seaQuest and all the characters in it belong to Amblin Entertainment. I have no intent other than casual, non-profit entertainment.
It had been a slow day and Lucas was bored. And having a bored teenager genius on a boat filled with state of the art equipment was not a very good idea. The combination tended to lead to trouble. Lucas crouched down beneath his work bench in the secondary science lab to rewire the connection on his boredom killer project ... a little surprise for one Ben Kreig. Ben had it coming Lucas reasoned, especially after the supply officer's, oh so funny joke of ordering Lucas that pair of blue bunny slippers when he'd asked if Ben could get something to keep his feet warm.
Lucas looked out through the narrow gap at the base of the bench as two sets of feet entered the room. The newcomers began talking, and he recognized their voices instantly. He was about to make his presence known but realized in time that it would lead to questions about what he was doing ... questions he didn't want to discuss with either the Captain or the doctor. Both would put the lid on his little plan and Ben would get away scot-free. Lucas decided he was smarter to just stay quietly hidden where he was.
"All right, Nathan, you've dragged me in here. What do you want?" Kristen asked , a little annoyed at having been interrupted from her work.
"I just need to ask you something," Nathan said distractedly, his eyes scanning the room to be sure it was empty. When he was sure they were alone he turned toward his less than happy companion.
"Do you know where Lucas is?" he asked her.
Incredulous, Kristen snapped, "You dragged me in here to ask me that? No, I don't know where he is - can I go now?"
In truth she wasn't really angry with Nathan, but ever since being informed of the seaQuest's new mission she had been mad. Nathan, as Captain of the boat and the person responsible for putting those order into action, was an obvious target for her anger. She knew she treated the boat as her own personal floating lab and hated to be reminded that it was also a military vessel. A military vessel that was about to be called into a peacekeeping role - although Kristen suspected it was more of a UEO muscle flexing role.
"Lucas is why I dragged you in here. I need to discuss him with you," Nathan said, dragging Kristen's mind back to the conversation.
Nathan understood how Kristen felt about the new orders ... he felt the same way. He didn't like it one little bit but he had no choice... the seaQuest had to go. Nathan didn't mind the risk, but he did mind putting others at risk for very little reason - especially Lucas.
Under the bench, Lucas caught the use of his name and moved into a position where he could more easily hear what was being said.
"What about him? You know its wrong for him to be here, Nathan. My God when I think of what could happen ..." Kristen's voice trailed off, her eyes reflecting the horror of the possibilities her mind had conjured.
"I know. That's what I wanted to ask you. Do you know of any conferences going on that he would be interested in? I want to get him off the boat, but General Thomas won't allow it unless I have a good reason," Nathan finished, an almost pleading note in his voice.
"I don't know of anything off hand... but I'll ask around. Okay?"Kristen offered.
"Try to keep it quiet, if Lucas gets wind of what's going on he'll be insufferable!" Nathan laughed, imagining how the teenager would react to being left out of the action.
Kristen laughed, thinking the same thing. "Don't worry, I wasn't planning to let him know. You do realize we are in for some serious teenage pouting when he does find out," Kristen warned.
"Ah ... yes. But by then it will be too late for him to do anything about it," Nathan countered.
"All right .. but just so you know, when he comes looking for someone. I'm going to send him on to you," Kristen laughed.
"Thanks. I'll let you get back to your work," Nathan said taking the doctor's arm and leading her back toward the main science lab.
Lucas crawled out from under the workbench, the electrical cutters gripped so tightly in his hands that his fingers were white against the dark insulation grip. He could hardly believe what he had just heard. The Captain wanted him off the boat. He thought Lucas was insufferable.
The Captain and the doctor, the two people Lucas trusted the most were laughing and plotting to rid themselves of him. How could he have been so wrong? He had thought these two, the Captain especially, had loved him. It was a shock to discover the Captain didn't even particularly like him. That he thought of him as a joke - one that he was tired of having around.
Lucas thought back to all the pleasant moments he'd spent with the Captain. Discussing the vocorder, playing with Darwin, verbally sparing or just playing a game of late night chess when Lucas had been unable to sleep. It had seemed the Captain had wanted him around. It couldn't all have been an act ... could it?
Suddenly Lucas wasn't so sure. He knew he could be hard to get along with. His own parents had found the job impossible, which was why he was on the seaQuest in the first place. It had been a quick fix to a difficult problem. Was that what he was to the Captain? A difficult problem in need of a quick solution?
Lucas sank onto the workbench stool, but missed the seat and found himself on the floor again, too weak to stand any longer. The familiar, comfortable work room of a few moments ago had transformed into a sterile equipment lab. Lucas had come to think of the seaQuest as his home, that had been a mistake he realized. The seaQuest wasn't a home for unwanted teenagers and the Captain wasn't some pseudo father figure ... he was a UEO officer and the commander of the most powerful boat in the fleet. Lucas realized the fantasy he'd built for himself with embarrassment.
He didn't blame the Captain, it wasn't his fault ... he'd just been doing his job. Lucas' father had hired so many people in the past to look after him. It wasn't the Captain's fault he'd done his job so well that some stupid kid had formed an unwanted attachment. In fact, Lucas had to admit the Captain had treated him far better than most of the professional child minders his father had hired over the years. Most had never made an effort to hide the fact that they only spoke to him because they were being paid to. The Captain had at least made an effort to make him feel welcome. Lucas wished he hadn't bothered, it made being sent away that much more painful.
He was going to miss his friends here. A terrible thought occurred to him. If the Captain and doctor had only been humoring him then what of the rest of the seaQuest crew? Were the senior staff under orders to be nice to him? Feeling foolish, Lucas recalled the numerous times when his mere presence on the bridge had been a distraction to members of the senior staff. He'd always assumed it was because they had been busy with their military stuff, but now he wasn't sure.
Lucas realized it was entirely possible the entire boat was under orders to be nice to him. His father could do it. Dr Wolenczak had both the money and the power to make an order like that instituted. Lucas wondered if it would be worth it to search the seaQuest regulations manual for something called the Lucas directive but decided he didn't want to know what it said.
Lucas brought his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them tightly. He was upset but wouldn't allow his tears to fall. He knew he wouldn't be able to stop them tonight when he was alone with no one else to see. Instead he thought through his situation. The captain wanted him off the boat ... he waited a moment to deal with the pain that thought brought him. It was the Captain's right, he shouldn't be lumped with a crew member he didn't want just because that crew member had a powerful father.
Lucas realized he had already decided he wouldn't fight to stay. He would go ... but not now. He wasn't going to be dumped at the first convenient place the boat passed. He would leave, but on his own terms this time. This time he'd find his own place to be. He had no doubt Dr Westphalen would be sure to find him somewhere ... suitable, but this time he wanted the choice to be his own. He needed to assert a little control over his own life.
The problem with his plan was that the doctor was already organizing his removal. He needed to find a reason for them to keep him a little longer. Find or create.... the beginnings of an idea that would work coming to his mind. He would need to work fast. He pushed himself up from the floor and almost ran to his room, passing several of the crew on the way, but they barely registered.
Several hours later he was finished. All he had to do was press the enter key on his computer and the Captain would have a compelling reason to keep him for a little while. He hesitated. He'd never done anything like this before. As a hacker he had broken into hundreds of systems but he had never caused one damage, even temporary damage. When he hit the enter key the seaQuest would immediately begin to suffer errors. Lucas estimated it would take at least half an hour before the bridge realized they had a real problem. Lucas's PAL chirped at him and he answered it, glad for the distraction and the extra time it gave him before he committed himself.
It was the Captain asking Lucas to come to his office. The Captain sounded happy over the PAL's speaker so Lucas assumed Dr Wesphalen had found some way to get him off the boat. Lucas was impressed at how quickly the doctor had managed the job, he hadn't realized they were that eager to be rid of him. Lucas allowed all the anger and disappointment he felt to fill him ... giving him the necessary courage to punch the enter key. His computer beeped softly as it initiated the program.
It took Lucas almost 15 minutes to get to Bridger's office, most of that time he had spent schooling his expression so the pain he felt wouldn't show.
"What kept you?" the Captain asked, as he entered the small room.
"Nothing, I just had some things to finish," Lucas said evasively, trying to keep the bitterness from his voice.
Even though he had tried to prepare himself, facing the Captain after what he had heard and done was more difficult than he imagined. He wanted the Captain to tell him it was all right or hug him ... anything to take the edge of his loneliness. He wanted it so much it hurt ... but knowledge that any type of comfort from the other man was forced hurt even more.
