This is the third installment of my proposed trilogy begun with Our Service Binds Us and continued in To Meet the Hour. I hate to say it's the final installment, might not remain a trilogy the poem has so many great lines left. Thanks to Liz, of course, and to Fidelma who caused me to take a look at the second part of this series and helped me to rethink my whole approach to writing. Thank you Diane for doing the beta on this section and helping me enormously to say what I wanted to say. I'm so thankful for the kindness of others in helping me with this progress. I don't know where Blanche Dubois and I would be without strangers.
The following text is taken from Submarine! written by Commander Edward L. Beach, USN.
Whatever the state of the individual and of internal affairs, the composite exterior is smooth, unruffled; it acts under a single directive force - a single brain - the Captain's. It is in tacit recognition of this basic understanding that a sailor, in speaking of a ship other than his own, frequently will use the pronoun "he" instead of "she."
Be well assured, though in our power
Is nothing left to give
But chance and place to meet the hour,
And leave to strive to live.
Till these dissolve our Order holds,
Our Service binds us here.
Then welcome Fate's discourtesy
Whereby it is made clear
How in all time of our distress,
As in our triumph too,
The game is more than the player of the game
And the ship is more than the crew!
A Song in Storm by Rudyard Kipling
"Come on, Ski, they're getting tired. You got this." Riley was yelling along with the rest of the crowd, egging the four players to greater efforts, as they shoved and vied to get control of the basketball.
Ski thought Riley was probably right. This was the fourth game of the day and the last game of the elimination tournament. He knew he was dragging and he figured the XO must be as tired and the Skipper had to be in even worse shape. He looked over at Crane who was obviously laboring. The Captain had fallen back from the area under the basket and was leaving the bulk of the shoving and fighting to his partner.
Ski wasn't surprised. What surprised him was that Morton and Crane had made it to the last game. Oh sure, they'd won the last tournament but they'd both been healthy then. Now the Skipper was sick from all the operations the Doc had performed on his arm, not to mention so thin Ski could practically see through him. He hadn't realized how thin the Skipper had gotten, until he'd seen him after the first game. The sweat soaked t-shirt stuck to his body showed the Skipper had lost at least twenty pounds since he got hurt. Of course, Ski admitted, what he had left seemed to be all muscle.
Morton had the ball again and scored easily. Pat caught the rebound and layed up for an easy shot, only to have Morton knock the ball off the rim at the last second. Ski caught the rebound and passed to Pat. He knew the XO could never get there in time to make the interception and that the Skipper was all done in. He was sorry to have to do this to the two commanders, they'd played unbelievable ball to get to the last game. He never would've believed how well the Skipper could shoot with his left hand.
As he threw an arching pass to Pat, there was the Skipper, jumping up to easily retrieve the high ball. He made an impossible twist in midair and landed the basket. Ski almost laughed. When would he learn not to count the Skipper out? The men scrambled for the rebound and Crane beat him to it, turned and passed low to Morton who made another and the final basket to win the game.
The four men stood in the hot afternoon sun bent over at the waist, hands resting on thighs gulping in the air. It'd been a tremendous game, the two teams so evenly matched it'd taken over an hour to finish the twenty-one points. Crane clapped Ski on the back and he looked up at him ruefully. He'd really fallen for that I'm too tired to catch another ball ploy by the Skipper. He couldn't believe he'd been taken in by the oldest trick in two on two. He laughed as he met the Skipper's smile and put his arm around the other man's shoulders. So the four men walked off the court, arms on each other's shoulders, smiles on their faces, to the applause of the gathered crewmen and their families.
Ski's date came out of the crowd, wrinkling her nose at his sweaty body. He couldn't help but notice the Skipper's beautiful blond date, looked like a fashion model. She didn't seem at all bothered by how sweaty the Captain was. He wondered where Crane managed to find these gorgeous women, spending most of his life on a submarine or working twenty hours a day at the Institute. But there was another one hanging on his waist looking at him as if he walked on water. Remembering the last shot the Skipper had made, Ski guessed maybe the man almost did.
Laughing and joking the men and officers headed into the Institute Gym to shower and change before going into town for dinner. Chip and Lee fell behind the other two, walking more slowly their heads together talking. Chip had his arm casually thrown over Lee's shoulders. Ski held the door for them at the gym watching them walk, noticing how worn out the Skipper looked. Maybe the trick hadn't been Crane's ploy of looking beat, maybe the trick had been Crane managing that one last great jump and basket. Ski laughed, either one would have been the Skipper through and through.
