Bridger tried to withhold the exasperated sigh that threatened to break out as he looked at the sullen-faced teenager standing before him on the bridge. "Lucas," he tried again, "you knew that Commander Ford had specifically asked for the upgrades to the new security system to be installed by 1700 hours today. Why aren't they done? And 'I haven't gotten around to it yet' is not a valid answer!"
Lucas scowled even harder and looked down at the floor, a flush of red rising from his neck to his face. He mumbled something under his breath.
"What was that?" Bridger asked, trying to keep his tone even.
Lucas looked up and muttered, "I was playing a new game and I lost track of the time." His eyes slid away from Bridger's.
Bridger tried again, but the sigh could not be withheld. "That's not acceptable, Lucas," he said. "You wanted to be paid for your work and I agreed to that. So I think I am well within my rights to expect the assigned work to be done."
"I'll get it done!" Lucas said angrily. "It's not a big deal! Just give me a couple of hours! I could do something that simple in my sleep."
"I know it's an easy job for you, Lucas," Bridger said. "That's not the point. The point is the job was assigned, a specific deadline was given for its completion, and you failed to deliver."
"So fire me!" Lucas sneered. "I don't want to be here anyway!" He glared at Bridger defiantly.
Bridger didn't know what was going on with his resident teen genius but for the last week, he had been becoming increasingly difficult. Bridger tried to give him some slack; after all, he was only sixteen. But open defiance had to be dealt with.
"Lucas, you are confined to your quarters until further notice," he said firmly. "I will be by to discuss this situation with you in a few hours."
Lucas gave him another angry glare, but had enough sense not to push the situation any further. He whirled angrily and stomped off the bridge, ignoring the sympathetic glances from Tim O'Neill and Miguel Ortiz, two of his best friends.
"Captain – " Tim O'Neill said hesitantly.
"Yes, what is it, O'Neill?" Bridger replied.
"A private word with you, please, sir?"
Bridger crossed to O'Neill's station. O'Neill said, in a low voice, "His father called about a week ago, sir. He had promised Lucas to take him somewhere so they could spend some time together. But he cancelled the plans, said his work at World Power was at a crucial junction and he couldn't leave. Lucas took it kind of hard."
Bridger grimaced. Lawrence Wolenczak had a knack for making Lucas feel unwanted and unloved. As a father who had lost a son, Bridger had a hard time understanding how Wolenczak could ignore his own son – especially a son as incredible as Lucas.
"Thanks, Tim," he said softly. He'd still have to deal with Lucas' behavior, but at least now he could understand it a little better.
Lucas detoured toward the moonpool on his way to his quarters. God, he was so stupid! Captain Bridger was the best thing in his life, and he was ticking him off. He knew he should have stopped playing that game and installed the security updates, but he'd just been having so much fun with his friend Wolfman that time had gotten away from him. It had felt good to forget about his father for a while and to let the anger he felt for being pushed aside once again slip away.
And now he had let his anger at his father explode out toward Captain Bridger. He was such an idiot!
Arriving at the moonpool, he picked up the vocoder. "Darwin!" he called.
He didn't have long to wait before a sleek shape moved swiftly toward him through the crystal clear water. The dolphin's head broke the surface.
Darwin studied his human friend for a few seconds before speaking. "Lucas angry?"
"Just at myself, Darwin. I did something stupid." Lucas sat down on the edge of the pool and rubbed his hand over Darwin's head. "I lost my temper and took it out on Captain Bridger."
"Bridger will forgive Lucas." The mechanized voice was somehow able to convey the absolute certainty with which Darwin expressed his opinion.
"I hope so, Darwin. I sure do hope so."
"Captain, I'm picking up something on sonar," Ortiz said, intently listening to the signals bouncing back to him. "I'm not sure exactly what it is yet."
"Keep scanning," Bridger instructed, crossing the bridge to stand beside Ortiz and studying the display before him.
"This could be trouble, Captain," Ortiz suddenly said. "I think it's a World War II-era bomb and there's no sign it's been detonated. Our current position is taking us right over it."
"Helm, take evasive action!" Bridger snapped. "Hard to port!"
The seaQuest started to move, but it was too late. The bomb exploded, the force of the explosion rocking the seaQuest violently. Bridger was thrown to the floor, along with half the bridge crew. Monitors and screens went black, sparks flew from damaged equipment, and water from the dolphin tank erupted into the air through the broken hatch.
Bridger hauled himself up from the floor as the electrical systems of the boat flickered on and off before finally stabilizing. "Is anyone injured?" he called out.
Commander Ford had already done a quick assessment. "We need medical attention to Helm 1," he advised the captain, kneeling beside the dazed-looking crewman he had propped against the wall.
"I need a damage assessment to the boat," Bridger said. "Is the Medical Section intact?"
O'Neill had climbed back into his position and was reading monitors. "Yes, sir," he said. "The only damage appears to be to the moonpool."
"Darwin?" Bridger asked sharply.
"He's fine, sir. I'm picking up his vitals and everything is normal. The vocoder must be damaged, though. I can hear him but I can't pick up any translation."
"Get a medical team to the bridge now," Bridger ordered. Turning back to O'Neill, he asked, "None of the crew sections were damaged? Including Lucas' quarters?"
"No damage, sir," O'Neill said.
Bridger felt a wave of relief as he listened to the sounds of the medical team being summoned and the bridge crew pulling itself back together. As captain, he felt responsibility for everyone under his command, but Lucas held a special place. In many ways, he replaced the son that Bridger had lost and Bridger couldn't help the sometimes almost overwhelming fear that history would repeat itself, but this time under his own command.
If anything had happened to Lucas, particularly now when their last conversation had been unpleasant, Bridger wouldn't have been able to forgive himself.
An hour later, Bridger was surveying the damage to the moonpool. They had been incredibly lucky. There had only been a few injuries and those had been minor. Damage to the ship had been confined to this area. It had taken the brunt of the blast and it looked bad. Part of the roof structure had collapsed along the edge of the pool and debris was strewn everywhere. Luckily, no crew members had been in the area and Darwin had escaped injury.
As Bridger entered the area, Darwin's head broke the surface of the water and he chattered urgently. Bridger looked around for the vocoder, but it was nowhere to be seen. The column that had held the apparatus was in the area of collapse and it was undoubtedly damaged.
Darwin swam in urgent circles, continuing to chatter. Bridger crossed to the edge of the pool to try to calm the dolphin.
"Everything's all right, Darwin," he said, reaching out to the dolphin. "No one was badly hurt, and we'll get this area repaired." A crew was already coming in behind Bridger to begin assessing the damage.
Darwin jerked away from Bridger's hand, still chattering. He splashed water toward Bridger and swam toward the area of collapse, then back to Bridger, then back toward the debris again.
"What is it, Darwin?" Bridger asked, perplexed. He again tried to soothe the dolphin, but Darwin jerked away from him and continued his frantic circle.
Bridger followed Darwin, walking toward the scattered debris.
And then he saw it. At the edge of the debris, buried under the rubble, a thin hand stretched out in the dust and fragments of the collapse. A watch circled the wrist of the hand, a watch Bridger recognized immediately.
The watch he had given Lucas for his last birthday.