look quite healthy.”

“That’s right,” confirmed Crane.

Stella heard a hitch in his reply and looked over, her stomach dropping to her feet: Lee was rubbing his temples. “Headache?” she asked, trying not to sound alarmed.

“Yes, unfortunately.”

“All right, let’s take our blood.” Stella hastened off the stool, making a beeline to the cabinet where the medical kit was stored. “I’ll need it for comparison. Captain—Lee,” Stella corrected, “you first. Chief, in the meantime, keep reading.”

“Aye, aye, ma’am,” Sharkey replied, scouring the latest crewman’s record.

Lee rolled up his sleeve, studying the woman’s every move as she prepared the needles. At this moment, Doctor Stella Glacier was all business and concentration, her actions trained on this one, crucial task. Lee smiled to himself. He liked this side of her, the stark seriousness of a dedicated scientist. It left her devoid of hate and anger. Plus he liked the way her eyes sparkled with the excitement of the hunt. It spurred a curiosity about her—the idea stopped Lee cold. He hadn’t been curious or intrigued about a woman in a long time. And she was a woman, just not one he particularly wanted to get close to. At least with her preoccupied with the needle he could observe her up close and personal without repercussions; he hoped anyway.

Lee recalled his earlier surprise at her resilience and calm compliancy toward the situation. He’d dated many women over the years: nurses, models, flight attendants, yet couldn’t imagine any of them handling this as optimistically as Stella had. The nurses, maybe, but not the others. However, none of them had had Stella’s capricious mien or her scrawniness. For that matter, Lee hadn’t a clue as to her figure because it was always obscured by a lab coat or baggy crew uniform. He scanned Stella from head to toe, attempting to guess her weight, but it was impossible given the bulky material. She was feather-light when he had carried her to the cabin, that’s all he knew. Maybe I was never attracted enough before to look either. Then there are the fights we always got into when we met.

Seeing Stella approach, Lee held out his arm, wondering if Stella might, instead, break it off, but she took his wrist in a surprisingly gentle grip, cleaning the needle’s insertion point with iodine and a cotton ball, without attempting additional bodily harm. Lee was glad she was oblivious to his reconnaissance because he was enjoying being close to her. He enjoyed being close to most women, Lee admitted, feeling a bit like a cad, but this was all the more challenging because it was Glacier. And this time he didn’t have to worry about getting slapped, kicked, kneed, or flipped.

Stella had a long, elegant neck, and she wore no make-up. Her complexion was pale but flawless, its fair hue complimenting her dirty blonde hair, which, in all the turmoil, Lee had forgotten, was quite long and entwined in a braid ending near her waist. I wonder what her eye color is....

Sharkey glanced up from the counter end and did a double take: the Skipper was watching the doctor like a dog tracking a rabbit. Suddenly feeling like a third wheel, Sharkey cleared his throat loud enough to get their attention, and stood up, saying, “I think I’ll go get us all some more coffee.”

“Thanks, Chief,” Crane replied. “I think we could use it.”

“Be back in a jiff, Skipper.”

Sharkey was halfway to the door when Lee remembered something, and hailed him, “Chief?” Lee felt the slight pinch of the needle’s insertion at that moment, and nothing more. “Could you also bring Doc’s comparison microscope from Sick Bay?”

“You mean that big monstrous contraption?”


“Aye, aye, sir,” Sharkey replied, disappearing out the door.

Lee watched Glacier draw his blood into the sample tube. When filled, she put pressure on the injection site, extracted the needle, whereupon Lee held up his arm to stop the minuscule bleeding.

“How are you at using needles?” Stella frowned, labeling his vial. “I’d like a sample from myself.”

“I’ve been known to handle my share,” Lee jested with a lopsided grin, lowering his arm for her to apply the bandage, rolling down his sleeve afterwards.

Stella’s frown deepened. “Yeah, well, just so you know, I hate ‘em.”

Lee stood and waited as she took up her baggy sleeve then gave the designated area a thorough iodine sterilization, her jaw clinched the entire procedure. When done, she handed him the fresh needle along with a very nervous, uncertain look. Offering her arm to him, Stella turned away, clamped her eyes tight, grimacing before he could even touch her. Lee compressed his lips; he wanted to laugh so bad! He found it funny that, with everything they’ve been through, it was the needle that scared Stella O’Toole Glacier the most. But this was not the time. Hiding his laughter, Lee took Stella’s wrist, steadied it, and aimed, musing how easy and satisfying it would be to enact a tiny bit of revenge himself. But Lee reminded himself he was an officer and a gentleman and nixed the idea. In less than a minute, the needle was in and the vial filled.

