Captain Nathan Bridger took his time walking to the launch bay. He knew the arriving guests would be a few more minutes docking and unloading their gear. He admired the lines of his ship as he walked through her. It was a pleasure to be part of his realized dream, and he was looking forward to helping a few more people have their dreams realized.
The guests that Bridger was going to greet were a team sent out from the ProtoCorp Company. Although privately funded they had worked out an arrangement with the UEO to test their sub prototype and have the seaQuest monitor the results. Bridger had heard of Pete Crenshaw, the prototype's engineer. He knew Commander. Hitchcock and Lucas would be all over the man discussing ideas for their own sub, whatever they ended up naming it. Bob Andrews was the contracted monitor for the ProtoCorp Company. Bridger shook his head ruefully; Andrews was more like a "financial watchdog" for the company. Private contractors like Andrews got on his nerves; always focused on the bottom line and rarely understanding the vision. Bridger didn't know the sub's pilot. He had been informed that there had been a last minute change in personnel when the original pilot's wife went into premature labor. But knowing what he knew of Crenshaw and ProtoCorp the replacement pilot would be one of the best.
As Bridger entered the launch bay he took in the cool efficiency of his crew as they unloaded the now docked launch. Commanders Ford and Hitchcock were assisting the first arrivals off of the launch. Lieutenant Krieg was overseeing the dispersal of supplies that had come in with the sub team. Lucas, who had been along to pick up the ProtoCorp team was climbing off the ladder of the launch. Bridger noticed a gleam of anticipation in Lucas' eyes as he assisted the young, blonde woman behind him off of the ladder. Bridger made his way forward to where Commander Ford was waiting with two men.
"Captain Bridger, may I introduce Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews." Ford indicated each man in turn.
Bridger offered his hand to Crenshaw first but directed his words to both. "Welcome aboard, gentlemen. I'm looking forward to seeing this sub of yours."
"I'm afraid it can hardly compare with this sub of yours," Crenshaw replied. He appeared to be slightly stunned to be standing on the deck of the seaQuest itself. Bridger sensed in Crenshaw the appreciation of another dreamer.
Andrews moved in to take the captain's hand. "I can't imagine the fortune the UEO must have invested in this baby." He looked around appreciatively, but clearly he saw dollar signs everywhere he looked. His attitude hardly endeared him to Bridger.
During the exchange Lucas has made his way toward the group bringing the young woman in tow. He cleared his throat to get the attention of the assembled men. Crenshaw shook himself out of the awe of his surroundings and made the introductions. "Excuse me, Captain. Allow me to introduce our pilot, Amy Krieg."
Bridger's eyebrow quirked; based on Lucas's expression he came to a swift conclusion. Bridger glanced toward Ben, still off-loading supplies. "Any relation to our Lieutenant Ben Krieg?" Lucas, clearly prepared for Amy's answer positioned himself to enjoy the proceedings.
Amy noticed the direction of Bridger's glance and answered him in an over-loud, obviously meant to be overheard voice. "Captain, please don't let your unfortunate experience with one Krieg spoil you for the rest of us!"
Ben, having heard the comments directed toward him but clearly unsure of the source dropped what he was doing and began to make his way over toward the group. Amy with her back to Ben but aware of his approach continued, "I know Ben's a lazy, arrogant, lay about…"
Bridger could see Ben's expression cycle through confusion, surprise and anger.
"…and I'm sure you're aware of his conduct problems…"
Outrage chased insult across Ben's face as he pulled up behind the speaker ready to defend himself.
"…but we like to keep him around for entertainment purposes." Saying this the young woman whirled and threw her arms around Ben.
Ben, startled by the sudden about face, took a moment to figure out who had tackled him. "Amy!" was his delighted cry when he figured out who was hugging him; insults forgotten in the revelation of the speaker. "Captain…Lucas…this is my cousin, Amy."
"Yes, we've met," Bridger acknowledged with a wry grin. He noticed that the cousins shared almost no family resemblance. Amy was a good two inches shorter than Ben; light where he was dark. But then the cousins grinned at one another and Bridger quickly reassessed his thinking. They had the same I-know-I've-done-something-wrong-but-I'll-probably-get-away-with-it grin. Bridger mentally chuckled wondering if that grin ran in the Krieg family.
Ben began peppering Amy with questions. "What are you doing here? Why didn't you let me know you were coming?"
"It was very last minute. I didn't get a chance to put a call in to you, so I figured I'd surprise you." She grinned at her success.
"Well," Ben acknowledged, "you did a fine job." He shook his head at the cleverness of the joke, even if it was at his expense. "I heard this voice…but it definitely didn't belong here." While the cousins were catching up Commanders Ford and Hitchcock had joined the group. Ben noticed their arrival.
"Commander Ford…Katie…" Ben quickly remembered protocol and revised his statement to address Katie as a ranking officer. "Commander Hitchcock, may I introduce you to my cousin Amy?"
