Disclaimer: The Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea characters are not mine, just borrowed for this story.

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Part 3/5 in series

In the Shadow of Darkness

The possibility that Chip Morton was alive had recharged Nelson and Crane; the message that Crane had received had offered hope where little had existed before. Nelson had ordered Crane to keep the news between them; while it would have lifted crew morale, the odds that Chip was still alive were minuscule. The Admiral had also ordered Lee not to tell Chip's family what they had learned; to offer the Mortons unsubstantiated hope seemed cruel. Nelson still had his doubts about the message. This new foe had done their homework; knew their routines and connections. There was a very good chance that he knew about the joke shared between Lee and Chip. Their enemies past actions proved he would stoop to any level including providing false hope. The Mortons had already lost their son and brother; who were they to put the family through that again if it turned out the exec wasn't alive.

For the last two weeks Nelson and Crane had kept the secret. Two weeks had passed and no other contact from Chip. Had he been alive at all? Did he send the message and even if he did that only meant he was alive a month ago. Anything could have happened since then.

Lee waited patiently at his computer waiting for his contact at ONI to start their video conference. Finally the screen flickered to life and the sandy haired gentleman sat down in front of the screen.

"Hello Lee," came the cheerful salutation.

"Jason. What have you found out?" demanded the Captain.

The Commander raised his hands in mock surrender. The smile vanished from his round face and he took a moment to formulate his thoughts. Crane had called his fellow agent and friend Jason Nix almost every day looking for a lead or a break through regarding those behind the destruction of Base 21, the attempted murder of everyone at the conference Nelson was attending and the murder of Chip Morton and the other people on the underwater base. Every time Lee called, Jason had the demoralizing task of having to tell his friend they had nothing.

It killed Commander Nix to watch the hopeful look on his friends face slip behind a mask of indifference that covered up the sorrow and heartache that came from hearing they were no closer to justice. Today would be no different.

"I'm sorry Lee. I promise you, when we know something, you'll know something."

The skipper opened up his mouth to protest but Jason continued on. "This isn't an inter agency pissing match Lee; no one is hiding anything from anyone. As much as anyone in intelligence hate's to admit it, we just don't have anything. No one has come forward to claim any credit for the destruction of the base or the deaths. We can't find any trace of the technology on the black market or with any of our known enemy agents. Whoever did it dropped off the face of the earth after the bombing, and didn't appear again until they went after your friends. For the last two weeks they've dropped off the map again. Whoever they are, they're good Lee."

"Somebody did it and they're not through yet. I'm not going to sit here and wait for them to pick off everyone I know one by one. You need to look harder!" shouted Lee.

"We looked into Oliver Shaw; his bank accounts, known associates, travel records, it all comes back as normal. There's nothing there to suggest he's the one that was working on the inside. Nathaniel Highner's records have disappeared; there's no trace of him at all. I would say he's your suspect but we have nothing to dig deeper with."

"Shaw's the man on the inside I know it. I'll contact you later Jason."

"Take care . . ." Jason was interrupted when the screen went black and Lee signed off.

Sam Malcolm rubbed his sore eyes. He had been staring at the computer screen for hours. The scientist was certain there had to be some clue as to who had been involved in the destruction of Base 21; he just had to find it.

All the data was starting to blend together into one unformed blob on the screen. Haphazardly Malcolm reached over for his coffee cup without looking away from the monitor. His hand grazed the side of the cup which was placed precariously close to the edge of the table. The cup wobbled and yield to the force of gravity, creating a brown puddle on the linoleum floor. In Sam's haste to save the cup from certain disaster he slammed his elbow into the keyboard.

After cleaning up the mess Malcolm sat back down in front of his computer; he let out a deep sigh when he realized he had lost his place in the on screen document. Resigning himself to having to start his analysis over again, Malcolm moved his mouse over to the close document button. Suddenly his eyes lit up and moments later he jumped up and ran out of the lab.

The elevator ride lasted an eternity but finally a ding sounded signifying Malcolm's arrival to the sixth floor; he burst through the doors and ran down the hall to the boardroom.

The Admiral was just placing the last information packet on the table while Michelle O'Brien was setting up the coffee cups for the meeting when Malcolm flew through the boardroom doors. The young scientist doubled over with his hands on his knees trying to catch his breath. Nelson looked over at the figure that had caused the dramatic entrance and cleared his throat.

