Chief Francis Sharkey stood in front of the Exec pleading his case. “Aw, come on Mr. Morton, can’t we give the guys a break just this once. This was a long sail and we just made port. Everyone’s anxious to see their families, and well… you know, Sir.”
Seaview’s Executive Officer, Chip Morton, handed over a fully loaded clipboard. “We’ve got our orders, Chief. The Admiral wants this boat policed stem to stern for that group of VIPs he’s bringing tomorrow. I don’t like it any better than you.”
“Just between you and me, just who is it that the Admiral’s bringing aboard anyway?”
“I don’t have any specifics except that there is going to be some brass involved.”
Sharkey rubbed his brow. “Mr. Morton, you know I’m the first one to follow orders, but things are in pretty good shape here. Brass or no brass, they won’t notice the difference if we bust our tails getting things ready, and the men… well, the men could really use some R&R. I’ll have them back first thing in the morning, and they’ll get right…”
“Chief!” Chip closed his eyes for a moment and sighed. “I know the men are itching to get off the boat. We’re all tired, but the Admiral ordered this place scrubbed and no one is to be given leave until after the visit tomorrow. Is that clear?”
Aye, Sir… it’s clear. Consider it done.”
Chip watched as Sharkey departed the Seaview’s control room looking like a man who had just lost his best friend. Turning back to his own duties, he stopped and rubbed his eyes before picking up another clipboard from the plot table.
Captain Lee Crane entered the control room just as Chip began scrolling down his checklist. He fairly danced up to where the blonde haired Exec stood. “You ready to go? We can just get in a couple of sets at the country club. Get changed while I’ll call and reserve the court.”
“Can’t,” Chip replied, handing a piece of paper to the Captain. “New orders from the Admiral. I was just about to call you.”
Lee looked over the paper and then dropped it onto the table. “There goes my date for tonight.”
“Your date! I had plans to call Debbie, you do remember Debbie, don’t you? I promised to call her as soon as we made port, and I don’t mind saying I was looking forward to it.”
“Debbie… Oh, do you mean the Debbie you met at the pool, the one with the bikini, that Debbie?”
“You don’t have to smile when you say that, Lee. Yes, that Debbie.”
“Well, at least you two have spent some time together. I finally managed to talk a certain red head into going with me to the Blue Parrot this evening.
Chip cringed, “not THE red head you’ve been telling me about? You’ve been trying to get her to go out with you for months. How did you ever talk her into it?”
“It doesn’t really matter now, does it. If I call and cancel, I know there’s not going to be another opportunity. You have no idea what it took this time.”
“I personally don’t know why you tried so hard. Losing that Lee Crane charm?”
“Very funny, Chip. And to think, I was actually just now considering doing something nice for you.”
“Nice… like what?” Morton’s eyes lit up. Good news is just what he needed right now.
“Ah, Nope, you don’t deserve special favors after that last crack,” Lee said smiling. “I think I will just go now and make my apologies to my date. Talk to you later, Chip.”
“Hey Lee! You can’t start something like that and simply walk off. Come on, It’ll drive me crazy wondering, you have to tell me.” Chip took hold of Lee’s shoulder and refused to let the Captain get away.
Lee still sported an impish smile. He was enjoying seeing a little eagerness in the Exec’s face for a change. Chip was quite the master at self control when he was working, which meant that Chip dropping his guard was a sign that the man really needed a break. Lee couldn’t blame him, he too was looking forward to a little R&R. “All right, Chip. I just happened to notice that these orders from the Admiral are directed to me specifically. The Admiral knew you were taking leave for the next few days. For all he knows, you could already have been gone before the order came in. So, unless you spoke to him directly, you, my friend, are about the only one who could technically get off this boat right now. Your leave has already been granted, that is, if you want it? These orders state that no one is to be given leave until after tomorrow, but they don’t say anything about hauling people in who are already on leave, and if I remember correctly, you should already have left, correct?”
Seaview’s Exec was momentarily confused, then slowly Lee’s meaning became clear. “Right… I should’ve been out of here earlier. In fact, I’m really not here right now.” This was one time when Chip didn’t bother to hide his feelings. A huge grin split his face making tiny crinkles at the corners of his pale blue eyes.
“Well, I suggest, Mr. Morton, that you get moving, before I notice you’re still here. I do have a lot of work you could help me with.”
Chip turned and high tailed it from the control room Lee was glad at least one of them would enjoy a date this evening. Oh well, he thought, resigning himself. I guess I’d better go make that call.
By the time morning rolled around, Seaview shined like a
new penny. Admiral Harriman Nelson wasted no time bringing his guests on board.
It was just after 0900 hours when the group assembled in the control room to
address the Captain.
“Lee,” Nelson offered, “I’d like to introduce General Braddock, Admiral Chandler, Dr. Gordon, and Dr. Powell.”
“Lee took each man’s hand in turn. “It’s nice to meet you. And it’s good to see you again, Admiral Chandler.” Then turning to Nelson, he added, “everything is as you ordered, Admiral, and here is the list you requested.”
Nelson took the papers from Crane. Scanning them, he murmured, “fine… fine… great, we’re all set. Thank you, Lee.” The Admiral tucked the papers under his arm. “There’s been a slight change in plan.” He took a folded note from his shirt pocket and handed it to Crane. “How long before we can reach these coordinates if we get underway immediately?”
Lee stared at the paper, tapping one finger against his lip. “Roughly three hours, I’d say. But, Admiral…”
Nelson seemed not to hear the open question. “Fine. Well, let’s get underway, with luck we’ll be back sometime this evening. Oh, Lee, call me on the intercom when we’re within five minutes of the coordinates, will you?”
The Admiral sure is distracted by something. “Aye, Sir.” Lee got no other answer from the Admiral. Instead he watched the entire group exit through the aft hatch and disappear.
Well at least he didn’t say anything about Chip. Good thing it’s only a day sail, otherwise I’d have to call Chip back and that would delay things. The Admiral certainly appears to be in a hurry.
Three hours passed quickly though the crew was restless. Shoreleave seemed a million miles away to Seaview’s tired crew. Efficient as always, they still longed to return home and cut loose for a few days. The Captain knew his crew and understood their desire, but he also knew that even as tired as they were, his crew was still the best there was.
Crane called the Admiral as they approached their assigned coordinates. He had gone to see the Admiral shortly after Seaview left port and was informed that Dr. Gordon and Dr. Powell would be installing a device in the reactor room during the sail. Nelson was hesitant to say anything about the device, merely mentioning that it was classified. Crane didn’t trust any strangers messing around with Seaview, but the Admiral was overseeing the work and that was enough for Lee.
Now they were stopped at the coordinates Nelson requested, and Lee wondered why the Admiral had picked this particular spot. Everything seemed ordinary. Lee had the area swept with sensors while he waited for the Admiral to arrive in the control room. He really had no reason to do so, but curiosity was getting the better of him and Nelson was taking his time.
Still nothing, Crane thought, looking over the sensor reports. What could be so interesting?
Harriman Nelson marched in with Braddock and Chandler in tow. Lee knew Admiral Chandler. He was the uncle of an Annapolis buddy of his, and Lee found the man very down to earth for an officer. Braddock, on the other hand, bristled of strict military protocol. He reminded Lee a lot of Jiggs Stark, stiff and starched, hovering over Nelson’s every move. Ignoring the General, Lee walked over to Seaview’s computer, where the Admiral was busy imputing data.
“Oh, hi Lee,” Nelson mentioned matter of factly, hardly glancing up from the readout.
“Admiral, we’re at dead stop. May I ask what we are doing here, and what our orders are?”
Nelson heard the stiffness in Crane’s tone. He knew that Lee disliked being left in the dark as far as Seaview was concerned. Harry stopped what he was doing and gave his full attention to the Captain. “We are going to be running some preliminary tests on the new equipment Dr. Gordon just installed. It should only take a few hours, then we can return home.”
“Just what kind of tests are we talking about? And if you don’t mind my asking, why here?” Crane could tell that Nelson was avoiding giving him a direct answer and that alone made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end.
“I wish I could tell you, Lee, but I’m under strict orders from the Defense Department. I’m afraid you’ll have to bear with me for a little while.” Nelson caught a glimpse of Braddock glaring, as if daring Nelson to say more. “It won’t take long, and all Seaview has to do is remain at these coordinates and provide the power we’ll need. Oh, and once the experiments start, we’ll need the sensors online, so that we can gather as much data as possible.”
“I’ll have men on it, Admiral. Is there anything in particular you would like us to look for?” Lee inquired, still leery.