Amy startled at the introduction of Commander Hitchcock and turned to Ben. "This is Katie? THE Katie?" Ben realized he was in trouble and tried to intervene. Amy sidestepped him and addressed Hitchcock directly. She offered her hand. "Well, it's nice to finally meet you. It would've been nicer to have met you when you were actually part of the family…." She spared a glance for Ben who replied with a noncommittal shrug.
Katie took Amy's greeting in stride and reached for her hand as well. And, not wanting to miss an opportunity to chide Ben added, "I'd like to say I've heard so much about you, but you know Ben." Both women turned wicked grins toward Ben.
Bridger sensing the need to throw a life preserver to a drowning man stepped in. "Why don't we get our guests settled? There's plenty of time to catch up." He began to usher the group toward the launch bay doors. Ben took charge of Amy's baggage as they followed along behind the group.
"Whaddya say we drop this stuff off and I take you to the Mess for something to eat?"
"Sounds like a plan to me, cuz." They grinned their identical grins and went on their way.
Ben wasn't the only one with the idea of dropping bags and getting to the Mess. When Ben and Amy arrived they found Hitchcock already deeply involved in a discussion with Pete; and Pete deeply involved with a plate of food. After getting Amy something to eat, Ben showed her to a table. Just as they settled down for their meal Lucas entered followed closely by Tim O'Neill and Miguel Ortiz. It was clear that Lucas, ever the bearer of good news, had shared the scene in the launch bay with Tim and Miguel and they were looking for some dish. Lucas, seeing Hitchcock in conversation with Crenshaw was momentarily torn between shop talk and family stories. Entertainment won out over physics and Lucas joined the rest at Ben and Amy's table.
Ben accepted the new arrivals at the table with resignation while Amy was frankly amused. "Wow," she said with a wink to Tim and Miguel, "the seaQuest's crew is so friendly! Everybody wants to chat." Lucas made introductions around the table.
Miguel leaned toward Amy conspiratorially. "Let's get right to the good stuff. Dirty little family secrets…prom date from Hell…"
"Unfortunate bed-wetting incidents…" Tim suggested.
Amy pretended mock outrage. "You mean our Ben has not shared the humiliations of his adolescence with you? Boy! Have I got some stories for you!" Lucas, Tim and Miguel leaned forward expectantly.
Ben interrupted before Amy could begin. "Sorry boys, you'll not be getting any information from this source." He tipped back in his chair with a smug expression on his face. The guys, surprised, turned to Amy for confirmation.
Amy's fork froze halfway to her mouth. "You are NOT going to try and hold this over me again, are you?"
"Hey, a debt is a debt, and you owe me. No embarrassing childhood stories for my friends here."
Tim, clearly as confused as his companions asked, "Would somebody like to explain what we're missing here?"
Amy uttered a noise of disgust and made a face at Ben before she put her fork down and spoke to Tim. "Ben thinks that because he saved my life twenty years ago I'm indebted to him forever." She turned to address Ben. "I was under the impression that four summers of doing your stinky laundry had paid off my debt."
Ben shook his head, "Oh no, my sweet cousin. A life saving debt is never fully paid." Amy made another disgusted sound.
"Wait. What do you mean, Ben saved your life? What happened?" Lucas asked.
Amy turned toward her audience and began her tale. "I lived with my grandmother since I was a baby. She took care of me after Mom died and Dad became…'distracted'. Every summer Grandma invited the aunts and uncles to drop their children at the farm and take some time for themselves while she watched the children. Grandma's always been very energetic," Amy added by way of explanation. Ben snorted at the gross understatement of Grandma's energy levels.
"This happened the year I was seven and Ben had just turned fourteen." She picked up a breadstick from her plate and used it as a way to punctuate her thoughts as she spoke. "I should tell you at this point that two of the cousins were evil, nasty brats and they couldn't stand me. I think they were ten and eleven that summer and they were just old enough to be completely annoyed by a seven year old girl trailing them."
Ben nodded his agreement to the recollection.. "Kenny and Tom," he muttered, "I still can't stand those two."
Amy continued, "I was too young to play with the older cousins and too old to want to play with the babies. Kenny and Tom were the closest to my age so I tried to play with them. When I couldn't get them to play with me, which was often, I played with my doll, Francine."
"Francine," Ben echoed. "I remember that doll. What a wreck…she looked like she'd been run over by a bus."
"She was beautiful!" Amy protested as she punched Ben in the arm, "And, she was the best friend I had. I dragged her around everywhere I went. One day, Kenny and Tom and finally had enough of me; they snatched Francine and took off running. I chased them all over the farm. They finally got tired of making me chase them and Kenny had the brilliant idea of tossing Francine into the well."
"Uh-oh," Tim interjected.
"I was devastated. They'd killed my doll!" The breadstick nearly went flying. "I was going to run and tell Grandma but before I left for the house I looked down the well to see if I could spot Francine. I could see her floating on the surface of the water. It never occurred to me to try and scoop her up with the bucket. I was seven, so my brilliant idea was to climb down and get her myself."