“It’s done,” Lee proclaimed, pulling out the instrument and losing his simpering smirk before she caught him.

Stella’s eyes snapped open to gawk at him then at her arm while Lee held a cotton ball to the injection area, raising her arm to stop the blood flow. “Incredible,” she gushed. “There was no pain at all!”

“Told you I had experience.” Lee said with smug satisfaction, releasing her limb. “What do you want me to do next?”

“You look tired,” she said, picking up a Band-Aid. “Why don’t you grab a few minutes of sleep for yourself?”

“No.” Lee watched her one-arm struggle to attach the plastic strip. “Somebody has to be in charge even if there’s no one left aboard to be in charge of.” He snatched the bandage from her, adhering it to the needle site on her arm. “Besides, as a sub jockey, I’m used to going without sleep.”

Stella took her seat at the counter. “You could be in charge of a toy boat, Captain, and still do better than most officers I’ve met.”

“Two compliments in six hours,” chuckled Lee. “I’d say this fiasco is well worth that alone.”

“Yeah, well, now you know how sick I really am,” Stella quipped as she buried her head into the scope’s viewfinder.

Lee mused over her uncharacteristic humor as he resumed his spot near her at the counter. While pouring over the next record in the medical pile, it occurred to him that the emotional tension between them had quelled. Although it might be temporarily, Lee considered a question that had been simmering in his mind for a while now. He wanted to ask it, yet he was afraid of the answer, but he was more fearful he wouldn’t get another chance to do so. Lee drew in a long, deep breath, choosing his words with care. “Is it true what you said? That your father never listened to you after I talked him into banishing you from the boat?”

Stella lifted her head, her gaze fixated on the wall in front of her. “Yes, it is,” she said flat, emotionless. “Dad loved you as the son he never had. After you joined his staff, all he could see me as was a silly little girl who didn’t know what she wanted, or what she was talking about. So when you suggested I be sent away, he jumped at the chance. He said it would make a lady out of me. I guess the joke’s on him,” she snorted bitterly, returning her eyes to the lens.

But her bravado didn’t fool Lee, not this time, and he saw the hurt she tried to hide. “I’m sorry.” He said it with upmost sincerity, regretting his actions more than he ever imagined possible. “If I had known the outcome, I would have handled it differently.”

“It’s not all your fault,” Stella sighed. “Part of the blame belongs to me. I should have been born a boy.”

“I’m sure your father doesn’t feel that way.”

“Oh, yes, he does,” she frowned.

“At least, you had a child out of all that misery. I hope that makes up for some things?”

Stella raised her head, a pensive look on her face. “More than anyone will ever know.”

“I have to confess, I’ve often wondered why your father had you sent so far away. My suggestion was expelling you from the Brandywine, not sending you all the way to Chicago, Illinois. Although, I doubt if banning you would have done much good anyway.” Lee said lightly. “Regardless, you were a naïve little girl, however willful, blooming into a young woman aboard a ship of wolves. Something could have happened to you and it was my job to make sure something didn’t.”

Stella looked at him shocked and pleased, as though he had just apologized to her. “Had I known your reasons maybe I wouldn’t have hated you so much.” A painful grimace shot across her face.

“Headache?” Lee’s concern jumped. “Or are the symptoms coming back?”

“A little bit of both, I think. The specimen is beginning to look out of focus to me.” She rubbed her eyes. “Or maybe it’s the lens. I don’t know.”

“Here, let me have a look.” Lee said, stepping beside her.

Leaning aside to give Lee room at the viewfinder, Stella became increasingly and uncomfortably aware of their proximity. Mere inches from her, she caught the pleasant remnants of his spicy aftershave, and it wasn’t until now that she found herself missing being close to a man. John was a lousy husband, but he had great taste in colognes. Too bad it’s Crane, the poison ivy of my life, Stella bemoaned, biting her lip in disappointment. Looking away, she resumed her analyzing.