“No, I want you to run the whole spectrum, and don’t be surprised by the results. We may well get some pretty unusual readings. I’ll help supervise and correlate with Dr. Powell. We’ve set up a link directly to the reactor room from the main computer, so that he will get instantaneous feedback. I’d like Sharkey to go down there and standby in case Dr. Powell or Dr. Gordon need any help. I don’t have to tell you that is the last place we want any trouble.”
Lee called out the order to the Chief, sending him on his way. Then he busied himself making arrangements for the scanners and sensors. Braddock watched everything around him in rigid silence.
Fifteen minutes later all was in readiness. Nelson called Dr. Gordon to enable the device. Seaview filled with an audible hum, coming from everywhere. Crane issued orders for the crew to stay sharp as the noise level increased. Soon they felt the deck ripple under their feet. Crane swung around to face Nelson, who was busy trying to get readouts from the computer. A strange series of lights flashed repeatedly across the console, and crewmen at each station began reporting wild readings.
“Admiral, what the devil…” Lee began as another, stronger ripple ran through the ship. A bright iridescence flooded through the nose windows, filling the entire control room. The hull seemed almost to become transparent for a moment, causing the men to jump back from their stations. Lee squinted into the light as he caught hold of Nelson’s arm. “Whatever it is, you’ve got to shut it down before Seaview comes apart!!”
Just as the Admiral started to speak, an extremely loud groaning/grinding noise permeated the boat. Braddock was in his face in an instant. Nelson couldn’t focus on the General’s bellowing, everything was happening too fast. He pressed the abort key over and over with no success. Finally, grabbing the mike, he called to the reactor room. His skin tingled as if he were just millimeters from an electric field. He could hardly stand to hold onto the mike. “Gordon! Powell! Abort the experiment! Abort Now!!”
The light burned throughout the room. Everyone covered their ears against the hum that had become a raging din. The deck felt like jello and men began to lose their footing. Crane desperately tried to maintain control, but he could hardly control himself. Besides the tingling, all his senses seemed off kilter. He stumbled on the rolling deck, pitching forward against the plot table. His mind was unclear and his vision wavered. The tingling began to feel like bee stings covering his entire body. The room started to spin. He felt his legs buckling, but he couldn’t stop it. And then…
After a three day leave, a well rested and enthusiastic Chip Morton pulled his car into the lot near the dock. He was actually looking forward to installing a new hard drive in his laptop, which he had inadvertently left aboard in his cabin. He felt amazed at how much effect a few days of fun and relaxation had on him, and he had missed the Admiral’s tour with the brass. What could be better he thought, as he rounded the huge entrance and stared out at… the Seaview? What happened to the boat?
The empty dock loomed out in front of the Exec. No one had tried to call, he was sure of that. What could have caused them to sail without him? Something suddenly felt very wrong. Chip ran up to the nearest sentry, practically seizing the man by the arm. “Where’s the Seaview?”
Recognizing him, the sentry replied, “Lt. Commander, what are you doing here? Didn’t you leave with the sub?”
Chip was quickly losing patience, something was wrong and he needed to find out, not answer unnecessary questions. “I’ve been on leave. Tell me where did she go?”
“Err, I don’t know, Sir. Rumors are floating around that Seaview is missing, especially after that Admiral Stark arrived yesterday.”
“Stark! Are you sure?” Chip heard the man’s acknowledgement behind him as he sprinted for his car. If Stark is here, then there’s only one place he would be. And Stark would have answers.
Morton fairly flew into Admiral Nelson’s office. Jiggs Stark sat at the desk rummaging through a stack of files. A flush of irritation coursed through Seaview’s XO. Stark might be a fine Admiral for the Navy, but he had no business in Institute files. Chip doubted if Stark even had any idea what he was looking at.
“Admiral Stark…” Chip began, catching his breath.
Stark looked up, completely surprised as he recognized the Exec. “Morton, How did you get here?”
Chip snapped to attention. Stark wouldn’t even talk to him if he didn’t make an effort at protocol. “Sir, I just returned from leave and was surprised to find that Seaview had sailed during my absence. May I ask where she’s headed?”
Stark stared in annoyance at the junior officer. “Lt. Commander, I had no idea that you were not onboard. We thought that the sub left with a full compliment. However, to answer your question, no one knows where Seaview is right now. She left two days ago and hasn’t been heard from since. We believe we have the coordinates that she was supposedly heading for and a search is underway, but so far… nothing.”
“What?! Why would she leave? And why wasn’t I called?”
Jiggs bristled at the younger man’s informality. You’re too much like Crane. It’s a wonder that Harriman puts up with either of you! He sat back and tried to understand that this was all a shock to the XO. “Lt. Commander, I suggest you consider how you talk to your superior officers. I certainly have no compelling reason to tell you anything, except that I want to get to the bottom of this and perhaps you might be able to shed some light. The sub left on a mission authorized by the Dept. of Defense. She should have been back that same day. I have no idea why you weren’t called, unless it was because they left in a hurry.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, Sir,” Chip interrupted, “Isn’t it a little early for ComSubPac to be this interested in searching for a civilian boat??
“You think you’re such a smart cookie, eh Lt. Commander? Not that it is any of your business, but the mission that Seaview left on is of great interest to the government. There are those who have been anxiously awaiting her return and the results of her success. Some people are branding Nelson as a traitor, thinking he defected with certain classified equipment that was onboard. I don’t believe it for a second, and I’m trying to get to the bottom of things. I am, however, very concerned about foul play. If someone got hold of information concerning this mission, Seaview might have been taken.”
“Seaview taken? Neither the Admiral nor the Captain would have allowed that. And the Admiral is no traitor. I won’t even consider that, and I’m surprised that others would.” Morton dropped down into one of the chairs facing the desk, discouraged. Slowly a look of pure determination crossed his normally emotionless countenance. “I’ll help you find the Seaview, no matter what. And then they’ll see.”
Lee Crane pulled himself slowly off the deck. He had no
recollection of losing consciousness, or how long he was out. Lee fought to
clear his head, his mind felt like mush. “Ooooohh…” he moaned, as he opened his
eyes and took in the spinning room. Trying to steady himself, he pushed back his
sleeve and attempted to focus on his watch. It took a moment for him to realize
that the hands were not moving. How long…His vision
slowly cleared, and the room slowed its spinning until it finally stopped
completely. Being careful not to move too fast, the Captain took in the control
room. Everyone was unconscious, the room was silent, all the panels appeared to
be off. In fact, Lee realized, only the emergency lighting seemed to be
functioning. A thought suddenly struck him…AIR!! He
spun his head up to face the ducts, a move he instantly regretted, and stared at
the nylon ribbons hanging limply from the grill. As the dizziness passed, he
pulled himself up to read the gauge that measured the amount of breathable air.
Five hours, that’s not much time. We’ve got to get
moving. Lee dragged himself over to the Admiral and shook him. It took
several attempts before the man stirred and his blue eyes fluttered open.
Nelson could do little more than moan and was grateful for Lee’s help in sitting up. It took a few minutes for him to be able to focus on anything, and then Lee drew his attention to the air situation.
“We need to get people working on the power situation and getting the air going. Or we need to make it to the surface.” Lee replied, he was slowly beginning to feel like himself again.
“We also need to find out what happened with Dr. Gordon’s experiment. The loss of power must be a direct result.”
“First, we have to get the crew moving,” the Captain commented as he pulled himself to a standing position and in turn assisted the Admiral. “Oh, Admiral, my watch has stopped. How long were we out?”
Harriman glanced at his own watch and then quickly moved over to the clock above the sonar station. “Even with no power, this should work on the same batteries that are keeping the emergency lights going.” Nelson flipped several switches, but the clock display only flashed 0000.
Harriman moved from man to man checking each watch. Finally, he turned back to Lee. “Yours isn’t the only watch that’s stopped. They’re all stopped. And they’re all stopped at about the time that the experiment began. I’m going back to check the reactor. Get some men to the circuitry room and air revitalization. Let’s try and get things going, I don’t want to move Seaview until I understand what’s happened.”
As Nelson left the control room, Crane got on the mike and called for any available crewman to respond. He made the call several times before giving up, but was struck with an idea. He leaned over and jammed his thumb into the button that sounded the bells. The crew would have to be dead not to hear these, he thought, noticing the men beginning to stir. Shaking Kowalski and Patterson, Lee moved over to help General Braddock. Even groggy and disoriented, Braddock shook Crane off. Braddock pushed himself too fast and wound up back flat on the deck. Lee resisted the urge to try helping the General again, instead he began helping his crew to their seats. His first inclination was to make an inspection of the sub, but he was needed in the control room. Chip, I could sure use your help right now.
