Chapter 54

Tim's heart pounded in his chest as Jim and Miguel piloted the shuttle away from seaQuest. He was still breathing hard from running all the way to launch bay. He was concerned for the captain and commander, but only slightly. It really wasn't difficult or time-consuming to activate missiles. When they ran the simulation, they'd had even less time and still made it out just fine. Plus, the Stinger was much faster than any of the shuttles.

He also felt a pang of loss for seaQuest. She was something special, and even if they built another one, it would never be the same. He'd just gotten used to the new bridge design on the II. There was no telling what annoying and totally pointless changes they'd make on a third one. Not to mention how miserable he was going to be while they built her. The last one had taken sixteen months to build. He hadn't been assigned to the shipyard until the tenth month. The prospect of another nine months of being the roving communications relief stooge for every sub in the UEO made him shudder.

The unspoken rule was that it was bad manners to show-up whoever held the permanent assignment. The roving relief was supposed to be bottom-feeding scum, someone so incompetent that he couldn't hold a permanent position himself. But Tim couldn't pretend he didn't know a language when he did and he couldn't just look the other way when a radio went on the fritz. Sure, the commanding officers always raved about him, but everyone else on the boat was sure he was after their best buddy's job. Not fun.

But the only alternative was desk duty and Tim simply didn't have an office-compatible personality. He could do the work. That part was easy. It was dealing with juvenile office politics and trying to avoid being the butt of every joke told at the water cooler that he hated. On seaQuest, he was respected and he even had friends. Anywhere else, he was the proverbial sore thumb.

Maybe he should just accept leave and try to paint again. Too bad he already knew how badly it would work out. It wasn't that he didn't think he could ever get better. He probably could. But he now knew, beyond any doubt, that he wasn't gifted in painting. Nothing he painted would ever be in a museum. He could paint for his personal enjoyment, but even that was hard to envision after his last 'model' had turned on him. Somehow, painting had lost its appeal.

Was the knot at the pit of his stomach really just his selfish concerns about where he was going to spend the next few months? That monstrous mothership was going to fly off into space and implode like a supernova, killing everyone aboard. Sure, they were wrong. Tim agreed 100% with Captain Bridger's reasoning about not letting them get away with kidnapping or stealing. He knew it was necessary for Earth's security. But how many Hyberions were crew on that spaceship, just following orders, and didn't even know the humans were opposed to what they were doing?

And whose fault was it they didn't know? No matter how he tried to talk himself out of it, Tim couldn't shake the feeling that he was the one who should have been able to warn the innocent. He was the communications officer. He made the warning recording. But he hadn't made it in their language.

Lieutenant Brody surfaced the shuttle about a mile away from seaQuest. Yet, even that far away, they weren't out from under the shadow of the giant saucer. It was at least a mile in radius. Brody braced himself in the shuttle's open hatch and started filming. SeaQuest hadn't appeared above the surface yet, and by Tim's calculations, wouldn't be appearing for at least another five minutes, unless something changed the rate of ascent. But just as soon as that thought crossed his mind, Wile E. Coyote extended a metal arm down into the water and the light-beam vanished.

Although alien in design, there was no mistaking the purpose of that metal extension. It had a mechanical hand, just like the sea-crabs and the VR probe had. And its hand was huge. It could only mean one thing. They'd used some kind of energy tractor beam to tow seaQuest from the depths, but now they were going to physically grab her. Tim had already resolved the boat to capture, but this development brought fresh worry to his mind. This could change the rate of ascent, and worse, this hand could grab in such a way as to render the exit blocked.

After the hand plunged under the water, it was impossible to see how far the shaft was moving or when it grabbed its prey and started retracting the other direction. Brody yelled down from his perch, "Someone call the captain and tell him what we're seeing."

"I got it," Tim said as he moved next to Miguel. He had the headset on and the correct switches pressed before his butt hit the seat. "MR-12 to Captain Bridger. Please come in."

"Bridger to MR-12, we see it. Is Brody getting it on video?"