Lee peered into the microscope and found that he, too, had a problem with focusing. No matter how he adjusted the contrast knob, the subject on the slide always appeared blurry. “It’s not you, Doctor,” Lee announced, straightening up and turning to her. “Something else is going on with your wayward specimen. I think this sample is beginning to break down.”

“You know,” Stella tilted her head in contemplation, “if it is somehow related to fungi, it could have become airborne,” she offered, eyeing him for feedback.

Lee mulled over the theory. He liked it. It was a good, solid concept. “I think you’re right,” he said, his eyes meeting hers. “I’m impressed. That would explain how it infected the boat so fast: through the air ventilation system. But why did it wipe out most of the crew, and not all the crew?”

“I don’t know,” Stella gave her head a thoughtful shake. “There could be a hundred different reasons.”

“Such as...?” Lee prompted. Intrigued, he stepped closer; her first idea had been sound, therefore, he wanted to hear more.

“Oh-ah...,” Stella hadn’t really thought about it. “Blood type....”

“What else?” Are her eyes blue? Lee shifted nearer to find out.

Stella’s pulse quickened. Crane is actually listening to me. This highly respected, influential officer is taking into account what I have to say. “Ancestral heritage....”

“Makes sense,” Lee nodded. Her eyes are battleship gray, he noted, amused. “Go on,” he urged.

Stella’s throat suddenly went dry. Is he always this intense? “Genetic make-up....”

“That it?” Lee’s gaze flickered over her face. She really is quite pretty when she isn’t in battle mode.

Stella swallowed. He really does have a very compelling personality. “Anger level....” her voice caught in her throat.

Lee had to lean in to hear her. “Anything else?” She’s wearing perfume. He inched forward. A musk. I like it. It compliments her.

Stella’s heart pounded. Am I warm from the disease, or is the room getting stuffy? “Recent diseases....”

“That’s important.” Her lips are chapped. Lee leaned closer still. Probably from all the times she's gnawed on them. “Any others?” Maybe if she didn't worry so much.

“Body temperature...,” Stella barely got out.

“And...?” Maybe if her husband had been a real man.... Lee closed the gap between them.

Stella felt Lee’s lips touch hers— “Sorry it took so long,” Sharkey boomed from the hatchway —swiftly Crane parted from her. “Anyone for coffee and sandwiches?” Stella saw Lee look at the Chief—the man’s concentration was riveted on the tray to keep the drinks from spilling over and hadn’t witnessed their abrupt separation—Crane then dropped level with the scope viewfinder, pressing his eyes into the lens as if nothing had happened. Stella’s chest tightened, swamped by colliding emotions; confusion and disappointment upmost.

“It still remains, Doctor,” Crane said loud and clear, “why did a fraction of the crew become ill and not all?”

“Aye, Chief, I would love a cup,” Stella replied, yet still struggling to find a comprehensive anchor to the sudden, emotional squall. Two things she had become proficient at over the past turbulent years, and one was facing reality. She stared at Crane, assaying his quick dismissal of the moment. In truth, the touch was longer than a brushing, but less than an actual kiss, making it... meaningless, nothing of importance. At least to Crane, Stella conceded with regret. Entombing her shattered feelings was the second, so Stella did what she always did in these situations: she sent her emotions into a mental stronghold. We are two ships that pass in the night. I guess that’s all we’ll ever be.

Sharkey must have noticed something because when he handed her the mug he looked at her in bafflement, his eyebrows rising in silent questioning, and then he shot a glance at Crane.

“Per your question, Commander,” Stella said loud and clear, matching Crane’s earlier delivery, as well as distracting the Chief, “it could be anything,” Stella raised her chin with pride; she had reclaimed her phlegmatic role as consummate professional. “We need to start looking at the blood for answers. Chief, did you bring—”

“Doc’s high-tech microscope?” Sharkey shook his head, frowning. “No, ma’am. Doc must have been using it when he fell sick. It hadn’t been properly secured, and well, it’s all over the floor now, Skip—” A big sneeze came out before he knew what was happening. “It’s a slight cold, Skipper,” he fired off to Crane’s reproachful look. “I know what the Doc said, but—”

“A cold?” A bell went off in Stella’s head. “A cold!” Excited, she grabbed the first file atop the medical pile, riffling through its pages for the elusive connection.

“What are you thinking?” she heard Crane say.

