The Road Home
Captain Lee Crane of the submarine Seaview raced his red sports car through the parking lot of the Nelson Institute of Marine Research and swung into a parking spot. He got out of his car, stopped for a moment and smiled at the new building, just barely visible from the parking lot, that rose from the back of the Institute. The new lab had only been open for a month, but already it was almost filled with researchers and Admiral Harriman Nelson’s colleagues, testament to his genius and respect throughout the scientific community.
Giving the lab a brief salute, the captain resumed his journey to a meeting with the Institute’s head, and his friend. They had much to discuss. If he could find him.
He entered the Institute, went through security and walked down the long hallway till he came to a large mahogany door engraved with the name of “Admiral Harriman Nelson." Walking through the door, he stopped and leaned his long frame against the desk of Nelson’s secretary, Angie Wood.
“So, is he in?” he asked, gesturing behind him to the admiral’s office door.
Angie looked up at the tall, lean captain and grinned. “Hello, Lee and no he isn’t in. He’s been working on that new project of his in the new lab.” She allowed a small frown to mark her face and then added, “He’s worked there almost non-stop since you left on that last mission. He even slept there a few nights.”
Crane grinned at her. “You know how he is when he has a new project.”
“I assume you are talking about my big brother?” a voice from behind him said. He turned to see Edith Nelson emerge from the admiral’s office, carrying a sheaf of papers that threatened to fall to the ground at any moment.
“Yes, of course we are talking about your brother. Any news from the lab?”
Edith grimaced as she caught a few files that had almost made good their escape from her clutches. She walked to Angie’s desk and dropped the cumbersome pile. Sighing deeply, she looked up at Crane with a half smile.
“There has been some advancement in the design. Harry and Sandy have been working non-stop for two weeks now. The prototype should be...” The sound of an explosion filled the room, cutting of what she was about to say. Bits of ceiling plaster floated down and the room was rocked, knocking the pile of folders to the floor
“Lee, what was that?” asked a shaken Edith.
“I don’t know. Angie, contact the front gate and security. See if you can find out what’s happened.”
Minutes seemed like hours as the three awaited word of what had happened. Lee paced back and forth across the small outer office. He desperately wanted to run outside to find the cause of the explosion, but, not knowing the source, he was afraid to leave the two women alone.
“Angie, isn’t there any word? There must be...”
The shrill ringing of the phone interrupted Crane’s words. Angie reached for it and spoke quickly and quietly, her face turning pale as she listened.
“Yes. I understand. Make sure they’re all out. Yes. Hurry.”
She hung up the phone and turned, white faced, to her two companions. “There’s been an explosion in the lab,” she said softly.
Both Crane and Edith stared at her in horror.
“Which lab?” Edith asked, afraid of the answer.
Angie hesitated before giving the answer she already knew. “The new lab. The one the admiral was in.”
Edith drew in a breath sharply. “Is...are they all out?”
Angie dropped her eyes and slowly shook her head as tears filled her eyes. “No,” she said so softly they had to strain to hear. Gathering her composure, she continued, “The admiral and five others are still inside. The Institute fire department is on the scene and they are trying to get inside the building now.”
Before either of the women could react, Crane bolted from the room and headed in the direction of the lab, heedless of the faces he saw about him. He knew he had to get to the lab as quickly as possible. He had to find the admiral....and the others.
Emerging from the Institute headquarters, Crane ran quickly down the steps and towards the new lab, coming up short at the sight before him. Smoke belched from what was left of the lab door. Firemen scurried about with hoses entering the building and spraying water on the rooftop.
Crane stood in shock for a moment, unable to believe what he was seeing. Hearing a muffled gasp behind him, he turned to see Edith and Angie standing about ten feet behind him. He heard Edith whisper the admiral’s name as tears threatened to spill from her eyes.
Turning back to the scene, Crane started forward when he suddenly saw two people being carried from the building and placed with others stretched out on the macadam. Edith saw them at the same time and she and Angie started towards them at a run. Dazed, Crane hurried to catch up to the two women, unsure of what they would find but wanting to be there when they found it.
The three were still a few feet away when they saw the EMTs draw sheets over the first two bodies and turn their attention to the two others that had been rescued. Their bodies formed a shield around the pair so their identities remained unknown.
Suddenly feeling afraid, Edith hesitated and drew back, terrified of whom she would find under the sheets. “Lee? I...”
Crane came up beside her and put a shaking hand on her shoulder. “It’s all right. I’ll find out,” he said as he walked towards the shrouded pair. He never got to uncover the two as he heard Edith give a little cry and head towards the fire.
“Edith!” he yelled as she advanced on a pair of firemen bringing out two more victims. It was then he noticed one of those being brought out was Admiral Nelson. He sagged in relief as he saw his friend. He was alive! Fire-blackened, bloody, smoldering in places and struggling to breathe, but he was alive!
Crane hurried towards the group as Edith fell to her knees beside her brother. “Harry! Harry! You’re alive!” she said as she reached for his hand.
The EMTs hurried to the admiral’s side, happy to have one survivor they could help. They placed an oxygen mask over his mouth and tried to keep him still as he continued to gasp. After a few moments, Lee began to understand the admiral wasn’t just struggling to breathe, but was trying to speak.
“S...Sandy. Where...where is..she?” he whispered hoarsely
Crane turned from him and looked to the other side of the admiral. Two more EMTs worked on another victim. Finding no pulse, the two prepared to place a blanket over the face of yet another casualty. It was then Crane saw that Nelson had seen the face of death descend upon his friend. He watched as the admiral struggled to raise himself up. Reaching out a burned hand, Nelson ever-so-gently touched the fire-blackened hand of Dr. Sandy Gant. His eyes closed against the horror before him and he slumped back, unconscious. In that instant, Crane knew the admiral understood he had lost a prized researcher and a friend, and he grieved for him.