An hour later, after having roused O’Brien from his cabin, Crane joined the Admiral in the reactor room. “I have a detail going over every circuit possible, but so far they’ve found nothing. Kowalski and Monroe inspected air revitalization. According to them everything is fine except there’s no power.”
Nelson was up to his elbows in an open panel. “I’ve just about got this generator up and running, that should take care of the problem for a while.”
Lee stepped back to make room for Sharkey to hand some tools to Nelson. “Do you know what happened yet?”
“Dr. Gordon and Dr. Powell are working on it. They took their data down to the lab to evaluate it. I’ll join them as soon as we get power back.”
Lee turned his attention to Sharkey. “Chief, how’s the repairs to the reactor coming?”
“We have good news, Sir. It’s drained, but otherwise, not in too bad of shape. We should have it reactivated in a few hours. Unfortunately, you can’t rush it.”
“I know, Chief. Keep me posted. And, tell the men good work.”
Once minimal power was restored, Seaview’s crew was able to breathe a heavy sigh of relief. Unfortunately, none of the control room systems were operating yet. They were still blind and deaf to the outside. And without the light on the nose working, they couldn’t even make a visual observation. That at least didn’t concern the Captain much, as he thought over the nondescript ocean terrain that surrounded them. What bothered him was a lack of sonar and radio communications. Repair work continued, the damage was minor, merely time consuming. Nelson returned to the lab, while Braddock continued to prowl the control room occasionally snipping at the men. They knew better than to let him unravel them especially with the Captain looking on. Crane bit his tongue waiting for the General to go too far, then he was going to have the man escorted to his cabin or anywhere else aboard ship but here.
The hours were dragging by. Crane went to check the computer for the millionth time when Admiral Chandler made his way over to see him.
“It’s been a long time, Lee. I’ve been tied up with Gordon down in the lab, or I would have come and talked to you earlier. How have you been?” Chandler’s salt and pepper hair topped a kind face that Lee had known for a long time.
“I’ve been fine, Admiral. How’s Robby? I hear he’s got his first command.” Crane thought over his Annapolis days. Lee Crane and Robert Chandler could have been twins. There were differences between them, but their builds were similar as well as their hair, and both were the heart throbs of their class.
“He’s loving the Ranger, Lee. You know, I sure do miss those Sunday afternoons when you two boys used to come over.”
“Well, Mrs. Chandler always made the best stroganoff. We couldn’t pass that up.” Lee smiled at the thought of those quiet Sunday afternoons. Though an Admiral, Robby’s Uncle always made Lee feel welcome as did his wife, Connie. The Admiral and his wife never had children of their own, so they pretty much adopted Robert and Lee. Even now, they kept in touch.
“That Connie does,” Chandler replied. “And she’d be happy to make some any time you have a chance to stop by. Now that we’ve moved to Pearl, we hardly get to see either you or Robert anymore.”
Suddenly, systems all over the control room came to life. That meant full power. Lee excused himself and began checking each station. It took only a moment for him to see that something was definitely wrong. Every instrument read the same… nothing! They were unable to establish depth, position, or even drift. Communications picked up nothing, the same with sonar and hydrophones. Crane raced to the observation windows. Seaview’s brilliant forward light shined brightly before the boat. Lee stared in ominous silence. What he saw through the massive herculite panels was a great violet gray mass with flecks of yellow swirling about. He moved to flick on the outside cameras as Admiral Chandler and General Braddock joined him. Changing views made no difference, Crane soon realized that whatever the mass was, it surrounded the entire sub.
Lee grabbed the mike to call Admiral Nelson, just as Nelson entered through the aft hatch. Harriman read the Captain’s face and soon the two were busily going over every reading, every instrument in search of an answer.
Harriman moved to the windows. “We need to get a sample of this.”
Lee stared at the Admiral. “Without knowing what this stuff is? How do we know if it’s safe to bring aboard? And better yet, what if the stuff’s toxic. Whoever goes outside for a sample might wind up dead. I say we surface first, finish repairs, and then we try and find out what it is.
“No, I disagree. The instruments seem to be working correctly. Whatever this stuff is, it doesn’t seem to have any familiar properties, and no one need go outside. We can use one of the extension arms on the flying sub. It will be simple enough to attach a specimen container to it, and once she’s back in her berth, we can decontaminate and get the container into one of the sealed tanks from the lab. It should be safe enough.”
Lee knew from the look on the Admiral’s face, he might as well give up. The Admiral just wouldn’t give in now that his scientific curiosity was aroused. “All right, Admiral, consider it done. I’ll let you know once the sample is on board.”
“Thanks Lee, I’ll get the tank ready.”
It took less then thirty minutes to gather the sample
and have it transferred safely to the lab. Nelson was in his glory like a child
with a newly discovered toy. He made observations then moved onto basic tests
for chemical make up. Dr. Powell continued to work with the device in the
reactor room while Dr. Gordon moved to assist the Admiral with his
The Captain entered the lab along with Admiral Chandler. The two officers walked over until they stood in perfect position to watch the two scientists deeply immersed in their work. Nelson wasn’t even aware of their presence until he turned to grab a bottle of acetone and nearly bumped right into his Captain. The Admiral noticeably jumped back, startled by their sudden appearance.
Lee grinned at the look of surprise on his friend’s face. “So, what is it?”
“Oh, ah, Lee, I didn’t see you come in. I can’t tell you yet what it is. It would be easier to tell you what it’s not.”
“O.K., then what isn’t it?”
“As far as we can tell at this point, this substance is in a liquid, almost jell state. We’re having a hard time building a chemical map, its break down seems to vary in different areas as it fluctuates in density. And these yellowish, almost incandescent areas are something else completely.”
“Is it alive?”
“Not alive, by definition, if that’s what you mean. But I’m not quite ready to rule on that either. Until we know more, I’m not ready to venture a guess about anything.”
Now it was Lee’s turn to be surprised. Nelson always had some idea or theory in the back of his mind. This was the first time Crane could remember when Nelson appeared truly stumped. “The reason I came down here was to let you know that the reactor is nearly up to full power, and all other damage has been repaired. This stuff, whatever it is, is still fouling up our readings, so I’d like to surface and get our bearings. We’re overdue at the institute, so we really should call and make contact with them at least. We can’t even get radio communications through this stuff.” Lee suddenly grew quiet.
“Why don’t you let Chip handle it. I want to show you something.”
Lee shifted uncomfortably. “Ahh, Chip is on leave, and we don’t have any way of knowing exactly how long we’ve been out here. I’d still guess that we’ve been gone at least twenty four hours, but that’s just a guess not counting the time we were out. Once we surface, we can receive all the information we need.” Suddenly a thought occurred to the Captain. “I was just thinking of Chip’s face if he comes back from leave and finds us all missing. It will be a month at least before we, I mean I hear the end of it.”
Nelson’s voice was suddenly cold. “You mean to tell me we left port without an XO?”
“Pardon me, Admiral, You were rather insistent about our leaving port immediately, and as you said, we were supposed to be back in a few hours. I saw no point in disturbing his leave, and it would’ve delayed our departure for who knows how long.” Lee’s words were determined. He felt a bit annoyed at the Admiral’s tone, after all, it was his boat, and he had every right as Captain to make decisions about the crew.
Harriman rubbed his fingers across his forehead. “I know, I’m sorry Lee. I think I’m wearing down, that’s all. None of us has taken the chance to slow down and get some rest. You’re right, I did push things. Let’s go ahead and surface, but keep a fix on this spot. There is a lot more I want to learn about this substance.”
Lee couldn’t help but soften at Nelson’s apology. The two men had known each other for so many years and could read each other well. Apologies were rarely necessary even in the worst of times. The mere fact that the Admiral had found it necessary this time was evidence that he was troubled or tired or both. And Lee had to admit that he too was exhausted, and after they surfaced, he was planning to make certain that everyone got some rest. “Yes Sir, I’ll call you after we surface.” With that, he nodded at Admiral Chandler and the two men headed for the control room.
Crane stretched, rubbing the back of his neck. Peering around the control room, he announced, “Prepare to surface, Mr. O’Brien!” He watched with pride as his junior officer began rattling off the orders that would surface the submarine. Everyone snapped to attention in relief that they would no longer just be sitting still. Lee nodded to Bob O’Brien, who immediately snapped off the final order and the Seaview came to life. Lee enjoyed the slight vibration he felt as the sub began to rise. “Take her up easy, and let me know as soon as we clear this…” He stumbled for a name to call the substance encircling Seaview. “Just let me know when we’re back in open water.”
The trip to the surface seemed to take forever, especially since the last depth reading they took before the experiment was only a little more than five hundred feet. As the seconds ticked by, the men became noticeably restless. The Captain watched first the gauges for a sign of change, then switched on the monitor and took in the view from the sail camera. Finally, he banged his fist against the rail surrounding the periscope island. “Nothing! We could have surfaced from crush depth by now.”