"Yes, sir. We're about a mile due south of seaQuest. He's filming everything. Can you tell if the launch bay doors are unobstructed, sir?" Tim held his breath. There was nothing anyone could do if that mechanical arm had clamped over the only escape route. Please don't be blocked. Please don't be blocked.

"No, can't tell from here, but it doesn't matter. We're already out."

The Stinger zipped by, close enough that MR-12 felt her wake and bobbed in the sea like a storm-tossed cork. Tim exhaled his held breath. That's what he got for not checking sonar. After feeling relief that everyone was out of seaQuest, his nausea returned. It didn't help that they were surfaced and riding waves now. Tim backed out of the pilot's seat and nudged his way past the bridge crew standing in the aisle, excusing himself until he got to Dr. Smith.

He hated being so susceptible to sea sickness, but if he didn't get some kind of medication very soon, he was going to be even more embarrassed. "Doctor," he whispered. "Do you have any..." He stopped mid-sentence because too many people were staring. He realized he didn't have to ask out loud. He finished by Transmitting:…motion sickness meds?

"Sure, Lieutenant," she answered without giving anything away. "Sorry. I should have remembered." She rummaged in her medical satchel and pulled out a hypospray. He pushed his long sleeve up a few inches so she could administer the drug to his bare wrist. A quick hiss and she smiled. "You okay?"

He hadn't felt so great even before they surfaced and started bobbing around, but he'd assumed it was the stress of worrying about the captain and commander, having his home stolen, and not being able to communicate to the thieves that they'd better give it back or they were going to be blown to smithereens. "Uh… Yeah. Fine." She would know it wasn't completely truthful, but he didn't care. Just because he had a legitimate right to feel like crap didn't mean he should whine about it. Why do doctors ask about symptoms they have no cures for anyway?

"Because we want to help?" she whispered back.

Heat flushed his cheeks. He'd been careless with his thoughts. Again. "Sorry. I'm a little on edge."

"A little?"

"Okay, a lot."

Just then, seaQuest broke the surface of the water to the collective gasps of the occupants of the shuttle. They were all watching on a monitor since there wasn't enough room for everyone to look out the front window. The fighter jets renewed their fervor in launching more missiles at the Wile E. Coyote. The explosions were deafening and the shockwaves rocked the shuttle, but when the smoke cleared, nothing had changed.

Great sheets of water slipped off seaQuest as she was lifted, helpless, into the maw of the giant monster looming overhead. Tim felt his heart catch in his throat. Don't do it. We need her and she's just death to you. His emotions were running high, so he wasn't surprised when Wendy squeezed his hand as a silent affirmation that she'd heard his thoughts. Yet, he was surprised to hear a voice in his mind that wasn't Wendy.

Tim, they heard you. They don't understand. Explain it to them.

Mary?

Yes. I know you're trying to talk to aliens. Wendy told me about the hijacking. They heard you, but they're confused. Explain what you mean by 'death to them'.

Did they hear my recording or my Transmitting?

Transmitting. They don't have auditory senses. They can't hear sounds like we do, but they can communicate mind-to-mind. I don't know how they understand English, but they do. I can feel their confusion. Just explain what you mean.

Tim's mind raced. The first thing he thought of was just to repeat what he'd said in the recording. Attention unknown spacecraft, this is seaQuest DSV of the United Earth Oceans Organization. Removal of this submarine from our planet is an act of war. Return seaQuest to Earth immediately or she will self-destruct.

He paused. Was that enough? He glanced at the tiny monitor in the shuttle. SeaQuest had disappeared into the hold of the marauder and doors were closing underneath her. Either they hadn't understood or they didn't believe the threat. Why should they? All the other Earth weapons had been so puny and ineffective. It was just like Admiral Noyce had said, they were shooting BB guns at a Sherman tank. And the aliens in the Sherman tank were laughing.

The doors closed and seaQuest was no longer visible. Sorrow swept over him in a nauseating wave. And then the Wile E. Coyote took off straight up. She shot into the air so fast that it almost seemed like she vanished. Tim stared at the empty monitor in shock and disbelief. SeaQuest was really gone.

