General disclaimer: I don't own anything or anyone I write about. No breach of copyright is intended.
I know I should really finish my other ongoing story before I start another one but I couldn't resist. I plan to write them along side each other, but just so no-one gets confused the characters relationships etc are not the same in each story.
'If you'd had the good sense not to crash a multi-billion dollar boat I wouldn't need to find a temporary assignment for your crew,' the Admiral reminded Bridger.
'Their sub crashed into us – we didn't have a chance!' Bridger protested.
'Nevertheless, I can't have you all sitting around doing nothing while the repairs are being made.'
'And this is the only job you could find for us?' the Captain demanded.
'I thought it would be perfect for your senior bridge crew. Think of it as a team building exercise – it will get them to think outside the box.'
'Noyce, I have enough trouble getting them to remember that there even is a box,' Bridger paced up and down his quarters looking none to pleased.
Over the vid–link Bridger saw Admiral Noyce check his watch and knew that he had tried his old friend's patience for too long.
Noyce brought out his ace. 'Wolenczak has already been assigned to the mission. I spoke to his father this morning.'
'You actually spoke to his father?' Bridger asked sceptically.
'Well, I spoke to his secretary at least. She confirmed that Dr Wolenczak had no objection to his son taking part.'
'I have huge problems with Lucas being anywhere near that place,' the Captain said, reminding himself that he was talking to an admiral and that he had to keep his tone just the right side of polite.
'When it comes to his son, Dr. Wolenczak does out-rank you, Captain,' Noyce reminded him, 'of course, if you are determined for the rest of your crew to go elsewhere, I won't try to stop you.'
Bridger said nothing for several moments, knowing that the Admiral had won. There was no way Lucas was going into that place alone. Then he sighed, 'I won't order them to go – if they want to be assigned elsewhere it's their choice.'
Noyce smiled. 'I'm sure you can depend upon them to make the right decisions.'
Bridger switched off the transmission before he said something he would regret. He ran a tired hand over his eyes. 'I'm getting too old for this,' he muttered to himself.
The knock on the door brought him back to reality far sooner than he would have wished. 'Come in,' he called, forcing himself to sound calm and in control.
In spite of the Captain's best efforts Commander Ford could feel the tension in the Captain's quarters as soon as he opened the door.
'The repair teams from the base are on standby ready to start work as soon as we reach port, and Commander Hitchcock has briefed them and the engineering crew here, so everything should run smoothly,' he reported.
Bridger nodded. 'Is there anything else to report?' he asked before dismissing his XO.
'There have been a lot of rumours on the boat about what will happen to the crew while the boat is being repaired.'
'What sort of rumours?' Bridger asked.
'That the repairs are going to take too long and that the crew is going to be broken up and assigned to other boats,' Ford said carefully impassive.
'Are the rumours a problem?' Bridger asked twisting his neck one way and another trying to ease the tension out of it.
'There are always people who will believe them, especially when there's no alternative information coming down the chain of command.'
Bridger sighed for what felt like the hundredth time that day. 'Then you can tell them that the crew is not going to be broken up. Everyone except the senior bridge crew are going ashore to catch up on whatever training days they haven't taken yet, then they are on shore leave until the command can think of something to do with them or the repairs are finished whichever happens first.'
'Yes, sir.' When the Captain seemed inclined to leave it at that he prompted, 'Are there any orders for the senior bridge crew sir?'
'I want to see them all in the briefing room fifteen minutes after we dock, that includes Dr. Westphalen and Lucas, Commander.'
'Yes, sir.' The Commander closed the door behind him and wondered just how a child and a civilian had suddenly become senior members of the senior crew. However, orders were orders and Ford was used to obeying them.
'Maybe we're going on shore leave?' Ben suggested.
'I can just see the UEO letting us chill out on the beach for the next eight weeks,' Tim O'Neill said sarcastically.
'It could happen!' Ben protested.
'More likely they'll dump us into shore based jobs,' Miguel said, as he pulled up another chair at the table in the briefing room, 'how do you feel about spending the next eight weeks in the quarter master's store?' he asked Ben.
'They wouldn't do that,' Chein objected, 'they know he'd have sold it all before the repairs were even started.
One person sitting at the table was quiet and it didn't take his friends long to notice. 'What do you think, Lucas?' Tim asked the teenager.
'I'm sure they'll find a computer problem somewhere,' he said with a shrug of his shoulders that was just a fraction too nonchalant to be believable.
'You could always take some time out and visit your folks, it's not as if the UEO can order you not to,' Shan suggested.
Lucas shrugged again and went back to staring at the grain in the table top.
The men lost interest in the teenager's reaction as the others filed in one by one, the Captain being the last to arrive. He waited until everyone was sitting before he begun.
'I know there have been a lot of rumours flying about regarding assignments when the boat is being repaired,' he told them, 'the rest of the crew are going to catch up on their training and then will be on leave until the UEO finds a temporary assignment. The crew is not going to be broken up.'
Some of the tension drained out of the room at the announcement that they would all be coming back to the seaQuest. If everyone hadn't been giving the Captain their full attention they may have noticed the relief in Lucas's expression before he managed to hide it as quickly as it came.
