The yellow, manta ray shaped craft arced gracefully across the cloudless, mid-afternoon sky of the Atlantic Ocean. On board the flying sub, Admiral Harriman Nelson studied the papers in front of him. In the pilots’ seat to his left sat his submarine’s Captain, Lee Crane. The two men were en-route from Washington, having attended a meeting with the President and his advisors to report the findings of their latest mission. It had been a long and difficult mission and both men were eager to return to the Seaview and then to Santa Barbara for a well deserved and long overdue shore leave.
The flying sub lurched violently, causing Nelson to be thrown forward in his seat. He looked over to see Crane fighting with the crafts’ controls, held in his seat only by the safety restraints.
“Lee, what’s wrong?”
“I don’t know. Everything was fine, and then I lost all control.”Nelson grabbed his joysticks in an effort to right the flightpath of the sub. It was to no avail and he could see the ocean surface looming at an alarming rate. He heard Lee call into his throat mike.
“FS1 to Seaview. Mayday, Mayday. We’re going down.” He gave their co-ordinates, hoping that the submarines radio operator, Sparks, was tuned to their frequency. The craft plunged into the sea and continued its downward descent to the seabed. The two officers were powerless to do anything other than pray that the depth of the water here was not beyond the tiny crafts crush depth. Mercifully, the fragile outer hull was still intact when at last the stricken craft settled on the ocean floor.
The two officers exchanged shocked glances. Neither man had suffered more than bumps and bruises from their unorthodox landing. Unfortunately the flying sub hadn’t fared as well.
Crane held the mike against his throat. “FS1 to Seaview. Come in Seaview.” He paused for a moment and, when he received no reply, he adjusted the controls and repeated the call.
As the Captain tried to contact the Seaview Nelson moved to the control panel to assess the damage. It didn’t take him long to realise the seriousness of their situation.
Crane joined him at the panel, having been unsuccessful in contacting Seaview. “How bad does it look?” the younger man asked, hoping that the Admiral had had better luck than he had.
“Pretty bad. The controls are burnt out, it would take a full repair crew at least 48 hours to repair.” He gestured at the gauges. “The tanks must have been damaged in the crash, according to the gauge we have a little over 8 hours of air left. We’re at 2400 feet, well below safe escape depth, so that’s not an option. Any luck with the radio?”
Crane shook his head, thinking furiously. “Our position is approximately 200 miles north-east of the Seaview. If they picked up our distress signal they could reach us within 5 hours.”
“Maybe. But we can’t rely on that. Let’s forget about the controls and see if we can get the radio working again. I think our best chance is to try and get a message to Seaview, make sure they know where we are and what are condition is.”
An hour later each man was busy with the repairs. They had had little success and they were beginning to get discouraged but, whilst they could still do anything to increase their chances of survival they would continue to try. They had both beaten the odds before and they hoped they could do the same again.
Suddenly, Crane let out an anguished cry as a flash of pain seared through his right side. Alarmed, Nelson was at his friend’s side immediately.
“Lee, what’s wrong?” he asked anxiously.
“I don’t know.” Crane managed to gasp out his answer.
The Admiral reached out to steady the younger man until the pain lessened. It took some time and left Crane shaken.
“Maybe you ought to lie down and take it easy for a while.” Nelson suggested.
“No, I’m all right now. We need to carry on with the repairs.” Lee insisted.
“Okay, but if the pain hits again, you’re going to rest, Captain.”
“Aye sir.” Lee had heard that tone of voice used before, a tone that brooked no argument.
The Admiral was worried, but knew that the younger man did not want to make a fuss. He was also right that they needed to continue with the repairs, they couldn’t afford to rest at the moment. He forced himself to concentrate on the task at hand, but couldn’t stop looking over at his friend every few moments.
Lee Crane was frightened. He had only experienced pain that severe once before, and he had hoped never to experience it again. He knew Nelson was worried, he had seen the glances that the older man kept casting his way.
Suddenly the pain flared again, more severe than before. This time the pain did not subside and he would have collapsed if it hadn’t been for Nelson’s arms catching him and easing him to the floor. The older man knelt beside the younger, hoping to comfort him. Crane tried to speak, but the pain was so severe that he couldn’t form the words, instead lapsing into unconsciousness.
A plume of smoke appeared and when it dispersed Nelson found himself staring at his reflection. Memory came flooding back, a memory that he had tried so hard to forget. Memory of the time, several years before when he had had to make a heart-wrenching decision – the life of his best friend against the life of everyone on the planet. Of course there was only one possible decision he could make, but it had been so difficult watching his friend suffer and the alien gloating about how easy it would be to end Lees’ suffering. With some difficulty the alien had been defeated and had vanished, his parting words: “Perhaps, we’ll meet again.” And here he was.