Miguel rolled his eyes, just knowing where the story was headed.
"When I climbed down the rope," Amy continued, "I managed to pull everything down on top of me. Kenny and Tom were gone and no one heard me screaming. Luckily I was really good at treading water. I kept a hold on the bucket and kept yelling. Unfortunately a thunderstorm rolled in and it began to pour. That's when I started to panic. And that's where Ben came in…" Amy turned to grin at Ben, clearly waiting for him to puck up the story.
Ben smoothly took over. "There I am, minding my own business, trying to make a run for the house before I'm killed by a freak lightning strike when I think I hear someone yelling in the storm. But I can't see anyone. I'm sure I hear someone screaming, so I slow down. I can definitely hear someone yelling for help, so I yell back. I follow the voice to the well and there's Amy at the bottom half-drowned already." He threw a sympathetic look at his cousin.
"Between treading water for so long and the downpour from the storm she was really in a bad way. It took me a minute of searching before I realized that the rope and the bucket were down there with her. But there was no way she could toss anything up to me. There was nothing nearby I could lower down to reach her; I'd have to make a run for the barn to get some rope."
Katie, waiting for Pete to return with his third helping of lunch turned her attention toward Ben's table and was caught up in the story as well.
Amy resumed the tale. "When I saw Ben's face appear at the top of the well I'd never been happier in my life! Then he yelled down that he had to leave! I completely freaked out, screaming for him to get me out and not to leave me there." Amy's emphatic gesturing set the dishes to rattling.
"Looking back I know he had to get the rope, but I was only seven then and I thought he was just leaving me. Waiting for Ben to return was the longest five minutes of my life. Of course, that's when the storm really kicked in. The thunder was deafening. I thought for sure the well was going to cave in on me before Ben came back." Amy shook her head, her expression darkening at the old memory.
Then her face instantly brightened. Everyone at the table could see the adoration on her face. "And then finally, Ben came back! He tried to yell down to me, but I couldn't hear him over the storm and my own crying. Ben gave up trying to give me instructions and just threw down the rope. It was a good thing he thought to loop the bottom end because I never would've been able to hold on long enough for him to pull me up. When I was out, Ben picked me up and carried me the whole way back to the house. Not that he had a choice…I had a strangle hold around his neck." Amy's smile was self-depreciating.
Ben chuckled at the memory, "I was black and blue for a week."
"Ben took me right to Grandma. Between the two of them they finally got me calmed down and into a warm bath. Grandma put me to bed and gave me some hot soup. Then Ben sat there holding my hand and telling me silly stories until I fell asleep." Amy smiled fondly at Ben. "He was my hero that day…and after I fell asleep, he went after Kenny and Tom." Amy's smile turned feral.
"That's my favorite part of the story," added Ben with an equally feral expression.
Ben recalled the towering anger he had felt toward his younger cousins that day. He was pretty sure that if Grandma hadn't intervened, they'd both ended up in the hospital. It was no little satisfaction that the two of them spent the rest of their summer mucking out the stables. Ben had never paid much attention to Amy before that, but after the "well incident" they had a special connection. He came to realize that there was a quick mind in that little body. He didn't mind her following him around for the rest of the summer; a little hero worship was good for his ego. Ben was surprised when, the following summer, he was looking forward to her company. Amy was good-natured and not nearly as judgmental as the rest of the family. Ben found that that she was one of the few people he could really talk to.
Amy had continued talking as Ben reflected on the past. "After that Ben and I were tight. And, being that Ben had saved my life, I worshiped him…I didn't mind doing his laundry for the next few summers. But I think you asking me not to tell your friends any embarrassing stories is going a little too far. I mean, we're talking twenty years ago…" It was obvious from Amy's expression, however, that she'd do as Ben asked and that they'd get no embarrassing childhood stories out of her. Tim and Miguel seemed satisfied with the story they did get, but Lucas had an expression on his face that said he'd try to get Amy alone later and push the issue.
The conversation drifted to other topics giving Amy a chance to finish her meal. Around the time Lucas was drawn into the engineering discussion at the other table, Ben suggested a grand tour of the seaQuest to which Amy readily agreed.
Ben swept his cabin door open and gestured for Amy to enter. Amy walked in slowly taking in her surroundings. "You've got a lot of…stuff, Ben."
Ben nodded as he glanced around his cluttered room. He was proud of his collection, even if no one else seemed to appreciate it. Amy wandered around the cabin exploring. She stopped in front of an old-fashioned framed Polaroid of a glowing, blue rock. "What's this?" she asked as she picked up and held out the photo to Ben.
He grimaced as he took the picture and returned it to its place on the shelf. "Let's just call it a lesson learned, shall we?" Ben indicated to Amy to find a place to sit. "Make yourself comfortable, Aim. Me casa es su casa."
