seaQuest DSV

Freedom is Always an Unfinished Task


Summary: When a terrorist bomb destroys the seaQuest II shortly before launching in 2021, the world's fragile peace begins to splinter. Three years later, with a new seaQuest finally beginning her workups, new powers have risen to threaten the UEO and war with Macronesia is just the beginning. AU post Season 1.

Authors' Note: This fic will primarily feature the Season 1 cast, though you will see some characters (and situations) out of Season 2 and 3 as well. Your co-authors are Robin4 and Sailor Sol, and as one of us is a naval officer and the other a nuclear engineer, we'll try to make it as realistic as possible.

Disclaimer: Not ours. If it was, Season 2 would have brought back the original crew, seaQuest would never have met aliens, and Captain Bridger would never have left.


Part 1: "Before the Storm"


Chapter 1: "Fragile Peace"


31 October 2022

He was flipping through files too quickly to really pay much attention to the advertisement for some new computer system or another, but when the news returned from commercial, the first words caught his attention.

"Breaking news—reports from UEO Command indicate that yet another shooting incident has taken place between warships belonging to the United Earth-Oceans Organization and the Alliance of Macronesia. Although UEO officials claim the engagement resulted from a misunderstanding concerning the ongoing trade embargo, many citizens are growing concerned about the heightened state of tensions between the two confederations.

"Sources close to the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral William Noyce, report that several submarines were involved, including the UEO SeaWolf, Torsk, and Argonaut. They faced off with at least four Macronesian attack subs, and although the battle appears to have been decided in the UEO's favor, information has now reached us that SeaWolf sank several hours later due to damage.

"UEO Command reports that all crewmembers were accounted for after the sinking and were rescued by the other submarines. SeaWolf, commanded by Captain Jonathan Ford, had a crew of 157 and was one of the most technologically advanced submarines in the UEO fleet. Captain Ford was unavailable for comment, and further details of the attack have not yet been released."

Nathan sighed. He already knew about the sinking, of course—Bill had called him as soon as the report had come in to let him know that Jonathan was safe—but hearing about it on the news only made things seem worse. He had been living in his own design and research bubble ever since the destruction of the second seaQuest in March of 2021, but even Nathan Bridger could not ignore the fact that the world existed on the brink of war.

No matter how much he wanted to.

If I had known this was going to happen, I would have seriously reconsidered driving seaQuest into a lava well, no matter how necessary it was! But being angry with himself would not solve anything, so Nathan turned back to his work with a scowl. I hope Jonathan's all right. He's got to be feeling like hell right now.

The reporter droned on, helpfully recapping the last two years' worth of history—as if everyone in the world had not been holding their breath as they watched the UEO's fragile peace go straight to hell.

"As everyone knows, following the destruction of the UEO flagship seaQuest, new powers such as the Alliance of Macronesia began building up their own fleets of 'super subs'. After the sub's supposedly-identical replacement was destroyed by terrorist groups that have still not been identified, these super subs and the confederations owning them were able to rule the seas, undermining UEO peacekeepers at every turn.

"Because of this drastic rebalancing of world power, Macronesia—then New Australia—and other powers were able to force the UEO to move forward the planned Economic Summit of 2026, which was held in January of this year and lifted the ban on colonial deregulation. Three months later, the UEO enacted the famous Wallace Trade Embargo against non-aligned members.

"Since then, a state of de-facto war has broken out, although officials on both sides still claim that a settlement is right around the corner. Several UEO subs have taken damage enforcing the trade embargo in the Pacific, but SeaWolf is the first sub that the UEO has admitted to losing. However, rumors of warships officially lost in 'training accidents' abound. Anonymous sources within UEO Command have informed CNN that the Alliance of Macronesia has lost at least four subs and one cruiser since July.

"We have no information on if Macronesia lost any submarines in today's engagement or if SeaWolf was the only fatality. We will provide updates when available, and—"

The phone next to his desk rang, and Nathan jumped. As he did so, his eyes flew to the clock on the wall next to the vidscreen.

14:02

"Great," he muttered, slapping the 'on' button with one hand and clicking 'save' with the other to preserve the changes he had made to the design master. He spoke without looking up: "I'm coming, I'm coming. I know I'm late."