“Admiral, it’s so good to see the two of you again. I’m sorry it has been so long, but I’ve been detained for longer than I had planned.” He looked down at the still body of Lee Crane. “Oh, poor Capt. Crane. It’s such a shame that he’s suffering so badly. Don’t you think so, Admiral?”
“What do you want?” Nelson demanded, his anger momentarily getting the better of him as he rose to face his adversary.
“I’d have thought that was obvious Admiral. You caused me to lose face with my superiors and for that you must be punished.”
“Then punish me. Don’t make Crane suffer to get at me. He…”
“No Admiral, I have studied you and Crane closely. You value Cranes’ life more than you do your own. You will die, slowly, as your air runs out, but first you will watch as your friend dies in agony, unable to do anything to help him.” The alien taunted Nelson with his words. He was correct, Nelson would gladly sacrifice his own life to safe Lee, just as Lee had been prepared to do likewise on many occasions. Indeed Lees’ willingness to give his life for others had been a factor in their first encounter with the alien.
Crane cried out in agony, distracting Nelson from his confrontation. He clutched at his side, as if that could force the pain away. He was deathly pale and his expression told Nelson that he was fighting hard to hide his pain. Nelson gathered the younger man in his arms, trying to give what little comfort he could.
“Admiral, I…” Lee broke off in agony.
“Ssh, Lee, don’t try to talk. Everything’s going to be alright.” He knew he was lying, but he was anxious to reassure his friend. Lee knew otherwise however.
“No sir, not this time. Admiral, I want you to know. Serving with you, and the crew, has been the best. I want to thank you for believing in me and giving me the chance to command Seaview.” The words were barely audible, and Nelson knew that it cost Lee a lot to say them.
“Oh, how touching.” The alien taunted. Nelson lowered Lee to the deck, rising to his feet to challenge his tormentor. He lunged at him, only to be thrown to the deck where he lay sprawled beside his friend, stunned. The alien laughed. “You can’t hurt me Nelson, don’t waste your time trying. Captain Crane’s time grows short, I would suggest that you spend the next few minutes wisely.”
It took several minutes for Nelson to regain enough strength to make his way back to Lee’s side. He lifted Crane’s shoulders, cradling his head.
“Lee, I’m so sorry about this.”
“Admiral, it’s not your fault, don’t blame yourself.” He too remembered their previous encounter with the alien, and the power of the being. He knew about the bargain that Nelson had made to save his life. Upon discovering his side of the bargain Nelson had reneged on the arrangement, effectively sentencing Crane to death.
The alien had then approached Crane and had offered to save his life in return for a “small favour”. Weakened by the pain he had suffered he had agreed, only to find that he was expected to fire a nuclear missile at the fleet. He had tried to resist, but found he was unable to, and had fired the missile. Fortunately Nelson had arrived just in time and had caused the missile to self-destruct. He knew that this time there was no way out.
“Thank you sir, for everything.” Cranes’ eyes closed, his head fell limply against Nelsons’ chest and he lay still.
The Admiral was unable to hold back his tears. “God bless, Lee.”
Nelson was unable to let go of the inert form of his friend. He felt he ought to try, to find a way to repair the radio and contact Seaview, but knew that the alien had won this time. All he could do was wait, wait for death to claim him. It wouldn’t be long; the air was already growing stale.
The air gauge read empty. He couldn’t summon the strength to reach the scuba tanks, realising that using them would only delay the inevitable.
A plume of smoke appeared in front of the bunk and, when it cleared Nelson found himself viewing a strange sight. It stood just 4 feet tall, with large piercing black eyes, its body covered with tiny grey scales.
The first alien was obviously disturbed by the change in circumstances. He and the newcomer engaged in a long and, at least it seemed to the Admiral, a heated argument.
The Admiral watched, awed as the scene unfolded before him. The aliens were communicating in their own language, which reminded Nelson of his and Commodore Emery’s research with dolphins. The first alien, the cause of all their problems, was growing visibly more agitated as the exchange continued.
As the conversation ended, the first alien started backing away form the other, as though seeking safety in distance. The other took out a device, similar to the one used on Nelson earlier, and fired. A piercing screech echoed through the flying sub. The alien fell to the deck, where he lay unmoving. The body shrivelled up, until all that remained was a putrid stench, and a memory.
The newcomer now turned his attention to Nelson. “I am sorry, Admiral, for all that you and your friend have suffered. I shall try to make amends and repair your craft so that you may return to your people.”
“And what about Lee? It’s a little late for him.” He couldn’t keep the bitterness from his voice.
The alien observed the two men, assessing them. It was obvious that Nelson and Crane were very close friends. He came to a decision.