Nathan watched the tense young man in front of him for a moment, trying to understand his mood. Lucas was angry about something, but just as obviously didn't want to discuss it. Nathan shrugged, he had learned that sometimes it was better not to know. He gestured to the seat across the desk from himself and waited until Lucas sat.
"Lucas, there's an opportunity for you to visit at the Super Collider research station in Arizona for a few weeks," the Captain announced happily, knowing how interested Lucas was in the project. He was a little surprised at Lucas's lack of enthusiasm for the idea. In fact, Lucas showed no sign of pleasure at the news at all.
"What if I don't want to go?" Lucas asked quietly.
"Why not?" the Captain asked, genuinely astonished.
"I just don't," Lucas said in a sullen tone.
Nathan was amazed, he hadn't considered the possibility that Lucas would refuse the offer. Kristen had outdone herself by organizing it so quickly, and Nathan had been sure Lucas would be ecstatic at the news. He'd been so sure, he had already organized Lucas's travel plans.
Lucas tried desperately to reign in his anger ... he couldn't afford to let it loose. If he did, he knew he would be off the boat faster than he could blink. It wasn't enough that they were sending him away ... but to send him to the middle of the Arizona desert! Sure, he was interested in the Super Collider, but he wasn't interested in the isolation. Apart from a few scientists and the support staff there was nothing for miles near the research station. It was definitely not a place he wanted to spend his remaining teenage years.
"Lucas. I'm sorry ... I thought that you'd be thrilled. I have already told them that you're coming. Come on kiddo, it will expand your horizons, what do you say?" the Captain encouraged.
Lucas bit back a scream of rage at the Captain's use of the word "kiddo." Lucas had always liked it when the Captain had used that term in the past. He had believed it to be a sign of the Captain's affection for him, now he knew better. After the moment passed Lucas felt drained and unwilling to argue anymore. Just wanting it to be over, he nodded. "All right Captain, I'll go," Lucas agreed.
The Captain beamed a smile at the teenager. "Great, I'll organize a launch to take you topside, everything else has been taken care of. Will an hour be enough time for you to pack?" he asked.
Lucas nodded, an hour would be plenty of time. He stood up, mumbled something about going to pack, and fled the Captain's presence. Nathan shook his head at the retreating form ... sometimes he just couldn't understand Lucas at all.
Lucas went straight to the moon pool and the only friend on board who he was sure about. Darwin didn't know how to lie ... when the dolphin had told Lucas he was his friend he had meant it. Lucas had once tried to explain the concept of a lie to him but had in the end given up ... telling the dolphin that it was a human thing.
"Hey Darwin," Lucas greeted the mammal.
Darwin performed a slow barrel roll in the water, and returned his human friend's greeting with his own standard greeting of, "Lucas play?"
"No Darwin, I can't," Lucas said shaking his head. "I will have to go to the bridge soon, but I wanted to talk to you ... I'm going away soon and we won't see each other much anymore," Lucas told his friend stroking his sleek back.
"Lucas leave pod?" Darwin asked.
"Yeah Darwin, I'm leaving the pod ... but I will try to come back and visit you. Okay?" Lucas said wiping away an errant tear from his face.
"Lucas not happy in pod?" Darwin asked trying to understand why one his favorite humans was leaving.
"Darwin ... its not that. I am happy in the pod, or at least I was. It's just that there is no room for me here anymore. There never really was," Lucas tried to explain in terms that he thought the dolphin would understand.
"Bridger make room for Lucas!" Darwin exclaimed happily, having found a solution to allow Lucas to stay.
"Darwin ... It's Bridger that sending me away!" Lucas snapped at the dolphin, instantly regretting it. "I'm sorry Darwin. I didn't mean to get angry with you. Going away isn't my idea ... it's the Captain's. I'm being sent away because the Captain doesn't want me here anymore," Lucas finished, tears trickling unheeded down his cheeks.
"Lucas sad ... Darwin sad," Darwin commiserated with his unhappy friend.
"Thanks Darwin ... I'm going to miss you," Lucas told him.
"All right Mr. Ford, what seems to be the problem?" the Captain asked his commander as he came on to the bridge.
"Sir, we have multiple systems failures right across the board. Every time we think we have the problem locked down, it vanishes and pops up somewhere else," Commander Ford reported, trying his best to keep the frustration he felt from his voice.
"I see... What does computer services have to say about it?" the Captain asked.
"They say they have never seen anything like it. Sir, they have requested the services of the Chief Computer Analyst," Ford informed the Captain.
"They have ... have they? The first sign of trouble and they run to a kid barely 16 years old for help?" the Captain asked, shaking his head. "I think this crew has become entirely too dependent on Lucas' abilities," the Captain commented, not wanting to give up his idea of getting Lucas somewhere safe.
Ford moved to stand next to his Captain and spoke in a low voice. "Sir ... this thing, whatever it is, has got Katie beat too," Ford said quietly, nodding toward the third officer, who was tapping furiously at her console trying to trap the latest instance of the bug.
The captain watched her for a moment, then nodded in defeat. If Hitchcock was concerned, then there really was a problem. He would just have to find another way to keep Lucas safe. "Okay Commander, call Lucas, and cancel the launch," the Captain ordered, disappointment in his voice.
"Yes Sir," Ford replied crisply, then in a softer voice so only the Captain could hear, "I'm sorry Captain."
Lucas came on to the bridge, his computer hanging by its straps at his side. Lt. Commander Hitchcock almost pounced on him the moment he arrived, and led him over to her workstation. Lucas quickly set up his computer and interfaced it with the seaQuest's main computers. Katie showed Lucas the system diagnostic error logs and all the information she had managed to discover about the fault. Lucas asked her several questions, feeling sick inside because he already knew the answers. He reminded himself that it was a temporary problem, one he could fix at any moment, but the sick feeling still remained.
Lucas took the seat that Hitchcock offered him as another systems error appeared on the diagnostic display. Typing rapidly, Lucas had the error isolated within seconds ... only to have it vanish moments later.
"Huh! ... that's not right. It shouldn't be able to move that fast," Lucas mumbled, more to himself than anyone else.
"You know what it is then?" Katie asked, with relief.
"Yeah ... It's a rouge object," Lucas stated distractedly, a little concerned by the speed the object had shown.
"Is it a threat to the seaQuest's computers?" the Captain asked, having been drawn to the conversation by Lucas' comments.
"Rouge objects aren't generally damaging, but they can be. I have never seen one move this fast," he answered truthfully.
Fortunately, neither Katie nor the Captain asked him how it could have gotten into the ships systems in the first place.
"Can you fix it?" the Captain asked instead.
"Yeah, but it would be easier from my room," Lucas told the Captain. In truth, he could fix the problem from anywhere, but being on the bridge was close to torture for him, and he wanted the comfort of his room. He was too uncomfortable on the bridge, the entire bridge crew seemed happy to see him. Only because they needed him. As soon as this computer problem was solved he would again become a burden to them he thought bitterly as he packed away his computer.
The Captain watched Lucas leave the bridge, and made a mental note to go see the kid as soon as he could. Something was bothering Lucas ... something bigger than just a bad day. He put the thought aside for later, for the moment he had a job to do.
"Mr. Ford set course for the disputed zone, your best speed," he ordered. The Captain almost wished Lucas had said the computer problem was serious. He'd had a bad feeling about this mission from the moment he'd gotten his orders.
Lucas went straight to his quarters, where he spent several hours just playing with the rouge object .. trapping it rather than fixing it. It would raise too many suspicions if he fixed the problem too quickly. Despite how much he regretted having created the thing in the first place, he knew he was committed ... he couldn't just back out because he lost his nerve. If the Captain found out about this, there was a very real possibility he would be spending much of his remaining teenage years in a detention facility. What had possessed him? He had known it was a dumb idea. He could be so stupid sometimes ... it almost made him laugh when people called him a genius. Becoming a little worried at the objects unexpected behavior he decided to run the recovery program sooner than he'd originally planned.
Entering a few short commands on his terminal, Lucas began to run the program he'd designed as a cure. He watched dispassionately as the rouge objects were obliterated from the system. At the end of the run he relaxed back in his chair. To his shock, a moment later two system errors appeared on the still running diagnostic screen.
"No way ... they're cloning!" Lucas exclaimed horrified, his fingers already flying across the keyboard.