Stella held up the XO’s information, hope pounding in her chest. “Chip Morton hasn’t been ill in months, and he was one of the first ones to go down. Commander, go through Kowalski’s file and see if it mentions anything about a cold. Chief, the two helmsmen, search their files.” She grabbed the next file in the stack, Riley’s, as Crane and Sharkey dug into pile. “I got over one a couple of weeks ago.” She reached the page she sought. “I may not be of ideal health, but I’m still on my feet!”

“The Skipper recovered from the flu not more than three weeks ago!” said Sharkey.

Crane shook his head, laying down the folder. “No mention of a cold in Kowalski’s file.”

“Course not,” Stella replied, “because he didn’t go to a physician about it, it was too mild for a doctor. But I know he was coming down with one because I heard it in his throat. He’s one of the last ones functioning, whereas Riley hasn’t been ill in months and was among the first ones down. Gentlemen, pull any man’s file who you know without a doubt had a cold recently. Doesn’t matter if he attended a physician or not. Sort them into healthy and those with colds.”

“Hey! What about allergies?” blurted Sharkey. “Severe allergies? Phil Sorenson is still upright and one of the reasons he became a sub jockey was because his allergies were practically killin’ him on land.”

“Pull ‘em!” Stella commanded.

“You believe a cold is the link, but I’m not understanding how,” Crane admitted as he and the Chief processed the medical records.

“What if there’s something in the colds?” Stella put the latest file on the ‘no illness’ stack. “Rather, in our bodies in conjunction with the cold and/or allergy that’s preventing the spread of this thing? Anti-bodies or the like?”

“But why a cold, ma’am?” Sharkey asked, looking bewildered.

“The common cold is one of our most complicated illnesses. It’s made up of several viruses in hundreds of different combinations. That’s why scientists have been unable to cure it so far. If physicians can’t fight it, maybe this thing, for the most part, can’t either. If nothing else, it’s a lead.”

“It’s one hell of a lead,” said Lee, feeling real hope for the first time in days.


For the next couple of hours, the only sounds in the laboratory were the gentle bubbling of fish tanks, the subtle hum of equipment, of turning pages, scribing pens, and the occasional informative exchange as the diligent trio delved into the records of all one-hundred-plus shipboard personnel. Although the room was quiet, optimism had replaced despair because everything they found confirmed Stella’s theory.

Lee raised his head, rubbing his dry eyes. Dropping his hand, he discerned Stella across from him and frowned. She had proven to be a superb biologist, and she was attractive in her own way, he couldn’t deny that, but Lee’s common sense couldn’t let go that she was a rumbling volcano that erupted at the slightest provocation. He was glad Sharkey had interrupted the kiss—if it could even be called that, it was so brief—the aftermath could have been a nightmare, creating complications he didn’t have time for, nor want, in his life.

“Here’s another one!” shouted Sharkey. “Lydecker was cured of pneumonia and released from the hospital two weeks before we sailed, and he’s still alive and well and reading girlie magazines —” he turned, saw Stella and flashed to beet red, “in Mess.”

Stella grinned at Sharkey’s abashment. “That’s excellent news, Chief, no matter what Lydecker’s reading.” Stella glimpsed Crane watching her. To the man’s irritating credit, when Sharkey had gone to get the coffee pot refilled, Crane had come to her in the humblest of manners. Neither her father or ex-husband had ever heard of the word “humble,” let alone “apology”, nor had she ever thought that Crane, as career-driven as he was, would have known the definitions either; so it surprised her when he addressed her in such a manner and said, “Stella, I apologize for my earlier actions. It was reprehensible of me to take advantage during such a critical situation. Forgive me.” With that, all the renewed resentment Stella had harbored for Commander Lee Crane vanished. “You’re forgiven, Captain,” she had sighed. It was all Stella could think of to say, yet it had been enough to appease him, neither saying another word on the issue as they both continued their work.

Stella began adding Lydecker to her yellow tablet of assembled facts when a voice filled the room: “Lee, Sharkey? Are you there?” Stella’s breath caught in her throat. Harry! She spun around to the videophone on the far wall. She was thrilled beyond words to hear and see him again except, engulfed in guilt and shame, Stella couldn’t make herself go over to him.

“I got it, Chief. Keeping reading,” Crane said from the opposite side. He jumped to his feet, but then paused by the end of the counter, giving her an appraising look.