“What’s going on here, Crane?” Braddock bellowed. “Don’t you have any idea what you’re doing? Surface this submarine, immediately!”
The General’s words grated on Lee, He had just gone too far. “Begging your pardon, General, I know exactly what I’m doing as does this crew. And, I’ve had just about enough of your…”
Seeing Lee’s frustration and realizing that he was about to wind up in the brig if not stopped, Admiral Chandler reached over and squeezed the younger man’s shoulder tightly, silencing him. “What Captain Crane is trying to say General, is that this crew is acting in an expert fashion, and they have their hands full at the moment. The last thing any of us needs is you spouting your mouth off where it’s not wanted or needed, causing more tension on board. I suggest if you have a problem, you take it elsewhere.”
“Chandler, just who do you think you are? I won’t be silenced by you or anyone else! I’ll have you…”
“You’ll do what?” The Admiral answered, fingering the stars on his collar.
Braddock stared momentarily, thinking over his position. All at once, he ducked around Crane and stormed from the room.
The control room became a buzz of appreciative comments as the men relaxed. Lee Crane smiled at Asa Chandler knowing that he, himself would have said too much and not been able to get away with it.
Chandler gave Lee’s shoulder a final shake and let go. “You, my boy, better take it easy. The last thing you want to do is tangle with the likes of Braddock. He believes his rank makes him better than everyone else. I’ve dealt with him from time to time even opposed him on occasion, the man’s a real blow hard, but he won’t hesitate to bring you up on charges, have you locked up, or worse. And he never forgets.”
“Well, Sir, you certainly knocked him down a notch from his pedestal. And, if I may be so bold, I think you enjoyed it a little.”
Grinning, Chandler replied, “I have to admit, I’ve wanted to say something to that bag of wind for a while. The one thing Braddock respects is rank, and I have one up on him in that department. Let’s just hope he gives you no more headache.”
Crane glanced over at Patterson. “You reading anything, Pat?”
“No Sir, Skipper. Outside pressure keeps fluctuating, but still remains negligible. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear we were already on the surface.”
“Well, we’re not,” Lee muttered. “All right, Mr. O’Brien, stop all engines and hold her here.” Crane turned to Admiral Chandler. “I’ve had it with fumbling around in the dark. It's about time I started getting some answers. I doubt you’ll tell me, but I know where to start. You’re welcome to come along if you wish.” Lee turned and together, they disappeared through the rear hatch.
Chip Morton was a patient person, but waiting around when his friends were in trouble, was really eating at him. To make matters worse, putting up with Jiggs Starke was no picnic. He could well understand why Lee bristled whenever he heard the man’s name. Starke had finally relented to allowing Seaview’s Exec to be flown out to the USS Ranger which was heading up the search. It was with great relief that he greeted the ship’s Captain. Chip Morton and Robert Chandler had also been friends at Annapolis, though not as close as Lee was to either of them. Together, the two officers set about detailing every part of the search to this point, and made a continued plan of attack.
“This is no good, Robby, er, I mean Captain. Even if these are the coordinates Seaview headed for, she could be anywhere by now. And if something happened... for all we know, she’s laying in a million pieces on the bottom. I feel blind sitting here on the surface.”
“Calm down, Chip, I know how you’re feeling. My Uncle is on board Seaview and Lee is still my friend too. We will keep pushing forward. Seaview was last picked up heading this way and nothing since. It would be hard for them to have gone anywhere without being picked up by SOSUS.”
“Difficult, but not impossible, Captain. There are ways to mask a sub’s noise, you know that as well as I. No, unless she’s gone or sunk, we should have picked her up by now with all these ships in the area. If she’s here, she’s on the bottom, which’s why I need to go down and have a look. If not, we’re wasting our time.”
Robert thought for a moment. “I don’t entirely agree with you on this one, but I have an idea. The Erin is helping with the search, she’s the newest sub we have and she has been installed with some, ahh… rather interesting surveillance equipment. It just might be possible to get you on board.”
Chip eyed his friend suspiciously. “Just what kind of equipment, and how would you know about it?”
Robert’s face took on a mischievous grin. “How is not important. The question is, do you want to go?”
Lee reached the lab just as Nelson was reaching for the
mike. Braddock stood in the background, glaring at the pair as they entered.
“Lee, I was just going to call you. We have a problem.”
Just one? Wait till you hear what I have to report. “What kind of a problem?”
Harry moved to the table and picked up a glass specimen tray containing a sample of the substance that surrounded the ship. “Watch this.” He sprinkled a pinch worth of metal filings over the sample.
Lee watched in amazement, as the yellow swirls seemed to come alive and swarm over the metal filings. Within a minute, it was easy to see that the filings were being reduced. “It’s eating them.”
“Eating, consuming, breaking down, whatever you want to call it, the metal is being destroyed. I believe that this violet, gray liquid is an environment like an atmosphere in which this lives. These shavings are from a piece of steel plating we use for emergency hull repair.”
Crane jerked up to stare into Nelson’s face. “That means this stuff is consuming our hull.”
“Very likely, though it will take a while. As soon as we surface, we’ll need to make certain the hull is clear.”
“Well, Admiral, that’s part of what I came to discuss. We tried to surface, it didn’t work. As a matter of fact, we ascended more than ten thousand feet, if we really ascended at all.”
Nelson shook his head. “Ten thousand… that’s impossible!
“Better yet, we’re still surrounded by this… stuff, and now we find out that it’s destroying the hull. I want to know just what it is that we came out here to do in the first place? What is that device down in the reactor room? And what does it do?” Lee was aware that he was getting increasingly louder, but he didn’t care if it meant getting his point across.
Braddock was in Nelson’s face in a flash. “Don’t you even think about it Admiral! This project is highly classified. No fresh out of diapers, officer has any business meddling in things that are way out of his league.” Then turning to Crane, he added, “you’re job is to follow orders and keep this boat afloat, Commander, not to ask questions. You just take yourself back to your control room and leave the thinking to people with authority.”
“That is ENOUGH!” hollered Nelson. “Captain Crane is in command of this boat, and under the circumstances he has every right to know what’s going on!”
“I’m telling you, Nelson, if you utter one thing about this project, I’m going to have you nailed to the wall!”
Harriman matched the General. “IF we get out of here, General, you are welcome to take your complaints to Washington. In the meantime, sit down and be quiet or leave!”
Braddock turned red, preparing to explode, when he noticed Admiral Chandler again fingering his collar. “I’ll have no part of this! Washington will hold the two of you accountable!” The General shot one more icy glare at Crane and left the room, slamming the door in his wake.
As soon as the room grew quiet, Dr. Gordon joined the three officers. “Admiral Nelson, Admiral Chandler, Captain Crane, I think I have an answer for you.”
Nelson muttered his thoughts aloud, “dimensional transference?”
“Exactly, Admiral, but how…”
Harry rolled his eyes and answered, “when you open your mind to the possibilities Doctor, it’s not that far fetched. Now, the question is what to do about it?”
“Hold on a minute!” Lee realized that he was the only one in the room with no clue as to what was being discussed. “If you don’t mind, can we start a little closer to the beginning?”
Nelson fought the urge to smile. “Lee, I’ll tell you, but you aren’t going to like it.”
Lee momentarily closed his eyes and shook his head. Then pulling himself back to a sitting position on the counter, he replied, “I already don’t like it, so try me.”
The Admiral suddenly felt quite tired. “Dr. Gordon and Dr. Powell head up a team working under top level security. They have been working under the theory of other dimensional planes existing out of phase from our own. Using that theory as a guide, they worked to build a device that would allow them to open a small portal into these dimensions individually. Using the portals, they would be able to make observations, perform tests, etc., all the while collecting mass amounts of data. This was supposed to be the first actual test of the system.”
The Captain waited for the Admiral to finish before he started with the questions that were already piling up in the back of his mind. “So, why out here? Why Seaview as opposed to a lab? And what went wrong?”
This time it was Dr. Gordon who spoke up. “Why here? With all the unknowns concerning the process of opening a portal and the potential security risks, it was decided that we needed a location that gave us a safety margin away from the general populous and is pretty much inaccessible. This location was only selected about an hour before we sailed. As far as Seaview is concerned, I’m sure you can understand that our experiment requires a large amount of power. Seaview is a portable source for our needs and can go places most people can’t, and secretly too.”
“And what happened, Dr. Gordon?” Lee reminded him.
“Lee,” Nelson interrupted. “We’re still trying to put everything together, but it appears that for whatever reason, we are no longer in our own dimension.”
