Chapter 18: "Nightmares and Bogey-Men"

24 January 2024 – UEO seaQuest Sea Trials, Day 5

"Captain, we're being actively pinged!"

The captain frowned in response to her sonarman's proclamation. Marilyn knew that Jonathan Ford would not be so stupid, and what little she had seen of Oliver Hudson showed that he likely wouldn't be, either.

Despite that fool plan of his. Did he really think I would forget that his boat was there and focus my attention solely on Atlantis? Idiot.

"Ma'am, the contact it's coming from is huge! It just came up over that ridge, and is opening outer torpedo tube doors!"

She didn't get a chance to ask for details before her communications officer interrupted.

"Ma'am, the contact has broadcast a message." Without waiting for her order, he replayed it on the overhead.

"Unidentified Macronesian vessels, this is UEO warship Four-Eight-Zero-Zero. You have entered the territorial waters of a UEO settlement and your intentions are unknown. If you have arrived here as a result of a navigational error, the best course to Macronesian waters is two-six-nine degrees true. If you require chart updates, we will be happy to assist you.

"However, if you do not reverse course immediately, we will have to declare your intentions hostile. I say again, reverse course immediately, or I will fire upon you."

Marilyn swore. She knew that voice; it had haunted her nightmares for years now. But he had said warship 4800, not seaQuest.

What are you up to, Nathan? Is this another one of your bluffs? Or was he reverting to the old wartime standards that had been hammered into both their skulls so many years ago? Whatever he was doing, though, Bridger was there, not holed up in some think tank at Pearl. She was going to kill General Stassi the next time she saw him. Bridger is working on an unknown weapons project, my ass!

"They have target lock on us," her Weapons officer declared.

"Get a lock on them," she snapped in return. "Fire everything!"

"Torpedoes in the water bearing two-eight-seven, two-eight-two, two-seven-seven—everything right to two-four-five. It's a whole lot of torpedoes, Captain. At least twenty, coming our way. A second salvo is heading towards Atlantis and Scorpion."

"Intercepts," Bridger ordered, and even though Lucas was expecting the command, he still jumped slightly.

"Intercepts, aye," he managed to say, surprised at how his hands danced over the keys on their own. Guess all those hours in the simulator were useful, after all! But even if they knew what to do, there was a tremor in his fingers Lucas could not quite overcome.

Miguel's data was already feeding directly into the fire control system, and targets populated his display. Lots of targets. Designating the ten closest, Lucas hit the firing key. "First salvo away," his voice reported, its steadiness surprising him. seaQuest only had ten intercept tubes, but each of them had a revolving magazine and could reload in less than two seconds. He designated the next set, allotting only one interceptor for each torpedo and praying that none of them missed. "Second salvo away."

The sonar officer had been off in his estimate; there were twenty-eight torpedoes homing in on the boat. Distantly, Lucas was aware of seaQuest twisting into a radical turn, coming hard to starboard and closing the range with terrifying swiftness. Fantastic. We have to get closer to them to fire back, but that makes the rate of closure for their torpedoes something like four hundred knots!

He focused on the console in front of him; running the numbers in his head would do nothing to stop those torpedoes from finding their mark, and he didn't need to do the calculations to know they would be there soon. Lucas selected the last eight intercepts and hit the firing key again. "Third salvo away. All interceptors fired, captain."

"Very well. Stand by countermeasures." How did he sound so calm? Bridger had been right; this was nothing like any battles Lucas had experienced before. At least the interceptor system didn't jam. And I've got my finger on the countermeasure release button in case they miss. But countermeasures were merely old-school noisemakers, and they weren't very effective against modern torpedoes. If the torpedoes outfoxed the intercepts…Don't think about that now! Lucas hit the reload key with his other hand and watched the tubes turn green on his display.

Tiny underwater missiles travelling at over 350 knots, the interceptors raced out to meet the Macronesian torpedoes, and the first ones were already exploding well ahead of seaQuest by the time Bridger ordered:

"All engines stop. Diving officer, initiate station keeping. Mr. Brody—"

"We're being hailed, Captain." Tim's voice sounded surprised as he interrupted.

"Ignore them. I have nothing to say to those people." Lucas resisted the urge to laugh as Bridger continued, his voice clipped and quick. "Sonar, secure pinging. Mr. Brody, open fire."