The backwash from Wile E's departure threw the fighter jets into erratic trajectories. "Whoa!" someone in the shuttle gasped. One of the jets went into a tailspin and everyone held their breaths.

Just then, Brody came lumbering down the ladder, yelling, "Everyone hold on!" He was trying to secure the hatch when mayhem broke. The launch tumbled and Tim slammed into someone at his right, then his head hit the metal roof. People were screaming, water was gushing in, and he didn't know which way was up anymore. At last, he landed in a pile of bodies and cargo, and more of the same landed on top of him. When the rolling stopped, he just lay stunned and motionless. All lights had gone out. It was pitch black.

"The hatch! Somebody get the hatch!"

Tim couldn't tell who screamed, nor could he even tell where the hatch was at the moment.

"Is anyone hurt?" Dr. Smith called out.

Those who could move started removing themselves from the dogpile. "Get the hatch!" someone else yelled. Tim thought it sounded like Miguel this time. In another few seconds, he had enough lucidity to understand why people kept yelling about the hatch. It was still open and they had landed upside down. The shuttle was sinking.

Tim freed himself from the tangle of body parts. His arm ached, but he didn't think he was bleeding. Miraculously, his glasses were still on his nose, probably because they'd been so crowded that there was no room for them to fall off. He felt around some more, but everything was so jumbled he couldn't tell much except what was warm and organic from what was cold and hard and therefore not human. Anything soft and warm got pulled from the water and Tim made sure the figure was conscious and breathing before he continued. He recognized Lucas by his voice and made sure the teen had something solid to hold onto.

The water itself wasn't cold at all. They were in the tropics and no longer in a deep trench. Still, they had to get the hatch closed or the shuttle would sink with everyone inside. As Tim was making his way through chest-deep water, something bobbed up and broke the surface just a foot away.

"Hatch is closed," Piccolo's voice announced. "But I think we're still sinkin'."

Sinking wasn't bad in a mini-submarine as long as they had air and they didn't go below the safe depth and implode from the pressure. His fears abated considerably with the news. "Can anyone get to the controls?" Tim called. He didn't even know which direction they were in. He just kept feeling his way around, making sure all the human bodies were conscious enough to keep their heads above water.

Then the shuttle began to sway. Tim imagined it had reached neutral buoyancy and was being tossed by the currents. But the swaying became rhythmic and then the rocking momentum rolled them over. People grunted and sighed, but Tim could tell by the grates against the soles of his shoes that they were upright again.

"Everyone check your neighbors. Make sure everyone is breathing," Dr. Smith called into the dark.

Tim moved toward the cockpit, more sure of his direction now that the shuttle had righted. In a few seconds, he saw light shining through the front window. Captain Bridger had parked the Stinger right on MR-12's nose. With light to guide his way, Tim surged forward toward the controls. When he got there, he could see that it was actually Commander Ford driving the Stinger. Captain Bridger was sculling in the water with a rebreather, fully clothed, and peering into through the window. Now their rolling upright made sense.

Tim grabbed a headset and shook the excess water off, then shoved it on his head. Squinting in the indirect illumination from the Stinger, he found radio controls and pressed the buttons.

"Lieutenant, is everyone okay?" Commander Ford asked.

Static was heavy, but the system was working. "I think so. It's very dark over here, and we took on a lot of water, but Piccolo got the hatch secured and I think everyone is breathing. Dr. Smith is taking care of injuries."

"Do you need assistance? The Reagan can send rescue crews if we need it."

Captain Bridger watched as they talked. He couldn't hear anything, but he could see that communication had been established. Tim gave him a thumb's up and he nodded back.

"We're fine for the moment," Tim told Ford. "Let's see what's working before we call for help. What happened to those fighter jets? Did they make it?"

"Two planes splashed, but one of the pilots ejected. Don't know about the other one. We were more worried about you guys. I've never seen a shuttle tumble like that."

Brody slipped into the seat beside Tim. He was soaked from head to toe. "I don't recommend the ride, but I think we're all okay," he said to Ford. Then he turned to Tim. "What's working?"