Amy made herself right at home, kicked off her shoes and plopped herself on Ben's bunk. She planted her feet on the bulkhead, lay on her back across the width of the bed and hung her head over the side. She considered Ben from this position as she continued to survey the room. "You've changed, Benj. Vid-links don't do you justice. Not that you've called very often…"
Amy grinned, warming to a topic that she never failed to bring up when talking to her wayward cousin. It wasn't just that Ben never called, he never did anything family related anymore. Amy had never even met his now ex-wife until today. But she knew she was one of the two people who actually understood Ben's reluctance to return home and only pushed the issue so far.
Ben let the implied lack of family loyalty hang in the air while he observed his cousin. Amy had always been his favorite. The seven year age difference had never had a negative impact on their relationship. Ben remembered his grandmother remarking that between his immaturity and Amy's precociousness that they were mentally on the same level. Amy has always been willing to participate in whatever scheme Ben came up with; often adding some interesting wrinkles of her own. In spite of the childlike persona most of the family perceived, Ben knew the sharp mind that hid behind the face of his impish cousin. Precocious or not, Ben could not equate the young woman hanging off of his bed to the young cousin he had left behind.
"Well, you know me Aim, always got something to do…"
"Yup," she chuckled, "and money to make."
Amy flipped herself into an upright position so she could see eye-to-eye with Ben. Her face took on a serious expression. "I know why you don't want to come home for big, family functions Ben. But you could at least drop by and see me and Grandma once in a while. I miss you, Ben." Amy ended on a wistful note.
Ben moved over to sit on the bunk next to Amy. His voice took on an unusually somber tone for him. "Aim…you know I can't come home without opening a huge can of worms."
He shook his head as if to clear it of the whispering ghosts of the past. Ben had always been the odd-man out in a family of overachievers. His laid back, devil-may-care attitude never went over well with his parents. Ben was always an average achiever, getting by more on charm than ability. It wasn't that Ben didn't have the ability to achieve, which might have been easier for his relatives to deal with; but he rarely had the motivation to follow through on the goals before him unless there was a profit to be made. Then, more often than not, his money making schemes fell apart and became the subject of further ridicule.
After years of this Ben decided to excel at something if for no other reason than to prove his family wrong. But again, his performance didn't live up to their expectations. Ben knew that being the Supply and Morale Officer on the seaQuest was the perfect place for him to be. He was comfortable. He was happy. In the eyes of his family though, not attempting to achieve a higher rank was another sign of failure. That was not even to mention his short-lived marriage to Katie. Ben shook his head again trying to pull himself back to the present.
"And anyway," he continued, trying to change the subject," the UEO isn't overly free with its vacation time, you know? I'd rather spend my free time anywhere but on Grandma's farm. No offense to you or Grandma, of course."
"None taken, of course." Amy smiled.
"So fill me in," Ben demanded. He threw a companionable arm around Amy's shoulders and leaned them both back against the bulkhead. "What's been happening in the land of Krieg? How's Grandma?"
Amy made herself comfortable in the circle of Ben's arm and began to regale him with anecdotes of the cousins and other relatives. Ben leaned back thinking about how the girl had changed and that he'd better give Grandma a call soon.
The following morning Ben made his way toward Amy's cabin to pick her up for breakfast. He'd gotten Lucas alone after dropping Amy off the previous night and gave him a hard time about not warning him about her arrival. Lucas took the ribbing good-naturedly, pleased with finally being able to pull one over on Ben.
It occurred to Ben that Amy and Lucas were alike in many ways. Many of the things that drew him to Lucas first drew him to Amy. Ben could only hope that Lucas did as well with his "adopted" parent as Amy had done with Grandma. Bridger had his work cut out for him.
Ben arrived at Amy's cabin and found the door slightly ajar; Katie was there ahead of him. He groaned inwardly not wanting to know what they were discussing at such an early hour of the morning. He put on his best face and knocked to announce his arrival. "Good morning, ladies! Just my luck, I get to escort two of my favorite people to breakfast."
"Just one, Ben. I was on my way to speak to Pete." Katie turned to Amy. "I'll see you before the test run." With a nod toward Ben, Katie saw herself out.
"She's real nice, Ben…and pretty too." Amy watched to see how Ben would react to her comments. "I have to ask, what happened there?"
Ben shook his head. "It just didn't work out. Some other guy will do much better by Katie than I did." Ben sighed and Amy let the subject drop.
Whatever impression the crew had gotten of Amy the day before, the impish prankster was not in attendance at the briefing after breakfast. Amy hadn't earned her spot as the backup pilot on the project by goofing around. Today, she was all business.
Pete Crenshaw took charge of the meeting as soon as all of the senior staff was in attendance. Lucas was permitted to attend as well due to his personal interest in mini-subs. "Well," Pete began, "what our project basically entails is testing the ProtoCorp mini-sub prototype. Today's runs will deal with sub handling, navigation, depth handling and communication range. As Amy becomes more comfortable handling the sub we'll move on to speed trials and maneuverability assessment. This is not a military sub; it has been designed for private use. The intention is for people in undersea colonies to be able to travel between sites or the mainland without having to wait for a bigger launch. We'd like to make undersea travel affordable for the common man. That being said, Captain Bridger, I'd like to extend my personal appreciation to you and your crew for helping us out."