His tame rouge object had gone feral. If he didn't stop it, and fast, the seaQuest would really have a problem. In his hurry to write the thing, he must have made a mistake, and the bug had taken on a life of its own. Deep down he'd known creating it had been a bad idea ... why hadn't he listened to himself?
"I will never do this again... I will never do this again..." Lucas began repeating to himself like a mantra, as he battled to destroy his own creation.
"Captain, we're approaching our destination," Commander Ford reported.
Captain Bridger nodded in acknowledgment." Thank you, Commander. Mr. O'Neil, contact Lucas, see if you can get an estimate on how long he needs to fix the computer error," he instructed.
"I just got a call from him sir. He's pretty sure he has fixed the problem but wanted to monitor the system for a while just to be sure. He said he'd call back when he was done," Lt. O'Neil replied.
"If Lucas thinks it's almost fixed ... it probably has at least eight new layers of protection around it to stop it from happening again," the Captain commented wryly, trying to break the tension. It had been mounting as the seaQuest drew closer to the source of the trouble. He heard several quiet chuckles from around the bridge and smiled slightly.
Lucas was good moral for his crew ... especially the bridge officers. All of them had formed a bond to the youngest member of the crew, based on a deep respect for not just his abilities, but his dedication. When Lucas began a job he put in a total commitment ... Nathan had lost track of the number of times he'd had to almost force the boy to take a break from a project. Without meaning to, or even being aware of the fact, Lucas had become a role model to many of the crew. He set a very high standard that crew members more than twice his age felt compelled to match. Getting Lucas to actually start a job he had little interest in was an entirely different matter... he was after all, still a teenager.
Nathan felt a little more relaxed himself. Not only was the seaQuest's computer systems reliable again, but he also knew where and what Lucas was doing. Not having to worry that Lucas was all right would make the next few hours far less stressful for the captain.
"Mr. Ortiz, what is our tactical situation?" the Captain asked, getting down to the job at hand.
"Sir, the whiskers report two attack class submarines ahead. Range 1500 meters and a separation of 800 meters... it's a standoff sir," Ortiz reported from his station.
"Captain, I'm picking up some fairly heavy communications traffic between the two vessels... both sides are calling for re-enforcement," O'Neil added.
"Let's hear it O'Neil," the Captain ordered.
The bridge was suddenly filled with angry words and threats coming simultaneously from both ships. The Captain shook his head, amazed that grown, obviously responsible captains would resort to name calling during a confrontation. Listening to the other two Captains he wouldn't be surprised if the pair of them wouldn't rather settle the dispute face to face... hand to hand. It would probably be the best solution all round if they did, he thought.
"All right people. This situation is already becoming unstable .. we are going to try a little strong arm diplomacy here. See if we can't shock them into calming down for a second. O'Neil, get me online with both ships... They must know we are here, let's introduce ourselves," Nathan ordered.
"Aye, sir," O'Neil replied confidently and made the connection. Two very angry faces appeared on the main bridge screen.
Nathan didn't let either one of the men have time to say anything before he began, "This is the UEO seaQuest. You are both instructed to reverse your distance by 500 meters,"the Captain commanded.
For a moment both men on the screen looked to be about to follow the instructions, until one of the feuding Captain's muttered, "They back off first."
The situation rapidly degenerated into more name calling and Nathan sighed ... so much for the all encompassing power of the UEO. He was about to attempt another diplomatic approach when Ortiz called out from his station, "Captain! we've got two more subs coming out of the trench ... port side. Banshee class hunters... sir, they have their tubes flooded."
"Damn!" Nathan swore. "Commander, sound the alert! All stations prepare for battle," the Captain ordered, becoming a fully military Captain in an instant.
Lucas scraped a shaking hand through his sweat dampened hair, dragging free the strands that had become stuck to his forehead. The instant he'd finally solved the computer problem, he'd reported to the bridge that the system was safe. Since then he'd spent his time monitoring for any signs of system damage of a reoccurrence of the bug. So far the system had been encouragingly clean ... there was a great deal of traffic on the system. Much more than usual for standard bridge operations, a great deal of it centered on the ships primary tactical and weapon systems. Lucas assumed the bridge was involved in another of their seemingly endless battle drills. He'd had enough battles for one day ... even if it had been a self created event it had been stressful enough.
Watching the display for a while, Lucas came to three decisions. Firstly, he was going to have to tell the Captain what he had done ... it had become too serious to just ignore or pretend he hadn't done it. He was going to have to tell the Captain how and what had happened to the seaQuest's computers, and accept the consequences ... it wasn't like the Captain could punishing him by putting him of the ship, he thought cynically. He knew carrying through with this decision was going to be very hard, but it had to be done. The second decision was related to the first... he had to make the seaQuest systems invulnerable to a similar fault or attack. If his successor wasn't a very good system analyst then a similar problem could possibly put the whole ship in danger. Leaving such a glaring potential weakness unsolved was totally unacceptable to Lucas. It would be a difficult job too, but no where near as hard as the first. Ideas as to how to prevent similar events had already begun to take shape in his mind. The third decision was the easiest of all... he was hungry, it was time he got something to eat.
Linking his PAL to his computer so it would alert him the moment a problem was detected, he left his room and headed for the mess hall. He hadn't gone 20 meters when the battle alert began to sound through out the ship.
Running as fast as he could, Lucas darted into the first room he came to.
"Lucas!" a surprised voice called out as he entered. "Quickly, shut the hatch," the voice ordered.
Lucas quickly did as he was told, closing the heavy hatch and spinning its pressure seal wheel. Captain Bridger had made sure Lucas knew what to do in the case of any potential ship board emergencies. Getting out of the corridor and into a pressure sealed room was always step one. If the hull were to breach, the force of the water charging down the halls would more than likely kill any hapless crew caught there, long before they had a chance to drown. Neither prospect appealed to Lucas.
Lucas looked around the room he'd taken shelter in ... it looked to be one of the engineering substations. He was relieved not to be alone in the room. Lt. Shepherd, one of the engineering crew, stood working calmly at a panel. Lucas wished he felt one tenth as calm as Shepherd appeared to be. His heart pounded so hard in his chest that the beat was almost rocking his body. Lucas took several deep breaths to calm himself, and then moved to stand near Shepherd. He didn't want to interrupt the other man but he was too afraid to stand by himself.
"Uh, Shepherd? Do you know what's going on?" Lucas asked, hoping it was just a surprise drill, but knowing it wasn't.
Shepherd didn't look up from his work as he answered. "Not sure. Looks like we're under attack," he said, motioning briefly to the bridge status display nearby. Lucas examined the display's data ... he didn't like what he saw. He liked it even less a moment later when the display showed four small, fast moving subsurface objects streaking toward the seaQuest.
"Shepherd! I think they just fired on..." Lucas began to warn Shepherd, but his words were drowned out by the deafeningly loud collision alert.
Lucas found himself suddenly being wrenched away from the console and shoved against the wall by the older man.
"Grab hold of that and hang on!" Shepherd yelled in the teen's ear, pointing to the specially designed grips built into the wall. Terrified, Lucas did as he was told and clutched tightly at the handhold. The deck tilted at a steep angle, and Lucas could feel the vibration from the seaQuest's normally smooth engines through the deck. His feet began to slip out from under him as the deck tilted further away. His stomach churned when he felt the huge ship rapidly dropping deeper. He felt a hand grip the back of his shirt and drag him back up closer to the wall.
"Just hang on kid," Shepherd yelled over the strident alarm.
"Captain we have two ... no, four fish in the water. They're hot!" Ortiz yelled from his tactical station.
"Range?" the Captain asked.
"900 meters and closing... They've acquired," Ortiz reported.
"Sound collision," the Captain ordered.
Bridger took a moment to analyze the tactical display as Commander Ford sounded the alarm to warn the crew of the impending danger. The situation was bad. He could see only one option that stood a chance of working, and it wasn't going to be pretty.
"Hard starboard. Crash dive," Bridger ordered calmly to his first officer. He traced a path across the tactical display for Commander Ford to follow. Ford nodded, understanding his Captain's tactic instantly.
"Starboard hard. Blow all ballast. Helm, drop us below that ridge," Ford relayed specific orders to the bridge crew. He held on tightly to the railing, positioning his body so that he could remain upright and functional as the boat tilted. He glanced over to see how the Captain was doing. He was not surprised to see the other man calmly holding the rail and leaning against the slope.