Tim resisted the urge to sigh. He flipped some switches and the emergency lights flickered on. Cheers erupted from the back. "Emergency lights are working, Lieutenant," Tim said even though it was obvious.

Brody grinned and patted Tim's back like he'd done something spectacular just flipping a switch.

Commander Ford backed the Stinger away so the headlight wasn't glaring through the window anymore.

The captain pointed and canted his head toward the diving airlock. He was coming aboard. Tim stood to go. Brody laid his hand on Tim's shoulder. "I'll go let him in. You can do more good up here."

Tim nodded and turned back to the control panel. The captain would want a report as soon as he got aboard. Tim had better know whether life support was working.

He had to reroute some circuits, but he did it with switches instead of opening panels. It would have been risky to let any more water into the wiring than had already made it. Finally he could see that oxygen tanks were intact and the pressure regulators were working. They were no longer sinking either.

Captain Bridger appeared in the doorway with Brody behind him. "Status, Mr. O'Neill?"

"Life support fully functional. Six hours of oxygen for present company of thirteen, longer if we can get Piccolo to breathe water or if you have to leave."

"Trying to get rid of me already?"

"No, sir, I was just hoping… you know."

The captain looked down at his watch. From the look on his face and the shaking of his head, Tim knew the twenty minutes were up. SeaQuest was gone. He swallowed hard and resumed his report. "We're at neutral buoyancy and stable at fifty-five feet."

"Propulsion?"

Tim pressed forward on the joystick. The shuttle moved so fast, he had to pull back to avoid hitting the Stinger. "It appears no damage to propulsion. I think if we just pump all the water out, we'll be all right."

"Good. You had us worried there."

"Piece of cake," Brody said. "You should have Lucas program a simulation like this so we can do it for kicks."

"Oh yeah, great fun," Miguel said from behind Brody. There was a band of gauze around his head and a bulging bandage near the temple. Blood had partially soaked through. Tim winced in sympathy.

"Do you have the feed from the Reagan?" Commander Ford's voice sounded urgent in his headset.

Tim flipped some switches and quickly gave the Reagan an ident code so he could tap into the same video they'd been watching on seaQuest. A picture of the Wile E. Coyote hovering over the water crackled into substance on the screens inside the MR-12. At first, Tim assumed they were showing a replay, one that would be painful to watch. But then he noticed something different. There were rescue vessels in the water, presumably picking up the fighter pilots whose planes had crashed. He could also see another shuttle launch in the distance.

Someone voiced what he was thinking: "Wait a minute. This is live!"

Tim gulped. Others gasped. Wile E. Coyote was back and she wasn't atomized. Were the Hyberions mad at what they'd tried to do and come back to finish everyone off?

The hull doors in the great saucer opened and the beautiful, shining outline of the seaQuest lowered slowly toward the water by the same mechanical hand that had picked her up. Everyone stared at the screen in disbelief, jaws dropped.

They say they're sorry and beg for truce, Mary's voice said softly in Tim's mind.

"Captain, the aliens are apologizing and asking for a truce."

"You made contact?" Bridger asked incredulously. He probably thought Tim was relaying something he heard on his headset.

"They communicate telepathically. I can't hear them, but Dr. Smith's friend is relaying their message." He wasn't sure whether Mary wanted her name used in front of the bridge crew. The captain had asked before to keep her a secret.

"Tell them we accept!"

We grant your truce, Tim Transmitted. "Anything else, sir?"

"Tell them to stay the hell away from our planet!"

Tim was trained in rephrasing messages to sound diplomatic, but the captain wasn't making this easy. He took a second to think and then: Conditions of our truce require that your people do not approach Earth again.

The mechanical arm released seaQuest and she splashed as she hit the calm waters of the Pacific. The hoots and cheers of sailors aboard the Reagan were audible on the video.

"I guess that means we have a truce." Bridger smiled.

"How much time do we have?" Lucas asked. Tim couldn't see the young genius, but his voice was close. He had to be standing just behind Miguel.

Panic filled the captain's eyes. Twenty minutes had already passed. "They're going to kill us with our own missiles, and take out half of South America at the same time!"