Bridger nodded his acknowledgement as Pete took his seat and Bob Andrews rose to address those assembled. "Basically, I'm here to make sure ProtoCorp gets its money's worth out of the sub." The crew was taken aback by this brief but accurate job description. Pete, in particular, seemed offended by Bob's assessment of his participation in the project.
"I'm here to drive." The statement from Amy brought a chuckle from the crew and a smile back to Pete's face.
Bridger rose. "Alright. Now that we know what we're all here to do," he smiled sardonically and raised an eyebrow at Andrews, "let's get to it."
Ben watched over Miguel's shoulder as he tracked Amy's initial movements in the water. Tim had already established an audio link with the mini-sub. Amy kept up a running commentary of her impressions of the vehicle. The only negative thing that she had to say was that the seat was too slippery.
"Take it easy," Pete cautioned. "This is the first time you're getting wet with this sub."
"In other words, don't do anything to injure this baby of yours."
"In other words," interrupted Andrews," don't do anything you can't pay the damages on." Amy gave a complex snort and proceeded to ignore any further comments from Bob.
Amy made a few preliminary runs circling the seaQuest. Then she ventured out a little further, taking it nice and easy. Pete called for some communication range tests. He asked Amy to pick a heading and move away from the stationary seaQuest. She would chat with Tim and as soon as she lost contact, mark her position. Then return on the same course and time how long it took for her to get back into communication range.
Amy caught a current to ride away from seaQuest. A WSKR followed close behind to track her progress. "So Tim," Amy's voice floated out across the bridge, "tell me about yourself."
Tim became flustered knowing that everyone on the bridge would be listening to the conversation. He gave a nervous laugh. "Uh…well…"
"Not to put you on the spot or anything, Tim, but how'm I supposed to know when I lose you if you haven't been talking to me?"
Ben took pity on Tim and jumped in. "Not nice, Amy!"
"All I asked was for him to tell me about himself. Get off the line, Ben!" Amy chided with a laugh. "I already know all about you."
Tim had finally regained his powers of speech. "Are you sure you know everything about Ben? Did he ever tell you about the 'Treasure of the Tonga Trench'?" This earned Tim a glare from Ben and started Lucas and Miguel laughing. Tim began to recount the story, and the picture in Ben's cabin took on a new meaning for Amy.
The small sub was quickly carried away from the seaQuest. About the time Tim wrapped up the story, he had lost contact with Amy. The WSKR following her indicated that she had swung around and changed her heading for the return trip to seaQuest. The return trip was much slower going because she had to fight against the current.
Ben was starting to get nervous. The mini-sub had been out of vocal contact for too long. Then Miguel announced that the WSKR showed Amy making a second course correction; it was clear that she was trying to get around the current. Suddenly the communication band crackled. "seaQuest….changing course…current…strong…"
A burst of static interrupted the transmission. "Let's get her back online, Mr. O'Neill." Bridger barked.
"Yes, sir!" Tim worked frantically at his console listening intently.
"Captain, if she keeps heading the way she's heading she'll run right into a strong cross current," reported Ortiz.
"Helm, all ahead full. We need to get her back in communication range before she gets too far away from us." Bridger commanded.
Andrews objected. "Captain, moving the seaQuest will invalidate the current communication test. It would be a waste of time and money. Krieg is an experienced pilot; she can deal with a few currents."
"Mr. Andrews," Bridger explained, "the seaQuest is far more massive than that little sub you're got out there, and even we have trouble in some currents. We can't risk losing Amy in this one."
Tim had finally raised Amy and was relaying information on the comm. "seaQuest to ProtoCorp sub, adjust your course. You're heading into a strong cross current."
"Copy that. Making course adjustment now." The assembled bridge crew could hear the whine of the smaller sub's engine as Amy tried to steer her against the current back toward the seaQuest, but the course adjustment wasn't made fast enough.
Running head first at full steam in the cross current was like crashing into a brick wall. The ProtoCorp sub ricocheted back with the impact. Amy lost control of the sub – with the engines pushing forward and the current pushing back, she was tossed around like a bath toy. The backward motion was halted when the sub hit the rim of an underwater ravine. The forward motion of the engines carried the sub down into the ravine at full speed toward the opposite wall.
Ben could almost feel the impact when the sub crashed. There was no answer from the sub when Tim tried to raise a response. Ben practically jumped across to the communication station. "Amy? Amy! C'mon…answer!"
"Where did she go down, Mr. Ortiz? We need a fix on her position." Bridger demanded.
"I'm working on it, Captain. The WSKR got caught in the current and didn't follow her down."
"Find her!" Ben snapped. Then he returned his attention to the radio. "Amy! Amy! Answer us!"