The annoying sounds of the emergency room grated on Lee Crane’s nerves. It had been over three hours since the admiral had been brought into the ER and no one had yet answered any of their questions. Edith was seated beside him, her fear tangible. Nelson had remained unconscious throughout the trip to the hospital. But he was alive! And that was more than they could say for five others. There was still no answer for what had happened. The lab was brand new. What could have gone wrong?
Crane sighed heavily and shifted his position on the waiting room chair. Edith turned her eyes to meet his; her attempt at an encouraging smile failed miserably, and he took hold of her hand and squeezed it gently.
“He’ll be all right. It would take more than this to...” He broke off what he was about to say when he noticed a doctor and nurse come out of Nelson’s examining room. Doctor Will Jamieson, Seaview’s doctor and Nelson’s friend, followed them from the room. The three stood in a muffled conference for what seemed an eternity before they finally shifted their gaze to the group in the waiting room. Crane, Edith, Angie and Chip Morton, executive officer of Nelson’s submarine, rose hesitantly to their feet, unsure whether the two men advancing towards them were bearing good news or more bad.
“Captain,” said Jamieson as he nodded at Crane, his eyes not quite meeting his. His gaze flickered to the woman standing beside him. “Edith. We’ve stabilized him. His breathing and pulse have improved. He has multiple burns on his hands, arms and chest, but none are severe...mostly first and second degree burns. He also has a few broken ribs. What concerns us most though is that he hasn’t regained consciousness yet and he shown no signs of coming out of it.”
“When will he regain consciousness?” Edith asked in a small voice.
Jamieson looked decidedly uncomfortable. “I...I don’t know. I’m afraid he has sustained a severe head injury. All we can do is wait.”
Edith closed her eyes for a moment and added softly, “And pray.”
An ominous silence filled the room as each of the admiral’s friends and co-workers became lost in their own thoughts and fears. “I have to see him, Jamie!” Edith’s voice was stronger and held an edge of determination.
“Of course. Just as soon as we get him settled in a room, I’ll let you know. For the time being though, I think you all should go down to the cafeteria and get something to eat. It may be a while till you can go in.”
“No...I’d rather wait here,” Edith said, preparing to sit again.
Jamieson took her elbow. “Worrying and not taking care of yourself is not going to help your brother. I will let you know when you can see him.”
Edith gently, but firmly pulled her elbow from his grasp and sat anyway, defiance marking her face. Jamieson gave a defeated sigh and turned to Crane, who smiled apologetically and sat down beside Edith Nelson.
Knowing he had been overruled, the Seaview’s doctor shrugged his shoulders and turned to follow the other doctor from the room.
Time passed slowly for those waiting for news.
“Edith? You can go in now. He isn’t awake. Talk to him. He may be able to hear you.”
Edith rose slowly. She had waited for what seemed an eternity to see her brother, the man who had cared for her when she was just a child. And now she hesitated, fear enfolding her.
Jamieson saw her uncertainty and smiled encouragingly. “It’s all right. Just talk to him as if he were awake.”
Edith nodded once and then headed off down the hallway after Jamieson.
The room where Nelson lay was shrouded in darkness; monitors beeping ominously and oxygen hissing were the only sounds. She walked to his side and stared down at her older brother. A large, white bandage encircled his head. Both hands were wrapped in gauze, and his left arm and right shoulder were equally bandaged as well as his chest. His face had a red appearance to it that had nothing to do with the sun.
A nurse appeared with a chair, and she slowly lowered her body into it. Reaching out one hand to grasp her brother’s left, she was careful not to squeeze lest she cause him pain...assuming he could feel pain...or anything else right now.
“Oh, Harry, what happened?” She shook her head as tears rolled down her cheeks and dripped on their entwined hands.
From a vast distance, Nelson heard her voice and felt her tears. He tried to rise from the darkness that surrounded him but icy hands pulled him back. What had happened? Where was he? And why did his head hurt so much? He remembered black, acrid smoke and cries of terror and pain but nothing more.
Smoke and cries. It wasn’t the first time he had dealt with this nightmare. He drifted, passing slowly from the present to the past and recalled another time...another place... filled with the same circumstances.
“Ensign! What is the condition below? Are all the men out?”
“No, sir! There are still four men below! We can’t get to them!”
Nelson lowered his head, fear clouding his eyes as he contemplated what he had to do. The torpedo had hit them amidships, and all compartments had been sealed off. This one was the last to be reached, and he knew without a shadow of a doubt that the men below were dead. Or soon would be.
“Close and dog the hatch,” he said softly, turning away.
“But...but sir! They’re still alive! We can’t...”
“I said dog the hatch! Now!” Nelson turned back and watched as the ensign carried out his orders. Slowly, the ensign rose and stared accusingly at Nelson.
The young Lieutenant Commander didn’t flinch as looked the ensign in the eye. “There was no other choice,” he said as he slowly turned and walked away, feeling the agony of his decision in every step.
A round of new pain jolted Nelson back to what he thought was the present. He heard voices again, only this time it wasn’t just Edith’s voice he heard. Through the haze he heard Lee’s voice talking softly to Edith. He seemed to be trying to calm her.
Dear God! What has happened? Why can’t I remember?