"Thank you, sir," his secretary replied. "They're waiting for you in conference room four."

He managed a smile for her—Donna was a nice girl, and really did not deserve to have Bridger yell at her simply because he was angry at the universe.

"Thanks," Nathan said, and cut the connection, hurrying out of the room before the phone could ring again.


Lucas stopped abruptly, not even noticing the swears tossed in his direction from one of the other students who had been following him. He approached the vidscreen along one wall until he could hear the newscaster, attracted by the image of Jonathan Ford next to video stock footage of a submarine.

"UEO Command reports that all crewmembers were accounted for after the sinking and were rescued by the other submarines. SeaWolf, commanded by Captain Jonathan Ford, had a crew of 157 and was one of the most technologically advanced submarines in the UEO fleet. Captain Ford was unavailable for comment, and further details of the attack have not yet been released."

The image changed to something completely different, and Lucas ignored the newscaster, sitting down hard in the chair closest to him. He felt like someone had punched him in the gut. Commander Ford-no, Captain Ford, now-had been attacked. Two years on a submarine, even one as large and high-tech as seaQuest had been, had taught Lucas that the chances of an entire crew surviving the sinking of their boat was a miracle, especially in combat situations.

He stood up again, as abruptly as he had sat, making a beeline back for his apartment, ignoring the fact that he had come here to the student center for a reason. The call he was planning on making wasn't one that could be done at a public terminal. Wasn't one that should be done at any civilian terminal, but Lucas knew his security was tight, and the UEO wouldn't be able to tell the difference, not with the way he routed his calls.

There was a message waiting in his inbox when he finally had the door to his room securely shut, in case his two roommates came back early. They both had afternoon classes, but so did Lucas. He could afford to miss a class for this.

The message was from his father, and he hesitated a moment, wondering if he should put off watching it until after he had made his call. He sighed and opened the message.

"Hello, Lucas. Sorry I missed you, but I have to make this quick, and I won't have a chance to call back any time soon. World Power has found a suitable location for a new site, and the launch leaves within the hour. I didn't want to tell you sooner, because we were all holding our breaths to see if it would get approved. I'll have limited access to e-mail once we get down there, we'll be living pretty low-tech for a while until things get established. I'll try and call you at Christmas. Be good," his father said, before signing off.

Lucas glared at the frozen image of his father on the screen. "You'd think he would have learned his lesson," he said irritably, before closing the message. He hit the keys rather more forcefully than necessary, pulling up a new communications link, dialing in the secure line he shouldn't have access to.

The digital trilling noise of a link trying to connect, like the equivalent of an old phone line ringing while waiting for someone to answer, was the only sound in the room.

"Come on, pick up," Lucas said to the computer, knowing it wouldn't really help if no one was around to answer. The screen flashed blue, with the official UEO logo splashed across it, a digital voice proclaiming that the call was being transferred to voicemail.

He swore, hitting the end key before the image of Nathan Bridger could fully take form on the screen. Leaving a message wouldn't do him any good at this point. He sat back in his chair in frustration.

"Typical. No one's ever around when I want them to be," he muttered.

A reminder appeared on his screen that he was supposed to be overseeing a lab in twenty minutes. It was glorified babysitting, but as a Ph.D. student, he was required to act as a teaching assistant for the undergraduates. Again. And with the captain unavailable, Lucas didn't have an excuse to skip out.

Logging off with a sigh, he got up and headed towards the computer lab, trying not to dwell on the fact that Captain Ford could have died, and Lucas would only have found out via a press release. He wanted to believe that Captain Bridger would have called him, under those circumstances, but as things got worse between the UEO and Macronesia every day, security became tighter and tighter. And the simple truth was, regardless of any security clearances Lucas might have had since he was sixteen, he was still a civilian.

Maybe it was time to change that.


Jonathan was sleeping in the spare rack in the XO's stateroom on board Torsk for now—even the UEO's bigger submarines did not have an excess of space for unexpected guests, and that was especially true on board a warship—but he waited until the door to the Captain's cabin was closed before allowing his face to betray any of his exhaustion.