Chip hauled himself out of the pool and grabbed his towel off the bench. He sat drying his hair, watching Lee make the turn at the far end of the pool. His stroke was awkward but powerful. The two men had spent hours using a computer simulation they'd developed to find the optimum stroke for Lee, given the reduced mobility in his bad right arm. They'd needed to get the maximum propulsion from the injured arm but also shape the stroke to compensate for the more powerful left arm to keep his swimming straight. It hadn't taken Lee long to master the stroke once they'd figured it out. The hard part had been the constant adjusting. They'd needed to change the stroke every time Jamie operated on the arm making it weaker and adjust again as Lee exercised it back up to strength.
Chip could see he was having a bit of trouble today keeping straight, and realized it was because he was favoring the right arm more than the norm. Not surprising after the hard fought basketball games of the previous day. Chip had wanted to forego this morning's swim, but not Lee. Lee had told Chip, 'no problem, sleep in'. He'd known though that Lee would be here 0600 sharp doing his laps, so he came to keep him company.
Before the injury Lee and Chip had swum their two miles every morning. After the injury Chip had stopped coming. He couldn't face the solitary swims knowing his best friend was stuck in MedBay. As soon as Lee could get in the water they'd been back, Lee challenging Chip to get in his two miles while Lee did his two laps, laughing and joking at his slow meandering pace. Now, four months after the awful dive to save the Seaview and the re-injuring of Lee's already damaged arm, he was swimming two miles again each morning. It took Lee about five minutes longer then it took Chip to do his two miles, but given the struggle to do two laps four months ago, not so bad.
Chip walked over to the side of the pool and gave Lee a pull out and handed him the other towel. The two men walked side by side toward the shower room, talking softly in the cavernous space.
"I was pulling to the left again, I think, weak from too much yesterday." Lee said echoing Chip's thoughts almost exactly.
"Yeah, I saw that."
"Jamie's operating again tomorrow, last surgery though."
"Tuesday, will you be ready for the cruise? You'll only have two weeks to get back up to snuff?"
"Should be no problem, Jamie says it's a small incision. He's trying some new chemical stuff on the nerves, thinks it'll help."
Chip knew the biggest problem with the rehabilitation of Lee's arm had been the constant pain, nearly debilitating if Lee over extended the arm's new, more limited reach. Neither man ever referred to it directly, but Chip had seen Lee stop swimming and lay in the water floating. Unable to go on when the pain became too much for him to handle.
"I thought the last surgery was supposed to do something about the nerve damage?"
"Yeah, me too," Lee laughed at Chip, as he headed into the shower. "The non-wonders of modern medicine."
"Welcome back, Admiral, we've missed you." Angie placed a pile of opened letters on the Admiral's desk and grabbed the stack of signed letters he indicated to her.
"Thank you, what did I miss?"
"Well, Chip and Lee won the two-on-two Sunday much to the chagrin of Ski and Patterson and I think Doctor Jamieson."
"Chip and Lee." Nelson looked up at her. "Chip and Lee? You do surprise me, but in a very nice way. I'm glad to hear he's recovered, I thought he'd be a while longer getting back to a hundred percent." Nelson smiled broadly. "That's very good news indeed."
"I think you'd better talk to the Doctor, Admiral, he operated on Lee Tuesday, again."
Nelson was immediately somber. "Did something happen in the game? Did he push himself too hard again? Damn it, when is he going to learn?"
"No, sir, it was already planned before the game. You need to speak to Dr. Jamieson, he has an eleven o'clock appointment to see you and I'm sure the Captain is his main agenda item."
"Alright, so that must mean I'm meeting with Chip for the up-date on the cruise prep?"
"No, sir, Lee is in this morning and he and Chip will both be here in," Angie glanced at the clock on the opposite wall, "fifteen minutes."
"Oh, when you said operated, I thought he'd be out again for a while?"
"Dr. Jamieson at eleven, sir, I don't know anything more." Angie gave a quick smile and, holding the signed letters, left the office.
Chip and Lee were punctually at the Admiral's door fifteen minutes later. Nelson was glad to see both men but reserved his most searching look for Lee. He noted with displeasure that Crane's right arm was yet again strapped across his chest in a dark blue sling.
He hadn't realized he was scowling until Lee smiled at him sheepishly and said, "Just until Saturday, sir, it won't interfere with the mission. Jamie has already said I'll be fit to go."