“What? I thought you said a small portal. You mean we can’t get away from this stuff?” Crane queried, pointing to the specimen tray.
Harry rubbed at the back of his neck. “Right now, I’m not sure about what we can and can’t do. However, I think it’s important to return to the point we were at before we tried surfacing. If we didn’t drift, it should be near the point where we came into this dimension and possibly the only point we can leave.”
Admiral Chandler took the opportunity to break his silence. “Do you have a plan for getting us back?”
Admiral Nelson and Dr. Gordon exchanged glances, then the Admiral answered, “It’s possible that once the device is ready with the reactor fully charged, we may be able to repeat the experiment recalibrating the settings, drawing us back into our own dimension.
Just then Dr. Powell entered the lab and motioned his colleague into a hushed conversation at the far end of the room. When Gordon returned, his face was grim. “I’m afraid I have some bad news, gentleman. One of the power transducers in the device is burnt out beyond repair. We can only handle about half the energy load necessary to open the portal.”
Chip had heard all about Commander John Ramos, Captain
of the Erin, from Lee several months back. To put it nicely, Lee was unimpressed
with the man, who was as Lee put it ‘overly defensive and arrogant.’ Just don’t insult him, Chip ol’ boy, Morton thought as
he climbed down the ladder into the control room of the newer sub. Pasting on
his best nice to meet you smile, he turned from the ladder and faced a bland
emotionless face. Spying the collar insignia, Chip saluted, saying, “Captain
Ramos, I am Lt. Commander Morton, pleased to meet you.”
Captain Ramos stood for a few moments saying nothing. After the way Lee Crane had made him look bad in front of Admiral Starke, he wasn’t too crazy about having another of Seaview’s officers on board. He was even less enthusiastic about having to search for Harriman Nelson’s famous submarine, except for the fact that if he were the one to find her he would feel somewhat vindicated in his ire of her Captain. He would look good again, and if rumors were true that she had turned against her country, then he wanted to be the one to bring her and her crew to justice. At last he said, “Lt. Commander, I have been instructed to aid you in whatever way I can, as far as it goes, in the search for the Seaview. My XO, Mr. Owens, will work with you, all your requests come through him to me, and I have the final order. Is that understood?”
Seaview’s Exec straightened, “yes Sir, understood.”
Excusing himself, Chip walked over and joined Erin’s XO, his first objective being to search the coordinates given to him by Admiral Starke.
Owens tried to be apologetic. “The Skipper isn’t usually so… out of sorts. If it hadn’t been for… ahh… well, don’t worry about it.”
“That’s all right,” Chip replied, handing a paper to Owens. “It’s his boat. He can treat people however he wants. Now, I need to search these coordinates. If you wouldn’t mind, I would appreciate your making arrangements with the Captain. And then I’d like some information on whatever equipment you have on board that will help.”
Ramos reluctantly ordered the change in course, and within the hour, they arrived at the specified location and began a slow spiral search pattern. Most interested in the bottom, Chip requested that the sub dive so that all available equipment would have the best chance of picking anything up. He particularly missed the huge forward windows in Seaview’s observation nose, as he had to rely on views from remote control cameras released from the bottom of the sub for a visual look outside. Morton studied the monitors while he waited for news from the other stations.
Suddenly something caught his attention and he manipulated the controls bringing the camera around for a better view. Most of the sea floor was bland and empty, but what caught Chip’s attention was an area where the sea floor appeared melted or disintegrated. The ocean bottom in this place was caved in at a depth of approximately fifteen feet and the debris inside looked dark and shiny, almost like glass. But the thing that riveted his attention to the spot was something only he would recognize. The shape of the depression was one very familiar to him. It was roughly the shape and size of the great gray lady herself… Seaview!
“Half power!” Harry snapped, pushing his way into the reactor room. “There has to be a way we can repair the transducer.”
Dr. Lawrence Powell raced ahead of Nelson and now held the pitiful looking transducer in his hands. “I don’t think so, Admiral. As you can see, this was developed specially for this machine, and it’s irreparable.”
“Let me see,” Nelson replied taking the part. After thorough examination, he turned his attention on the two scientists. Well, if we can’t repair it and we can’t replace it, then we need to come up with an alternative. Any suggestions?”
“I believe it’s hopeless, Admiral,” answered Powell. “The device is useless.”
Nelson cocked an eyebrow. “Hopeless is a word that neither the Seaview or her crew understand. Get it together man. Now tell me, is there any way to open the portal using less power?”
“Y…yes, I guess it’s possible.”
“How much less?” Harry shot back. “You helped build this machine, you know what it can do. How much less?”
“Admiral, you’re just talking theory. If, and I do say if we can open the portal, it certainly will take more power than the one transducer can convert just to hold it open for a few seconds, let alone the time it will take for us to pass through it.”
“Let’s take this one step at a time, Dr. Powell. Forget stabilizing the portal for a minute. Can we convert enough of the reactor’s power just to open a portal?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t know, Admiral. That would be a pretty big assumption. Even if we could, what good would it do?”
“If it’s possible at all, then we have to try it. Now, what we need to do is figure out a way to hold it once it’s open.”
Dr. Gordon stood back in the doorway, considering the exchange between Powell and Nelson. At last he stepped forward joining the conversation. “Admiral, I’ve been thinking about what you said. Basically, our device sends out a continuous series of energy pulses that create a kind of bridge to keep the portal open once it has been created. Those pulses are micro bursts sent with such rapidity that they collectively fill the field with a massive amount of energy. They also work as an anchor from the other side, so that the portal doesn’t slip. We need more than that if we want to be assured of passing back into our own dimension. We need a bridge that actually extends into our dimension that will help draw us through. If the experiment repeats itself as it did before, you won’t be able to use your engines to get us back. I don’t believe we moved at all physically, we were in fact, engulfed by the portal as it formed around us. Our only hope is to be pulled back into our dimension in the same way.”
Suddenly, the intercom came to life. “Admiral, this is the control room.”
Harry took two steps and snatched the mike from its clip. “Nelson here.”
“Admiral,” Lee’s voice came across with urgency. “I had Sharkey take the Flying Sub out and do an assessment of the hull. You were right, whatever that yellow stuff is, it’s eating away at it. We brought FS-1 back in and are decontaminating her now. The prognosis for the Seaview, however, doesn’t look so good unless we get out of here soon. The Chief estimates no more than a couple of hours before we start seeing some major damage.”
“All right, Lee, thanks. We’re working on a solution right now. I’ll keep you informed. Nelson out.” Harriman slapped the mike back onto its clip and began pacing the floor like a caged tiger. “An energy bridge….” he muttered to himself, “something that can give enough power to stabilize the portal and draw us to the other side…”
Powell busied himself, reassembling the final parts of the machine that until now, he had great faith in. Nelson is crazy he thought, there’s no way back, we’re all going to die here.
Gordon leaned back against the hatchway, exhausted and depressed. Watching Nelson pace, he felt helpless. His whole life he had felt so sure of himself, and now that was gone. Instead he felt out of control, filled with questions that only had more questions to answer them.
All at once, Nelson stopped in his tracks. “What if we fire the laser the instant the portal opens? It should have enough power to stabilize the opening for a short period.”
Gordon practically jumped with excitement, then his face dropped. “Admiral, when we opened the portal last time, just about every system on board went crazy. How do we know that the laser will even fire?”
“I guess we’ll find out, won’t we? Just have the device ready when I give the word.” Slipping past the scientists, the Admiral headed for the control room.
“All right, everyone stay on your toes,” Crane announced
over the intercom nearly twenty minutes later, after having been apprised of the
Admiral’s plan. “All nonessential systems will be shut down effective
immediately. All personal are to remain at their assigned duty stations.” Lee
double clicked the button on the mike. “Dr. Gordon, are you ready?”
“Yes, Captain,” came a not so certain reply.
Lee glanced at the Admiral who was already leaning into the hood of the laser firing system. “All right Dr., on my mark, five… four… three… two… one… mark!
This time the hum grew in intensity much faster and men scrambled to cover their ears against the deafening assault. Nelson hung on tightly to the firing controls, waiting for the precise moment. Having gone through this before, the Captain firmly grasped the plot table with both hands in anticipation. He hadn’t long to wait, almost immediately the deck began to pitch and dive. Lights flashed over the consoles lighting up the control room like a Christmas tree. Even panels that had been shut down came alive briefly and then in a flash, every interior light went out leaving only the eerie glow shining through the windows to light up the control room. Waves of dizziness washed over the crew at the continued motion of the boat. The light grew more intense and everything seemed to shimmer with translucency. Men began to cry out, their nerves almost shaken to the edge; the Skipper and the Chief called for quiet. Suddenly, the light from outside surged and Nelson acting on instinct more than certain knowledge, pressed the firing button.