Oliver Hudson, on the other hand, looked like he thrived under this kind of pressure. Judging from Jonathan's experience with him so far, he probably did. Not that handling pressure well was a bad thing, but…

"I'm sorry about your boat, Jonathan," Hudson said quietly, seeming sincere.

Seeming, hell. Hudson probably was sincere; the man could be overbearing and aggressive to a fault, but he was a submariner, and he knew how a captain felt about his boat.

SeaWolf had been Jonathan's first command, and he felt almost like he had lost his firstborn child. While was extremely grateful that Hudson's Torsk and Argonaut had managed to get all of his people off, he still felt like there was a gaping wound inside his heart that would never heal.

"Thank you," Jonathan replied heavily. "I'm just glad everyone made it out alive." The words weren't enough, couldn't be enough, but he didn't have the energy for more right now. Hudson may not have ever lost a boat himself, but he would surely understand.

He wondered if this was how Captain Bridger felt when the first seaQuest had been destroyed. Or the second, for that matter. But he did not want to think about seaQuest right now.

"At least we got the bastards first," Hudson answered. "Two or three of those Macronesian subs won't be seeing anything other than the inside of a drydock for at least a year, if they manage to salvage them at all. That's got to count for something."

"Something, hell," Jonathan replied, wincing as he realized he was too tired to even censor his own language. "They're like some sort of... hydra, or something. You take out one sub and they replace it with three more."

"No kidding," his fellow captain breathed, scowling. "I'd love to know where they get the money to keep cranking out so many boats—there's no way their colonies are this lucrative yet."

He could almost feel bad for the Macronesians. They probably thought they were doing the right thing. But that didn't help the fact that his boat was gone, and while Jonathan blamed himself just a little, the brunt of it lay with the enemy. "They may have lost more boats than us, but they're winning this war, so far."

"The hell they are." But even Oliver Hudson could not overcome the obvious that easily, no matter how aggressively optimistic he usually was. "Or at least they wouldn't be, if our own politicians would get their heads out of their asses and let us actually fight the bastards. You wouldn't have even lost your boat if our own idiotic rules of engagement did not insist that we could not fire until fired upon."

"They're still calling it a conflict," Jonathan said wearily. He and Hudson had had this argument several times already, and Jonathan wasn't in the mood to have it again. "If we start firing first, that makes us the aggressors. I know the moral high ground doesn't mean much when you're getting shot at, but we have to be better than them."

"Right up until they torpedo us until oblivion, yeah, we'll be 'better' than them." Then he shook himself. "Never mind."

"Coffee?" Hudson asked, seeming to sense that the conversation was drifting into emotional territory and offering Jonathan a way out.

"Please."

He accepted the cup readily, although he had no idea why Hudson had a pot rigged up in his own stateroom instead of just using the one in the nearby wardroom, which was all of four steps down the passageway. Still, Jonathan was grateful for the distraction—he liked anything that took his mind off of the image of SeaWolf sitting on the ocean floor, gutted and lifeless.

He had been in command for a little more than a year, having only left the seaQuest crew when it became absolutely clear that the powers that be in the UEO were not interested in sinking another huge chunk of change into building a third boat the size of seaQuest. Still, Captain Bridger had practically had to kick him out the door to make him go, but until now, Jonathan had never regretted leaving. Not when doing so gave him his own command, something he had been dreaming about since his days at the Academy.

SeaWolf had not been seaQuest, but she'd been a damned good boat, and she'd been his. No longer, though.

He dreaded the idea of heading back to shore, knowing he had a long line of debriefings waiting for him. After that, the UEO would decide his fate. He wouldn't be entirely surprised if they put him behind a desk somewhere for a while. The thought made him cringe.

Even the oldest boat in the fleet would be better than driving a desk, but Jonathan knew that he had to face the inevitable Board of Inquiry, first. Every captain who lost his boat had to go before the board, even if the sub was sunk under combat conditions. Had war been declared, the loss would have been written off-but it hadn't.

The board was just one more thing Jonathan had to look forward to-that, and spending almost two weeks stuck in a steel tube with Oliver Hudson.