Nelson cleared his throat almost apologetically, he wasn't concerned about Lee commanding the Seaview, he was anxious about Lee. He was worried that his friend looked so thin a good breeze might blow him away and that his drawn face was set off by dark shadows under his eyes. But he'd no way to explain that to the younger man and allowed the misconception to stand, rubbing the back of his neck irritably. Why did Lee always seem to misconstrue his concern about his health to criticism about his performance? He smiled at Lee trying to take the sting out of his earlier scowl.
"I'm glad, we'd have missed you," he hoped Lee would at least understand that to be him personally glad that Lee was going to be on the cruise.
No more was said about the always, tricky subject of Lee and his arm and his health. The three men spent the next forty-five minutes comparing agendas and to-do lists in preparation for the next cruise.
"As always, gentlemen, I'm impressed with how little you seem to need me here," Nelson smiled at the two younger men, ending their meeting. "I'll be down to the Seaview around 1400," Nelson finished as Chip and Lee reached his door. "We can look at the new sonar station then."
"Yes, sir," the two men said quickly ducking out the door. Nelson could hear them already laughing and teasing Angie as the door closed. Sometimes they reminded him more of school boys than officers, he smiled to himself as he returned to his pile of reports, they made him feel young, not a bad thing.
Ten minutes later Angie stuck her head in the door to ask if he was free for Dr. Jamieson. Nelson rose to meet his old friend and walked over to the coffee pot with him where both men poured fresh cups.
"So?" Nelson asked, once they'd both sat down and had some coffee.
"Only one crewman with any medical problems, sir." Jamieson smiled at him. "Happily he seems to be responding well to treatment."
"Angie said you operated again on Tuesday."
"I'm still trying to do something about the nerve damage. It's hard to tell with Lee, but I'm fairly sure that he's in quite a bit of pain."
Nelson nodded his understanding. Lee's least favorite subject was his own health. Getting him to talk about it or to confess to feeling pain was very difficult, even when he thought Jamieson could do something to relieve his discomfort. Since, thus far, there'd been nothing that medicine could do for the persistent pain Lee had largely refused to discuss it.
"And could you do something?"
"I'm not sure, I've tried a new procedure using a chemical compound that the army has developed to treat amputees with phantom nerve pain. It's supposed to create a new coating on the nerve and reduce the amount of false pain signals received. They've had quite a bit of success with it but, of course, Lee's case is different since the nerves are still receiving legitimate signals from his arm. We'll have to wait and see if it helps."
"He looks pleased with his progress." Nelson said.
"Do you have any idea what he's been doing?"
"Doing?" Nelson asked readying himself for he couldn't imagine what sort of revelation about his overachieving friend. "The basketball game? Yes, Angie told me, but he seemed fine, his arm was back in the sling but I assumed that was the result of the surgery?"
"Oh, yes, the basketball game, I wasn't even going to go there. No, that was sort of the icing on the cake. He spends an hour in the morning swimming laps with Chip. David Rogers and Lee have been sparring for an hour every weekday during lunch, apparently trying to improve Lee's unarmed fighting skills during all that free time Lee has when most people are eating. Lee then spends two half hour sessions in the weight room every day and after work, at whatever God awful time he finishes here, he runs for five or six miles. Did you see how thin he is? He couldn't possibly eat enough to keep up with that amount of activity, even if he made an effort to do so." Jamieson didn't try to hide his exasperation. "You'd think he was getting ready for a triathlon or something."
"I expect he is in a manner of speaking, his physical is coming up in two months." Nelson said thoughtfully.
"He could ace that now without any problem, I don't understand what he's doing. Sure the injury has limited his range of motion somewhat and reduced his strength in the arm. But he's still well within the fitness requirements for his age and rank. I've tried to talk to him, I've tried to talk to Chip but they both smile at me and Lee tells me 'not to worry, he's fine'."
Nelson chorused that last part with Jamieson and smiled. "I don't think he'll be satisfied with passing the Navy physical. He's going to want to get the same score he got last year."
Jamieson smiled sadly. "Yeah, I sort of figured that, so I looked up his score."
"Can he do it?"
"A hundred pushups in two minutes, I don't know."