“You’re Crazy, Morton!” Ramos yelled. “Wishful thinking has taken you over the edge! You’re seeing things. There’s nothing to that hole, but a cave in. I see nothing more.”
Chip shook his head in complete frustration. Egotistical, Lee, that’s not half as bad as his pig headed, know-it-all attitude! Morton tried once again to show Captain Ramos the picture displayed on the monitor. He pulled the remote camera back, revealing the entire depression in the sand. He had studied it over and over before alerting Ramos. How can he say it’s nothing? The outline is there for all to see! Anyone with one bad eye could see it! “Captain, I have to insist. Follow the lines… it fits Seaview almost perfectly. She was here, and somehow enough heat or energy was generated to burn the ocean floor in the same shape. That’s why it looks like glass. That’s the only way to explain it.”
Ramos swung away from the camera monitor. “Keep your explanations, Lt. Commander. They have as many holes in them as your theory of that sinkhole being any proof of Seaview having been here. I don’t buy it, and I’m not going to sit around here all day wasting time.”
All at once the monitor screen came alive with light, attracting even Ramos’ attention. Chip made adjustments, closing down the lens until the camera could handle the remaining light and record an image. The light came from directly over the depressed ocean bottom, and radiated in all directions. Morton, Ramos and Owens stared into the monitor. Chip was the first to see her, “Seaview!” he yelled out, louder than he intended. Then a bolt of light shot from the image just to port of the Erin.
“What, the…” Ramos yelped.
Then instantly, the light was gone and so was the Seaview, or the image of the Seaview. The officers of the Erin and Seaview’s Exec stood in stunned amazement, too dumb struck to speak.
It was Ramos who shook himself out of the stupor first. “What happened? What was that?”
Morton grabbed the camera controls, swinging the camera carts around a full three hundred and sixty degrees. “Come on, where’d you go?”
“Mr. Morton! I asked you a question!”
Chip let go of the controls and stiffened. His expression once again became unreadable, and he turned his attention back to Ramos. “Captain, that was the Seaview, though I’m at a loss to explain what we just saw. I do believe that the energy bolt that shot past us was her forward laser being fired. Where she went after that, I…”
“You mean she fired at us! That’s proof that she’s turned traitor! I’m going to inform Pacific Command personally!” Now over the initial shock, Ramos almost glowed at the idea of turning Seaview in.
“Wait,” Chip pleaded. “That wasn’t proof, and where did she go if she was really there in the first place? Besides, if Seaview had targeted us at this range, they could have pretty much cut this boat in half. No, there’s something else going on here and it’s about time Admiral Starke let us in on it. May I have your permission to place a call?”
Ramos started to refuse, but even he had to admit that the whole situation was weird. Where did Seaview go? Submarines don’t simply disappear. Morton’s right, they were right in front of us, how could they have missed? The last thing he needed was to make himself look bad again, not this time. With a wave of his hand, Ramos replied, “follow me, you can call from my cabin.”
Entering into the cramped space that was the Captain’s cabin, Chip shuddered at the memory of his career before Seaview. The cabin was narrow with barely enough room to move around, much smaller than even his own aboard Seaview, let alone Lee’s or the Admiral’s. The thought brought just a hint of a smile to his lips as he reached for the receiver. A few days ago, his own cabin had seemed small and enclosed, but now it felt so much bigger, almost luxurious.
Ramos took the intercom mike in hand and instructed the radio operator to put through a call to Admiral Starke. Then scooting around Morton, he perched himself atop his bunk and waited. You can make your call, but I’m going to be right here while you do.
It took forever for Chip to drag little bits of information out of Admiral Starke. Only by relaying the latest occurrence, was he able to get Starke to open his mouth at all. The call was taxing, not to mention the almost miniscule amount of sleep he had received since returning from leave. Chip struggled to keep his patience with the Admiral. “Yes. Sir, is there any way I could talk to a member of Dr. Gordon’s team? I understand, Thank you Sir.” Morton waited while Starke transferred his call. When his call was finally received, Chip proceeded to explain everything all over again, trying to recall each detail of what he had seen. Hanging up the phone, he turned to Ramos, who watched him expectantly. “We have to wait for them to call us back. In the meantime, I will tell you what bits of information they gave me.” Chip rubbed tired eyes and sat down on the small chair next to Ramos’ writing desk.
As the sub stopped shaking, Crane released his hold on the plot table. His head and stomach were reeling, but he was thankful to be conscious. Lights came back quickly, a welcome sight after the roller coaster ride of the previous few minutes. Most of the men around him were slowly finding their chairs and beginning the task of inspecting their instruments once they were able to think straight. Lee helped Admiral Chandler from the floor and moved to aid Admiral Nelson.
“Thanks Lee, I’m all right,” the older man replied, answering the look of concern coming from his friend. “Shaken, but all right.”
“That’s good to hear,” Lee said, letting out a sigh of relief, and staring out into the same purplish gray mass outside the windows. “Do you have any idea what happened?”
Nelson too, stared out the windows and thought for a moment. “Well, as you can see we’re still stuck here. I wasn’t able to maintain power to the laser. It fluctuated and gave out, closing the portal with it. But you know, Lee, for a moment I could have sworn I saw something. It was just before the portal closed, I was looking through the targeting crosshairs and suddenly it was there, just when the laser fired.”
“What was there? Admiral, what did you see?”
“Another sub. I swear for an instant I could see into our own dimension, and there was another sub.”
“Perhaps, you were seeing a reflection?”
“No, it wasn’t a reflection. It was a different sub. I didn’t get a good look, but it appeared to be one of those new ones that the Navy is building now. I know what you’re thinking, Lee, but I’m almost certain I saw it.”
“Well, it really doesn’t matter now. The plan didn’t work, we’re stuck here and before long, the sub is going to start sprouting leaks all over the place. Unless someone comes up with a miracle, we’re done for.” Lee thought about suggesting the Admiral get some rest, he could see his friend was on the edge of exhaustion, but he knew that none of them could rest until they reached the end of the nightmare, no matter what the outcome. And working was the only productive thing that would help keep everyone’s mind off the impending disaster looming over their heads.
Harry patted Lee on the shoulder. “You hold things down on this end, and I’ll go have a talk with Gordon. We may just find a way out of this one yet.”
Lee watched Nelson depart knowing that the Admiral was trying to sound more optimistic than he really was. And now Captain, it’s your turn to be just as optimistic for your crew. They’ll believe things will turn out as long as they think you do. He gave a reassuring nod to O’Brien, and began calling out orders. Then setting Sharkey busy collecting damage reports, Lee began an inspection of the control room.
“Lee,” came the older voice of Admiral Chandler. “I heard what Nelson said about another sub. Do you really think he saw something?”
Without hesitation, Crane answered, “If the Admiral said he saw a sub, then I’m sure he saw it. He has never been prone to wild flights of fancy.”
“I hear a hint of admiration in your voice, and I can spot a strong friendship a mile away. It’s good to see. I guess Connie and I don’t need to worry about you any more. You are a fine young man, Lee, and a fine officer.”
“Thanks, Admiral, it really means a lot, but it is kind of nice knowing that someone worries about me.”
Asa Chandler smiled, he thought to say more, but decided against it. He would continue to worry about both Lee and Robert whether he wanted to or not.
The call finally came and Morton once again took it in
Ramos’ cabin. After listening for some time to a Dr. Shannon, Chip turned to
Erin’s Captain and asked, ”Do you have a laser on board?”
“A laser on a submarine? This isn’t science fiction. No, we don’t have a laser.”
Chip rolled his eyes and relayed the information to the person on the other end of the line. There was a lot of shuffling while he was put on hold, then just as he felt himself drifting off, Dr. Shannon returned and the conversation continued. Morton listened closely and the events of earlier in the day began to come together. She kept reminding him it was all theory, but it made sense. He had always marveled at science and technology, so the thought of separate dimensions didn’t come as a shock. It was some time before he finally dropped the receiver onto its cradle and leaned back in the chair.
“Well?” queried Ramos impatiently.
“They believe that the Seaview somehow got trapped in a different dimension, and what we saw earlier was them trying to return. At first they were puzzled by my mentioning that Seaview fired her laser before disappearing again, but now they think she was using it to create a bridge back into this dimension. Dr. Shannon and the rest believe that if they try again, we can fire a beam through the portal and draw them here.”
“Pure nonsense! And I told you, there is no laser on board.”