There had been another time like this, a time when he couldn’t move or let anyone know he heard them or felt them near...another time when he couldn’t remember why or when or how. It was so long ago, and yet it was as yesterday...and so clear...so painfully clear.
Nelson had returned home after the war , yet the terrible decisions he’d had to make in the course of battle were firmly entrenched in his brain. For those decisions, he had been promoted to captain and allowed to serve aboard submarines...his love...till the end of the war. His expertise and intelligence marked him as a valuable asset to his country, and he had been tagged as an addition to a group of specialists, scientists and others, in designing new weapons of war.
He had been on his way to his new assignment when the accident occurred. Only, he hadn’t been alone. A friend--his best friend--had asked him for a ride to Washington so he could meet his fiancée and surprise her. The trip was enjoyable and Nelson had relished being away from responsibilities for a while.
That had all changed suddenly when a truck came from out of nowhere and plowed head on into Nelson’s car. It was a week later, when he finally emerged from a coma, that he learned, his best friend had died in the crash. Although everyone had said it wasn’t his fault, that the driver of the truck had been drunk, Nelson had wrapped himself in a blanket of grief and remorse.
The fog he floated in now began to recede, and he thought he heard the voice of Lee Crane again, but his words were a mystery as Nelson felt himself drifting away again.
With the admiral’s bandaged hand clasped in his own, Captain Lee Crane sat at the bedside of his friend and whispered softly to him. “Admiral? Admiral, you have to wake up. Please, sir. Try. Can you hear me at all? Don’t just give up.” Crane had taken turns with Edith and Morton, sitting at his bedside, talking to him, cajoling him and ordering him to wake, but to no avail. The only sounds in the room were the constant hissing and beeping of the machines, sounds Lee had begun to hate. He lowered his head and squeezed his eyes shut. It couldn’t end this way. The admiral couldn’t remain this way. The man who was once so full of life and dreams and visions, his friend, couldn’t just be...gone. The doctors kept saying there was hope, but their eyes had begun to show their fear and concern. He heard a sound from behind him and turned to see Edith come into the room. She was tired and stressed and supposedly taking a nap in the room next to Nelson’s.
Crane grunted when he saw her. “What are you doing here? You heard Jamie. Take a nap. Get some food. Take a walk.”
Edith smiled and walked the short distance to Crane’s side, and stared down at her brother. The man who had been her solace through all the hard times in her life, the man that had promised when she was a small girl to never leave her and always be there for her, the man who lay before her now, seemingly unreachable.
“I could ask you the same thing, captain. I thought you had gone off to find a place to sleep.”
Crane smiled slowly and rose from his seat. “I guess we had the same idea then.”
“He’s no better, is he?” she asked resignedly.
Crane wanted with all his heart and soul to say yes, there was improvement, but there wasn’t and she knew it.
“No. I talk to him but there is no sign he hears me. No sign he is ever coming back to us.”
Edith lifted her chin a bit and stared defiantly at Crane. “The doctors said it might take time. We will just wait.”
“No! I don’t want to hear it. He can hear us and he will wake up! I know it.”
Crane nodded his head slightly, hoping against hope she was right. He started to leave, wanting to give her some privacy with her brother when the door opened and Chip Morton stood before them. The look on his face told Crane he had news...news he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear.
“Lee. The investigation has been completed.”
Lee nodded and waited for Chip to continue. He knew his exec would deliver whatever news he had in his own soft-spoken way.
“There wasn’t any problem with the lab or the wiring or any of the experiments. Except one.”
Crane stiffened. They had all wondered and postulated and worried about what the cause of the explosion had been. And now, nearly a week later, Crane suddenly wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
“It was a bomb,” he said quietly, almost inaudibly. “It was planted near the work station Dr. Gant and the admiral were sharing.”
It made sense. Crane knew it made sense. Every report from the few survivors that had been able to talk had said the same thing. Nelson had known and had tried to get them all out, but he couldn’t take the time to tell the others what was wrong. If it hadn’t been for the admiral finding the bomb and taking the time to try to get them all out, they all would have died instead of just the five. Crane turned to look at the prone, unmoving body before him and silently asked, ‘Six?’
Shaking his head he thanked Chip for the information, then turned to Edith. Her eyes were clenched shut and she clung to the hand of her brother. Crane lowered his head and started for the door, intending to follow Chip out.
“Do they know who yet?” Edith’s emotionless voice froze them both in their tracks. Morton looked first at Crane and then turned to Edith. Speaking softly, he said “No, but they are looking for clues. Revenge, foreign powers, anybody that could have a motive. I’ll...I’ll let you know.”
Edith nodded and continued her vigil by her brother’s bed.
From some far off place, that was neither here nor now, Nelson heard the words. Revenge? Bomb? What had happened? Why couldn’t he move? He heard their voices and understood the sadness in them. He could feel Edith’s hand in his, but he couldn’t, as much as he fought, let them know he heard. There had been death, of that he was sure. More death. Why was there always so much death? And why did he always seem to survive? Survive? This was surviving? No contact, no response, only...nothing! He wasn’t so sure he wanted to survive if this was all there was for him.
Crane walked with Morton to the elevators. Neither of them talked. They knew what the investigation’s findings meant. Someone had tried to kill the admiral, someone that hadn’t succeeded. The two men were so close they knew each other’s thoughts, at least in this matter.
When they stopped outside the elevator door. Crane turned to Morton. “Chip, let’s double security. I don’t want Edith to know about it so make sure the guards are plain clothes.”
“Finding volunteers certainly won’t be a problem. Most of the crew has spent at least some time lounging around here waiting.”
