Chapter 1

Captain's Cabin, 2130 hours

"Skipper, this Michael Ryder. He's being assigned as your new night steward," Kowalski said.

"Pleased to meet you, Ryder. Welcome aboard the Seaview."

"Thank you, sir. It's a great privilege to be here."

"I'd have to agree with you there. Come, sit down."

Ryder looked back at Kowalski for a cue. "Captain says sit, Ryder, you sit."

"I meant it as an invitation, not an order," Lee Crane said kindly. "I assume Kowalski's fully briefed you on your duties."

"Yes, sir," Ryder said softly as he nervously moved into Crane's guest chair.

"Then I'm sure we can count on a smooth transition. That will be all Kowalski."

Ryder looked as if he wanted to flee.

"I've been known to bark, Ryder, but never to bite. Relax. Tell me a little about yourself."

"Uh, yes sir."

"Why so nervous, son?"

"Um, you're the Commander of the Seaview, sir. I, well, I didn't expect to be sitting here on my first night."

"Assigned the stellar privilege of keeping my coffee pot filled and my quarters spic and span?"

"I, I don't mind sir."

"What's your background, Ryder?"

"I'm taking a gap year between college and graduate school."

"What are you studying?"

"Architecture, specifically naval architecture."

"You took an undergraduate degree in engineering, then?"

"Yes, I mean, yes, sir."

"You don't need to say 'sir' in every sentence. We're a civilian ship."

"Yes, sir. Oh. I'll work on that."

"Good. Dare I ask how you got this plum assignment as my steward given that technical background?"

"I wrote to the Nelson Institute seeking an internship."

"Do you have connections with any one at the Institute?"

"No, sir, not directly. I did have references and recommendations from my professors at RPI who know people at the Institute."

"Good for you. I like initiative in a young man. Sorry that this position doesn't call for much of it, but we'll try to see that your exposed to enough to make it worth your while."

"Just being aboard the Seaview is enough for me, sir. She's unique."

"True enough. That said, we're always working to improve her. Don't hesitate to give me your thoughts and forgive me if I give you too many of mine."

Ryder relaxed a bit at last. "Yes, sir, thank you, sir."

"So if Kowalski's briefed you well, you know that I like to tour her before I go to bed."

"Yes, sir. I'll have your things laid out for you and the hot cocoa will be waiting."

"How about taking a turn about her with me? Don't tell anyone, but I actually do know how to take my own pajamas out of the drawer."

"I'd love that, sir."

Lee Crane's customary evening walk through took over an hour and a half, unusually long given he hadn't spotted any trouble. He and Ryder engaged in enthusiastic discussion about the Seaview's design. They stopped talking about design details only long enough to make sure that Ryder had been introduced to all the crew they encountered. At last, they returned to his cabin.

"I'll bring your cocoa in a minute, sir."

"I'll be fine without given the hour. See you in the morning, Ryder."

"At 0600, yes, sir. And thank you sir."

"Whatever for?"

"For not biting," he smiled.

"Good night."

"Good night, sir."

Captain's Cabin, 0600 hours

At 0600 hours prompt, Ryder delivered the Captain's coffee, breakfast and the overnight reports. He returned at 0630 hours to find the Captain at the bottom of the four cup coffee pot, but barely having eaten half his breakfast.

"You can take it, Ryder."

Ryder hesitated.

"Problem, Ryder?"

"No, not exactly sir."

"Then what is it?"

"Nothing, sir."

"Then why do you look terrified?" Lee asked as he pushed the plate toward Ryder. "Come on, tell me, that's an order."

"Someone suggested that I would regret it if I returned a plate that wasn't empty to Cook."

"Cookie and Doc worry that I live on too much coffee and not enough food. I just don't have a big appetite, at least not on board Seaview. No disrespect to Cookie. When I'm on the job, I'm just not that interested."

"I understand, sir."

"Yes, I suspect you do. I'm sure that your folks are probably after you to bulk up a bit."

"Yes, sir."

Lee Crane emptied the rest of his plate into the trashcan by his desk. "Problem solved. No one's feelings will be hurt."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."

Crane turned back to his papers, then looked up again with a wry smile. "I should warn you. Now Kowalski's going to feel deprived of a good laugh."

"Yes, sir."

"Maybe you should scorch a pair of my pants instead."

"Are you serious, sir?"

"A puke is going to get hazed one way or another. It's all in good fun."

"Yes, sir, I know, sir."

"Ryder, you really don't need to worry about Kowalski. Dismissed."

Ryder had one foot outside the door.

"Ryder," Lee Crane called as he peered up from his reading, "there are boundaries to hazing. If you feel anyone crosses them, let me know immediately."

"Yes, sir."