“It’s not nonsense, it’s science. I tell you Captain Ramos, it would do you good to take your head out of the sand and look around once in a while.” As soon as the words came out, he wished he could shove them back in. Great move, Morton, just insult the man and lose what little cooperation you have! “My apologies Captain, it’s been a long couple of days, and I wasn’t thinking.”
Ramos was completely taken aback by the blonde man’s apology. It was the last thing he expected and it made him think. “So, what do they propose we do?”
“For now, they want us to stay and monitor the site. NASA will be flying a special laser in and then we are to mount it on the sea floor. If and when the next occurrence takes place, we will be able to fire it remotely. With luck it will provide the stabilizing force to bridge the two dimensions, and hopefully bring Seaview back. Washington has already approved the mission, you’re welcome to call and check with ComSubPac if you’d like. Oh, they did say that the laser will have to be directly cabled to the Erin for power. They explained it, I can show whoever you would like, just what needs to be done.”
Crane skimmed over the list of damage with Sharkey at his elbow.
“It doesn’t look too bad, Skipper. The big thing is the drain on the reactor again, but all that needs is time. We’ll have it back to full power in three or four hours.” The Chief fidgeted as he waited for the Skipper to sign the report. “Every time we use that machine of Dr. Gordon’s, it really drains the power.”
“I know, thanks Chief, carry on.” Lee returned to filling out the log. If we have three or four hours… and what then?
Braddock followed Nelson into the control room. Harry watched with amusement, as Lee’s expression changed to one of definite disapproval when he spied the General. “Lee,” Nelson said, “I’ve talked it over with Gordon, we’re going to try it again, only this time I’m going to fire sooner before there is such a heavy drain on the power, almost before the portal opens. Perhaps, we’ll get enough time before the power drops too low.”
“Admiral,” Lee began, rubbing his hand through the back of his hair. “Sharkey informed me that it will take three hours minimum to get the reactor back up to full. Best guess is that we only have maybe two hours before the hull begins to give.”
“Were you able to decontaminate the hull of the flying sub successfully?
“Ultimately, but we wound up having to bring in the ultra violets to do it. Nothing else seemed to have any effect. There’s no way we can do that to Seaview.”
“Hmmm… what about an electric charge? No, that wouldn’t work, same problem that’s keeping us from leaving… no power. Lee, what’s the temperature outside the sub?”
“Ahh… forty three degrees, why?”
“Because when I was running tests in the lab on that sample we brought in, it had a reaction to heat. I didn’t test further because at the time I was more interested in what its properties were instead of killing it. Let me go run some tests, and I’ll call you as soon as I know anything.”
“Admiral, if you don’t mind me saying so, please hurry.”
Nelson gave a nod and left. Crane secretly hoped that General Braddock would follow him, but he remained behind, much to Lee’s chagrin.
Chip went out with the dive team to oversee the
installation of the laser. The unit was huge and the cart that supported it was
tremendously heavy. The laser was actually designed for use in space where
importance was placed on sturdiness and reliability over compactness of size.
Having been lowered by one of the surface ships coordinating with the Erin, the
unit was placed almost perfectly. An umbilical trailed from the sub supplying
power and within a half hour everything was ready. Once back aboard, Chip
stripped off his gear, dressed and headed for the control room. Mr. Owens was
finishing his check of the remote firing control as he entered.
“Can we test it?” Morton inquired of Erin’s XO.
Owens shot a questioning look at Ramos standing a few feet back. The Captain nodded and Owens bent over the control. “Three… two… one… firing!
The three officers stood in silence, waiting. Seconds ticked by without incident and Owens pressed the control again.
“Well, that’s just great!” Ramos snapped, fairly disgusted with the whole mess. “Owens, you start at this end, Morton, you start with the laser itself, and work your way back to each other. I want everything checked, take whatever men you need. If you can’t get the blasted thing working, we’re going to abort, am I understood?”
The two Exec’s glanced at each other, then with a synchronous “Aye, Sir,” they went about their tasks. For Chip, it meant another trip outside, but all he could think of at the moment was where his friends and shipmates were, and if they were all right. The urgency of getting the laser ready mounted with each step he took.
“Lee,” came Admiral Nelson’s voice over the intercom. “Heat didn’t work, but you’re right about the light. Intense light drives it away or kills it depending on the proximity. And that gives me an idea. Meet me in the missile room in about ten minutes and I’ll explain.”
Crane lifted the nearest mike. “I’m on my way.” Anticipation quickened his step driving him to the missile room in two minutes instead of ten. Nelson was already there sending a half dozen crewmen on a dozen errands all at once. As Crane reached the Admiral, equipment was already beginning to pile at their feet.
Harry bent down and started to work. “Lee, I’m going to need your help. We can’t run the ultra violets along the hull, but from what I saw in the lab, all we need is light, the stronger the better. I am going to wire up those Avac flood lights from stores to batteries and attach magnetic clamps, then I will need you to take the flying sub and attach them along the outer hull. If we can get enough of them, we should be able to discourage further damage, at least a fair amount of it. And I have Dr. Gordon working on some self contained chemical flares that we will hopefully be able to use also.”
“Do you think it will work?”
“It has to, as you said, we’re running out of time. Now I’m going to need about fifteen to twenty minutes to get things ready on this end, which should give you plenty of time to prep the flying sub. We’ll keep feeding them to you until they’re gone, so place them carefully, I don’t think we have more than a few dozen. Patterson’s bringing them now.”
Lee felt the first real relief he had in days. “Aye, Sir, I’ll get right on it.”
Maneuvering the flying sub through whatever the stuff was that filled this dimension wasn’t hard, it just felt different. Chief Sharkey happened to be in the bow when the Skipper came forward, so he was elected to help deploy the lights. Lee maneuvered the tiny craft with expert precision, while the Chief operated the extension arms, each holding one of the light units. The process was slow, but after a while they were able to pull back and admire their handy work. Lee circled the boat at all angles in order to inspect the hull. He frowned at the pit marks left behind in Seaview’s otherwise smooth exterior.
Seeing the Captain’s face, Sharkey remarked, “She’s going to need a lot of work when we get back. Man, just what are those things, anyhow?”
“I wish I knew.” But Lee really didn’t care what the substance was, all he could see was the damage it had done to His Lady. Sharkey was right, they hadn’t been too soon from the looks of some places. At least the lights were working over a good part of the hull and he was about to take FS-1 back and see if the flares were ready. As he banked the small sub around, he thought about the battery packs only lasting a few hours and then Seaview would once again be at the mercy of this place. You don’t deserve this.
By the time they docked FS-1 for the final time, Lee felt much better about the sub. He could relax without feeling like she was under constant attack. It had taken well over an hour to dispatch all the lights and flares, bathing Seaview in a warm glow, and now his hope was for better news still. Both Admirals were waiting as he appeared from the hatch leading from FS-1. They waited to hear from him as much as he wanted news from them.
“Well?” Chandler asked, the first one to break the silence.
Lee smiled, “It looks like it’s working so far. Most of the boat is clear, the stuff is just swirling around outside the range of the lights. For as long as it lasts, we at least have a break. So, how is the reactor coming?”
Now, it was Harry’s turn. “We’ll be ready to make another attempt in forty five minutes if all goes well. I tell you, I can’t wait until this whole thing is over. By the way, Admiral Chandler and I have had a little time to chat about you while we were waiting for you to get back. It was quite enlightening. The three of us are going to have to sit down and finish this discussion when we get back.” Nelson’s face split with a grin. “Yes, most enlightening…”
Lee felt nervous like a kid who had just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Asa knew him well at a time when he was in his more lighthearted, carefree, rambunctious years. Asa knew about a lot of the pranks and silliness he and Robert used to play at the academy. Heaven only knew what he had told Nelson. Lee groaned as he remembered some of his more interesting stunts.
“I see,” Chandler kidded, “Lee already has some idea of the topic of our discussion. Don’t worry, my boy, I didn’t tell him any of the really good stuff…yet.”
Everything checked. Chip went over and over the laser components, and he rechecked the work done by the two men assisting him. He had been afraid of damage to the unit during transport, but everything seemed fine. For the first time since this whole thing began, time was flying by, virtually slipping through his fingers, and he was getting nowhere. Dr. Shannon warned that Seaview would use a great deal of energy making an attempt to return which led Chip to the idea of why they hadn’t tried again. If the energy drain were too great, they would need time to rebuild power. He desperately wanted things to be ready, if and when they did try, but when that would occur was anyone’s guess. And he didn’t relish the idea of being outside, unprotected, at that particular moment either. Especially after examining some of the melted debris scattered along the ocean floor. At this point, two other divers were inspecting the umbilical for signs of damage. Without communication gear and much oxygen left in their tanks, Chip signaled the other divers to return to the Erin.