“That’s true. Maybe we could get the chief to ask for a few volunteers to stay down the hall. Just to look for anyone suspicious.”
Chip laughed. “To the chief, everyone is suspicious. At least where the admiral’s safety is involved.”
Crane gave a wry look to his friend and agreed, then sent him off to set up the security. He turned from the elevator and hesitated a moment before returning to Nelson’s room. Standing outside the door, he vacillated. He didn’t think he could stand to go into the room again. Although he felt full of remorse about abandoning Edith, he walked off down the hall to the waiting room to wait. And hope.
Time had no meaning for Nelson as he floated in a no man’s land. Thoughts and memories filled the times he was alert enough to feel and hear. People drifted in and out of his consciousness: Crane, Morton, Sharkey...and always Edith. He was never alone, of that he was sure. Yet he couldn’t make the final connection. He still couldn’t make them understand he heard and felt them. And he couldn’t remember why!
Those times when he wasn’t alert, he remained in a dream land of places and people he had known throughout his life. He relished most of the things he had done and felt and seen. But always he came back to the memories of death. People he had known. People he had worked with. People that had worked for him. People he had loved. They were dead and yet he was still alive. Why? Although his oblivion was endless, he knew he was alive. He could feel the pain. He could hear the words of his visitors, feel their touches. But what had happened? Why couldn’t he put together the pieces and remember? Why couldn’t he get the fog to lift? He struggled against the rising darkness and lost, drifting once more.
Lee Crane and Chip Morton exited the elevator and walked slowly down the long hall to the admiral’s room, sure of what they would find. Over a week had gone by and there was still no obvious change in the admiral’s condition. They didn’t expect there would be any now. He was alive, but not. He breathed, his heart beat, but he was as silent and unmoving as a corpse.
Crane sighed deeply when the two had reached the door. “At least worrying about someone taking another try at him is over. For that we should be grateful I guess,” Crane said. He pushed the door open and stared at the scene before him. Edith sat at the admiral’s bedside, where she had been for the past ten days, reading to Nelson, talking to him, even resorting to singing old Welsh tunes that had been passed down to the pair of them from their grandparents. She looked up and smiled in greeting when she heard the door squeak open.
“Hello Lee, Chip. Anything new?” she asked innocently. The others has begun to despair of Nelson ever regaining consciousness, but she clung stubbornly to the belief he would awaken.
Crane cleared his throat and walked further into the room. “They...they know who planted the bomb.”
“Who?” she asked in a small voice.
“It was Bill Thompson.” Crane let the news sink.
Disbelief flooded Edith’s face. “No! No, he wouldn’t. He...Harry and he...No!”
Crane placed a hand on her shoulder. He knew the shock she felt. They had all experienced the same feeling. Thompson had been an employee of the Institute for the past four years. A valued, trusted employee, it had been discovered he was stealing plans and prototypes and selling them to the highest bidder. He’d disappeared before he could be arrested.
“I guess he wanted revenge,” Crane continued.
“Police raided his house and found enough explosives to blow up the Institute ten times over. He’s in custody now.”
Her shoulders drooping in regret and grief, Edith closed her eyes. Bill had become a good friend to Harry. Or at least, she had thought so. It was inconceivable to her that he would try to kill him.
“At least Sandy and the others can rest in peace now,” she said quietly.
From his far off place, Nelson heard the words. Sandy? Sandy was dead? No, no it couldn’t be. She was so young and full of ideals and...now she was gone? Just like that? And it had been him that was suppose to die...not her or any of the others. Memory flooded back bringing it with it the sting of grief. Dear God! He remembered! The bomb, Sandy saying she wanted to try to save some of her experiment, the explosion, the pain. And it was all because of him. He moved his head from side to side and moaned.
“No. No...sorry. Not...not fair. Not...”
The others in the room turned in shock to see and hear the admiral’s anguish. Edith bent over her brother’s bed and shook his shoulder. His eyes fluttered open at the painful prodding and he stared up into the tear-filled eyes of his sister. “Harry? You’re awake!”
He saw Crane’s and Morton’s faces appear beside Edith’s. “Can you hear us, sir? Do you know what happened?”
Nelson closed his eyes at the question. He knew. He knew and he longed for the oblivion he had left.
“Yes,” he managed to croak out through lips that were parched and dry. “I...remember...everything.”
Two weeks passed before Nelson was well enough to leave the hospital. Another week of strictly at home convalescence and Nelson was cleared for return to the Institute. The ruins of the lab had been cleared till no trace remained of the tragedy that had occurred there. No physical trace. But locked within the recesses of Harriman Nelson’s mind there were more than just traces. There were memories. And pain. And guilt...a guilt so strong he would awaken in the middle of the night sobbing.
For all that the people about him tried to pretend nothing had happened and that things were the same, Nelson knew that things had changed and in an irrevocable way. He knew it and felt it within the very core of his being. It was a feeling so strong, he felt trapped and, for one of the few times in his life, lost.
Captain Lee Crane strode through the halls of the Institute brimming with good cheer. Admiral Nelson was well and out of the hospital, and he was where he belonged, back to work. Seaview was preparing for another mission and he knew, somewhere deep within, that all was right with his world.
“Morning, Angie. Is he in?”
“Yes, he...he’s in. But Lee...”
Before she could say anything else, he was through the door and into the admiral’s office.
The chair behind the large mahogany desk was empty. Confused, Crane turned to the windows and saw Nelson, dressed in gray slacks and a gray sweater, standing by the windows, staring out at the scene below him.