Stella nodded that she was okay. Reassured, Crane hurried to the video screen. Even from her viewpoint yards away, she could see Nelson exhale with relief when his commanding officer appeared in front of him. Her treatment of Harry had been despicable and Stella hated herself for it. She had been blind, deaf, and stupid because she knew for a fact that Harry despised her father. She’d known it since she was a kid, yet in her hurt and imagined betrayal she had taken it out on the one man who had stood by her in her crises.

“You’re all right,” Harry sighed, yet Stella detected subtle anxiousness in his face and delivery. “As of today, your coral doesn’t exist. Not anywhere in the known world. Have you made any progress since we last talked?”

“Yes!” Crane exploded with enthusiasm. “Stella has a lead! She thinks antibodies produced while fighting the common cold keeps it at bay. We don’t have any solid proof yet, but the theory looks quite promising so far....”

Stella yearned to talk to Harry, but she was afraid, afraid he hated her. Yet if this was her last chance to see him, then she had to; she couldn’t die without trying to make amends. Biting her lip, Stella slid to her feet, taking a timid stance beside Crane. “Hi, Uncle Harry.” Stella tried to smile but thoroughly ashamed, couldn’t. Tears filled her eyes. “I want to apologize. I am so sor—”

“—now, Stella, me girl, we’ll have none of that!” Harry admonished in a playful Irish brogue. “Anything you have to say can wait till I see you again—when I see all of you again. Understood?” Wetness shined in Harry’s eyes as well.

“I love you, Uncle Harry, I mean it. I wish I-we—” Stella chocked on the words.

“I know you do, child. I love you, too. Now get back to your duties so you can come home quicker.”

“Aye, aye, sir.” Stella needed to show how much she loved and respected him and did so the only way she could, given the moment: she saluted and then blew him a kiss. As Stella walked to her station, she wished with all her heart that she could have hugged Harriman Nelson one last time. Like a real daughter would have embraced a loving, devoted father.

Lee stood silent, happy for them both, never imaging he’d be a witness to such a unique phenomenon between the likes of these two people. One thing was certain: Harry Nelson had his adopted daughter back and he was ecstatic!

Stella no sooner reached her station when great waves of exhaustion hit her. Her knees folded and the now-familiar symptoms up-ended her world with more realistic intensity than before.

“Captain!” Stella shrieked, sliding downward, desperately grappling for anything to hold onto. “You’re as white as a sheet!” She heard, unable to focus. It was Crane yet four hands had arrested her. “I’ll take her, Chief.” “Aye, sir,” Sharkey answered as two of the four hands released her.

Before Stella could take her next breath, she was lifted up and plopped onto the stool, her hands clamped down onto Crane’s shoulders. “I got ya,” Lee said, wrapping a hand around her waist, “hold steady to me.” Stella felt like her body was encased in cement, but at least she wasn’t falling any more.

Crane turned her chin to him. “All right, Stella, concentrate. Look at me. Follow my fingers.” He moved his hand, side to side, in front of her. Stella tried to do as requested, but her baby daughter cooing on the floor pulled her gaze.

“Come on, Stella,” Lee snapped, “follow my hand!”

“I want to, Captain, but it’s Brianna. You should see her,” Stella lamented wistfully. Her strength to resist was draining, but she didn’t care; she missed her daughter. “She is so beautiful. She looks as though she had never died—” Crane’s slap came fast and penetrating. “Skipper!!” Sharkey yelled, but Stella didn’t respond, not with the pain radiating through her face and tears swamping her eyes. Odd, too, that Sharkey hadn’t rushed over. She looked to see why and realized that Briana’s image was gone. So too was the vertigo. Stella peered up at Crane and understood why Sharkey hadn’t approached: Crane appeared distraught, as though hating himself for what he had done.

“You all right?” Lee gently touched her cheek, his worried eyes linking to hers.

Stunned, and not knowing whether to be angry or grateful, Stella blinked several times before nodding. “Oh, hell,” she muttered. “But, yeah, I’m all right.”

“I’m sorry. I hope I didn’t leave a bruise, but I had no choice.”