"Open fire, aye, sir!" Brody was probably the only one on the bridge not holding his breath; he sounded excited. The weapons officer's hands flew over the console. I hope nothing breaks this time…

"Tubes one through sixteen fired electrically. Closing outer doors and reloading—" Brody cut off. "Belay that. I have a hang fire in tube three. Tube three did not fire. Starting self-checks—"

Now Bridger cut him off. "Negative. Flood the tube and shut the fish down."

"On it, Captain."

"Fifteen torpedoes running hot, straight, and normal," Miguel reported.

"Reload tubes one and two, four through sixteen, and make them ready in all respects, including opening the outer doors."

Lucas had been listening with half an ear while he watched his own display. Now he waited for Brody to acknowledge the order and announced: "All enemy torpedoes intercepted, Captain."

He couldn't hide the relief in his voice. Everything had happened so quickly, from seaQuest coming over the ridge to the captain's acknowledgement of his statement. There really hadn't been any time to focus on fear or nerves once the action had started, but he could still feel his heart racing madly in his chest. But he hadn't gotten seaQuest hit, and that was all that mattered.

Spectre's designers had not been able to completely duplicate the old seaQuest's WSKRs, but they'd come close, even if the stealth sub only had the bandwidth to manage one roving periscope at a time. Still, she was able to get a good visual of the familiar hammer-headed silhouette as Spectre dove beneath the fray. The crew had intercepted the only torpedo that had managed to lock onto her quiet boat—and that one had only been able to track them because Bridger had gone active. Why had he done something so stupid? He'd given his position away to every one of her subs, which might have had difficulty tracking seaQuest if he had stayed silent. The most galling thing, though, was that the stupidity had worked out for him, and allowed the UEO to target her.

Not far away, Wraith and Phantom also went to the bottom. seaQuest had intercepted every torpedo they'd thrown at her, Stark noted with a frown, so it was time to reevaluate. If she opened fire, all three UEO boats would reacquire the stealth subs. Torpedoes are like breadcrumbs, Bridger used to say. They won't lead you home, but they will let someone else home in on you. And sooner or later, you run out of bread.

seaQuest was slowing. If Nathan was willing to sit there and take their fire, he thought he could withstand it. He'd always been a big believer in stealth, so if he was abandoning that mantra, he was either bluffing or had no reason to hide.

Fifteen torps in the water says he's not bluffing. Does he have that many tubes, or did he launch two salvoes and set one for delayed activation?

"Captain, Paramatta, Melbourne, and Greenwich are down," her communications officer reported. "Dante, Sacra, and Alizon have taken hits. Alizon is abandoning ship. They say they can't save her."

"The settlement?" Stark would prefer to take Alfin Ridge, but she'd ordered it destroyed the moment seaQuest showed up.

"Intact. Those new interceptors of theirs are good, ma'am." She resisted the urge to scowl at how impressed he sounded. The new interceptors were good. She only wished the idiot engineers Bourne hired could manage to duplicate them.

At least our torpedoes are still longer ranged than theirs' are. That's worth a lot.

"Three more boats are reporting hits from Scorpion and Atlantis," her XO added, listening in on the same feed. "Mariah is going down fast."

Nine boats out of eighteen hit. Half my force still hasn't taken damage, but I've walked into a meat grinder. She fought back the urge to pace and swear.

Ever since losing seaQuest, Marilyn had a harder time controlling her temper and the irrational need for revenge. She'd laughed when the UEO recommended psychiatric counseling, but a few years ago, she had finally realized they were right, at least to some degree. She wasn't the type to ask others for help, but she had realized she hadn't been herself when she'd engaged the first seaQuest; if she had, she would never have lost that battle. Stark was still angry—still furious—but she had taken the time to help herself, and was better able to focus her rage, now. Live to fight another day, her CO had hammered into her during the Aegean Campaign. She could beat them, but Stark would have to decimate Macronesia's best fleet to do it…and that would have disastrous consequences in the long term.

"Signal all units. Make best speed for Macronesian waters and meet at Rendezvous Bravo," she ordered.

Let them think she was running away. In time, they'd regret letting her.

"Aspect change on targets—they're running, Captain!" His sonar officer's voice sounded shocked, and for a moment, Hudson couldn't quite comprehend the words.

"They're what?" he demanded.