"Wait," Lucas said. "Flying through space causes some type of time warp, remember? Didn't Major Allen say that ten years passed on Earth while we didn't age at all? Why aren't they leaving if they think it will detonate soon?"

Where was the remote? Surely the captain didn't have it, or he wouldn't be panicking to begin with. He must have left the remote in the Stinger so it wouldn't get wet. Tim glanced out to the Stinger and saw Commander Ford waving the device.

The captain surged forward and punched the radio switch. "Jonathan, press the button! Stop the countdown!"

"Already done, sir," Ford said with infinite calm, waving the remote in the tiny window and grinning like a Cheshire cat. "Would you care to take a ride to go retrieve your launch key?" He sounded like some laid-back tour guide on a cruise ship.

Nervous laughter escaped the captain and he shook his finger at the Stinger. Everyone joined him in laughing and the captain glanced around the still-flooded MR-12. "Comedians. You're all comedians." He leaned over the control console. "Yes, I would like to go retrieve my launch key, Commander. Meet me at the surface." The Stinger had to have her top half in air to open her door. "Have you tried to purge your ballasts yet?" he asked Brody and O'Neill.

"No, sir, but shouldn't we wait until that thing takes off again?" Brody pointed at the mothership, hovering there like the Coyote foiled by the Roadrunner, defeated, stunned, and unsure what to do next. Surely Brody was concerned about another backwash wave.

The captain looked at the screen again. "Good thinking, Lieutenant." He looked over at Tim. "Are they saying anything?"

Mary, Captain Bridger wants to know if they're saying anything.

The mothership shot back into the sky before he got an answer. Yes, they were reciting some kind of ritual poetry. It wasn't in English, but I think I understood the intent. They do this when they surrender to an enemy who has earned their respect. I think they expected you to use those weapons on them if they didn't provide a show of humility before their retreat.

"It appears they were reciting some kind of surrender poem, acknowledging our strength. They were afraid of our weapons."

"They have ships like that, but not nuclear weapons?" Brody snorted with disbelief.

"Not impossible," Lucas said. "They don't have submarines either. We saw their armor at work. They definitely spent a lot of time perfecting against conventional things like projectiles and explosions. The physics they use for space travel isn't really about powerful engines. Think about a compass. It doesn't need electricity or wind or even sunlight. The magnetic field is just there for us to use. Their spaceships are like that."

Tim hadn't understood Professor LeConte's lectures very much, but now that Lucas put it that way, it made more sense. He had a feeling Lucas could build one of those spaceships if he had a mind to.

"Do you remember the poem, Lieutenant?" Captain Bridger asked.

"I didn't hear it myself. Besides, I still don't know their language."

"No, but you got them our message anyway."

Tim smiled. "Yes, sir, as ordered." And please don't ever ask me to do it again.

Captain Bridger clapped him on the back. The backwash wave passed them, this time having no more effect than a gentle swell. Maybe the Wile E. had been more considerate of how she took off, or maybe it was just because they weren't on the surface, where waves were always worse. As soon as it passed, Brody blew the ballasts and MR-12 rose. They couldn't get her all the way up, but the captain just took his rebreather and left through the diver's airlock. His khaki uniform was already wet.

The Stinger took off from the surface and dove down just deep enough that she could enter seaQuest's tricuspid launch bay door. Brody followed in MR-12, but of course, they were left far behind the Stinger's wake.

Thanks, Mary. We owe you big time for this one.

They heard you, not me. All I did was give you their side on the conversation.

That's a lot. You were there when we needed you. Thanks.

Well, there's a reason for that and you probably won't like it.

Huh?

Check your email, Tim. I'll let you go now. You're probably going to be very busy for a while. I'm glad you didn't get abducted by aliens.

Bye, he said quickly, but he knew she didn't hear him. Her abrupt parting was a little unsettling, but Tim was way too keyed up now to dwell on it. Wendy got tired from listening to regular people's emotions, so it was logical to assume Mary had been exhausted trying to sort out alien emotions.

The captain gave the all-clear and recalled all the shuttles back to seaQuest. He met MR-12 at the launch bay and cornered Brody. "You got video, right?"