Lee sounded near panic. Hitting women was obviously not a normal occurrence with him. “It’s all right, Captain,” Stella soothed. “Matter of fact,” she panned around to be sure. “Everything’s normal again. The hallucination is gone, my mind is clear, and I feel fine!” She nudged the stinging area. “Except I think you knocked my jaw out of place.”

Lee’s eyes went wide. “Does it hurt?”


“I’m sorry,” he shot off, “I wanted to bring you out of it, and that was the only—”

LEE!” Stella shouted. “I’m kidding, I’m fine. The slap did the trick, I can focus again. However, you’d better go talk to Uncle Harry before he gets the wrong idea.” Stella pulled back from him with reluctance, swiveling around to her work. Sharkey appeared to her left with his usual donation of water and aspirin. Stella nodded her thanks then she consumed the offering. Behind her, she heard Lee walk to the videophone. Compelled, Stella veered around to watch them, afraid that this could be the last time the two men saw each other.

Lee squared his shoulders, reinforcing his courage on his way to the walled image.

“Hallucinations?” Harry looked more worried than before, as subtle as it was.

“Yes.” Lee wanted to tell him all of it, but decided Harry could read it in the report later. “Stella’s fine, she’s still with us.” Lee took a deep breath. “That’s all we have so far.”

“Well, it’s better news than when you first called me. Has anyone died?” His tone was grim.

“One man,” Lee replied, matching Harry’s tone. “But according to Doc’s records, the man was recently diagnosed with diabetes, and Doc thinks that that contributed to it more than anything else.”

“The rescue ship should be there by tomorrow morning. If you can hang on till then—”

“—I know,” Lee cut in. “And we will. I’ll call you if anything else develops.”

“See that you do,” Harry said lightly, an apprehension undercurrent in his inflection. “Nelson Institute out.”

Lee had no doubt that Harriman Nelson was as terrified as he was.

<<< >>>

Stella raised her weary head from the microscope and peered at her two motley companions. Sharkey, at the end of the counter, had his hands fisted supporting his head, his lips moving as if to keep himself awake. Across the slate tabletop from her, Lee was flexing his fingers, his eyes glued to the report. They’d been at it for hours. They were tired, could hardly keep their eyes open, but did so, their resolve coming from the success or failure of their mission.

“Time for a break,” Stella proclaimed, rubbing her strained, bleary eyes.

She watched Sharkey stand and stretch, hearing his realigning bones pop and crackle.

“Sharkey,” said Lee, using his thumbs to massage his neck, “you have any more of that aspirin? My head feels like it’s gonna split.”

Stella startled at his words. Lee caught her reaction, giving her a questioning look.

“I’m fresh out, Skipper,” Sharkey said. “We went through all I could find in the infirmary.”

“Check the duffle in my closet. I think I might have a bottle there. Then the Admiral’s cabin, as well as Morton’s.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Thanks, Chief,” Lee called after him. When he turned his sights to her, Stella steeled herself. “Stella, you winced a moment ago, are you having hallucinations again?”

“No,” Stella said dully, feeling defeated, “but you should be soon.”

“What do you mean?”

“Your splitting headache, that’s one of the symptoms.”

“But I thought—”

“The cold acted as a temporary block, Captain, it wasn’t a cure, and we’ve been breathing in massive quantities of the stuff for hours now. It was bound to break through our defenses sooner or later.”

“But a headache’s all I have, a tension headache, nothing more. And I told you to call me Lee.”

“Lee, listen to me…in reading the medicals, I’ve discovered that each person who came down with it exhibited different symptoms. Some experienced hallucinations, others vertigo, others headaches. Some had several symptoms while others nothing at all; they were fine and then just dropped. I also suspect that retardance depends on the severity of the cold. Therefore, it was only a matter of time before you and Sharkey came down with-ah,” her voice warbled, “with it too.” Hit with sudden stifling fatigue, Stella rested her head on her upright arm.

“Christ, Stella, you’re paling by the second!”

“I am?” Stella was sweating profusely and her body felt as heavy as a rock. Plus, she could barely keep attention as Lee charged around the counter to her. “By the way—and I sincerely apologize for this—I am so blind and stupid on one plain, obvious fact.”

Lee’s fears pounded in his chest as he reached her: Stella looked like death warmed over. “About what?” She opened her mouth to answer, but suddenly closed her eyes, slumping toward the floor, Lee snagging her before she dropped halfway down. Securing her in his arms, Lee discovered her clothes were drenched in sweat.