"They're running, sir. All thirteen of the surviving boats are turning tail and heading back the way they came—one of them is lagging behind, sounds like some pretty good engineering damage. But I can confirm it. They're on their way out."

Hudson had a split second to make a decision, and he wasn't about to waste it. "Conning Officer, take us after them. Let's kill the cripple first."

His conning officer started to pass orders to the helm, but before he'd finished, the communications officer interjected—

"We're getting word from seaQuest, Captain. Orders are to maintain station."

"Orders are to what?" he snapped before he could stop himself, but waved an angry hand before the message could be repeated. "Never mind. I heard you."

His eyes flew back to the tactical display. Bridger wanted to do what? They'd just sunk five boats in less than two minutes, and damaged four more, one fairly seriously, and Bridger wanted to do nothing? Hudson wanted to scream, but he knew from experience that doing so would accomplish nothing. All it would do was make his crew realize what a softened tech-head seaQuest's captain had become, and the UEO military really didn't need to know that the commanding officer of their flagship didn't have the stones to continue the fight.

"Get me seaQuest," he ordered instead.

"Let them go, Oliver," Bridger said, an edge of warning in his voice. Jonathan had been opening his mouth to argue, too, but the captain's look stopped him.

"I know we have the upper hand right now, but we don't have authorization to enter Macronesian waters, and although Scorpion might be able to keep up with them, Atlantis doesn't have the speed to do so. More importantly, your magazines are running low, and seaQuest has a testing loadout, not a combat load. I've got more fish left than you do, but not by much. Not enough to take care of whatever ambush Marilyn Stark is going to lay for us."

"We don't know they're laying an ambush, Nathan," Hudson pointed out.

"No, and we don't know they aren't, either. My decision is final."

Jonathan felt it was time to speak up. "What are we going to do about Stark, Captain?"

A shadow passed over Bridger's face, and he met Jonathan's eyes briefly. Hudson was wearing his impatient expression again—but he didn't know Stark, and Oliver had no idea what they were dealing with. Sure, he'd listened when Jonathan had told him who she was, but as far as Oliver Hudson was concerned, Marilyn Stark was just another enemy who needed to be defeated. She wasn't a bogey-man returned from the dead.

"There's not much we can do, other than warn the UEO that one of our own has apparently joined the enemy. Again." Bridger shrugged. "I'm not sure if they'll care since she left the service six years ago—but Stark is one of the best in the business. If she's commanding Macronesia's subsurface fleet, we need to be wary."

"And now seaQuest isn't a secret," Jonathan said, trying to keep the reproach out of his voice. Now certainly wasn't the time to have that conversation with Captain Bridger.

Bridger smiled wryly. "And now seaQuest is no longer a secret," he admitted. "But it was worth the sacrifice, I think. Hopefully, we've just served notice to Macronesia that they can't rule the seas without opposition."

"I'm surprised she ran away. Not her style," Jonathan commented with surprise. Sending one of her other boats into a suicide charge while she made a clean getaway, maybe, but running away quietly? Not the Marilyn Stark I knew. But he didn't need to say that out loud.

"Beating them in one place isn't going to scare them into stopping, Nathan," Hudson interjected. "They're in this for power, and even seaQuest isn't going to accomplish that."

"Stark will focus her attention almost exclusively on seaQuest instead of the UEO colonies. And seaQuest can fight back," Jonathan replied before Bridger could answer.

Hudson rolled his eyes. "She's not that stupid."

"I agree, actually," Bridger put in, looking regretful. "She isn't. And the Marilyn Stark we ran into today is much more like the one I knew—not the one we ran into a few years ago, Jonathan. This one plays it smart, and she runs away when she needs to. Better to live to fight another day than to die needlessly."

Jonathan frowned. "I'm not sure if it's better if you're right or I am. At least we could predict what she would do if she was focused on seaQuest."

"I think I'd rather you be right," his old captain snorted. "Unfortunately, I don't think we have the luxury of making that assumption."

"And while we're sitting here chatting, the Macronesians are getting away. Hell, they've even had time to recover the survivors off their downed boats while we've dithered," Hudson snapped.

"Grant me a little bit of intelligence, Oliver," Nathan chuckled. Only he could laugh at a time like this. "I tagged them with a WSKR the moment they turned to leave. We'll be able to make sure they leave UEO waters, at least."