“Perhaps not. We may be able to revive your friend, but you will have to trust me.”
“Another bargain? That’s what caused our problems in the first place.”
“I understand your anger. But we must act quickly or it will be too late to even try to reverse the process.”
“What do you want?”
“Your silence about us. We must return to our planet for the procedure. I will explain everything later. We must go now if we are to do anything to help your friend.”
Nelson was caught in two minds. He certainly didn’t trust the alien, with good reason. He had had many run-ins with aliens, most of which had ended in near disaster for him and the crew. He looked down at the still body of Lee Crane, and reached a decision. If there was anything in his power to do to help his friend he had to try, whatever the danger to himself.
“Okay, I’ll do as you ask.”
No sooner were the words spoken than Nelson found himself in what appeared to be, at first glance, an operating theatre, the body of his friend lying on one of two raised platforms in the middle of the room. Nelson counted a total of 10 aliens, scurrying around his friend, attaching leads and machines to Crane. Momentarily forgotten, Nelson cast a scientific gaze around the room, noticing some of the equipment present. Although unsure of their use he began to reassess his opinion of the room, it appeared more like a laboratory than an operating theatre. Fear knotted his stomach.
“What are you doing to him?”
The alien from the flying sub, whom the Admiral surmised to be the leader of the group, broke away from the others and joined Nelson.
“We are preparing your friend for the procedure. Come Admiral, you must get ready too. Our time is running short.”
“What do you mean, get ready? For what?”
“Would you give up your life to save that of your friend?”
“Of course”. There was no hesitation before Nelson gave his answer, although he didn’t like the implication of the question.
“Then all will be fine.” He proceeded to explain the equipment to the Admiral. “The machines will measure your feelings for your friend. If you score highly, then your friend will live…”
“And if I don’t?”
“Then you forfeit your life too. The choice is yours Admiral. If you want to back out of the challenge, you still can.”
The Admiral considered the situation. His feelings for Lee were deep, beyond those of a close friend, more those of a brother. But those feelings had never been measured before. And he had no idea against what yardstick those feelings would be measured. He knew that if their positions were reversed, Lee would risk everything for Nelson, had risked everything in the past, and he knew what he had to do.
“Let’s get on with it then.” He allowed himself to be led over to the second platform, where he laid down and was swiftly connected to the same machines as Lee.
The alien approached Nelson. “You may still back out if you wish, Admiral.”
“Very well.” The alien threw a switch, and the procedure began.
Memories came flooding back to the Admiral, some good, some bad. Times when Lee had saved him, time when Nelson had saved Lee. In a short period of time Nelson relived the whole of the time that the two men had known each other. These memories were visible to the aliens, displayed on a large monitor overlooking the platforms. The leader watched satisfied, knowing that he had judged the two men correctly.
As the memories faded, an electrical current was emitted from the leads connected to Nelson, the signal transmitted through the equipment to Crane. The Captains’ body jerked convulsively as the current entered his body. It continued for some seconds, then the machines switched off and the body again lay still.
It took the Admiral a considerable amount of time to recover from the procedure and he had to be helped to a sitting position on the platform. He climbed off and walked rather unsteadily over to Crane. After an interminable length of time he was rewarded as he watched Lees’ chest rise, slowly at first. His breathing grew stronger with every breath that he took. The Admiral pressed shaking fingers against the younger mans’ throat and found his pulse pounding against his touch, reassuringly strong and steady.
“The procedure has worked, Admiral. Your friend will be fine.”
Nelson let out a sigh of relief. He realised how much he would have missed Lee if the younger man had died and was glad that he wouldn’t have to cope without him.
“Come Admiral, I have much to tell you.” The alien noticed the Admirals’ reluctance to leave Crane alone. “Your friend will be fine. He will not wake up for some time. We have time to talk. I’m sure you must have many questions to ask.”
The Admiral conceded that point. In his first encounter with this alien race, they had nearly been destroyed. Now he had this alien to thank for saving his friends life. What had caused the change? His scientific curiosity aroused, he followed the alien.
“I am sorry that you had to undergo that procedure, Admiral. And I must confess I lied to you. There was no danger to your life. By agreeing to go through with the procedure you proved that your feelings for Captain Crane are strong. The procedure is not carried out very often, we do not find that many of our people are willing to give their live to save another. We could learn a lot from your kind, Admiral, as indeed we already have. Look.”
As the alien was talking, the two had reached the entrance to the lab that Nelson had arrived in. The Admiral found himself looking at a truly awe-inspiring sight. Before him was a network of huge, interconnecting domes, disappearing out of view.