Stella opened her eyes to him, her brow furrowing in concentration. “Aspirin and antibiotics. That’s why we were able to last so long.”

Lee touched her forehead, his knees going weak. “You’re burning up! Why didn’t you tell me?”

Stella smiled as though she found his alarm endearing. “I’m sorry, Lee. If I hadn’t been so intent on finding its origins...,” she trailed off with regret. “Get yourself and Sharkey on antibiotics immediately.”

“I’ll get some for all of us. You’ll be fine.” Her dead weight becoming too much, Lee sank to the floor, cradling her on his lap. “At least, you’re calling me Lee now. I’d say that’s good progress.”

“What was wrong with ‘commander’?” she whispered.

“The way you said it, it sounded like a curse.”

“I was,” she grinned. Stella’s face filled with sudden terror. “Lee, get us out of here, please? As much as I love the ocean, I don’t want to die down here.”

“I promise you I will.” Lee squeezed her hand, but she had already gone under....




Harriman Nelson waited by Stella Glacier’s hospital bedside, tension and fatigue etched on his face as minutes turned into hours, and hours turned into days. After nearly a week, the death-white Stella had yet to show signs of emerging from her catatonic state; the only tangible proof of her existence evident by the muted beep and spiking line of the hospital’s EKG monitor.

Harry looked over his shoulder at Lee Crane standing by the back table, swept up in gratitude for his friendship and support. Nor was Lee the only one. Chip Morton, Helen Forbotini, Angie, and many others from Seaview’s crew and Institute staffers had joined Harry in his vigilance whenever their duties and personal lives allowed.

Standing, Harry joined Lee at the back table, both sipping the hot cups of coffee Crane had brought in not long before. He chucked his cup into the trashcan while Lee drained his, noticing for the first time the haunting shadows of orange and yellow hues on the stark, white walls emitted from the setting sun. Another day is ending, Harry sighed, filling with deep disappointment and sadness.

A groan from the immobile form on the bed caused both men to jump.

Harry rushed over. “Stella? Can you hear me?” he asked eagerly.

Stella blinked several times, but the heaviness of fatigue forced them closed again. “Yes,” she nodded groggily. Her words were thick and hoarse. “I hear you...Uncle Harry.”

Harry chuckled as a tidal wave of relief flooded him. She’s gonna make it! Radiating an ear-to ear grin, he threw an ecstatic glance at Lee, whose expression matched Harry’s own.

“Stella…,” overwhelmed, Harry took a deep breath, “the anti-biotic worked. You’re in the hospital in Santa Barbara. You scared the hell out of us! The doctors weren’t sure you were ever gonna wake up.” Hearing his own voice shake, Harry paused, taking the moment to pull Stella’s long braided hair from under her shoulder so she could move her head. “And so you know, the entire crew is gonna be fine. All of them!”

Stella smiled briefly, and if Harry wasn’t so tired, he would have sworn she looked proud. “Great,” she managed in little more than a whisper. Suddenly her eyes flew open in alarm. “Lee! Is Lee all right? He was beginning to—”

Lee hurried to the other side of her bed. “I’m right here,” he said, taking her hand and giving it a reassuring squeeze, his eyes on hers. “Seaview’s in port and almost everyone’s on their feet again: Morton, Riley, Patterson, Doc. It’s all thanks to you.”

“Thank God,” Stella sighed, managing a weak smile at him.

Observing their cordial interaction, Harry leaned back, happy. Their hostile exchanges had begun to get on his nerves. “And,” he added, “they’re all enjoying extended shore leave.”

“Good.” Stella, although deeply relieved and savoring her moment of private victory, could not fight the fatigue any longer. “What about the coral?” she asked, letting her eyelids drop. “There was just a little bit left, have you figured out what it is yet?”

“Ah, no.” There was disappointment in Harry’s tone. “We kept it in a pressurized, sea-water tank the whole time during transport to the surface, but the instant the sunlight hit it, it disintegrated, leaving not one trace. So, for now, I’m afraid your coral is going to remain one of life’s little mysteries.”

“Like hell,” she muttered. “Get me out of here and I’ll track that animal down if it takes the rest of my life.”

“Hey.” Stella heard Lee say as her hand was given a gentle shake to gain her attention.