"So we just sit here until they do," Hudson continued to scowl, clearly wanting to be doing something rather than just waiting. Honestly, Jonathan understood how he felt—he'd rather be chasing the Macronesians out of UEO territory, too, but they weren't officially at war yet, and the rules of engagement still only allowed them to fire in self defense.

"Yes. We do." Jonathan recognized that warning look, and he thought that even Oliver was starting to get the message. "I don't like it any more than you do, but it's what we have to do."

Bridger paused and waited; after a moment, Hudson finally nodded—reluctantly, but still a nod. "Either of you have any questions?"

"No, sir," Jonathan replied immediately.

"No," Hudson grated out, and a few moments later, the three captains terminated the call. Jonathan sighed wearily after their images faded.

And now we wait for Marilyn to make her next move.

"That's the long and the short of it, Bill," Nathan said tiredly, scraping his hands over his face. Dinner hadn't exactly been gourmet, and the post-combat adrenaline letdown was beginning to hit him like a ton of bricks. Previous experience told Nathan that although he could command in battle with confidence and even smile or laugh about what was happening, afterwards he became cranky and exhausted—which was why he had retreated to his cabin to talk to an old friend.

Tim had launched the communications buoy once it was clear that the Macronesians were retreating, and Nathan had called to make a report as soon as he was certain they were home free. Hudson had headed over to Alfin Ridge to make sure that everyone in the settlement was safe, and Ben had started conspiring with Atlantis' supply officer to make sure seaQuest had enough food to feed everyone for the night they hadn't intended to spend out at sea, so Nathan had felt it was time to actually do his job as the senior officer on the scene and report in.

Bill had not, needless to say, taken the news very well. Ironically enough, he wasn't angry at Nathan for taking the untried and previously secret 'supersub' into battle—unlike Captain Clayton, who had grown strangely silent in the wake of their success—he was more worried about the ramifications of Macronesia trying to take Alfin Ridge.

"I wasn't aware there were tunnels leading from the colony straight into the naval station," Nathan replied to what the Admiral had said, shaking his head. "What makes you think that the Macronesians knew?"

"That's because you were never stationed there," Bill replied. "They're leftovers from the old NORPAC days, Nathan, and guess who was stationed at Johnston Atoll for her last shore duty before taking command of seaQuest?"

He groaned. "This just keeps getting better and better, doesn't it?"

"You're telling me! I thought you killed her back at Westridge Farm."

"I did put the fact that the Delta IV's mini sub was gone in my report," Nathan pointed out.

"Nathan, that was almost six years ago. You really expect me to remember what was in that report?"

He snorted. "You don't read my reports today. I really didn't expect you to read them then, either."

They laughed together out of habit, but neither really felt any amusement. Another moment passed before Noyce continued pensively: "So…now the Macronesians know that we've built a new seaQuest. Do you think that will change anything?"

"The pacifist in me really wants to think so…but I doubt it, Bill." I wish to hell I didn't, but… "I think we have to assume that it won't."

"I was afraid you were going to say that."

"Yeah, me too."

After that, there was nothing left to say. The admiral and the captain could only stare at one another in silence, two old warhorses who had hoped for a peaceful world and now saw their dreams falling down in ruins. Some irrational part of Nathan had hoped that seaQuest's appearance would make common sense break out in the world—she had been enough to keep the peace before, so why not now? But that day's events had proven that irrational hope groundless…and now he knew, he really knew, that they were going to war.

Lonnie picked at her sandwich, peeling the soggy bread apart. There hadn't been too many choices left by the time she had finally made it to dinner. All four of the reverse osmosis units had stopped working sometime during the engagement with the Macronesians earlier, and it had fallen to her and her division to get them fixed.

At least it didn't give me time to think about what might have happened, she thought, wrinkling her nose as she took the turkey off the sandwich. Of course, it meant getting stuck with this for dinner. She sighed, resisting the urge to just put her head down on the table.

But she couldn't help her nerves. Lonnie had reported to Torsk just a few weeks before the boat had been sunk, and that had been her first taste of combat. While intellectually she knew that not every bit of underwater combat ended in the loss of a boat, she couldn't help thinking about Max and Erica, her two roommates from Torsk. They'd both been lost when the boat went down, one in a damage control party and the other when the engine room flooded. She still thought about them all the time, and expected to see them just walking around. Even though months had passed, Lonnie still hadn't come to terms with their loss.