"Time to impact?" the captain asked quietly, amazing Ford with his control.
"11 seconds!" Ortiz reported tensely, unable to match the Captain's relaxed attitude.
Bridger nodded, and began a mental countdown of the time. "Prepare counter measures," he ordered.
"Ready," a calm Lt. Commander Hitchcock reported.
Nathan took a moment to smile ... Katie Hitchcock was going to make an excellent captain someday... provided she survived the next ten seconds.
Silence reigned on the bridge, as time seemed to slow. All eyes focused on the tactical display. It was going to be close ... very close. If the seaQuest could clear the ridge wall and drop down into the trench fast enough, the enemy torpedoes would hit the rock wall instead of the ship.
When Bridger's mental countdown reached 4 seconds he gave the order for the counter measures to be released. Katie obeyed almost instantaneously, and the bridge waited, watching the screen to see what the outcome would be. Nathan watched too, feeling a strange peace settle over him. He'd done everything he could. For better or worse, he knew he'd made the right decisions. With luck, it would be enough.
The torpedoes flew through the cloud of counter measures, only two of them diverted. The remaining two continued on their course for the seaQuest. Nathan sighed disappointed, as he realized they weren't quite going to make it. The second one would almost certainly detonate against the rock wall, but the lead torpedo was just too close. It would reach the boat before they found the safety of the trench.
Lucas felt, rather than heard, two rapid detonations. He realized that it was the destruction of two of the attacking torpedoes he'd seen on the monitor. He squeezed his eyes closed hoping to hear two more, but no more sounds came. Suddenly, he felt a huge hand swat him from the wall, sending him tumbling across the room toward some machinery on the other side. At the last instant Lucas brought his left hand up, shielding his head, before he crashed into an exposed panel. He felt the bones snapping in his fingers, but felt no pain. His body slammed back against the deck, knocking the air from his lungs.
Trying to find some protection from the falling equipment and debris, he crawled up the sloping deck toward the relative safety of a console. He'd almost made it when something hard and heavy landed on his back, crushing him to the deck.
Darkness engulfed the room for a moment before the emergency lighting activated. The room was bathed in an eerie red glow that leached away all other colors. Painfully, Lucas struggled free from the equipment imprisoning him, and reached the console. Dragging himself under it he drew his knees in tight and tried to catch his breath.
Slowly the angle of the deck began to right itself. Lucas hoped that was a sign that the Captain still had control of the boat.
"Shepherd? ... Are you okay?" he rasped out. He was having trouble catching his breath, and every time he inhaled it hurt a little. A mumbled reply sounded from somewhere to his left, he crawled in that direction, not even thinking to stand.
"Damage report!" Bridger demanded the moment the bridge regained control of the boat. They had taken a hard hit, directly to the exposed broad side of the boat. The fact that they still had propulsion, power and what seemed to be most systems online already told him that nothing critical had been hit, but he still needed to know how badly they were hurt.
Lt. Commander Hitchcock rapidly ran a systems check. "Second torpedo impacted the sea floor. We took a hit port side ... decks C and D. There's a hull breach and some flooding on D deck but the auto-containment systems have controlled the breach. Propulsion, power and weapon systems are online," she reported.
Nathan ran the list of tactical and operational systems held on the damaged decks through his mind. The only thing of importance was the port stabilizers, which were obviously still working or the seaQuest would tumble and roll down the abyss beneath them. Something nagged at the back of his mind ... something important he was forgetting. Unable to remember, he pushed the thought aside to concentrate on the more immediate problems of the moment.
"Seal that section, and reroute as many of the damaged systems as you can," the captain ordered, already going back to his tactical display. He needed to concentrate ... he had to find a way to get his boat out of this. After a moment, the idea came and he called to his XO, "Commander, we need to bring our friends out there closer. I want you to cut the power to the aft sections on C and D decks. Be quick, they will be in sensor range in a few moments. I want it to look like we were hit badly. Helm, release control, set us adrift. Lt. O'Neil, I want you on the uplink sending a distress signal... make it sound good."
The captain ignored the quiet, "That won't be hard," mutter that originated at the communications officer's station. Instead he stared furiously at the two small blips on the tactical display coming ever closer. "They want to play rough... fine let's play," he growled.
The captain leaned against Lt. Commander Hitchcock's station. "Commander, I need you to remember all your training in manual weapon targeting," he told her, looking into her eyes till she nodded her head with understanding. "Just don't flood the tubes till we fire, I want this to be a surprise."
Bridger smiled at her, as much as he hated this type of action he knew he was good at it, but it also helped to have a good crew. The bridge crew moved quickly about their orders. Nathan felt the boat tilt slightly as the ocean currents began to push the huge unpowered vessel along, and he hoped it would be enough to convince the attacking submarines that the seaQuest was floundering. He knew it would be an enemy submarine commander's dream to capture the seaQuest intact. He was counting on this enemy's greed to outweigh their good sense.
Several moments later Ortiz broke through the developing tense quiet. "It's working, Captain! Both vessels are slowing their approach. Neither appears ready for immediate firing."
"Of course not, what better prize than the seaQuest?" Commander Ford commented, echoing his captain's thoughts.
"Katie, target both vessels, passive only," the captain ordered.
Nathan watched the concentration on Hichcock's face as she manually targeted the approaching vessels. He knew how difficult the task was, but had complete faith in her ability. Katie Hitchcock was one of the two people he knew who could truly tune out the entire universe when they concentrated their full attention on a problem. The other person was Lucas. For Lucas, that level of concentration seemed almost habitual. With an almost stunning force, Nathan realized what had been hovering at the edge of his awareness. It was Lucas. The boy had been in his quarters on D deck, where Nathan had sent him, when the torpedo had struck. Lucas was in one of the sections he had just ordered sealed. Alone, trapped, possibly hurt ... maybe even dead, and since the section had been sealed, help was going to be a long time coming. He sank into his chair as he imagined all the terrible ways a sixteen year old could have died during the attack.
"Sir?" Commander Ford's voice brought him back to the present, and he looked up into the commander's concerned face. He realized that Hitchcock had just reported a problem and he hadn't responded. Something about not being able to fire until she had control of the stabilizers. With an effort, he shook off the disturbing thoughts and tried to concentrate on his job. There was nothing he could do about Lucas until it was over, and he had several hundred other lives also depending on his decisions. Nathan let his military training take over completely, seeking comfort in the cold detachment it brought him.
He noted the Lt. Commander attempting to contact the auxiliary control room in the damaged section for assistance in rerouting the control and nodded his approval at her efficiency. So far there had been no response, but the commander was doing everything she could. He watched the enemy subs closing in on them with a cold anger. If they couldn't fix the problem, and soon, they would have to risk firing anyway. There was no way he was going to surrender this boat.
Lucas found his way to Shepherd's side and looked the other man over. Shepherd didn't look too good. He was bleeding profusely from a deep gash in his head, and his right leg was obviously broken. The bone gleamed, slick with blood, where it had pierced the skin. Lucas painfully peeled his jacket off, it hurt a lot to move his arms backward, but at last he managed to free himself of it. Balling the material up he made a rough compress for Shepherd's leg. Holding his own injured hand close to his chest for protection, he one-handedly wrapped the sleeves of the jacket around Shepherd's leg. Each of them took a sleeve and pulled the makeshift bandage tight. Shepherd let out a cry of pain as the bandage put pressure on the protruding bone.
"Oh, man. I'm sorry," Lucas apologized for causing the other pain.
"It's okay, kid. You did great. How bad are you hurt?" Shepherd asked through clenched teeth.
Lucas gingerly held his broken hand out where they both could see it. The hand had already swollen badly and was obviously broken in several places. "I broke my hand," Lucas said, stating the obvious.
Shepherd smiled slightly, "Yeah, I can see that ... anything else?"
"Um no. I don't think so. I don't feel so good. I'm really cold and tired, but I think I'm okay ... I'm just bruised, I think," he said, unable to work out exactly how he felt himself.
"Shepherd, this is the bridge. We need you to manually re-route stabilizer control to the bridge," the communications panel announced in Katie Hitchcock's voice.
Shepherd struggled to rise but wasn't able to. "Damn!" he swore loudly. He turned to the teenager. "Lucas, I need your help."
"Sure, anything," Lucas agreed instantly.
Shepherd spared him a short smile. "Look over on the far wall, behind the console. Can you see that orange looking handle high on the wall?"