Amy responded with a weak groan. Then stronger, "I'm okay…got the wind knocked out of me."
Ben barely noticed the arrival of Dr. Westphalen on the bridge. Amy groaned again and continued her report. "Pete, you've got to do something about the material on these seats. I slid halfway under the restraints and now my leg's wedged under the console. I'm pretty sure it's broken."
Pete looked stricken. "Hang in there, Amy. We'll get you right out."
The doctor came up behind the communications station. "Amy, this is Dr. Westphalen. Do you have any other injuries? How is your head?"
"Hard as a rock, Doc," Westphalen could hear the grin in her voice. "Uhh…besides the leg I'm sure some ribs were bruised by sliding under the restraints. A few other bumps and bruises. I don't think I'm bleeding anywhere…" Amy trailed off as she tried to inventory her injuries.
"Fine. Stay as still as you can. We'll get to you soon."
While the doctor was talking, Miguel had determined the sub's position and put the visual up on the screen. "Captain, she's in a bad spot. She must have hit the ravine at just the right angle because under normal circumstances she'd never fit down there." He brought up another visual of the ravine. "The top of the ravine is very narrow, for about twenty feet down. It widens out at the bottom. Here's where she hit." Ortiz highlighted the area where the sub went down. "We're too big to go in after her, sir, and so is a launch."
The news hit Ben hard. He could feel the color draining from his face, and Bridger noticed the reaction. "Hold on there, Mr. Krieg. We're certainly not going to leave her down there."
Ben blinked and came back to himself. "Yes, sir. No, sir. Of course not."
Dr. Westphalen moved over to Ben. "I think you should keep talking to her, Ben. Keep her calm. Let her know we're here. The last think she needs to do now is panic." Ben nodded in agreement. Tim offered Ben his headset and chair, but Ben only took the headset preferring to walk around while talking.
"So, Aim…how's the weather down there?
Bridger, Ford, Hitchcock, Dr. Westphalen, Ortiz, Lucas, Crenshaw and Andrews had gathered in the Ward Room. As they settled around the table Bridger asked, "What are our options?"
"We can start by sending a WSKR down and getting a good visual of her actual position," Commander Ford offered. "That'll give us a better idea about how to get her out."
Bridger nodded in agreement. "We know we can't take the seaQuest or a launch in to get her; and she's in no position to get herself out."
Dr. Westphalen added, "She's in no danger of developing hypothermia, the water is warm enough where we are. The greater danger is going into shock. That's one reason I've got Ben talking to her. It will keep her awake and focused, aside from giving Ben something to do."
"Mr. Ortiz, send two WSKRs down to get us a better visual. Then send them in opposite directions along the ravine to see if there's a longer opening somewhere along this trench that we can get ourselves into. The rest of you, let's work on preparing a rescue launch. Dismissed."
The crew quickly rose to their feet to exit. "Commander Hitchcock," Bridger called. "A word with you."
Katie halted her exit. "Sir?"
"You know Ben better than any of the rest of us. How is he going to handle this?"
Katie paused before answering. "I don't know much about Ben's family, Captain. But I do know that Amy is one of the few people in his family that he is really connected to." Another pause. "I think Dr. Westphalen has the right idea – keep him busy, don't shut him out of what's going on. He's not in a position to do anything rash."
Bridger nodded his agreement with her assessment. "Would you stick close to him? Just in case…"
"Yes, sir." Katie's eyes were worried, "Just in case."
When he returned to the bridge Bridger saw his orders capably being followed. Ortiz already had the visual of the sub on the screen and was tracking two WSKRs through the ravine. O'Neill was monitoring the conversation between Ben and Amy. Westphalen had gone to Med Bay to prepare to receive the injured pilot. Ford had gone to the launch bay to prepare the rescue team.
Bridger walked over to the Sensor Station. "Anything promising yet, Mr. Ortiz?"
Miguel sighed. "No sir, nothing yet. If anything, the opening is narrower in some places and the WSKRs are almost at the extent of their range."
"Keep me informed." Bridger walked over to the Communications Station. "How's she doing?"
Tim flipped his microphone off and turned to address Bridger. "She seems to be in good spirits, all things considered, sir. No complaints about pain or anything."
Bridger hadn't really expected any complaining. Amy was fully aware of the position she was in, and she knew that complaining wouldn't help anything. From what he could hear of the conversation with Ben, she was trying to keep him cheered up. They were reminiscing about some cousins of theirs and some pranks that they'd pulled. Bridger grinned – he could only imagine having to deal with two Kriegs growing up.
Lucas motioned Bridger over to the Science Station. "Captain, I have some bad news." Bridger grimaced. Lucas pointed to the WSKR view of Amy's position. "We're going to have to be very careful when we try to get her out of there. When she crashed, she landed under an unstable overhang of rock. The impact weakened the ledge above her. That sub wouldn't be able to handle a rock slide…" Lucas looked worriedly at Ben. "Should we tell him?"