“Before we arrived the people of this planet lived underground. The environment had become too hostile for the inhabitants to continue as they had before. We thought about destroying them but your resistance of our plans before caused us to reconsider our needs. We have found that co-operation is more productive than domination. The planet provided more than enough space to cope with our growing population, and we provided the technology to make the planet hospitable again. Now the two races live side by side, in complete peace. My people are happier than they have been for eons, with no threat of war over them.”
“And what of the other alien?”
“He was one of our top operatives and you embarrassed him. Many of our people found it difficult to adjust to our new way of life. Most did adjust, but he didn’t. He tried to stage an uprising, but failed. He felt that you were to blame for all of the changes. I guess he felt that he had a score to settle with you and Captain Crane.”
For some time the alien and Nelson walked around the domes, and the Admiral had the opportunity to ask many questions. He saw the children of both species learning and playing together, the adults working together to benefit everybody.
When Nelson had seen all he wanted to, and his curiosity satisfied, they returned to the lab. Lee Crane had still not regained consciousness and the Admiral expressed his concerns.
“The Captain will wake up when you return to your boat. He will remember nothing of his experience, the fewer people that have seen our world the better. Goodbye Admiral, and thank you for showing us the error of our ways.”
Instantaneously, Nelson found himself back aboard FS1. He looked around the interior of the flying sub, pleased to see that the controls were functioning again. Some of the panels that had been damaged were still down but at least they could reach Seaview. He knelt beside Captain Crane, who lay unconscious on the deck. To reassure himself he checked for a pulse, once again relieved to find one.
The radio sprang to life and Nelson heard the familiar voice of Sparks. “Seaview calling FS1. Seaview calling FS1. Come in FS1”
“This is FS1.”
The voice on the other end of the radio changed, and the anxious voice of Chip Morton could be heard.
“Admiral, are you all right? We’ve been trying to contact you for 12 hours.”
“I’m fine Chip. We’ve been having problems with the controls. I’ve only just managed to get the radio back on line.”
“Are you able to make it back to Seaview?”
“Affirmative. Have Doc standing by, Lee’s been hurt.”
“Is he bad, sir?”
“No. Chip, I’ll explain everything later.” ‘When I’ve thought of a good excuse.’
The Admiral docked the flying sub in its berth below the control room, and as soon as the procedure was complete the hatch opened and Dr. Jamieson descended the ladder, followed by two corpsmen carrying a stretcher. Jamieson performed a rapid examination on the Captain.
“I can’t find anything seriously wrong. Let’s get him to sickbay.”
Nelson watched as the medical team gently lifted the Captain on to the stretcher and carried him out of the flying sub, heading for sickbay.
Nelson climbed the ladder into the control room where he was stopped by a very anxious executive officer.
“Sir, what happened?”
“Not now Chip. Resume original course and let’s head for home”Before Morton had a chance to answer, Nelson walked away. He was aware that he had upset his friend, but he was not yet ready to answer his questions. He could make amends later. Once he was sure that Cranes’ recovery was complete.
The Admiral walked into sickbay. By the time he arrived Crane had been transferred onto one of the bunks and Jamieson was busy working on him. The older man didn’t want to interrupt, knowing that Will would tell him what he could as soon as he could. Several minutes later, Jamieson walked across the room to where Nelson was waiting.
“I can’t find anything wrong with him. How long as he been unconscious?”
Nelson realised that he had no concept of how much time had passed while they had been on the alien planet, but remembered the radio conversation he'd had with Chip.
“About 12 hours.”
“I don’t understand it, but I’m sure he’ll wake up soon enough.”
“Can I stay with him?”
Several hours later Lee finally regained consciousness. He woke to find himself looking into the anxious eyes of Admiral Nelson.
“Welcome back Lee.”
“Sir, what happened?”
“What do you remember?”
“I can’t remember anything after leaving Washington this morning.”
“We ran into some turbulence. You were overcome by some fumes from the control panel. I managed to reach the scuba gear before they overpowered me too. I managed to repair the radio and enough of the controls to make it back here.”
Crane studied Nelson closely, certain that the older man wasn’t telling him the whole truth. He knew better than to force the issue, although he was determined to discover the truth later.
“Well, it’s good to see you awake. I’d better get going, before Jamie throws me out of here. I’ll be back to see you in the morning.” With that the Admiral left sickbay, heading for his cabin. That strengthened Lees’ opinion that his friend was hiding something from him. The Admiral was seldom that uncomfortable around him.
The Admiral left sickbay and headed for his cabin, deep in thought. He hated lying to his friend, but he had promised to keep his silence about the aliens, a promise he intended to keep. He was reassured to find that, after all their problematic encounters with alien races before, that they had finally had a positive experience.
Perhaps there was hope for the future.
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