"Mind if I join you?" a voice asked, making her head snap up. Somehow, Lonnie hadn't even noticed that Lieutenant Commander O'Neill had walked into the wardroom.

"No. I mean, yes. I mean, you're welcome to join me, sir," she stuttered. Way to go, Lonnie. He probably thinks you're some kind of idiot.

She liked Commander O'Neill, for the most part. He was always nice to her, and didn't seem to mind her usually bubbly personality. Not like some of the officers on board Torsk had.

"Thanks. Hell of a day, huh?" He picked up his own sandwich, and grimaced after taking the first bite.

"It didn't seem to bother you all that much," she replied, wincing in sympathy.

O'Neill shrugged, speaking around his second bite of sandwich. "I guess I was busy enough that it didn't. Or that I'm used to it. We had some pretty hairy times on the last boat."

"The last seaQuest, you mean?"

"Yeah." The Ops officer snorted in amusement. "I was greener than green on my first tour with her—back when she was still a NORPAC boat. I was a bit better by the time the UEO got her, but it was still interesting. You should have seen our last set of sea trials. Everything went wrong then, too."

"I can't really picture you being green. Sure, you're not as outgoing as Lieutenant Commander Krieg, and you don't have nearly the same presence that Commander Hitchcock does, but you always seem so confident in yourself," she said. "Sir," she added belatedly, realizing she had let her mouth run away with her again.

O'Neill only laughed. "Then you don't know me very well. My nervous stutter will appear one of these days, and then we'll see."

"I don't believe that, sir. You weren't nervous at all up there. Not like me."

"Trust me, we all get nervous. Even smooth talkers like Ben Krieg. You should have seen him when he ran into this giant bio-luminescent creature that crapped out these glowing rock-like things. He was going around the boat telling everyone 'have you ever been certain, I mean really certain, that you were going to die'," the older officer replied with a grin. "It was completely awful. He's such a drama queen."

Lonnie laughed, then sobered. "But that's not... I mean, he wasn't really going to die, right?"

"Well, he could have. The thing was bigger than seaQuest. Its tentacles were like five hundred feet long, and they came in through the swim tubes." He grimaced slightly, but then waved a hand dismissively. "But that's not the point, really. The point is that everyone gets scared…just sooner or later, you learn to manage it, I guess."

"How did you learn to manage it?" she asked.

"Badly." His smile was lopsided. "But back then, with our first CO—well, let's just say that Captain Stark wasn't exactly tolerant of people being nervous. So, I learned to hide it, and then somewhere along the way, dealing with it just got easier. I'm afraid I probably won't be much help."

"Oh." It took a moment for his whole statement to sink in, and she could feel her eyes widen. "Captain Stark? You mean, the same Captain Stark who was just firing at us?"

"Yeah. She went crazy back at Livingston Trench and tried to launch nukes on a bunch of innocent settlers. She was relieved of command by our old XO. We all thought she died a few years back," Commander O'Neill replied, sounding ridiculously nonchalant.

Lonnie had heard the story of Livingston Trench, of course. Everyone had, and that incident had been one of the key reasons she had decided to enlist in the Navy. She had just never put the pieces together. "I guess she didn't, though."

"No kidding. That woman was my worst nightmare as an ensign—I used to literally have nightmares about her yelling at me."

"I sometimes have dreams about Captain Hudson yelling at me," she admitted, looking back down at her soggy sandwich.

"Well, you can bet that Captain Bridger isn't—" he cut off as the door opened, revealing Lieutenant Commander Krieg and Warrant Officer Ortiz. They were in mid-conversation, and did not seem to notice the pair of officers already seated at the table.

"I told you, Miguel, no seconds," Krieg was saying with a groan. "I'm already scraping the bottom of someone else's barrel to come up with breakfast for tomorrow. I just got off the horn with Atlantis' supply officer, and she's willing to send over some powdered eggs and processed protein things—I'm not even sure what she's giving us. It's probably the crap no one on their crew wants to eat."

"How's that my fault? I'm a growing boy, Ben. I need food," Ortiz pleaded. "Besides, if you're getting supplies, what's it matter if I eat a second sandwich?"

"Because I don't believe I'm getting anything until it's in the launch bay," Krieg retorted, rolling his eyes. "Do I look like an idiot?"