Frankly, he wasn't sure which was worse. A few more conversations over who was at fault for the 'conflict', and he might strangle the other captain, even if Hudson was senior to him.

"Coffee too strong?" Hudson asked amicably, misinterpreting Jonathan's distaste for the situation at hand. And there it was, that tone of voice Hudson used when he was starting to let his ego get the best of him, the one that really made Jonathan want to strangle him.

"No, I just realized if I want to rack out any time soon, caffeine is probably a bad idea. Thanks for the cup anyway," Jonathan said, settling on the most polite way he could think of to bow out quickly.

"No problem. I've got some paperwork to do, anyway, so if you want to nap for a bit, go ahead. I'll screen your calls and keep anyone who doesn't have stars on their collar from bothering you."

"Thanks, I appreciate that," Jonathan answered honestly.

He put the mug of coffee down on Hudson's desk before he left. It was strong—tasting more like turpentine than coffee—but he was far too polite to say that. He was, however, tired, and although Jonathan was pretty sure that his sleep would be full of nightmares featuring his sinking submarine, any more hours without sleep would only turn him into a punch drunk zombie, so he had to try.


2 January 2023

"Happy New Year, Katie," she muttered to herself, glaring at the screen once more. This was not what she had been aiming for when she had quit her civilian job commanding H.R. Clinton and returned to the Navy nine months earlier. But orders were orders, as they said, and arguing them would only keep her on the beach instead of at sea where she belonged.

After the trade embargo had been enacted, Katie had been able to read the writing on the wall—Macronesia would not take such punishment without a fight, and she'd been right in expecting war to be right around the corner. Under such circumstances, she couldn't stay out of the Navy, no matter how much she liked the money that came from being a civilian skipper.

Besides, commanding a civilian supertanker was nowhere near as glamorous as the company had promised. Although there were times she had found the job challenging, and even rewarding, Katie had spent half of her time arguing with civilians who disliked keeping to 'rigid' schedules and the other half bored out of her mind. Even if war hadn't been on the verge of breaking out, she would have considered returning to active duty.

She glanced at the orders again. No, they hadn't changed just because she wished they would. Still the same.

OFFICIAL CHANGE DUTY ORDERS FOR
CDR KATHERINE A HITCHCOCK

WHEN DIRECTED BY REPORTING SENIOR, DETACH IN JAN 23 EDA: JAN 23
FROM US NAVAL WAR COLLEGE
HOMEPORT RI, NEWPORT

REPORT NOT LATER THAN 12 JAN 23
TO UEO TORSK SSN 4021
- REPORT AS EXECUTIVE OFFICER

On one hand, it was exactly what she wanted. The military was much more stringent when it came to proper career progression; as far as the Navy was concerned, she had last been a department head, so now she had to do a tour as an XO—which she had expected. She had hoped to go to one of the newer attack boats, and that was exactly what Torsk was; she was the sixth or seventh newest boat in the UEO fleet, and had a good reputation.

Moreover, it was a plush job for a commander so recently promoted that her rank patches still squeaked; Katie had left the service as a lieutenant commander, and had missed several promotion boards while she had been gone. All in all, orders to Torsk were a sign that UEO Command had forgiven her for leaving the service, and that her career was back on track.

The boat wasn't the problem. Her captain was.

"It had to be Hudson, didn't it?" she muttered to herself. For the last few months, she had been chewing down her cubicle walls at the War College; Katie enjoyed teaching, but she was built to have a more engaging job than this. But…she had friends that had served with Oliver Hudson before, and none of them had much good to say.

He was abrasive, overbearing, and difficult to work for. Hudson had a reputation as the most demanding skipper in the submarine service, and despite his outstanding combat reputation, officers dreaded serving under him. All it took was to rub him wrong once, and Hudson was certain to throw a career down the crapper.

They said he went through XOs like normal people went through toilet paper, too.

Report as Executive Officer, the orders said. Katie sighed and clicked 'acknowledge receipt' on her view screen. She had ten days to get to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii from Newport, Rhode Island and move all of her belongings. Never before had she had to execute such short-fused orders, but she had volunteered for this job, so she really had no right to argue.