"Sir, I think I found something," wheezed Malcolm.

After a few seconds of silence the Admiral demanded, "go on."

"Well I spilt my coffee and when I was cleaning it up . . ."

Nelson shook his head. "Skip to the part where you found something."

"Oh, well, I noticed an anomaly with one of the sensor readings . . ."

The false hope and grasping at straws regarding this case was wearing the older man thin. All the breakthroughs so far had led to disappointment; the likelihood that this was different was minimal.

"Yes Sam, we know sensor thirteen was tampered with."

"Not tampered with . . . replaced!"

"Replaced?" asked Nelson not sure what the scientist was getting at.

"It's not the original sensor. Whoever sabotaged the base replaced the sensor. We tested all of our sensors in the same controlled body of water before they were deployed; that means that all the sensors should have the same readings logged into their data report. But sensor thirteen has a completely different set of readings for its initial test."

Nelson looked over his shoulder at Michelle who was standing next to the table. The young science department administrator didn't have clearance for any military or top secret operations.

"If you could excuse us Mrs. O'Brien; we need the room."

"Of course Admiral. Excuse me Dr. Malcolm," Michelle answered as she left the room.

"Now what do you mean the initial reading were different?"

"All the sensor readings are logged until a programmer manually dumps the files. We haven't done that to any of our sensors and the program stores a log of every memory purge. There was no purge on sensor thirteen and the data that would have been collected from the pre-deployment test is not present in the readings. More importantly the initial readings of sensor thirteen indicate it was in freshwater not saltwater," elaborated Malcolm.

Following the scientist's train of thought, Nelson continued, "meaning that the sensor was tested in a lake and not with the rest of the sensors."

"Exactly; and it gets even better. The water it was tested in has traces of a very rare compound which means the sensor had to be tested here," said Malcolm as he pointed to the map printout he had.

"Yes, I remember they were doing some testing at that lake years ago. Some sort of compound that helps clean up chemical leaks, but it didn't work."

After dismissing Malcolm, the Admiral went to his office to contact ONI. Getting permission to track down a hunch no matter how well supported was going to take some negotiating to allow Nelson and his people to enter the People's Republic.

After hours of arguing Nelson managed to get the intelligence agency to see things his way and Seaview was given the green light on the covert mission.

The Admiral took a moment to reflect on past events. The loss of Chip Morton had weighed heavily on him. He was starting to feel old under the tremendous weight of keeping everything together. The ember of hope was hard to keep alive and Nelson was sure it would burn out with his heart if it turned out to be a cruel ruse that Chip was still alive.

Nelson lit a cigarette and took a long drag, before letting it out slowly. He stared at the white cylinder in his hand and realized he had been smoking a lot lately; more so than usual. The bottle of scotch in his bottom desk drawer was at a lower level than he wanted to admit as well. Nelson wanted nothing more than to believe that Morton was alive and if it were true he would burst with joy; but years of experience were screaming that it was a trick, yet another tactic to wear them down and break them. Not wanting to bear the loss of Chip for a second time Nelson resigned himself to the fact that Morton was dead and nothing would change that.

He was also concerned for Lee. It was the little things that were suffering; being late for meetings, or forgetting them all together, pages missing from reports, missed signatures on documents. Nelson wasn't the only one to notice either; Jamieson and Sharkey had mentioned it in passing. Lacking focus was how they explained it, but it wasn't a lack of focus, Crane was very focused – in fact, obsessively focussed on all things pertaining to Chip. The Admiral couldn't blame him, he would love to put all his time and effort into finding Morton but he had responsibilities to other things that just couldn't be ignored so he could go off on a possible wild goose chase.

Nelson had tried to talk to the young Captain and explain his concern about Lee's distracted behaviour; unfortunately his concerns fell on deaf ears. Davenport was definitely going to have his work cut out for him. Hopefully the newest officer would be able to keep Crane from making a huge mistake.

The Admiral needed to keep it together a little longer. When the mission was done and the enemy brought to justice, then he could shut down for a while. Right now he had to keep it together; he had to look out for Lee, the last of his boys.