Lucas nodded. "Yeah."
"I need you to pull that all the way down," Shepherd instructed, patting him gently on the shoulder to encourage the boy.
Lucas got slowly to his feet, fighting off a sudden wave of nausea as the room spun. He was feeling worse by the moment, and suddenly he wasn't so sure he was all right. Breathing was becoming increasingly difficult and painful. Moving as fast as he could, he stumbled over to the lever. He reached up to take the handle with his good hand, but before he could grasp it a stabbing pain shot through his chest.
He coughed hard for several seconds, using the wall for support. His mouth filled with vile tasting phlegm, and he spat it out on to the deck where it gleamed blackly in the low lighting. Dimly he realized in his haze filled mind that coughing up sticky black stuff was not a good thing, but he was too tired to care. He looked up at the lever ... he knew all he had to do was reach up, grab it and pull it down but suddenly the entire prospect seemed just too hard. Every breath was becoming a struggle ... he wasn't even sure how much longer he could stand.
"Shepherd, we need stabilizer control now! ... Shepherd, can you hear me? Shepherd, please respond," Commander Hitchcock's voice called out urgently in the quiet room.
Katie's voice had held a note of desperation, and Lucas realized he needed to do his job. Even if the crew didn't want him around anymore, while he was still on board the seaQuest he was just as responsible to the ship as everyone else. Needing the strength, Lucas concentrated on breathing for a moment. He found that if he took quick shallow breaths it didn't hurt as much. Raising his hand over his head was agony, and he would have cried out if he'd had the breath. Willing his hand upward, he finally felt his fingers curl around the handle grip. With the last of his remaining strength he pulled it down.
Spent, he let his exhausted body slide down the metal wall to the strangely comfortable deck. Some part of his mind acknowledged Shepherd calling out his name but he was too tired to reply. He was too tired to do anything at all.
"Prepare to fire," Bridger ordered.
"Captain, we have an incoming transmission from the lead sub," O'Neil announced.
Bridger nodded and was about to order him to open a line when Katie Hitchcock interrupted in an excited voice. "Captain, we have stabilizer control!"
Nathan smiled in genuine pleasure. "Commander Ford, when this is over, Shepherd gets a day off."
"Yes, sir," Ford agreed, returning his smile.
"All right, O'Neil, let's hear what they have to say," Bridger said, nodding to the communications officer.
Within seconds the Captain was staring into the intense blue eyes of his enemy. The man's blonde hair and pale appearance momentarily distracted him. The man was very much as Nathan imagined Lucas would appear in time ... if the boy were still alive. The illusion was shattered the moment the man began to speak.
"I am Captain Hassman, Commander of the Vindicator. On the behalf of the Western Alliance, you, Captain Bridger, are ordered to surrender your vessel. Prepare to be boarded," the enemy Captain announced gleefully, his blue eyes glowing with barely contained contempt... an emotion Nathan had never seen Lucas display.
Bridger outwardly relaxed, his emotions held firmly in check. "Captain Hassman, this vessel belongs to the UEO. Do you really want to start a war you can't possibly win?" he attempted to reason.
"What I want is not your concern. Following my instructions is. You have sixty seconds to comply," Hassman snapped
Bridger felt his ire rise, the man was a fool. "No Captain, we will not be surrendering this boat. You are ordered to stand down. You have thirty seconds," Bridger returned the threat and nodded to O'Neil who cut the transmission.
"Katie, flood the tubes, prepare to fire. Commander Ford, bring all our power back on line. Helm, hold this position," Bridger ordered, the bridge crew leaping into action.
"Captain, the Vindicator is flooding its tubes .. the other sub seems to be holding position," Ortiz called out from his station.
"Damn. Commander Hitchcock, target Vindicator, fire at will," the Captain ordered, feeling angry and pained at the other Captain's arrogant stupidity . The seaQuest shuddered slightly as two torpedoes were released from the forward tubes. Bridger watched sadly as the Vindicator tried to maneuver away from the attack, but it was unable to get clear before the seaQuest's weapons hit. The Vindicator seemed to almost crumple in on itself as it broke apart. Bridger noticed depressingly few life pods ejected from the crumpled shell of the boat and begin to make their way toward the remaining sub.
"Vindicator has been destroyed," Ortiz reported unnecessarily. "The other boat is standing down, Captain."
Bridger nodded "Mr. O'Neil, raise that boat. Let's get this mess sorted out as fast as we can."
Shepherd was worried, he hadn't been able to get a response from Lucas since the kid had reroute the stabilizer, despite his repeated calls. Since then, he had felt the seaQuest firing and the power had come back, filling the room with bright, but welcomed, normal lighting. Painfully, he began to drag himself over to where he knew the kid had to be. His first sight of the boy slumped against the wall, a thin trail of blood trickling from the corner of his mouth, filled Shepherd with terror and he redoubled his efforts.
At last he made it to Lucas' side and gently shook the teenager's shoulder, trying to wake him. "Lucas, come on kid. Wake up," he called urgently to the boy. He shook him harder when the gentle shaking got no response.
Slowly, Lucas opened his eyes, his vision swimming, but he could clearly make out Shepherd's concerned face before him. Shepherd smiled. "Hey there, you were starting to worry me," Shepherd told the teen.
"I'm cold," Lucas managed to mumble.
Shepherd carefully pulled at Lucas until the teenager's body rested against his chest. "Is that better?" he asked as soon as Lucas was settled.
Lucas nodded. Not only was he warmer, but the physical contact helped to ease some of his fear. He began to fall asleep.
Shepherd shook him. "Hey, Lucas. I need you to stay awake for me."
"Why?" Lucas asked, annoyed and desperately wanting to sleep.
Shepherd thought fast. He knew that Lucas wouldn't stay awake without a reason, and he didn't want to worry the kid with the very real fear that if he slept he might never wake again; so he said the first reason that came to his mind. "If you're asleep, then I'll be by myself, and I really don't want to be alone in here."
Lucas smiled slightly. "So much for navy guys being tough ... You're not supposed to be afraid of anything."
"Ha, I'm as tough as they come! I just don't want to get bored," Shepherd defended himself. It hadn't been a very convincing lie, but it had got the job done. Lucas was fully awake, now all Shepherd had to do was keep him that way until help came.
"I don't know, I'm not very good company right now," Lucas mumbled dejectedly, then broke into a coughing fit. Shepherd held him tight until it was over, and Lucas had exhaustedly relaxed back against him.
"What are you talking about? You're always good company," Shepherd said, continuing the conversation as if nothing had happened.
"That's not what the Captain thinks," Lucas mumbled bitterly.
"Come on, you know the captain loves having you around," Shepherd said, utterly confused by Lucas' inexplicable attitude.
"Yeah? If that's so, then why is he having me put off the boat?"
"You're kidding? There's no way he'd think of putting you off the boat. The whole boat knows the only reason Bridger is here at all is because you are."
"Well, I guess he changed his mind. He and Dr. Westphalen have it all planned out. Nice and neat."
Shepherd was becoming concerned, it was obvious that Lucas believed what he was saying but there was just no way it was true. Someone must have been feeding the kid false stories, but for the life of him Shepherd couldn't figure out why or who would do such a thing.
"Lucas," he began tentatively. "I don't know what you've heard or who told you, but they are dead wrong."
Lucas shook his head. "No one told me. I heard the Captain and Westphalen planning it. The Captain said he wanted me off the boat immediately, and they were laughing at me like I was some kind of joke," Lucas said in a soft voice. Shepherd could see several tears trickling their way slowly down Lucas' cheeks.
"I'm sorry, Lucas, I just can't see it. Even if the Captain did go temporarily insane and try to put you off, he'd probably have a mutiny on his hands. There are a lot of us who are glad you're here Lucas."
"You don't have to pretend you like me, Shepherd. I've spent most of my life not being liked, I know how to handle it." Lucas sounded resigned, and that worried Shepherd more than anything else. He needed to keep Lucas' spirits up or the boy wasn't going to make it. It was obvious even to Shepherd's limited medical training that Lucas' life was in danger. Desperately, he wished the rescue teams would hurry. Needing to reinforce Lucas' will to fight he decide to try a different tact.
"Lucas, I'm not pretending, I really do like you ... a lot. Besides, there is another very important reason why the Captain wouldn't put you off. This boat would be lost without you and your computer skills.... Just look at what you did today, fixing that weird bug in..." Shepherd was cut off by Lucas' low gasping chuckle. The laugh was not a pleasant sound and ended up in another harsh cough.