"It's not a job, it's an adventure!" she muttered to herself, quoting the Navy's old recruiting slogan as she stood up. It was time to tell her boss that he would have to find someone else to teach her classes starting immediately; Katie had too much to do to juggle in teaching her strategy and policy classes.

Maybe Hudson was not as bad as everyone said. After all, the man couldn't be the complete demon (and favorite of General Secretary McGath, whose life he was rumored to have saved some years ago) that everyone claimed he was—no one could be that bad. Not and still be an effective commanding officer, which the Navy clearly felt he was, given that Torsk was his second command.

She'd just take one day at a time and see what happened. After all, she had spent years learning about Nathan "Iron Pants" Bridger, first at the Academy and then after graduation. He had been legendary, both as a tactician and a task master. But the reality had been quite different, and he'd been extremely easy to work for.

Katie winced, remembering her first conversation with Captain Bridger, and just as quickly squashed the memory. "Not one of your finer moments, Katie," she said. But as embarrassing as the situation had been, she had learned a hard lesson about judging people based on reputations and appearances. She would just have to do her duty to the best of her ability, and give Captain Hudson the chance he deserved.


15 April 2023

The UEO recruiter who hung around campus was dumb as a brick, as far as Lucas was concerned. He'd have thought that the UEO would have had enough foresight to send someone with a reasonably high IQ to try and recruit people from someplace like MIT, but Lucas had met a fair few of the senior UEO officials in his time on board seaQuest—had almost been killed by one of them, in fact—and so he knew better.

He had tried working with the man, but Lieutenant Gallagher was proving to be impossible. Every time Lucas tried explaining his circumstances, Gallagher would get a patronizing look on his face that said he clearly didn't believe Lucas had been a seaQuest crewmember when he was sixteen, and a close personal friend of the Captain Bridger.

For two weeks, Lucas had toyed with the idea of calling the captain and asking for help, but every time he started dialing the number, he stopped himself. Bridger hadn't called him since Christmas, and with things degrading towards war, Lucas wasn't so sure the captain would be very supportive of Lucas' sudden desire to join the military. If there was one thing Nathan Bridger had always been adamant about in the handful of years Lucas had known him, it was his distaste for war-and his guilt over his son Robert's death.

But official channels clearly weren't going to work if Lucas was going to join the Navy and actually end up where he wanted-back on seaQuest, the one place in all his twenty-one years that had ever felt like home.

That just meant he had to use unofficial channels. Lucas was good at unofficial channels, which was how he had managed to find the Chief of Naval Operation's direct vidlink line, so he wouldn't have to explain himself to a series of underpaid, overworked secretaries who didn't care who Lucas was or why he wanted to talk to Admiral Noyce without an appointment.

He exhaled slowly, trying to calm his nerves and remind himself that this was the right thing to do, before he dialed the number. The UEO logo split into a video image, and Admiral Noyce blinked at him from behind his desk.

"Lucas?" the admiral asked, clearly confused. He had probably been expecting someone else.

"Sorry for calling you like this, sir, but... I need your help," Lucas said. He shouldn't be this nervous. He'd spoken with the admiral before, in far stranger circumstances.

"It's no problem at all, Lucas. I'd be glad to help you. What seems to be the issue?" Noyce smiled, and unless Lucas was mistaken, he looked relieved to have been pulled away from whatever it was he had been doing.

"I want to join the Navy," Lucas blurted out, wincing as he did so. He had planned out an entire speech he was going to give, had even written it down on note cards in front of him.

"You want to what?"

"Join the Navy, sir."

Noyce only blinked, still looking shocked.

He was doing this wrong, and the admiral was probably going to hang up with him at any second. He shuffled through his note cards, finally giving up when he couldn't find what he wanted. "Look, I've been trying to do this the official way, but the recruiter here on campus won't even look up my record, so of course he doesn't believe that I was on seaQuest, and Captain Bridger would probably find some way to forbid me from joining at all, if he knew..."

"Why do you want to join the Navy, Lucas?" the admiral asked after a moment. "Don't get me wrong—the Navy would love to have someone with your talents—but why join now?"