Nelson rubbed the back of his neck and turned his chair slightly from Jamieson so he could look out the big window toward the Pacific Ocean and the sub pen where Seaview lay. He doubted if Lee would be willing to accept anything less than some Crane version of perfect. He'd always pushed for the best from himself and from those around him. It's what made him such a great commander and the man he was. Now faced with an injury that was likely to leave him partially disabled he appeared to be pushing to achieve that same perfection again.
"Can he exercise himself back to a hundred percent?" He asked Jamieson, the question that they'd all wondered about for the past four months.
"I don't know, Admiral, had you asked me four months ago I would have said he might get back maybe fifty percent usage in the arm. Frankly, after I saw the damage I thought his navy career was probably over. He's made an amazing comeback, four months of driving himself like a slave and he's got probably, I don't know, eighty percent motion back, most of it at any rate. It's the price he's paid I worry about now, the price he's paying."
Nelson didn't say anything thinking again how Lee had looked. Tired, certainly, but also relaxed and apparently happy.
"He seems satisfied with his progress," he offered.
"Yes, I think even Lee realizes it's amazing," Jamieson sighed. "I don't know, Harry. I don't want to hold him back, make him a cripple when he doesn't need to be. But does he really need to achieve so much so fast? Couldn't he go a little slower and cause himself a little less pain?" Jamieson laughed and ran his hand through his thinning hair. "Listen to me, you wouldn't think I could still ask that question after all this time," he shook his head still smiling.
"I have no problem with his commanding Seaview with his arm in its current condition. He doesn't need to be able to defeat our MAA in unarmed combat to be the best sub commander in the Navy." Nelson said almost belligerently.
"He may need to be able to do that though to be Lee Crane." Jamieson warned him. "He's still working on the supposition that he can return to what he was before the dive and the Floridine, before the torture in Pakistan that started this whole mess with his arm. What happens if he has to accept that he isn't capable of the same level of physical…call it perfection I guess, that he's accustomed to?"
Nelson thought for a moment about the two young men he'd met with. "Let's save that problem for another day, I'm not convinced that will power and effort can't achieve his goal." He looked at Jamieson quizzically to see if the other man had any further admonishments.
"There are physical limits, even for Lee Crane." Jamieson said.
Chip knocked on the door and waited a minute before pulling out his key and letting himself into Lee's house. The small cottage was empty, but he could see across the main room that served as kitchen and sitting area that the big doors onto the deck were open. He stopped and put the six-pack he was carrying inside the fridge and grabbed two loose cans of Lee's beer and walked across the room and out the open doors. He crossed the deck and went down the wooden stairs to the beach path. When he hit the beach he headed north away from the other cottages and toward the section of deserted coast along which Lee liked to hike.
He found his friend sitting in the sand two hundred yards down the beach leaning against a rock. The younger man sat with his knees drawn up to his chest and his head back against the rock. When Chip got closer he could see Lee's eyes were closed. He slowed and tried to walk quietly, not wanting to wake Lee if he was asleep. He needn't have worried.
"Hey, Chip," Lee said, not moving a muscle or even opening his eyes.
Chip sat down beside his friend and opened his beer, stretching his legs out to catch the last warmth of the late afternoon sun. After a few moments Lee's hand stretched in his direction and he popped the top on the other can and gave him the opened beer. When Lee remained motionless and silent Chip glanced over at him trying to gauge his mood. The normally handsome planes of his face had the drawn gaunt look he'd become accustomed to the past few months, he thought the dark circles under his eyes spoke of another sleepless night. Chip looked away and left Lee to his silence.
After ten minutes of waves and seagulls Lee took his first long pull on the beer and Chip finally spoke. "Thought you were coming to get me for dinner after you got done with Jamie." Chip crushed his empty beer can and began digging in the sand with it not looking at Lee who remained silent for so long he wasn't sure he'd heard him.
Chip waited for an explanation, Lee never missed an appointment. If he couldn't do something or be somewhere he said he'd be, he always called. Always. Unless he couldn't. Unless armed terrorists kept him from his rendezvous or he was so wounded he couldn't finish what he set out to do.
Chip figured Lee sitting on the beach wasn't terrorists stopping him from their dinner appointment. So he guessed his friend was so wounded he couldn't make it. This was a side of his recovery that Lee let no one see, except Chip. To the rest of the staff at the Institute Lee kept up his command face, showing no discouragement or pain. He came into work each morning cheerful and ready for whatever the day brought. He never referred to the injury to his arm or his pain and frustration. Only when they were alone and then only rarely did Lee let the hurt and discouragement show.