When he had caught he breath back Lucas decided to confess himself to Shepherd since he was becoming sure he would never get the chance to tell the Captain. "Shepherd, I caused that bug. I wrote it on purpose so the captain would have to let me stay for a bit longer. I don't know why I did it really. I was angry. I wasn't thinking ... and I'm really sorry.... Could you do me a favor? Could you tell the Captain about it and tell him how sorry I am. At least it will give him a good reason to get rid of me ... not that he's going to need one any more.. I don't think I'm going to be a problem to him soon anyway," Lucas finished. He was tired, but he was glad he'd managed to tell someone the truth. After a moment he realized Shepherd hadn't answered.
"Shepherd?" he asked softly. When the other didn't answer immediately, he looked up at his face. Shepherd's face was a mask of surprised disbelief and Lucas knew he had lost whatever friendship Shepherd had had for him. It was understandable, after all, Lucas had betrayed the ship. "You hate me. You know you don't have to stay with me if you don't want to," Lucas said, hoping desperately the other wouldn't leave him alone.
At Lucas' words Shepherd snapped out of his shock. He couldn't believe Lucas had done that ... that the kid had felt so threatened that he had seen it as a solution. "I don't hate you, Lucas ... I was just surprised, and I'm not leaving you until you're better," he told the kid, hugging him tighter.
"Thanks... I'm scared," Lucas said in a small voice, his eyes beginning to droop closed.
"Lucas! Lucas, stay with me," Shepherd pleaded, but Lucas' eyes had already closed. Shepherd could see he was still alive from the labored breathing, but he knew Lucas had just taken one step closer to the edge.
The negotiations with the remaining Western Alliance sub had gone quickly. Not fast enough for Bridger, whose concern for Lucas had been growing by the moment. Nathan had been expecting, and hoping, for a call from the boy since the moment the shooting had stopped. As each moment passed without the call, he grew more certain that Lucas was in serious trouble. He had already ordered repair crews to the damaged decks, but despite knowing he couldn't do anything until the crews had finished clearing the flooding, he still felt the need to be there. Finally, the last of the doomed Vindicator's survival pods were pulled aboard the other sub, and the sub's commander began to retreat after getting assurances from Bridger that the seaQuest would settle things fairly.
When Nathan was sure the other attack sub was definitely leaving the conflict, he ordered the seaQuest back to the original dispute. Both subs had maintained their standoff, neither able to gain advantage from the battle going on nearby. Bridger had no patience left, and it showed on his face as he had O'Neil open a communications link to both ships.
"This is over. You will both immediately back off. I mean now," Bridger ordered coolly, without greeting either captain.
To his amazement, both vessels complied immediately by slowly reversing their courses. As soon as the two subs were no longer within firing range of each other, they held their positions.
Bridger turned toward his first officer. "The UEO negotiations teams should be here soon ... you have the Bridger commander," Bridger told the stunned man.
"Captain?" Ford queried, shocked that the captain would be leaving the bridge before the crisis was completely resolved.
Nathan didn't stop walking toward the opening clam doors. "I'll be on deck D if you need me ... Lucas is there."
The surprise on Ford's face dissolved into concern. He had completely forgotten about Lucas. Usually, during a dangerous situation, the boy was in the thick of things on the bridge. Ford had often thought the bridge was no place for a sixteen-year-old during a crisis, no matter how talented, but at least then they had known he was safe, and even though he hated to admit it, Lucas had been extremely helpful to the boat on more than one occasion. As he watched the captain leave, his eyes locked with Katie Hitchcock's ... he could tell she had forgotten the kid too.
"Don't worry, he'll be all right," Ford told her, trying to believe it himself.
Shepherd hugged the boy's thin body close to his own. He couldn't believe it, this couldn't be happening ... he had joined the navy to keep the peace and put a stop to this kind of thing; the innocent getting hurt. Kids like Lucas didn't get blown up and die on submarines, they were supposed to discover girls and go to parties. He didn't want to be holding this kid and watch him as he died, but if help didn't come very soon for Lucas, Shepherd knew that was exactly what was going to happen. The kid's breaths came in short pained wheezes, and it didn't take a medical genius to figure out there wasn't much time left.
Relief flooded him as he heard the one sound he been praying for, a short sharp rap against the hatch door. The rescue teams were checking the room to see if it was flooded before opening the door. Chief Crocker's face was the first Shepherd saw enter the room.
"Chief, over here! Get a medic quick," Shepherd called out.
Crocker's face filled with horror as he took in the scene, then he vanished from Shepherd's sight. A moment later Shepherd could hear him calling out down the corridor. "Captain, Doctor! He's back here. He's hurt."
Within moments, medical staff surrounded Shepherd and Lucas. Dr. Westphalen began treating Lucas, who was obviously the more seriously hurt of the pair. Shepherd gratefully released his burden to the medical staff, happy that his prayers had been answered. His relief was short lived when Lucas stopped breathing. Doctor Westphalen began to work with feverish speed to resuscitate him. Shepherd was shocked, for some reason he'd imagined that as soon as Lucas was in the hands of the medical staff he would be okay. He watched the doctor work, hardly feeling the hands of the medics treating his own injuries.
Doctor Westphalen quickly had a tube down Lucas' throat and began to pump air into him by hand. She seemed to relax a little and Shepherd felt his own anxiety ease as well. He looked to the Captain standing behind all the activity so as not to get in the way. Fear stood out clearly on the man's face, it didn't look at all like the face of someone who didn't care ... it looked more like the face of a father with a critically ill child. At that moment, Shepherd knew for certain that Lucas had been wrong, the captain cared deeply for him. There was no way the captain would just dump the kid.
Shepherd made a decision. As soon as he was sure the boy was going to live, he would have to tell the captain what Lucas had told him. The Captain would need to know so that he could help the kid. He knew he didn't know the captain well enough personally to feel comfortable about discussing it with him but he knew it would have to be done. If Lucas didn't make it, he decided he wouldn't tell anyone... it would serve no purpose for others to know, and would only hurt the captain unnecessarily.
Nathan held the boy's hand as he slept. Lucas' pale body rested amid a jungle of monitors wires and tubes. Nathan didn't know what half of the equipment attached to Lucas did, but he was very grateful that they were there keeping the kid alive. Kristen had explained the function of one of the larger pieces, the respirator. Nathan smiled as the machine emitted a sharp chirp. The doctor had explained how that machine was responsible for doing most of Lucas' breathing for him. Every time Lucas took a breath for himself the machine would beep and record the count. Nathan rubbed the hand he held. It was the only hand available, Lucas' other hand was mummified in a swath of gauze to keep his broken fingers safe from more damage. He was amazed at how proud he was at Lucas' achievement, that had been the fourth breath in a row Lucas had taken for himself, he waited with hope for a fifth but was disappointed when the machine took the breath instead.
Kristen had warned him that it was going to be a fairly slow road to recovery, it would be weeks before Lucas would be leaving med bay. Nathan wasn't too concerned by that, since Kristen had also said she was confident that Lucas was going to fully recover. Nathan could wait. Watching Lucas fight so hard for his life, and nearly loose it, had been the most frightening moment Nathan could remember in his own life. He didn't care how long it took for Lucas to get better, as long as it happened.
Lucas' hand twitched under his and Nathan could see the kid's eyes moving underneath the closed lids. "Kristen," he called softly across the room to the doctor.
Kristen quickly came over to stand by the bed, and rested her hand gently against the side of the boy's face. Lucas' eyes fluttered open a slit. A moment later they flew wide open in fear, his body began to weakly buck and struggle as the realization hit him that he couldn't breathe.
"Lucas, relax. Everything is all right. Don't fight it. The machine is helping you. Just relax. That's it," Kristen soothingly talked Lucas through his first few panicked moments on the respirator.
She gently stroked the boy's hair as she spoke, helping to calm him into letting the machine assist him. Lucas' eyes filled with tears of fear and pain as he tried to do what the doctor was telling him. He desperately wanted to talk, to ask what had happened and what was happening to him, but the tube down his throat prevented it.
Doctor Westphalen smiled at her patient ... Lucas was handling the respirator very well, better than many adult patients had. "Lucas, you are going to be fine. You have broken ribs. You're on a machine that is helping you to breathe until you're stronger. Don't fight it. If you relax you'll find you can take breaths for yourself. I want you to do that as often as you can, okay?"