Nelson turned slowly from the scene and smiled at Crane’s confusion.
“Unusual, isn’t it?” he asked, gesturing to his clothes.
Crane nodded slowly, feeling there was something going on, but not knowing what. Nelson walked slowly back to his desk and sat down, picking up a pile of folders in the process. “Lee, I...I’ve decided to go away for a while. I want you to take over at the Institute for... for the time being. Angie will help you all you need and Edith is always around. I...”
Crane put both hands on the admiral’s desk and faced him. “What’s going on? Where are you going?”
Nelson looked away from the intense gaze of his captain and rose slowly. “I don’t know where I am going or when I will be back.” Left unsaid was the word “if”. If he would be back. “I want to know that things will be taken care of in the mean time.”
Crane was dumbfounded. “Admiral...”
“Lee, please, just do this, OK? I’ll call you when I know...when I know where I will be.”
Nelson walked to the door and reached for a suitcase Crane hadn’t noticed. “Just like that? You’re leaving? No warning? Admiral, can’t we talk about this? What’s going on?”
Nelson stopped and his shoulders sagged. Without turning around he said, “Lee, too much has happened. I...I see their faces in my sleep. I hear their cries. I...”
Crane knew without being told what he meant. And who he was talking about. He walked the short distance to Nelson’s side and grabbed him by the elbow, yanking him around. “The lab wasn’t your fault! They died because of some misguided hatred of you! Not...”
“Don’t you understand? It isn’t just Sandy, and the others from the lab. It’s...” He closed his eyes and relived the scenes that had played out in his comatose state for the past weeks. “It’s so many others. So many other times and places.”
He opened his eyes to stare into eyes that did not understand, that couldn’t understand, the feelings he was experiencing. “I wasn’t just “sleeping” after the explosion, Lee. I heard you and Edith and Chip and the others. I heard you talking to me. And I couldn’t move to tell you I heard.”
Nelson moved to stand by his desk, a desk that was cluttered with proposals and grant requests and who knew what all. Apparently not much paper work had been done in his absence. He regretted leaving Lee with all this, but he didn’t have a choice.
“I...remembered other times when...when I survived and others didn’t. When I had to make decisions that cost people their lives.” Lee let him talk, beginning to understand the scope of Nelson’s feelings, the depth of the pain. “I saw their faces, too. I should have been able to do something. But I didn’t. And they died.”
Turning back to face Lee again, he saw understanding and something else on his face. Pity? Was it pity he saw on his face? What was happening to him? Where was the control he always had? Where was his strength?
Unable to stand the look in Crane’s eyes, he dropped his gaze to the floor and let out a deep sigh. “I’m tired, Lee. So very tired. I need...I need you to understand. And forgive me.”
Crane was silent for a long time, not knowing what to say but knowing he didn’t want to say the wrong thing. Then, moving slowly to stand beside the man he called friend, he said in a soft voice, “I do understand, admiral. And there is nothing to forgive. If you need time, then time is what you will have. But know that we will be here, waiting when you are ready.”
Nelson let his gaze rise till it rested on Crane’s face. The “look” was gone, replaced by one of trust and caring. A smile played about the edges of Crane’s mouth and he reached out a hand to grasp the admiral’s shoulder.
“Just don’t take too much time, OK? I have never been one to deal well with paperwork,” he said, gesturing to the paper laden desk.
Nelson managed a small smile and nodded, then reached out a hand to Crane who took it in his own. “Thanks for understanding, Lee. I...I’ll call.”
Slowly, as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders, Nelson picked up his bag and walked away from his office and his responsibilities.
One week later found Admiral Harriman Nelson on a deserted stretch of road along the coast of...who knew where. His gaze drifted from the road to the scenery from the lofty coastline he found himself on. One week of no responsibilities and very little contact with the Institute left him with an empty feeling. The ghosts were still there. He slammed his hand on the steering wheel of the car and pulled off the road. He sat unmoving for a while, staring at the ocean. Feeling its pull, he opened the door and breathed in the scents of the sea.
Nelson walked from the car to the edge of the cliff and looked down. Watching the surf had always been relaxing to him and today was no different. Although the sounds were lost in the breeze that blew across the hillside and eddied about him, he knew the sounds, the smells and the feel of the surf by heart.
He walked closer to the edge and stared at the rocky cliff side.
“Don’t walk too close,” a voice behind him said.
Startled, he lost his balance for a moment and nearly fell over the brim.
“I told you,” the voice said, laughing.
Nelson looked behind him and finally located the source of the voice. A woman sat nearly hidden by a tree, her eyes matching the smile she wore upon her face.
“The cliff has a tendency to give way. Wouldn’t want you to fall. It’s a long way down.”
Nelson peered over the edge once more and said, “Yes. It does appear to be a long way down.” He turned back and walked closer to the woman. “Thank you. I...I guess I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing.”
“You’re welcome. I come here a lot. To be alone. Sometimes it is the only place I can be alone.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude. I was just driving by and thought I would stop to admire the sunset.”
“Please. Don’t feel bad. You aren’t intruding. It’s nice in a way to have company. In fact, if you feel guilty, you can describe the sunset for me.”
At the word guilty, Nelson’s head shot up.
“Yes. About intruding. So, will you?”
Nelson, having heard nothing after the word guilty, was clueless as to what she meant.
“Will I what?”
“You know, I get the feeling you aren’t paying attention. Will you describe the sunset for me?”
It was then Nelson noticed the woman’s eyes didn’t focus and she never looked him in the eye. Resting beside the tree was a white cane.