'However,' the Captain went on, 'there is a specific assignment that the UEO is offering everyone here. Before I give you any details I want to make it perfectly clear that this assignment is voluntary – no one goes unless they want to. Everyone is more than welcome to go ashore with the rest of the crew.'
No-one said anything and after a quick glance around the room the Captain noted that he had succeeded in gaining everyone's complete attention.
'Has anyone heard of the ASPC?' he asked.
'The new prison?' Ford asked, 'I think we've all heard about it. It opened up a few months ago. Everything else about it is classified.'
As one, everyone turned to look at Lucas, who pretended not to notice. He looked just a little bit too innocent for the Captain's taste.
'Do you have anything to share, Lucas?' the Captain asked, knowing that he should have expected something like this.
Lucas sighed. 'It's the highest security prison there is,' he told them, 'housing the 264 prisoners who are considered to be the greatest threat to the public. They are calling it the new Alcatraz – supposedly impossible to break out from.'
'Supposedly?' Ford asked.
Lucas shrugged again, 'there's no such thing as an entirely secure facility.'
'Do I want to know how you know so much about this place?' Bridger asked, 'or will I regret it if I find out?'
Lucas smiled a little for the first time since he had heard the rumours about the crew being broken up. 'You probably don't want to know.'
'Is there some reason we need to know about this… Alcatraz place?' Kristen asked, shooting a dark look at Lucas that implied he was in for another lecture about how his talents should be applied.
'If anyone chooses to take up the assignment that is where you will be going,' he announced.
'In what capacity?' Ford asked all professionalism.
'It seems that Lucas isn't the only one who has doubts about its unbreakable security,' Bridger told them, 'the UEO wants to send a group in to test it.'
'Test it how exactly?' Chief Crocker spoke up for the first time.
'In various ways,' Bridger hedged before deciding that it would be best to get it all over with as soon as possible, 'including some members of the team going undercover in the prison population and trying to break out.'
'Going undercover with the 264 most dangerous prisoners?' Westphalen asked.
Bridger nodded. 'That's the idea, so I'm sure you'll understand why I'm not making this assignment anything other than voluntary.'
'You want people to volunteer to go into a population of murders, terrorists and God only knows what else?' Kristen asked her disbelief clear in her tone.
Bridger sighed, 'Yes.'
Ford cleared his throat, 'Excuse me sir, but it's obvious that not all of us would be able to get into the prison population.'
Bridger stayed silent, allowing his XO to continue.
'I believe it's an all male prison complex. Dr. Westphalen and Commander Hitchcock wouldn't really blend in,' he pointed out.
'They would enter the prison complex as a Medical officer and a guard respectively,' Bridger told them, 'There aren't currently any female personal in the complex but there is no actual rule against it. The Admiral also believes that neither Crocker or myself would fit in, so we would be a delegation to the prison seeing what we can learn from their security procedures and how they might be used to make seaQuest more secure.'
'So,' Commander Ford looked around the table, 'there would be five of us going undercover?'
The Commander counted again. 'Six?'
Bridger closed his eyes for a moment hoping everything would go away before he opened them again. But a second later when he opened his eyes everyone was still there still waiting for an answer.
'Lucas would also be eligible to go undercover – if he chooses to accept the assignment.' Bridger silently prayed that the boy would say no. That was all Bridger would need. If the boy refused they couldn't expect anyone to make him go.
Everyone started talking at once - everyone except Lucas, who just stared straight ahead as if it were the most natural suggestion in the world. It was almost as if he had been expecting this from the moment the prison was mentioned.
'You cannot be serious, Nathan,' Kristen said.
'It's not my call, this came down from the Admiral,' he told them, trying to make himself heard over everyone's protests.
'Surely if you can't stop them then at least the boy's father has something to say in the matter?' Kristen protested. She knew that they didn't really keep in touch, but no parent would send their child into a top security prison just like that.
'Dr. Wolenczak has given his permission,' the Captain said, he watched Lucas for any reaction, but the boy remained impassive, 'if you don't want to go, you don't have to,' he added trying to keep the hope out of his voice.
Lucas shrugged. He knew what his father's permission meant. He was going if he wanted to or not. No point fighting it – he would only end up explaining that his father just wanted him to go anywhere as long as it was out of the way. 'I'll go,' he said.
'Lucas, have you thought about this?' the doctor asked him, reaching out to touch him on the arm.
'What's there to think about?' he said moving his arm away from her touch. He met the captain's eye and Bridger saw some of what was written there. The decision had been made there was no way he could convince the boy not to go now.
Bridger sighed yet again. 'Anyone else volunteering?'
The men who would be going into the prison population exchanged glances. The same thought was on all of their minds. Commander Ford looked around the table and saw the acceptance in all of their eyes. If Lucas was going, they were all going – and not only because the thought of Lucas being in there on his own made their stomach's turn, who could turn down a mission after a child accepted it like it was no big deal. 'We'll go.'
Katie Hitchcock nodded her consent too. 'You'll need as many of the guards on your side as possible.'
'And someone to patch you up afterwards, no doubt,' Westphalen muttered darkly, but she nodded herself into the mission too.
'Looks like we're all going,' Crocker told the Captain.
'Yes,' Bridger agreed, 'yes, it does.'
To be continued…
Hope you enjoyed the first chapter. Please review. I'll post up more as soon as I have time.