"Well, now that you've asked—"

"Hey! Wait a minute." Krieg finally seemed to realize that the wardroom wasn't empty, and turned to face O'Neill and Henderson, demanding: "Are you two here for seconds?"

"Relax, Ben," O'Neill laughed as Lonnie tried not to protest that they weren't doing anything wrong—being defensive about everything was a habit she'd learned on Torsk and still hadn't shaken. The older officer continued: "We're catching some late chow, not sneaking in for seconds."

"You'd better not be," the supply officer warned them ominously.

"I don't even want firsts," Lonnie admitted, her voice coming out smaller than she intended it to.

"This is below even your usual standards, Ben," O'Neill agreed with her, his grin crooked but cheeky. Immediately, Lonnie envied him the casual way he could deal with the other officers. O'Neill might have claimed to possess a nervous stutter, but he seemed completely at ease now.

"See? No one wants to eat it, so no one will mind if I have seconds," Ortiz said.

"Take mine," she said, pushing the plate in Ortiz's direction. "If you don't mind that I was picking at it, I mean."

"I'm not so hungry that I need to eat your food, Lonnie," the warrant officer said with a smile. "I'm really just trying to rag on Ben. His reactions make it too much fun to pass up any opportunity."

"Oh, great," Krieg put in dryly. "Is this how I get thanked for my hard work? Everyone's a critic."

Despite her nervousness, Lonnie had to laugh. There'd been no room for a sense of humor like Krieg's on Torsk; she was pretty sure that the supply officer would have driven Captain Hudson crazy. But the atmosphere here on seaQuest was so much more relaxed than it had been on her last boat, even though it had only been hours since they were in combat.

She'd been more than slightly terrified when she realized that she'd gotten orders to the fleet flagship, to the next iteration of the legendary seaQuest, but so far, things had been better than she expected. She just had to remind herself to keep focusing on the good things, the here and the now, instead of letting memories from Torsk's last day haunt her. This was her boat now, and these men were her crewmates, and they had survived their first battle together and no one had died.

Not yet, a traitorous voice inside her head reminded her, but she swatted it aside, listening to her fellow officers' banter. It doesn't have to be that way, Lonnie told herself firmly. Not this time.

Jonathan wanted nothing more than to call seaQuest back right away, but he had responsibilities he had to handle before he would have the chance for that luxury. Atlantis hadn't taken any hits during the fight, but there were always things needing to be done.

You're not putting it off or anything, Jonathan, a small part of him piped up. After all, your supply officer really didn't need you standing over her shoulder. Even if she was dealing with Ben Krieg.

And that's the crux of things, isn't it? Everyone's back on seaQuest except for you.

He pushed that thought away as he shut the door to his cabin, finally having the time to put the call through to his former commanding officer. Inevitably, the call was relayed by some communications officer whose voice he didn't recognize, but within a few moments, Bridger's face appeared on his screen.

Irrationally, the first thing he noticed was that the captain's quarters on the new seaQuest didn't look at all like the old one's; these quarters were paneled in some sort of wood and looked much more like the plans he had seen for the long-destroyed second boat.

"I was wondering when you'd call, Jonathan," Bridger said with a slight smile.

He returned the smile. "Captainy stuff. I'm sure you understand."

"I think that I've done that once or twice, yeah."

"I'm not going to forgive you for stealing Miguel from me, you know," he said, still avoiding what he really wanted to talk about.

"I hope you don't expect an apology," Bridger replied with a chuckle. A secretive glint entered his eye. "Though I do promise that I'll make it up to you, sooner or later."

Jonathan hated that look. It always meant his former CO was up to something, and Jonathan was likely to find out at the least convenient time possible. He's trying to make it sound like I've got something good coming, but with Bridger's sense of humor, you never know. "And I heard that Krieg is back on board."

"I grabbed as many old hands as I could, yeah. I'd have stolen you back, too, if I hadn't been threatened with a firing squad for trying," his old CO replied. "Katie was the next best choice, though I suspect she'll be calling you to get some 'Bridger-handling' tips. I think I'm driving her mad."

"Oh? I can't imagine why," he replied dryly.

He got an innocent look in response. "I wouldn't know anything about that."

"Of course not, sir. Admiral Noyce was the one who gave me the 'Bridger-handling' speech the first time."

"I bet he did," Bridger laughed. "Did it help?"