“Yes, I am blind.”
“I’m sorry. I...”
“Sorry for what?” she asked, laughing. “For my being blind? Or the fact you didn’t notice?”
Feeling more at ease, Nelson laughed with her. “I guess for both. I was too wrapped up in myself to notice. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. It happens all the time. Actually, I suppose it is a compliment. I have become quite good at making people “not notice”.
“Is that good? Making people not notice?”
“Of course. The more they don’t notice, the more I can be myself and the less chance they will treat me differently. People have a tendency to believe because I am blind, I am also helpless.”
“And you aren’t,” Nelson said, more as a statement than a question. Glancing quickly about him, he noticed they were alone on the bluff.
“Nope. Not in the least. And before you ask, yes, I did walk here alone. By myself,” her tone daring him to say it was impossible.
Nelson tried to stifle the laugh that welled up in him. He walked closer to the woman and seated himself on the ground near her, leaning against the same tree.
“So, I ask again. Will you tell me about the sunset?”
He stared at her for a moment longer, feeling the strength she exuded, and then faced the setting sun. Its colors were just beginning to brighten the sky. He leaned back against the tree and closed his eyes, letting the beauty and peace wash over him for a moment.
“Well, the sun is a bright gold and there are varying shades of colors emanating from it. Purples and oranges and yellows surrounding it.” He was silent for a moment. “It’s setting now. The colors are stronger and brighter. The purples are not as bright but the oranges are dark and glowing with a bit of yellow thrown in. The whole sky is lit with a bright orange except near the edges where there is a lilac, almost purple color. Its almost gone now. Only a sliver is still visible.”
“And the ocean?” she asked.
Dropping his eyes to the ocean below them, Nelson continued. “It’s lit with the colors of the sunset. Mostly orange with darker boundaries. Closest to the sun a yellowish-orange strip runs all the way to the shore.” The beauty and peace of the scene overwhelmed him and he sat quietly.
“It’s gone now,” he said after a minute. “The sky is darker and the ocean is losing the colors of the rays.”
“Thank you,” she whispered. “It has been so long since I have seen a sunset. But the way you described it, I can see it in my mind. Are you an artist?” she asked, turning her sightless eyes to him.
Nelson sniggered. “No. No not even close.”
“Oh. Sorry. You just seem so...sensitive. Like you are in tune with nature.”
When he didn’t answer, she said, “My name is Sarah. Sarah Porter. I live just on the other side of that bluff behind you. What’s yours?”
For a moment, Nelson hesitated, once again seeing Sandy’s face the last time she had been alive. So happy. So full of life. So much like the woman beside him. He closed his eyes to the pain he felt at the memory.
“Hello! Anybody there?” Sarah’s voice brought him back to the present and he turned to face the woman beside him.
“What? What is it?” he asked.
Sarah laughed softly, a sound that seemed to come easily to her. “I asked you what your name is. Or is it a secret?”
Nelson dropped his eyes to his hands folded in front of him. “Uh...my name is Harry.”
“Harry. Is that all? Just Harry?”
“Yep. That’s all.”
“OK. Harry it is then. Were you just passing through?”
Nelson rose from his perch by the tree and walked away a bit. “Yes. I was just passing through,” he said sadly.
Sarah nodded and rose also. “Passing through. Or running away?”
Startled, Nelson turned and stared at the woman behind him, her unseeing eyes seeming to bore through him.
“Why would you say that?”
Sarah walked towards Nelson. She moved cautiously, yet seemed to know where every stone and root was and avoided them. When she stood beside him, she turned her eyes to him and placed a hand upon his arm.
“I felt your sadness, despair actually, when you came to the cliff. It was so overpowering.”
Nelson gave a short laugh and walked a bit further away from the woman that seemed to be able to read his very thoughts. “What are you? Some psychic?” he asked.
This time it was her turn to laugh. “No. Nothing so dramatic. When a person loses their sight, or any of their senses really, their other senses go into overdrive. When you stepped from your car, I felt your sadness. I can’t explain it. The air just felt...heavy.” She laughed again and said, “I’m sure my father would’ve had an explanation.”
“Oh? And what does your father do that would make him an expert on this?”
Sarah stopped smiling now and faltered a moment before answering. “He...my father is dead. He died a few years ago in an accident.”
“I’m sorry. Was it a car accident?”
“No. Actually there was an accident where he worked. He was lead scientist on a project for the company he worked for. He was in an underwater laboratory recording whale song when the lab lost power. Before anyone could get to them, they all died.”
Nelson was stunned as he listened. Porter. Dave Porter. He should have recognized the name. He was the one her father had worked for. He was the one who hadn’t been able to get to him and the others in time. He closed his eyes as a wave of despair washed over him. Another death upon his conscience. More lives ruined. He turned from Sarah and walked back to the tree, leaning his head back against it. Of all the places to be and of all the people he could have met, why did it have to be Dave Porter’s daughter?
“Harry?” He heard Sarah call him as if searching for him.
“I...I’m here Sarah.”
She turned in the direction of his voice and walked towards him. “Was...was it something I said?”
“No,” he said a bit too quickly. “No. I...I...,”
“There it is again,” she said with a frown.
Confused, Nelson asked what she meant.
“That heaviness in the air. It was gone for awhile but it’s back.” She was silent for a moment as she unerringly made her way to his side. “Do you want to talk about it?” she asked quietly. “I’ve been told I am a good listener.”