Chip sat beside his friend and shared the sunset and the cold beer. He waited while Lee sorted himself out, so they could get on with their lives. Chip knew that above the pain and aggravation was the fear of disability. There was nothing Chip could say, no reassurance that he could give. The two of them could only continue what they were doing, work to rebuild Lee's strength. As Jamie was constantly telling them both 'only time would tell' how it would all end. He knew Lee didn't need to hear this now. Now he needed his friend and a beer and a few minutes of sunshine and ocean.
"Sorry about that. You promised me pizza to go with my beer as I recall?" Lee said rising from the sand. He brushed off his shorts using his left arm, his right held awkwardly across his middle, a sure sign to Chip of how much pain he was currently feeling.
Knowing that 'Are you sure you're up for it?' would not be a welcome question Chip rose to his feet and walked back toward the cottage next to Lee, neither man saying anything. When they got to the porch steps Lee stopped and turned back to look out toward the ocean. Chip put his arm around Lee's shoulders and turned him back toward the house, "Food, you promised me food."
Lee laughed and feigned a punch toward Chip's stomach. "Careful, Jamie's going to want to operate, find out where you're putting it all."
Lee moved through the Control Room slowly, stopping at each station, looking over the equipment. This was his first refit as Captain of the Seaview. He enjoyed admiring the new equipment and how perfectly it all fit together. Nelson, Chip and he had spent hours on the design and one or the other of them was present every time a new piece of equipment was installed. Now that it was finished he savored this last walk through the big sub before the crew came back on board.
He stood by the sonar station studying the new larger screen and admired the way it'd been fit in next to the smaller navigation computer. It seemed every time he saw a refit in a submarine the underwater detection gear improved and got bigger and the computers improved and got smaller. He smiled slightly, must be getting old the way he marveled at the new technology.
He looked up from the screen when he heard Chip come down the ladder from the bridge and smiled at his friend. "It looks like a new boat, smells like one too with all the new equipment."
"Smells like a paint factory to me," Chip made a face, wrinkling his nose.
Lee laughed at him, "God you're getting to be an old grouch, want to go look at the new torpedoes with me? We got all those new RK2s with the Raytheon guidance system loaded last night."
Now it was Chip's turn to laugh, "You trying that line out on me, see if it'll work with the ladies. Come with me to my sub, let me show you my RK2s." Chip dropped the tone of his voice and batted his eyes at Lee, who laughed at him again.
"Can't you see the Admiral now, when we start bringing our dates on board to show off our RK2s. Speaking of which?" Lee flashed a big smile at Chip.
"Don't even ask, I'm not saying a word. Well, maybe one word, never again."
"Let that tell you how bad it was. Never again."
"Maybe if you'd been able to show her some torpedoes that would have helped?"
"The problem wasn't with me, it was her. All she wanted to do was talk about her cat, her cat? I tell you, Lee, I've got to get some kind of serious girl friend, this casual dating is driving me crazy. Have I waited too long, are all the smart women married?"
"Nah, maybe that's not the type of woman you appeal to?"
"Oooh, Oooh…" Lee dodged around the plot table and headed aft at as near a run as he could manage down the corridor of Seaview with Chip in hot pursuit. The crew was due to start boarding in the morning. The big sub was nearly empty with what few crewmen who were aboard busy amidships loading cargo. Lee flew around the corner headed toward engineering. He allowed his leather soled shoes to slide on the smooth deck of the sub as he rounded the corner, glancing back for Chip he nearly crashed into Admiral Nelson, coming out of his lab. Lee stopped himself by grabbing the hatch coping on the lab storage compartment and managed to skid to a halt without falling over backwards. His sputtered apology was not helped by Chip slamming into his back the moment he opened his mouth.
"Ah, sorry, sir. I….ugh." He grabbed Chip's arm as his friend's feet went flying and kept him from falling to the deck.
"Sorry, sir, I didn't realize you were aboard." Crane got the sentence out this time.
"I dare say." Nelson looked at the two men in some amazement. He'd seen some fairly dramatic bits of behavior but he thought this might be a first. After a moment of looking at the two of them he cleared his throat and went back into the Lab. Once he'd closed the door he stood with his back to it laughing quietly. He wondered if it was worth installing a few cameras around the boat to see what other bits of silliness the two of them got up to when no one was aboard.