"Not at all. But I think I managed just fine." Jonathan sobered, and finally forced himself to face the topic that he knew shouldn't feel so uncomfortable. "So. seaQuest."

"Yeah." He could hear the pride behind the casual reply, but at least Bridger's expression was contrite. "I'm sorry that I couldn't tell you before, Jonathan. Security was...rather tight."

"Well, that explains the Stingray fiasco that Katie was asking about a couple months ago. And Miguel's Project Anzio, I'm guessing." He sighed, wishing things could have been different. "Any chance I can get a tour?"

"Of course you can. We're homeported in Pearl—just give me a call when you get in, and I'll make sure security lets you through. I warn you, though, she's not quite what you remember."

He couldn't help but grin. "I could see that just from the fancy maneuvers you were pulling out there before. How many torpedo tubes has she got this time?"

"Twenty-four, but the aft torpedo room decided to flood before we went into action, so we only had sixteen available. Fifteen, actually, because one of the others has a problem with its hydraulic system." Bridger shrugged. "But it's a shakedown cruise, so I'm happy that we had as many working as we did."

Twenty-four tubes was more than the nine that the old seaQuest had, and three times the eight Atlantis sported. So far as Jonathan knew, that was more than any warship mounted, and that fact alone told him a lot about the new seaQuest. Irrational envy reared its ugly head again, but Jonathan shoved it down ruthlessly. Yeah, he could be pissed off that he hadn't know about seaQuest, and that he wasn't on her crew again—but he had his own boat, now, and Atlantis was nothing to sneeze at. He loved her, and truth be told, he wouldn't have traded commanding her for anything—not even for a return to seaQuest as Bridger's XO.

Not most days, anyway.

"I'm just happy you were in the area. I wasn't looking forward to Oliver's suicide mission," Jonathan replied honestly. Talk about arriving in the proverbial nick of time.

"I could tell from the way you were looking at him, yeah," was the understanding response. "He's a hell of a talented officer, but sooner or later, someone's going to have to teach him that cavalry charges don't win every battle."

"Especially in submarine warfare, where there aren't any horses to begin with" Jonathan added dryly. "I hate the fact that he thinks he can ignore any input I might have just because he's got about two months of seniority on me. And that he takes every opportunity to rub that in my face."

There were very few people Jonathan would vent to like this, but it just felt natural with Nathan Bridger. And at least the other captain would understand Jonathan's frustration. All things considered, Jonathan and Oliver had fairly similar records, and Jonathan probably could have been promoted sooner if he hadn't been holding out to return to seaQuest as her XO for a second tour.

"He's not the most subtle man, is he?" Bridger asked rhetorically. "Anyway, I'm glad we were here, too. Especially since we got the opportunity to put Marilyn back in her box."

Jonathan shivered despite himself, and could not stop the words from coming out in a snarl: "I was not expecting her. Though in retrospect, I feel like I should have. She's been toying with me for months now in that stealth sub of hers."

"That certainly sounds like her, yeah. And you're not the only one who that should have occurred to—I know her better than you do. You served under her, but I was the fool who taught her. If anyone should have guessed that she'd go work for the Macronesians, it should have been me." Bridger sounded angry with himself, a feeling Jonathan completely understood.

"With all due respect, sir, I know how involved you can get in your work. And I know how busy you must have been getting seaQuest ready for trials. I'm surprised you even knew about our little war with Macronesia," Jonathan teased.

Bridger snorted. "While under normal circumstances you'd be right, this time I'm strangely well informed," he replied with a grimace. "And stop calling me 'sir.' Last I checked, you were a captain, too. That means you can be as much of a smart ass as you like, and you don't even have to apologize for it."

"Yes, sir," Jonathan replied with a grin.

"See? You're figuring that one out already." his old captain laughed.

"Speaking of being informed, what happened to your shoulder?" Jonathan asked, eying the sling around Bridger's left arm.

"Broken clavicle. I got in a car accident." But there was something evasive in Bridger's voice—Jonathan hadn't been his XO for so long without knowing how to read him, and he knew when the captain was intentionally avoiding a subject.

"Must've been one hell of a car accident."

"Something like that, yeah."

He bit back a reply about Bridger continuing to keep secrets from him. If the other captain didn't want to talk about whatever happened, it wasn't Jonathan's place to drag it out of him. "I'm glad to hear it was nothing more serious," he said instead, hating the distance that had grown between them. It was just another reminder of how much things had changed in the last few years.