Lucas tried to smile and nodded slightly, pleased that the doctor had told him what was going on. From beside the bed the respirator chirped again. Kristen smiled and planed a quick kiss to the top of Lucas' head. "Good boy. You're doing just fine."
Exhausted, Lucas fell back to sleep and Kristen turned her attention to the captain. She knew he was deeply concerned for Lucas, but he looked terrible. He needed sleep. "He's not going to be waking up again any time soon. You need to get some rest too," she told him kindly.
"I know. I just don't want to leave him alone."
"I'll make sure someone stays with him. I promise, I'll call you the instant he wakes."
Nathan was still uncertain, he was tired ... exhausted actually, but he really didn't want to leave when Lucas so obviously needed him.
"Nathan, I know he looks bad, but he really is going to be all right. He will probably be off the respirator in a day or two and after that he is going to be very sore, but he is recovering very well. You wait and see, he's going to be back to his obnoxious teenage best in no time."
Nathan smiled at her little joke and nodded in agreement. "The sad thing is, I'm looking forward to that."
He got up to leave, realizing he wouldn't do anyone any good if he fell asleep on his feet. He repeated Kristen's earlier actions, and dropped a kiss on Lucas' forehead. Usually, Nathan was reticent to be seen showing anyone so much affection in public, but Lucas' close brush with death had scared him, and he wasn't the least bit ashamed to show it.
True to her words, two days later, Kristen had Lucas freed of the respirator and most of the other medical equipment. All that remained was the oxygen tube resting under the boy's nose and a single monitor silently recording his heart rate and blood oxygen levels. Nathan would have been ecstatic with the kid's progress if he wasn't so upset and confused by Lucas' attitude.
The first few times Lucas had woken he had been at first happy to see the captain. Then, as if remembering something, he would withdraw and turn away. Nathan was unable to get any response from him other than single word replies to direct questions, and it was driving him crazy. He knew Lucas must blame him for failing to protect him and not getting him away from the danger, but every time he tried to explain or apologize to him Lucas got upset. The boy refused all of Nathan's approaches.
Nathan stood up after what had been another unhappy visit. Lucas was awake but his face and as much of his body as possible on the narrow bed was turned away from the captain. It was obvious Lucas didn't want him there.
"Okay, Kiddo. I'll let you get some rest," Nathan said sadly, not knowing what else to say. He couldn't help gently brushing aside a bang of unruly hair from the boy's eyes. Lucas closed his eyes at the captain's touch and Nathan sighed, feeling the pain of the rejection. The Captain left Lucas' room, gently shutting the door behind him. He had almost made it to the med bay exit when a quiet voice stopped him.
"Captain, sir?" Shepherd asked, feeling very apprehensive about what he was doing. Dr. Westphalen had assured him that Lucas was well on the way to a good recovery, but he had heard from other medical staff that the teenager had become withdrawn and was barely speaking to anyone. From the bewildered look on the Captain's face as he left the boy's room Shepherd knew it was true.
"Yes, Lt.?" the captain asked.
Feeling increasingly unsure, Shepherd almost backed out, but instead took a deep breath to bolster his courage. "Captain, I have to talk to you. When Lucas and I were waiting for rescue, we talked and he told me a few things he wanted you to know. I guess he's still having trouble telling you himself, and I really think you need to hear it," Shepherd said, locking eyes with he captain.
The captain nodded, he took a seat and prepared himself to listen to what Shepherd had to say. "Before you begin, Lt. I want you to know how grateful I am for everything you did for Lucas. I'm very glad he wasn't alone through all this."
Shepherd shifted uncomfortably at the praise, and broke eye contact with the captain ... this was going to be hard enough to do without watching the reaction on the captain's face. Shepherd launched into a detailed recount of what had passed between Lucas and himself. He left nothing out ... telling the captain about Lucas' belief that the captain and doctor had made plans to have him removed from the boat and Lucas' own rash actions to stay.
Bridger let him talk uninterrupted until he was finished, only then did Shepherd turn to face the captain again. He could tell the Captain was struggling to come to terms with what he had just heard.
"Lucas said he heard Kristen and I actually planning this? Did he say when?" the captain asked confused.
"No, sir. Only that you had it all worked out, and that you were laughing at him. Sir? I mean ... it's not true is it?"
"No, of course not. Kristen and I would never laugh at Lucas. I can't imagine how he could have thought... Oh ... Oh no," Nathan said, remembering the conversation he'd had with Westphalen in the lab.
As he thought of it, the details of the conversation came flooding back to him. He tried to put himself in Lucas' position; hearing those words out of context, and with an unhealthy dose of insecurity and paranoia. He realized that Lucas could easily have convinced himself that he was about to be dumped again. Nathan sighed, he didn't know what he felt. He was embarrassed at having been overheard joking about the kid, he was sorry for the pain the words had obviously caused Lucas and he was angry ... angry with Lucas for what he had done. It hurt him deeply that Lucas had not trusted him and had believed the worst. The more Nathan thought about it, he realized that he was most angry with the kid's parents ... for raising a kid who so expected abandonment he could find it where it didn't exist.
Nathan fought down the urge to march straight back into Lucas' room, confront the kid with what he knew and demand an explanation. That tactic had been spectacularly unsuccessful with Robert. When confronted, Lucas and Robert tended to react the same way, becoming defensive and refusing to discuss the issue. Nathan stood. Thanking Shepherd for the information, he decided to take a walk to cool down before speaking to Lucas again. He'd learnt that much from his experiences with Robert, and he didn't intend to make the same mistakes with Lucas.
He left the med bay and stalked through the seaQuest's corridors, eventually finding himself at the moon pool. Things had been so hectic hadn't had a chance to visit with Darwin since Lucas' injury, so he was pleased to see the sleek gray form gliding toward him under the water's surface. It came as a surprise when instead of a greeting, Darwin shot a blast of spray all over him.
"Hey! What was that for?" Nathan asked, wiping the water droplets from his face.
The dolphin whistled and clicked continuously for a long moment. The vocorder was unable to keep up with the translation and remained silent ... the translation error light blinking steadily.
"Darwin, you have to speak slowly. Remember? The vocorder can't keep up if you talk too fast," Bridger explained patiently.
"Bridger bad. Break pod," the dolphin cried, shooting another blast of spray toward the captain. Nathan sidestepped the shot, missing most of it.
"Darwin will you calm down? I have no idea what you are talking about."
"Bridger make Lucas leave ... Bridger break pod."
Nathan sighed. "Not you, too ... Look, Darwin, I have no intention of making Lucas leave the seaQuest. I was just trying to get him somewhere safe for a while. If he hadn't gotten his wires crossed listening to something he shouldn't have, he would be perfectly safe and having a nice little holiday."
"Lucas has wires?" Darwin asked confused.
"Uh? Oh sorry, Darwin, that's just an expression. I meant Lucas made a mistake."
"Human people, too many expressions."
Nathan nodded. "That's not the worst of it, Pal. Sometimes people can say one thing and the person listening doesn't hear the right meaning. Don't worry ... it's confusing for us too."
Darwin thought about it for a while then came to a decision. "Dolphin better," he informed his human friend wisely.
"I think I agree with you, Pal."
"Bridger keep Lucas?" Darwin asked, wanting to be sure he had heard the right meaning.
"Yeah. He's in a whole lot of trouble when he gets better, but he is definitely here to stay," the captain assured the dolphin.
"Darwin visit Lucas?"
Yeah, I think he'd like that."
Darwin rolled once then shot off down the tube toward med bay. Nathan smiled at Darwin's simple enthusiasm, he still didn't know what he was going to do with Lucas, but he felt better than he had in days.
Lucas shifted awkwardly on the narrow bed ... he couldn't seem to find any position that was comfortable enough to let him get some rest. Every time he moved, stabs of pain shot through his chest and back, but couldn't stay in the same position for long because the area of his body in contact with the bed would begin to ache after a while. When the ache got too bad, he would be forced to move and the cycle would begin again. Lucas was miserable. Even worse than the physical pain was his emotional state.
He longed to talk to the captain, to confess what he had done, but he knew that as soon as he did he'd be on the next launch to the surface. There was a chance the captain would even have him arrested, and it was a sure thing the captain would never speak to him again. He knew he was fooling himself hoping that the captain cared for him, but he got too much comfort from the other man's presence, he just couldn't bring himself to end it.