He kept forgetting how young they were, they were both so serious and professional most of the time. He waited five minutes to give them a chance to get away so he wouldn't need to say anything and then left his lab and headed forward to the Conn, still smiling to himself. He wished there was someone with whom he could share that sliding into the Admiral moment, someone who would appreciate it as much as he did. He decided that Will Jamieson was that man. He too would enjoy knowing that Lee Crane was playing tag with Chip Morton on board the Seaview.
Lee and Chip walked slowly away from the Admiral's Lab carefully not looking at each other until they were two sections further aft. By the time Sharkey came out of the Missile Room and found them, they were laughing so hard they were leaning against each other. Chip had tears running down his cheeks and his hand against Lee's shoulder while Lee had his head on his arm braced against the bulkhead.
"Sir? Are you all right, Skipper?"
"Um…Yes, yes, Chief, I'm um… We're fine, had a 'um…" Lee cleared his throat and looked at Chip for inspiration, a big mistake as his XO was still bent nearly double laughing. "As you were, Chief." Lee straightened his shoulders and walked away from Chip and the Chief. Let Chip explain, he thought it was so funny.
The Torpedo Room was a bit of a disappointment. The new torpedoes looked exactly like the Mark VIIIs except they had a small red ring painted around them near the nose, not very exciting, even by Lee's obsessive standards. He smiled to himself and wondered what Chip had told Sharkey. He left the Missile Room and headed aft to finish his final walk through before the crew began arriving for their first shakedown cruise, a small smile on his face.
Lee stood on the bridge with Ensign Wilson, watching the youngster take Seaview out of the pen and through the breakwater into the Pacific. Wilson had clearly done some considerable reading and practicing on his 'leaving harbor' skills and handled the entire routine flawlessly. Lee rewarded him by allowing him to dive the boat, once they passed the breakwater and reached the main channel. He exchanged smiles with Chip across the Conn as Wilson matter-of-factly dove the sub to ninety feet and turned her onto her new heading and handed the Conn over to Chip. He decided Wilson was ready for JOOD duties with regular watch officers and not only he and Chip.
Lee walked slowly around the Conn stopping at each station and speaking to the operators about the changes in their equipment. Learning both what they thought about the changes and how familiar they were with them in one go. They'd made half a dozen short day cruises in the past two weeks bringing the crew up to speed on the upgrades but the whole beginning of this cruise would still be a long training session.
The new equipment and upgrades needed to be fully inculcated into every crewman as soon as possible and it took time for some of the major changes to become second nature. Lee was pleased that their cruise would be a long one and allow the entire crew to have time for cross training on the new equipment.
"I'm headed to the Missile Room and then Engineering," Lee said to Chip before he headed aft.
As he walked slowly down the corridor he occasionally allowed his hand to reach out and trail along the bulkhead. He smiled slightly to himself. He did love this boat. He remembered his first boat - the old Dallas. She'd been a marvel to him. Each of his boats had seemed finer than the last. He'd served on three boats by the time he'd received his own command. He'd never thought he could feel for any boat what he'd felt for the Alabama, his first command. She'd been beautiful but she'd never been fully his. His boat when his crew had command but then someone else's while his Blue crew did their shore rotation and she was always the Navy's boat. Seaview was different.
He stepped into the Circuitry Room and stood watching two ratings working on a section of the huge electrical panel. He and the Admiral and Chip had spent weeks arguing about the merits of combining all of the circuitry in one space or of diffusing the circuit panels around the boat. He'd had that sort of input into the shape of the Seaview. He turned and walked out of the room before either of the crewmen noticed him and had to stop their work to acknowledge his presence. He could never have had that sort of impact on the Alabama. He'd only been in command of the Seaview for a year and he'd already had a hand in shaping her structure and in selecting her crew.
He absentmindedly rubbed his sore arm as he continued down the corridor. He'd never even imagined anything as wonderful as this boat and this opportunity and now he was in danger of losing it all. He'd been so sure he could get all of the strength back in his arm. He'd been so sure this was like the other injuries he'd had. So sure all he needed was patience to wait out the healing and then the determination to regain his strength.
He realized he was rubbing the long scar and dropped his hand back down to his side. This was different. As hard as he worked he couldn't seem to make the arm what it'd been. He'd exercised until his muscles screamed at him to stop and he didn't get any stronger. Weeks of exercise. Weeks of waiting for improvement. He was stuck with a sore, weak arm and couldn't seem to make it better.