"Actually, you probably do need to know," Bridger said with a sudden sigh, looking tired. "Now that we know Stark is working with the Macronesians, it makes a lot more sense."

"What makes a lot more sense?" Now he wasn't so sure he wanted to know, not with the sinking feeling forming in his stomach.

"Now, I'm not sure she was involved in this at all, Jonathan—but if she's out for revenge, you might find some Macronesian spec ops folks trying to nab you, too. I'm not sure if they were trying to kill me or kidnap me, but they took out my driver and were well on their way to taking me out when the local police arrived." Bridger gestured with the sling. "That's how I got this lovely thing. My rescuer shot me, too, though not very seriously."

Jonathan blinked hard, swallowing back his shock. "Tell me that I just had a temporary bought of insanity and you didn't just say that some Macronesians tried to kill or kidnap you."

"I wish I could, Jonathan," was the quiet response, and they both sat there in silence for a moment, with Jonathan trying to find some way to act normally after a bit of news like that. Does that mean we're all targets now? Bridger wouldn't have the answer to that, and only time would tell. Finally, he managed to make light of the situation.

"Maybe you should leave out that last part about being shot by the police. It sounds a little…pathetic," Jonathan said teasingly. He really didn't want to consider the idea of someone trying to kidnap him, so he shoved it out of his mind. "Anyway, good luck to them trying to get me where I am. Atlantis isn't due back in to port for longer than a few days for resupply any time in the near future. Even our upcoming engineering overhaul is only supposed to take four days—although I'll believe that they can replace two shafts and all the associated gear that quickly when I see it."

Danger or no, though, Jonathan knew Atlantis needed the engineering overhaul. The Scavenger-class boats like her were a funny design; although they were built with reactors that were enormously overpowered for the amount of torque her shafts could take, her top speed had been limited to around sixty-five knots…on a good day. After the planned replacement of both shafts and screws her top speed would be doubled, which would allow Atlantis to keep up with the newer boats like Hudson's Scorpion. Bridger, however, was responding:

"Being out to sea is probably a good thing. If I'm not careful, Noyce is going to restrict me to the boat."

Jonathan chuckled. "I'm surprised you were off the boat to start with."

"I had to have breakfast with Admiral Smith. Long story," Bridger replied. "So, when are you due back in next? We're going to have to make a speed run back starting in a few hours, because I don't think we can steal enough food from you to stay out another day, and I've got a hundred or so civilian contractors on board who really don't appreciate this hands-on war business very much."

"We'll probably follow you in. We weren't due in for another week, but I'm sure Krieg has swindled my Suppo out of everything he could," Jonathan grumbled.

"Probably," Bridger allowed with a smile.

"I'm going to have to retrain Lieutenant Brown after this. She's young and impressionable, and I'm sure she's probably all starry eyed because of him. I'm not going to forgive you for that, either."

"Worse things could happen than her taking a few pointers from Ben Krieg, you know," the other captain shrugged. "Trust me, in war time, sometimes you want the shadiest supply officer you can find."

Listening to Nathan Bridger talk so easily about war was almost as weird as the idea of Macronesia trying to kidnap naval officers in order to satisfy Marilyn Stark's personal vendettas, but the day had been so full of surprises that he figured he ought to just roll with it. Did I wake up in the Twilight Zone, or what? Bridger was still waiting for an answer.

"Pointers, yes. I'm just worried she'll borrow his entire strategy guide. You may be able to turn a blind eye to someone like Krieg, but I like my crew just how it is," he replied, glad he could keep his tone light. He never did get over the little thrill of being able to call them his crew, either.

"I bet you do." The smile, however, told him that Bridger understood exactly how he felt. There was a moment of companionable silence before Jonathan sighed.

"I'll be holding you to that offer to see the boat, Captain," Jonathan said, trying to lighten his own mood again. Nathan laughed again before they said their farewells.

He allowed himself one more moment of jealousy after Bridger's image faded before scolding himself. No use dwelling on regrets, Jonathan. And you really have to stop thinking of getting your own command as being a regret. seaQuest will always hold a special place in your heart, but Atlantis is home, now.

A/N: Next chapter: the crew gets back to port, Ford visits the new seaQuest, and someone gets arrested. In the meantime, please do review!