Nelson turned from the eyes that seemed to search his soul even though he knew they could see nothing. The silence stretched on for awhile before he finally turned back to her and said in a small voice, “Something like what you just said happened recently. People that worked for me...died and there wasn’t anything I could do to stop it. I...I knew what was happening but I couldn’t stop it. There wasn’t enough time. And they died. So many deaths,” he said in an anguished voice as he walked from her to face the sea, the one solace in his life he could still find.
She was silent for a time and then turned towards where he stood. “And you blame yourself?”
With an incredulous tone he answered, “Of course! They were my people! They were there because of me! It was my fault!”
Sarah laughed softly. Nelson turned at the sound. “I don’t see what is so funny! People died!”
“Please, I am not laughing at that or at you. It’s just...”
“What?” he asked angrily.
“You said yourself you couldn’t stop it. I assume if you had been able to you would have?”
“Of course! They were...my friends and colleagues. I...I would have done anything to save them.” As he spoke he saw again the body of Sandy Gant covered with a sheet. The last sight he remembered before he lost consciousness was that, and it filled him with horror and sadness.
“Then you are beating yourself up over something you couldn’t control. Something you had no power over. Just as...”
Watching her, Nelson saw her turn away and cover her mouth with her hands. He walked to her and put his hands on her shoulders. “Just as what?” he asked softly.
Taking a deep breath, she turned to him, a sad smile upon her lips. “Just as my father felt responsible for the accident that took my eyesight. A few years before he died, we were out on the ocean on his boat. Everything was fine and I thought it was a day I would remember forever.” She laughed quietly. “I was right. I did remember it forever, but not for the reasons I thought.”
Nelson closed his eyes as he listened to her talk. He remembered the accident now. The accident that had taken her sight. Dave had just started working for him at the Institute. He had been so happy when he had bought the boat and had shown Nelson, and anyone that would listen, everything it could do.
One day he had taken his daughter on an excursion. A “father/daughter” day out he had called it. It wasn’t long after they had gone, that they got word the boat had exploded. Dave was all right but Sarah had received burns to her eyes and face. There wasn’t anything the doctors could do: Sarah was blind.
Dave had spent the rest of his days trying to make up for the accident, never accepting that it had been an accident. He felt the guilt of that day till his last breath.
“So you see. My father blamed himself for something that wasn’t his fault. Something that was out of his control. Just as you are now.” She shrugged her shoulders. “It makes no sense to me. It’s as if you and my father and others like you feel you are better than God. That you had enough power within you that you could overrule God.”
Feeling the anger and questioning boil within him, Nelson turned from her. He’d never felt better than God! He had never felt as though he could control destiny! Or had he?
“You control what you can control.” Sarah continued. “Everything else is out of your domain. My father never learned that. He died with that.”
“But they were my responsibility! He was trying to kill...” he stopped, alarmed at what he had almost said.
Intrigued, Sarah followed him to the ledge. “Someone was trying to kill someone?”
Nelson sighed deeply and raised his eyes to the now darkened sky. Stars began to twinkle on the inky canvas. “You know, no matter what happens, the sky is always the same. Same stars, same moon. If only...”
“If only what? If only life stayed the same? That would make for a very boring time for all. Don’t you think?”
Nelson lowered his eyes and found a perch on a nearby rock. “You seem to have an answer for everything. Doesn’t anything bother you?”
“Yes. People who avoid questions,” she said after a moment. “Who was trying to kill who? I can’t believe it was your people. So who?”
“You are persistent aren’t you?”
“I have been called that, yes.”
There seemed to be no escape. With a sigh, Nelson clenched his hands in front of him.
“There...there was a bomb in one of the buildings at the Institute. I was working there with about ten others. I knew something was wrong. I...I found the bomb under a work station. I tried to deactivate it but...”
The silence between them seemed to stretch forever.
Nelson started as the sound of her voice brought him back from the memories. “But...I was too late. I tried to get everyone out of the building.”
“Did I what?”
Sighing deeply, Sarah said, “Did you get them all out?”
Rising suddenly from his perch, Nelson walked away from Sarah as anger, horror and self-loathing filled him. The memories of holding Sandy’s burned body in his arms before the firemen had come filled his mind. Another death he couldn’t prevent. Another body to be buried.
He was startled when he felt a hand on his arm. Unerringly, she had found him again. “Harry?”
Nelson closed his eyes and let out a shuddered breath. Opening his eyes, he said, “No, Sarah. I didn’t get them all out. Five of my people died.”
She was silent for a moment. “I still don’t see how that is your fault.”
Nelson gave an inelegant snort and stomped off. “They...they were my people! They were there because of me! I was the...”
When he didn’t continue, she said, “You were the what?”
The world was closing in on him. The memories he didn’t want to remember. The thoughts he tried to keep at bay. It was no use.
“I...I was the target. He was after me,” he said softly. “So many people I couldn’t save. So many lives.” His voice grew softer as he spoke, lost in his own thoughts.
“You make it sound like there were more. Like this has happened before.”
Overwhelmed, tired and beaten, Nelson nodded. “Yes. There have been others I couldn’t save. Others that died while I lived.”
“What...what is it you do exactly?”
Hearing the hesitancy in her voice, Nelson turned and walked back to her. “I...was in the Navy for several years. I lost a few men. More than I care to think about.”
“Was. What do you do now that makes you a target?” As if in answer to her own question, she began to make connections.
“Wait. Harry...the Institute...the way you became real quiet when I talked of my father. You’re...you’re Harriman Nelson! Aren’t you?”
The knowledge she knew who he was filled him with dread and he turned from her. He didn’t understand why he should feel this way about someone he didn’t really know, but he did nonetheless and waited for her to scream that he had been responsible for her father’s death. And waited.