"Yes, sir." He held up a memory stick. "Nearly sunk the launch for this."

"Thank you. I'll take that." The captain grabbed the stick and promptly handed it to Lucas. "Copy it, clone it, and distribute it as widely and anonymously as possible. I will need the original back in thirty minutes and you didn't get it from me."

"I borrowed it from Brody," Lucas said, patting the soggy cameraman on the shoulder.

"Wait. I was guarding that with my life!" Brody complained.

"I snuck it out of your pocket, copied it, and put it back before you gave it to the captain. You never even noticed it missing. You had your hands busy trying to keep us from sinking."

Brody looked slightly appeased, but he still didn't like being the one to have 'misplaced' something so important.

"Cheer up, Lieutenant. You got the footage and you saved the launch. No one is going to be able to trace the leaked video to seaQuest anyway, are they?" Bridger turned and fixed a stare on Lucas.

Lucas shook his head. "Not a chance."

A smile, a wink, and a pat on the back and Lucas disappeared with the memory stick.

Admiral Noyce came aboard to congratulate the crew and to report that the Reagan lost two jets and a pilot in the skirmish. Captain Bridger gave Captain Stafford his personal condolences and then ordered everyone but the four helmsmen, Lucas, and Wendy to assemble on top. SeaQuest didn't have a conning tower or even a flat deck on her upper hull, as she really wasn't designed for surface operation, but the eighty of them managed to stand in a straight line and salute as they made a slow honor pass by the aircraft carrier.

Finally, he was off duty. As he got ready for bed, Tim could hardly believe how much had happened in the last twelve hours. They'd left the Black Sea in 1504, tried to hide from thieves who wanted to kidnap them, abandoned ship, set seaQuest to self-destruct, survived a tumbling and flooded shuttle, and somehow gained a surrender from an advanced alien race.

And somewhere in the midst of that, he vaguely remembered getting promoted. Although, with so many things happening, if that part had been a dream, he could easily believe it. The only proof he had was the uniform name-patch Piccolo had defaced and a soggy wad of paper with smeared ink in the pocket.

He crawled into his bunk, sighing contentedly. Never a dull day on seaQuest.

*The Beginning*


A/N: I must say I surprised myself when I suddenly reached the end here. I've thought I was close several times and turned out wrong, so I hate to guess beforehand. It crept up on me and I wasn't really ready. But here it is at last. The end of this story. But it's really only the beginning.

If anyone is interested in a paperback copy of this novel, I will be editing the full text for continuity (I haven't seen the beginning since February) and then formatting for printing at Lulu. Since I don't hold the copyright, I technically can't sell copies, but I will be binding some for myself and if you email me privately, I will share the secret URL (I can't make it public) for you to purchase a copy AT COST. It is only to cover paper, printing, and perfect binding. It's still kinda iffy legally, but I see no difference than people who print fanfic 'zines and charge subscriptions. I will not personally make a single penny on this. Frankly, if the copyright holders would just DO something with seaQuest, I'd be very happy to go to work for them and let them make ALL the money. I've done this completely as a labor of love.

The US version will be digest size which is 5.5x8.5 inches, about 410 pages, and cost about 8.65USD. The international version will be A-5 size, a better grade of paper and therefore a little more expensive for the book itself, but that size can be manufactured in their overseas divisions and save you a huge amount in postage. The A-5 version should be about 7.83 pounds sterling or 13.81 Euros. Give me at least a week to have it edited, formatted, and a crude cover designed (it will be nothing fancy as I'm no artist). If you are interested, I need your email, as I can't post URLs on the site or in PMs. You may use a PM to send me your email address or you can email me directly, using the email addy found on my profile. Please put "Hard Time Book" in the subject.

The story will remain here as long as the site stays active and I will also keep a copy on my own domain which is UnderseaAdventure (dot) net, so no one needs to buy paper if they don't want to. I'm just offering it as an option. I hope you all have enjoyed this story. Please leave a comment if I've entertained you at all over the last 54 chapters. That is my only payment and what keeps me going.