"Not yet." Bridger responded immediately. "Let's keep this on a need to know basis." Bridger nodded his head toward Ben. "Right now he's the last who'd need to know." Lucas nodded grimly and went back to work.
Bridger turned and was accosted by Andrews who came stomping up to him. "Captain, I demand to know how you plan to retrieve that sub!" The angry words and hostile tone got Ben's attention.
"Believe me, Mr. Andrews; we have all personnel working on the problem. We will retrieve the sub as soon as we possibly can." Bridger was glad to see that Ben was soothed as much as the irritating Andrews. "Perhaps you'd prefer to wait this out in your cabin or in the mess?" Andrews grunted in reply and headed toward the Maglev.
Bridger walked over to where Pete was standing. "It might not be a bad idea for you to take a break, too." Bridger paused, empathetic to the man's distress. "It wasn't your fault, you know. No one anticipated the effect of the currents. This crash had nothing to do with design flaw."
Crenshaw was unwilling to accept the easy way out, which Bridger admired. "It is my responsibility, Captain. I sent her out there. If it's alright with you, I'd like to stay until we get her back.
Bridger nodded his understanding. "Okay. Just find a spot out of the way. I hope you won't have long to wait."
It seemed to Ben that the rescue effort had been taking far too long. He knew by hearing Ortiz report, that they'd been unable to find a larger entrance to the ravine. He also knew, from the expression on Lucas' face, that something was wrong, but he couldn't take time away from Amy to push Lucas for information.
Ben could hear in Amy's voice that pain and fatigue were taking their toll. He was doing much more of the talking now with only limited responses from her. Dr. Westphalen told him how important it was to keep Amy talking, and for once in his life, Ben was running out of things to say.
"Okay, Aim, if you had one wish, besides getting out of this ravine, what would you wish for? Be creative." Ben encouraged.
"I don't think I'm up to being creative, Ben." was Amy's quiet reply.
"Humor me. Try." Ben knew that Amy was struggling not to give in to shock. She needed to stay focused on something and that thing was him. He started to give her ideas. "What about money? Or a trip to the moon? Come on, what do you really want?"
Amy, unable to play along and perhaps no longer able to sensor what she was saying answered, "I wish you'd come home, Ben. Once in a while anyway." She gave a heavy sigh and then groaned.
Ben was unprepared for her response and was uncomfortable with the attention of those on the bridge. Ben appreciated that the crew tried to pretend that they hadn't heard the personal turn the conversation was taking. Katie had drifted over toward the Communications Station and Tim became deeply engrossed in his display.
Ben pitched his voice lower, as if it made a difference. "We talked about this, Aim, just last night, remember?"
"It's my wish, Benj. I can wish it even if it won't come true."
Ben cleared his throat over the lump that had suddenly risen there. "It's a good wish, Aim. One of the best because it can actually come true." Ben faltered, not knowing what else to say.
"Hey, Benj? Can you do something for me?" Amy suddenly sounded very young to Ben.
"Sure," Ben responded forcing an upbeat tone, "I can do anything you want…except make you a cheeseburger." That with a wink to Bridger who responded with a smirk. "Name it, Aim."
"I want you to be the one to tell Grandma about all of this…" Amy tried to stifle a cough.
Ben's felt like he'd been punched in the gut and he actually swayed on his feet. Katie was beside him immediately. "What do you mean, Aim? We'll have you out of there in no time." He shot a despairing glance at Bridger.
Amy stifled another groan as she tried to find a more comfortable position. "Benj, you know what I mean." She was sounding weaker and weaker. "Grandma should hear this from you, not some suit at ProtoCorp. She deserves so much better than that."
Ben tried to negate what he was hearing by shaking his head. "Amy…you can't think like that…I…we…" he trailed off knowing that their rescue efforts had been ineffective so far.
"Promise me, Ben. She'll hear it from you." Amy paused, and then she continued with a little more strength, "Katie, make him promise."
Ben turned to Katie betrayed. She laid a hand on his arm. Ben's eyes filled with unshed tears. It took him a moment to compose himself before he could answer his voice gruff and full of pain. "I promise."
Bob Andrews chose the most inopportune time to return to the emotionally charged bridge, and rant at Captain Bridger. He entered, practically shouting, "I've had enough of all of this wasted time! When are you going to get that damn sub off the bottom of the ocean? Do you know how much money we invested in that machinery? It would be a horrible loss if…"
Andrews was unable to finish his tirade. Every mention of 'money', 'investments' and 'machinery' sent Ben closer to the edge. The man was concerned about a chunk of metal on the ocean floor, but what about Amy?
With a cry of inarticulate rage, Ben launched himself at Andrews. Katie, who already had a hand on Ben, tried to hold him back. Ford anticipated Ben's movement and body blocked him. Tim and Miguel helped to pin Ben in on either side.