When no words came from her, Nelson turned back to see her standing with her eyes closed. She shook her head and asked, in a small voice, “Why? Why did you hide who you were? You must have known I would know who you were. Why keep it a secret?”
Nelson snorted loudly. “Of course I knew you would know me! That was why I didn’t tell you.”
Sarah opened her eyes and turned to him. “I...I don’t understand. Why keep it a secret?” Dismay flooded her face as she came up with her own answer. “You...you thought I could be out to kill you?” she asked in an outraged voice.
“No! No...it...it wasn’t that. I...”
Nelson began to feel that any control he had left was rapidly leaving him. “I...I couldn’t bear to see hate fill your face.”
Bewilderment took the place of Sarah’s outrage. “Hate? I don’t understand. Why should I hate you?”
Feeling as if he were sinking in a pit of quicksand, Nelson covered his face with his hands and then thrust them away angrily. “Because I am the one that killed your father!”
“Harry, my father died in an accident. It was no one’s fault.”
“I...I could have done more. I could have prevented it!”
“How? How could you have prevented it? By being prescient? You couldn’t have known the lab would experience a power failure. You’re playing God again.”
“You don’t understand,” he said shaking his head.
Sarah was silent for a moment, then walked to him. “I do understand. You take responsibility for the people around you, for those who work for you. People you undoubtedly care for. But you can’t be responsible for the actions of others. Someone else didn’t check the power coupling on the undersea lab. That was what killed my father. Someone else set the bomb. You weren’t responsible.”
Feeling she was making no headway with Nelson, Sarah turned from him. She heard the distant call of a gull and sensed the presence of the sea below the cliff.
“Harry, the sea erodes the cliff more and more every day, doesn’t it? Someday soon, this spit of land we are standing on will be gone, washed away by the strength of the tides.”
Perplexed by the sudden change in topic, Nelson moved closer to the edge of the cliff and looked below at the scene Sarah saw only in her mind’s eye. Angry waves slammed into the base of the cliff and spray flew upward, not quite reaching them before falling back.
“Can you stop it? Can you stop the tide from tearing away at the cliff base? Can you stop the sea from taking away parts of the land that belong here and depositing them offshore?”
“No. Answer me. Can you?”
“You know I can’t,” he said looking away.
Sarah gave a smug smile. “So, the great Harriman Nelson can’t stop the tides. How about that storm out there brewing,” she said gesturing to a bank of black clouds on the horizon Nelson hadn’t noticed.
“Can you stop that storm from hitting us?”
“You know I can’t!” Nelson said angrily. “You’re talking about nature here, Sarah! Not...”
“Not what? Not about your situation? Not about the things that have happened to you? Not about the people that died?” In a softer tone she said, “That’s nature too, Harry. Human nature. Mistakes happen. People die. Lives are changed. You couldn’t change the things that happened because you are human.”
Nelson closed his eyes as he listened to her words. He tried to blot out what she was saying, but it was no use. He stood staring at the sea, absorbing all she’d said, till he felt the beginnings of the storm Sarah had “seen” on the horizon come closer.
He turned and saw her standing with her arms wrapped about her, her upraised face taking in the sea breeze that began to blow more fiercely.
“I...I should get you home. That storm will be here soon.” He walked to her and took her elbow, waiting for her to follow.
“It’s beautiful, Harry. Beautiful, constantly changing and totally unstoppable,” she said as she turned to him. “Don’t try to change things you can’t change. Change the things you can change that need changing.”
She turned from him and retrieved her cane as he guided her to his car and helped her in. He walked back to the driver’s side and hesitated a moment before sliding into the seat. He turned back, and for a moment, watched the fury of the storm gather. He allowed himself a small smile and got into the car.
“So tell me, how do I get you home?”
“Just follow the road around the bluff back to the main road. Go about a half mile and you will see a dirt road off to the left. Take it and the house is about a half mile down.”
Nelson smiled at her directions and took off. Silence filled the car as the two occupants drove. A short time later, Nelson’s car pulled up to a small house that was set back from the road a bit. Roses graced the corners of the house and colorful flower beds lined the front. A well-worn trail led from the front walk up to and over the bluff.
“You’ll come in won’t you? Mother would love to see you.”
Nelson hesitated a moment. He remembered Peggy Porter as a pleasant woman, totally in love with her husband. “I...I don’t think so. I should get back to the Insti...” He stopped, astonished at what he had almost said.
Sarah smiled a knowing smile. “The Institute? I thought you were running away from the Institute?”
Nelson gave a short laugh and shrugged. “I... thought I was.” He sat for a moment longer, absorbing what he had said. And what she had said.
“Sarah...thanks. I...you’ve given me a lot to think about.”
“You’re welcome, Harry. My father liked you. And I know he never would have blamed you for what happened. Nor do I.”
“I...I appreciate that. More than you can know. Maybe...maybe sometime soon I will come back. To see you and your mother. I think maybe it is time I did.”
Sarah opened the door and started to get out. She turned back to him. “I’ll call you. Next week. At the Institute.”
“You are persistent.”
“I know. Bye, Harry.”
Nelson watched as she made her way to the front door and turned back to wave. Although he knew she couldn’t see him, he waved back.
He sat for a moment longer and then headed the car back down the long drive, stopping at the end. To the left was Santa Barbara. To the right...unknown. He hesitated a moment, and then with a sigh, turned left, heading back to his life, his responsibilities and his friends.
Return to story index,
The Story Index
Return to Home Page,
The New Captain's Log