Lucas wasn't sure why the captain had been spending so much time with him since he'd been hurt. The cynical side of him knew the captain was there to protect his investment. It just wouldn't do for the captain to be elsewhere when the son of one of the seaQuest's major investors was injured. The more innocent and desperate part of him clung to the thought that the captain did care, at least enough to want to comfort him when he was hurt. Regardless of the captain's motive for staying with him, it would be over when he knew the truth, it was just a matter of time before Shepherd told him. Lucas knew it would be better if he told the captain himself but he just couldn't ... he'd tried everyday but hadn't been able to form the words.
Shifting again to relieve the pressure from his newest ache, Lucas was pleasantly surprised to see Darwin floating in the aqua-tube nearby. He smiled and waved at his friend.
"Well I'm glad to see you're feeling better," the captain said, from his position in the doorway.
Lucas' face fell, and he turned his head toward the wall.
"Oh no you don't," the captain said, taking Lucas' chin in his hand and turning the boy's face back toward him. "We have some very serious things to discuss, like overhearing conversations and computer viruses, and we are going to talk about them now," he said gently but firmly.
"You spoke to Shepherd?" Lucas asked, defeated.
Lucas considered the information for a moment before speaking. The captain waited patiently for him to reply.
"What happens now?" Lucas asked at last.
"Now... we talk about it."
"Are you going to have me arrested?" Lucas asked in a quiet voice.
Nathan was surprised; he hadn't even considered that. He realized that if the perpetrator had been anyone else other than Lucas, he would certainly have considered it immediately. Sending Lucas to prison wasn't an option the captain was even remotely considering as a possible punishment, though it was plain Lucas had considered it.
"Your punishment is part of what I need to discuss with you. You potentially put this boat, and the lives of everyone on board her, into danger with that stunt. Would you care to tell me why?" Nathan asked.
"It doesn't matter. I did it. You do whatever you have to," Lucas answered sullenly.
Nathan felt his temper rise, he hated it when Lucas got difficult. "Thank you so much for your permission. Now, answer the question. Why?"
Lucas blushed at his inadvertently giving the captain an order. "I don't know," Lucas insisted.
"What? ... So the other day, you woke up. Then decided it was a good day to sabotage the seaQuest?" Nathan practically shouted.
"No! It wasn't like that. I wasn't trying to hurt anyone. I just needed to buy some time."
"Time for what?"
"Nothing. It doesn't matter," Lucas mumbled.
"So, we're back to it not mattering? It matters to me, Lucas. Come on, Kiddo, you've got to help me here. I don't understand," Nathan asked, softening his approach.
"Please don't call me that," Lucas said sadly.
"What? ... Kiddo?"
"Because you don't mean it, and you don't have to pretend you like me anymore." Lucas snapped.
"Who's pretending?" Nathan asked, calm now that he was getting to the heart of the problem. By comparison, the deep furrow in Lucas' brow showed the teenager was getting angry.
"Oh come on! I'm not an idiot. I know what's going on," Lucas shouted back.
"Then why don't you tell me, because I have no idea," Nathan prompted.
Lucas glared at him incredulously. "I guess kicking me off the boat isn't a big deal to you. Well it's a big deal to me. You didn't even think to ask me where I wanted to go. You just get Westphalen to find the first convenient place to dump me and I'm not supposed to get upset about it? Well I am," Lucas ranted.
"Lucas, I know what you thought you heard... but you are wrong. You only heard one part of the conversation. Kristen and I were planing to remove you from the seaQuest, but only temporarily. You were going to spend a few weeks in Arizona and then you were coming back. I can assure you, if ever the time came that I felt you should permanently leave the seaQuest, I'll come to you and talk to you about it ... face to face. What I want to know, is why you didn't come and talk about what you overheard? I thought we had a trust going... why didn't you come to me?"
"I really don't know," Lucas answered after a few moments thought.
"That's not good enough, Lucas. I need to know, and you need to tell me, so we can be sure this won't happen again."
"I didn't think you would listen to me," Lucas admitted, tears forming in his eyes.
"Have I ever shown you any sign that I wasn't interested in your opinion? Have I ever given you any reason to believe that I didn't want you?"
Lucas remained silent but he shook his head and his gaze slid from the captain's face.
"Lucas, I can't even begin to explain to you how far off base you are. You mean a great deal to me, Kiddo ... more than anyone else alive. How could you think I didn't care?"
"No body else cares. My parents don't. I thought it had all been a pretense, like some sick joke."
Nathan was surprised. "Do you seriously think I would do that to you... or to anyone?"
"No ... I thought you had gotten sick of me, but didn't want to hurt my feelings because you felt sorry for me. If it wasn't for the computers I wouldn't understand why you would keep me around ... let alone care about me."
"I'm not the only one, there are a lot of people who care about you, Lucas. As for why ... there are a lot of reasons. None of them have to do with how smart you are and all of them have to do with who you are inside," Nathan told the boy, gently resting his hand on the boy's bruised chest above the heart.
Lucas locked eyes with the captain, searching them deeply for the truth. Nathan could tell the boy desperately wanted to believe what he was hearing but just wasn't able to accept the possibility. Nathan sighed deeply; the kid had come a long way since he'd been on the boat but he still had a long way left to go.
"Lucas, at some point you are going to have to take a leap of faith and start trusting the people around you. I would like you to trust me, I promise you I will listen. I may not agree but I will definitely listen."
Lucas was unable to answer and settled for a nod.
"Just think about it. We'll talk more about it later. You need some rest," Nathan said, realizing how stressed the kid was becoming. If Westphalen spotted Lucas in this state Nathan would never hear the end of it.
Nathan stood. "Lucas if it helps you rest easier. You are not going to jail and you are not being put off the seaQuest. In fact, I wouldn't count on leaving this boat for the foreseeable future at all if I were you. You are well and truly grounded young man. We'll sort out the details later when you're well."
Nathan turned to leave. "Captain? ... I'm very sorry," Lucas called out softly to him as he left.
Nathan turned from the door to look at the boy. "I know you are, Kiddo. Get some rest, we'll sort this out later."
Shepherd sat picking at his food ... he was bored beyond belief. He had been placed on extended medical leave, which had resulted in his being forcibly chased out of engineering every time he had tried to show his face there. Because of his broken leg, half of the boat's better entertainments were also off limits for him leaving him nothing to do. He found himself spending hours each day picking at his lunch, just to see how long he could make it last. It wasn't much fun but it was at least something to do. His detailed dissection of his lettuce leaf was interrupted by a shadow falling across his plate. He looked up into Lucas' nervous face.
"Hi Shepherd. I was wondering if I could join you?" Lucas asked quietly.
"Lucas, sure. Pull up a seat," Shepherd said happily. He hadn't spoken to Lucas since they had both been released from med bay but he had seen the boy around. The kid hadn't seemed too interested in talking to him, and Shepherd had assumed it was because the teenager was angry with him for telling the captain of their conversation. Lucas struggled to put down his tray with his good hand; the broken one still firmly swathed in bandages.
"How are you feeling?" Shepherd asked, once the kid had taken his seat.
"I'm good? You?"
"Yeah, fine... bored out of my mind, but good."
Lucas laughed. "Yeah, same here... what's worse, I've been banned from the internex and using my computers for anything but official seaQuest business, so there is absolutely nothing interesting I can do."
"You should try dissecting your lunch ... it's very scientific. You'd probably enjoy it." Shepherd advised, indicating the well-processed contents of his plate.
"Nah, I do that anyway. Westphalen's trying to get me to kick the habit," Lucas grinned.
Shepherd smiled. "How long is the grounding going to last?" he asked interested.
"Until Bridger stops being mad at me I guess. Last time I asked him ... yesterday ... he said it would be at least another month," Lucas moaned.
"Wow... that's over two months. I guess he was pretty mad. I'm sorry if you're upset that I told him, Lucas. I felt I had to," Shepherd explained.
"Hey, no. I'm glad you told him. In fact that's why I'm here ... To thank you for doing it. I'm not enjoying being grounded, but I know I do deserve to be ... besides, I'm keeping busy."
Shepherd laughed. "So I hear. It's all over the boat what you did to Kreig ... it was priceless. Tell me, how the hell did you manage it? I've been going nuts trying to figure it out."
Lucas grinned, leaning in conspiratorially. "It was easy. All I did was..."