Stella forced her lids open and was more than happy to give it to him. Their eyes meeting, Lee gave her a warm smile. “Get better soon and when you’re out of here,” he said, “I’ll take you to the most expensive restaurant in town.”

“It’s a date,” Stella grinned, her eyes falling and spirits rising


The End... Not Quite Yet....


I updated the story because, frankly, it needed it: inaccuracies, outdated facts, viewpoint, description, etc.

My upmost appreciation to Frederick Barr and his fantastic S.S.R.N. Seaview blueprints. This valuable reference made this story descriptively stronger. After all, if the author doesn’t know where she’s going, how can her characters?

And a big thank you to authors Michael DiMercurio and Michael Benson for their The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Submarines. The book was and is an invaluable resource that I never got tired of reading because it gives a great in-depth view on the workings of a submarine and its crew.

Leading into, of course, any technical errors are strictly the fault of the author.

Palmyra Atoll is a real place and located where described. Updated information about Palmyra is that it is now owned by the Nature Conservancy. Any mistakes concerning Palmyra are mine because the facts I wanted and needed were not to be found on the internet or in books available to me. If interested, check out these websites:

Last but not least, our beloved extras. The surnames I gave to “Marco, Ron, Ray, Phil,” and, of course, “Kowalski,” are of my choosing and research; hence, I did not coordinate their surnames with other Voyage fanfiction because it would have taken too much time. I used “Lopez” for Marco because, not only is that his real surname, but if Lopez is good enough to use for Marco’s regular role on Emergency! then it’s good enough for here. Ron “Forester” and Ray “Collins” surnames came from the episode The Menfish, whereas Phil “Sorenson” was my own decision in that, he looked like he could be from the Norwegian area. As for Kowalski, I kept it simple: “Marek” is Mark in Polish, and he’s named after his father and/or grandfather, like many boys have been.

I also added several new men to round out the crew, allowing me the opportunity to pay homage to these special individuals:

Bill Welch is a tribute to Voyage’s prolific scriptwriter, William Welch.

Radio Tech Jon Holland, the real John Holland is the inventor and designer of the world’s first successful submarine.

Helmsman Lake in honor of Simon Lake, “Father of the Submarine,” (title co-shared with John Holland).

Crewman Langevin after Paul Langevin, inventor of sonar.

Planesman Bushnell for David Bushnell, who invented the Turtle submarine in 1775.

Chief Ingles for Leroy Ingles, the first chief aboard the USS Nautilus.

Helmsman Sontag for Sherry Sontag, co-writer of Blind Man’s Bluff.

Junior Officer Hood, influenced by the ballad Sink the Bismark by Johnny Horton, chronicling the sinking of the HMS Hood by the German battleship Bishmark in 1941.

Cook assistant Lydecker for master model-maker, as well as Seaview’s builder, Howard Lydecker.

And most of all, Planesman Momsen in honor of Admiral Charles B. Momsen, an advocate for and inventor of navy rescue equipment such as the Momen lung. See The Terrible Hours below.


The Terrible Hours by Peter Maas. Based on true facts during the months just prior to World War 2. The book details the sinking of the submarine USS Squalus off the New England coast after having just completed a series of test runs, and the amazing rescue of her surviving crewmen by Lieutenant Commander Charles “Swede” Momsen. AUTHOR’S NOTE: And although I have no way to confirm it, I believe Voyage’s episode, Submarine Sunk Here, was based on this rescue. COINCIDENTAL SIDE NOTE: The USS Sculpin assisted in the rescue of Squalus, her sister ship. I recently discovered that Sculpin’s captain, John P Cromwell, was born and raised in a town just 35 miles from where I live. Captain Cromwell perished during the war, saving his crew.

Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew. A fascinating book chronicling the Silent Service missions during World War 2.

USS Albacore: “Forerunner of the Future” by Robert P Largess and James L. Mandelblatt. The Albacore became the test platform for prototype components, procedures, and designs (i.e. the teardrop hull, airplane-style steering “yoke”) which were then incorporated into the future navy ships. Albacore is now honored with her own museum in Portsmouth, NH. Admiral Charles “Swede” Momsen was a scientist resolved that, what goes under the water should come back up. Not only did he invent countless equipment and techniques for underwater rescue, he was instrumental in getting the Albacore program approved.


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