As he entered the escape hatch a thought occurred to Morton, something he wanted to check. The moment the inner hatch opened, he requested another tank and went back out, swimming frantically, as if the devil himself was nipping at his heels. A part of him was certain that he had indeed checked everything already, but a nagging feeling kept eating him, forcing him back to the unit. Something in the back of his mind was telling him it was now or never, there wouldn’t be another chance…
Everyone was in position. Both Admiral Chandler and General Braddock joined Lee at the plot table. For the first time, Lee noticed that the General looked scared, and Lee was positive it was a feeling the General was unaccustomed to. Lee held the mike in hand, speaking slow and evenly. “All right, brace yourselves. On my mark… five… four… three… two… one… mark!”
Chip went over each part of the laser a final time and
was just about to return to the Erin, when he felt the hair on the back of his
neck begin to prickle. Within seconds, his entire skin was alive, feeling as if
his wetsuit had been invaded by a colony of ants. Oh No!
It’s happening! Throwing every muscle into swimming, Chip started back for
the sub. The water swirled around him, making forward progress nearly
impossible. Fear and panic tried to seize control. Chip had to fight harder just
to keep swimming. He was shoved by the swirling eddies first one way and then
another, ultimately, dragging him along the bottom. A horrid thought occurred to
him as he fought for control. What if the laser still
won’t work? What if Ramos won’t fire because I’m out here? No, you have to fire
if you can…You Have To!
Light grew in a flash, blinding the Exec. He covered his mask with his arm, all the while attempting to keep his bearings. He could feel the water heat up until he could hardly stand it. He was giddy, his head swimming toward unconsciousness. Chip pushed onward, though his muscles were exhausted and felt disconnected. Where am I? Am I getting closer? Where’s the Erin? I can’t…I…The world was spinning. Chip could no longer feel his muscles moving. The shadows in his mind were overwhelming the bright light surrounding him. Fire! Please fire… Seaview…Seavi…
Lee’s voice… Lee… Chip fought his way slowly through the warm sea surrounding him. “Lee… uhnn…”
“Doc,” the Captain called. “I think he’s coming around.”
The Doctor came and lifted an eyelid, sending a sharp, stabbing pain through Chip’s mind as a light was shined into pale blue eyes. No more light, please, no more. Chip tried to move, tried to wake up muscles so recently out of his control. Aghh! Every part of his body ached; his skin felt too sensitive to touch. Where am I? Help me…
“Chip, do you hear me? Come on, Chip, answer me.”
Another voice… I know that voice too… Can’t think… “Doc?”
“That’s right, Chip, it’s me, Jamieson, and the Captain and Admiral are here too. We need you to open your eyes if you can.”
“Doc, Lee…Admiral…” Chip struggled to open his eyes. His lids felt as though they each weighed a ton and refused to move. His mind was so foggy, and sounds were muffled, every thought was ten feet thick. Chip felt a hand touch him, shaking him gently. The touch burned, and he cried out. The pain was like a jolt of electricity, and at last he was able to slowly open his eyes. The light was too intense, he had to struggle to see. A shadow blocked the light, not a shadow, a person. Chip squeezed his eyes closed and opened them again, willing them to adjust, to see. Gradually, things came into focus, as did the person. “Lee,” Chip mumbled.
Lee Crane smiled with untold relief at his friend. For the past twenty four hours, Chip Morton lay in a semi comatose state after having lost consciousness right outside the Erin’s escape hatch.
The Seaview’s last desperate attempt to make their way back had nearly turned tragic. Admiral Nelson tried to fire the sub’s laser, but the power drain from Dr. Gordon’s device was too strong, and the connection shorted. As the portal collapsed, a surge of energy struck the opening, blasting the Seaview, nearly shaking her apart. Each man felt it too, as they went down from the dizzying effects of the portal. It was Sparks who brought the Captain to consciousness after having been wakened by repeated calls from the Erin. And it was then that Lee discovered that Chip had been outside the sub when Seaview was pulled back into their own dimension by a laser beam fired from the other sub. After the portal collapsed, a search team was dispatched and found the Exec only feet from the outer hatch, unconscious. Lee was in contact with the Erin repeatedly, and when the two submarines surfaced, he was able to talk Captain Ramos into allowing them to transfer Chip back to Seaview. Lee, Admiral Chandler, Admiral Nelson, and General Braddock thanked Captain Ramos for their help until the man beamed with pride. Ramos also informed the officers of the search and the rumors abounding concerning Seaview and Admiral Nelson. While Lee got things in order and repairs underway, Sparks was busy putting through calls for both Admirals and the General alike. Several hours passed before things were pretty much under control, and the officers found it safe enough to relax and get some sleep.
Neither Lee nor Nelson found sleep easily though, even in their exhaustion. Doc had not been able to bring Chip around, and both officers had wandered more than once into sick bay to check with Doc. Jamieson had even threatened to sedate them if necessary to get Crane and Nelson to sleep. It wasn’t until a short while ago that Chip gave the first signs of coming to, and Lee was right beside him coaxing and talking with Harriman right behind.
“Hey Chip, I send you off for a little R&R and you come back looking worse than when you left.” Lee’s voice sounded as tired as he felt. His hand touched his face, rubbing against the dark stubble.
“You don’t look so pretty yourself.” Chip murmured with a halfhearted grin. “What happened… the laser?”
“Worked like a charm,” Nelson interrupted. “The Erin’s XO said to tell you that there was a severed connection on his end and that they managed to repair it just in time to fire. He said you’d want to know.”
“Thanks. I wish I would have found out sooner.” Chip was terribly uncomfortable, he tried to push his way into a sitting position, but the burning feeling struck him, dropping him back onto the pillow. Lifting his hand in front of his face, Chip was surprised to see a thin gooey substance coating his skin. “Doc, what’s wrong with me?”
“That’ll teach you not to get out of bed without your doctor’s permission. Now lie still Chip, you’re going to be here a while yet. You have the equivalent of a pretty bad sunburn over your entire body. I’m afraid you’re going to be rather miserable for the next several days, though I can give you something that will help a bit. In the meantime, you might as well get comfortable, and I will have John get you something to eat when you’re ready.”
Chip moaned at the thought of staying in sick bay. Any kind of hospital had to be about his least favorite place to be. And though Doc was his friend of sorts, the man was a veritable mother hen when it came to his patients and a tiger if crossed. “I think next time, Lee, you can have the date. It doesn’t pay to take time off around here.”
Lee almost touched Chip’s shoulder, but quickly pulled his hand back when he remembered the burn. “Hey, not that I wanted this to happen to you, buddy, but I’m glad for once that it’s not me in sick bay. I’m waiting for my medical insurance to decide I’m a high risk patient for the number of times I’ve wound up flat on my back.”
Nelson rolled his eyes at his Captain, admitting inwardly that Lee was probably right.
Lee continued, “From what I hear, if you hadn’t pushed so hard and took Captain Ramos on, we’d still be stuck in the other dimension. And by this time there wouldn’t be much to bring home.” Lee cringed at the memory of a fate that was almost theirs. “I actually think you impressed the man.”
“You don’t want to hear what I think of him then,” replied the Exec, closing his eyes. “What was it Dorothy said… there’s no place like home? I guess that holds true even for the Seaview.”
The Admiral and Skipper looked at each other and shrugged, then said their good-byes and excused themselves, leaving Doc to tend his patient. Chip never saw Jamieson inject the syringe into his IV, but before long, he relaxed into a warm, dreamy haze and allowed himself to drift into sleep.
Several hours later, a slightly more rested, but still tired Captain wandered out onto the deck of his boat. Damage control crews had finished their inspection of the outer hull and momentarily the sub would slowly begin her trip home. Lee Crane stared out at the blue, gold, and red dancing in the presunset sky, taking several deep breaths of the fresh sea air. The report on the hull wasn’t nearly as bad as he feared, the serious damage was localized into several areas, but the majority of Seaview’s skin was virtually untouched. Still, he thought, running his fingers over what was once smooth steel, she will be spending some time in dry dock.
Just then, Lee heard the click of the hatch and turned to see Admiral Nelson stepping out onto the deck.
“I thought I’d find you here,” the older man said, walking over to stand near his friend. “Don’t worry, Lee, she’s going to be fine.”
Lee once again stared out at the approaching sunset. “I know, I was just thinking about what Chip said… there’s no place like home. It’s funny, I never feel more at home than I do right here. I guess Chip is right.”
The two glanced at each other and Harry nodded. They stood for several more minutes, watching the sun sink toward the horizon. Finally, Nelson laid a hand on Lee’s shoulder and the two men turned toward the hatch. Entering last, Lee took one last look at her sleek lines, then closed the hatch behind him.
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