Lucas looked at the bottom of the screen, checking to make sure it really was a secure link. He'd be thrown in jail before let into the Navy if he compromised the security of their biggest secret. "I know what the captain's been working on, sir."

"Come again?"

He hesitated, not wanting to say it out loud, but clearly the admiral didn't-or wouldn't-understand what Lucas was saying. "seaQuest."

Noyce's expression closed off immediately. "Tell me you've been working as a consultant on the project, or something like that. Otherwise, you're looking at a serious security breach that even I can't cover up."

Lucas had to swallow hard before his voice would work again. "Computer systems, sir. And a couple of others, but mainly computers."

"At least that's legitimate," the admiral replied, his entire posture relaxing. "So, what does the next seaQuest have to do with you wanting to join the Navy? You know she's not being rebuilt to be a scientific vessel. Not this time."

"I know that, sir," he replied, trying to be covert about wiping his sweaty palms on his jeans. He couldn't even remember the last time he had felt this nervous. "I've been doing a lot of thinking, since I saw the news report about Captain Ford, back in October. He's my friend, and most of the rest of my friends are out there too. We're at war-I know the politicians aren't calling it that, but everyone can see plain as day that's what it is. And seaQuest is the best the UEO has, so she should have the best, shouldn't she, sir?"

"That she should. Are you volunteering?"

Was he imagining things, or did he see a mischievous glint in the admiral's eye?

Lucas grinned, knowing he still had a card up his sleeve that he could use to shock the admiral, even if it was dancing dangerously close to that security breach. "The current Electronic Warfare Officer assigned to seaQuest is Lieutenant Chris Shaffer. Did you know he completed his master's degree last semester at MIT, sir?"

"I'm afraid that I don't track where every one of my officers gets their degrees out of, Lucas," Noyce replied, giving him a hard look. "What does seaQuest's EWO have to do with this conversation?"

"I was the TA for some of his classes. He scraped by with Bs and Cs in most of them, Admiral. Is that really the kind of person you want in charge of something as important as electronic warfare for the flagship of the UEO?" Lucas asked. Ben would have been proud with the gamble Lucas was taking, but Ben was just another person Lucas hadn't talked to since they had all gone their separate ways four years ago.

"Academic grades don't necessarily determine how fit an officer is for their job," the admiral answered calmly.

"Maybe not militarily speaking, sir, but as far as dealing with electronic intrusions, and, ah... hacking... Chris Shaffer just wouldn't cut it. Especially not under combat situations." Lucas tried to keep a gloating expression off of his face, and managed. Barely.

The glint was back in Noyce's eyes. Lucas recognized that look, having seen it plenty of times while sitting in on conversations between the admiral and Captain Bridger. "Do you have someone better in mind? One of your straight-A students, maybe?"

Lucas had to grin, knowing the admiral just wanted to hear him say it out loud. "Not a student. Me. That's why I want to join the Navy."

"You do know that joining the Navy is no guarantee that you'll get orders to seaQuest," the admiral said.

"That's why I need your help, Admiral."

Noyce was definitely smiling, now. "I might be able to swing something," he mused. But then he grew serious. "You'll have to go to OCS, you know. And you can't just quit once you're commissioned—you'll be in for four years, at least."

Lucas hadn't really thought that far ahead, but he also wasn't the type to give up just because things weren't going quite as he had expected. "I understand, sir."

"I'll call you back, then. Give me a day or two to get things moving."

Relief washed through him, although a small corner of his brain was still asking What in the world are you doing, Lucas? "Thank you, sir. And... I wasn't planning on telling Captain Bridger. Not yet, at least."

"I see." Was the admiral trying not to laugh at him? It was hard to tell. "Well, if you don't want to let the cat out of the bag, I won't do it for you. We've got an OCS class starting in June, and I'll try to get you into that one. It's full, so I'll have to pull a few strings, but what good is being the CNO if I can't do that?"

Lucas had to grin in response. Sometimes it really did help having friends in high places. Not that he would call Admiral Noyce a friend, precisely, but they shared a common friendship with Captain Bridger, and that meant more than some people would ever understand. "I'll keep my calendar clear," Lucas said.

"You do that," Noyce replied, and cut the connection.