Andrews, taken aback by Ben's assault backed into the Captain's chair. Bridger advanced on him. He addressed Andrews in a deadly, steely whisper. "One more mention of money or investments and I'll hand you over to him." He pointed at the still enraged Ben. Andrews' eyes took on a glimmer of fear. Bridger looked at him with disgust. "Get the hell off of my bridge." Andrews, dropping all pretence at dignity made a dash for the Maglev.
"Stand down, Mr. Krieg." Bridger ordered. "I need you in charge of your capabilities and so does your cousin." Ben grabbed a tight hold of himself and came to attention. Bridger motioned for Ford to release Ben. As he did, the others stepped back as well. Ben took a deep, shuddering breath and indicated that he was in control.
"Hey," a weak voice called, "what's going on there? Getting into trouble without me, Ben?"
Ben laughed a near hysterical laugh. "Not me, Aim. I never get into trouble." Bridger clapped Ben on the shoulder as Ben walked over to the Communication Station. He indicated to Tim that he'd had enough and was ready to take a seat. Tim glided smoothly out of the chair and Ben dropped himself into it. Katie stood behind Ben, hands resting lightly on his shoulders.
Amy gave a soft chuckle. "I don't suppose you have a rope you could throw me, huh Ben?"
"Not this time, Aim."
Bridger announced, "Why not?"
Bridger outlined his plan. Send Darwin and the HR probe down into the ravine. Darwin would attach a grappling hook to the sub and they'd reel her in to the seaQuest. Commander Hitchcock would guide the sub with the HR probe to avoid disturbing the rock face. Ortiz would position the WSKRs to float under the sub to provide stability and to help bring it back to the seaQuest as gently as possible.
Dr. Westphalen outlined Amy's injuries to Katie and Miguel. "The less we bounce her around the better off she'll be."
"Let's do it, "Bridger stated. He moved to stand by Hitchcock's station. "Steady as she goes, Commander."
The crew watched the view from the HR probe as it descended toward the sub. Darwin swam ahead with the grappling hook. Bridger encouraged him softly, "Okay pal. Gently now." Darwin attached the hook to the tail of the sub.
"She's secure, Captain." Miguel reported.
Ben kept Amy informed of the proceedings. "Darwin just attached a hook to your sub. Wave to the nice dolphin, Aim." Amy managed a tired giggle. "You're almost home now," Ben encouraged, "stay with us."
Katie maneuvered the HR probe into position; the WSKRs were arranged too. "Alright now…let's reel her in Commander Ford. Nice and easy." Bridger instructed.
Ford took up the slack on the line, and for a moment, nothing happened. Then the sub began to slowly slide backwards. "Easy Commander. Let Hitchcock grab the front of the sub before you start to raise her up."
"Try to keep it level once you've got it," Westphalen encouraged Katie.
"How ya' doin', cuz?" Ben inquired.
"Hangin' in there," Amy replied softly.
Katie grabbed the front of the sub with the HR probe. She lifted the sub far enough for Miguel to fit the WSKRs beneath. "All together now…" Bridger said softly, "reel her in."
The next few minutes were some of the most agonizing of Ben's life. They were so close to having Amy back on board, but it was taking so damn long! Ben felt like time had actually stopped once they sent the probe down to the bottom.
Suddenly, Miguel gave a jubilant shout. "She's clear! She's out of the ravine!"
General elation broke out on the bridge. "Keep her coming in, nice and steady." Westphalen cautioned. Ben realized he had stopped breathing and took in a huge, gasping gulp of air. He jumped out of Tim's chair and grabbed Lucas up in a celebratory hug. He would have hugged Katie too, but she was still "reeling" Amy in.
"Mr. Krieg," Bridger called over the general cacophony.
"You are dismissed to Med Bay."
"Yes, SIR!" Ben leaned over Katie's chair on the way out. "Thank you, Katie," he whispered. She smiled as Ben ran for the Maglev.
Amy woke up to find Ben sitting beside her holding her hand. She smiled in greeting. "Hey…you're supposed to hold my hand until I fall asleep, not until I wake up."
"Welcome back, Aim." Ben found it suddenly hard to speak, but he was spared the effort when Dr. Westphalen entered with Bridger and Katie.
"Well, I see you're awake." Dr. Westphalen smiled down at Amy. "How do you feel?"
"Like I crashed a sub." Amy cracked a smile. "I'm stiff and sore and happy to be speaking to you in person."
"We're happy to have you back," Bridger added. "You gave us quite a run for our money."
"Poor Pete," she sighed, "Bob'll be all over his back for this. The sub's not totaled is it?"
"Don't worry about the sub," Katie interjected. "Pete's got any number of willing grunts on board to help him put it back together." She smiled in anticipation.
"Enough talking." Dr. Westphalen pulled out her stern doctor voice. "Amy needs to rest." She herded Bridger and Katie out of the Med Bay.
"You don't have to leave too, do you Ben?" Amy held his hand a little tighter.
"Just try to get rid of me." Ben grinned as he settled back in. Amy closed her eyes and a smile drifted across her face as Ben began to describe his plans for his next vacation – an extended visit to Grandma's farm.