He stopped walking for a moment and stood looking down the empty corridor. It was fitting that this was a sort of shakedown cruise for Seaview with all of the changes they'd made in her. Because it was a shakedown cruise for him too with his change. He found himself rubbing the scar again and started walking. Fair chance. He would give himself a fair chance at this.
The Admiral would keep him on out of pity and a misplaced sense of guilt over his being injured in the line of duty. But that was wrong. He couldn't stay in command if he couldn't perform the tasks a Captain needed to perform. He'd already talked to Admiral Johnson. He could go to ONI. They would take him with the limitation the injury had caused. He and Rogers had already proved his self-defense skills were, while different, not any less effective than they'd been. He'd more than exceeded the physical fitness ONI required. But Seaview…that was different. Here, responsible for a hundred and twenty five lives he had to be a hundred percent. He had to know he wouldn't fail someone, cost someone their life because he didn't have the physical strength needed to save them. ONI was only his life on the line not a whole submarine full of lives.
He wondered if he should have resigned before the cruise. Was this test fair to the crew? He hadn't been able to walk away from all of his dreams. He'd given himself this one last chance, this one last test to pass. What if he failed and someone was injured, or killed through his hubris? He ran his hand through his hair. What if he wasn't up to this job? What if he failed all of these men, Admiral Nelson, Seaview herself, through his weakness?
Lee stopped the endless chain of worry. He'd spent more time worrying about this then he cared to remember and come to no resolution. Or perhaps this was the resolution, that he would make this cruise, this test cruise. He consciously turned his thoughts away from his obsessive concern about his fitness and thought about the cruise. Smiling again slightly he resumed his peregrination about the great sub. It was so good to be at sea again.
He found Admiral Nelson in the Missile Room as he'd expected with Dr. Lester unpacking equipment and assembling the sensor array. The parts were spread all about the Missile Room deck while it was sorted into where each component would eventually be placed when it was all deployed. Sharkey, Kowalski and Patterson were following Lester and Nelson around tagging each piece of equipment as they determined its final location and then picking them up for storage until deployment.
He stood in the hatch watching the five men without speaking before turning and heading aft toward engineering. He met O'Brien on his way forward to begin his watch and they stood and talked for a few minutes about alleviating the paint smell. After a quick visit with the Engineering ratings Lee headed aft to the Torpedo Room to talk to the ratings there.
The biggest change on the boat would be the new RK2s. They had a new computer controlled torpedo guidance system installed in the Conn that Chip and O'Brien had been training on for the entire refit. Using both active and passive sonar on the torpedoes they could guide them into their target from the Seaview. This was to be their first cruise with the whole system operational and their final test cruise before turning the new ordinance over to the Navy for their testing. They'd spent the whole year Lee had been on the Seaview working with Raytheon on the new torpedoes. It was the first new system that Lee had helped develop for the Navy and he wanted to turn over as nearly a perfect weapon as he could.
Leaving the Torpedo Room he dropped down to C deck and began working his way forward stepping into store rooms and pump and circuitry spaces as he went, checking that everything was as it should be. He and Chip had worked with the Admiral to make several changes in the storage areas after the sabotage damage they'd suffered on a previous cruise. Those changes along with the changes in the Conn and to the torpedoes made the Seaview feel more like his boat, a boat that he'd had a part in shaping beyond being her Captain. They'd even redesigned her propellers changing their size and shape to increase speed and decrease noise. All changes that Lee had been instrumental in helping to develop and implement. He felt that he'd begun to influence not only Seaview's crew but also her very shape and found it incredibly satisfying on both a personal and professional level.
He trailed his hand along the bulkhead again. Surely he could do this. Be strong enough for this command. He snatched his other hand back from where his fingers were again worrying at the scar through his shirt. He needed to stop thinking about himself and concentrate on his job.
"Lee, we need to gather some water samples here, apparently, we have a strong current coming from this canyon here to the southwest. We need water samples both upstream and downstream from the new current to determine the impact this water source is having on the main stream we're tracking."
Lee nodded his head not looking up from where Nelson was tracing a trail along the underwater map. "That shouldn't be too difficult, sir, we're at 110 feet here. We'll need to do several dives though, the current is going to be strong, tiring for the divers."
"Yes, yes." Nelson rubbed the back of his neck as he studied the map. "There are some caves in the area as well, I want water samples from the caves so we can see if we have another current mixing from some unknown source through the cave network."
Nelson showed Lee which caves he wanted sampled. "We may need to do more later but let's look at these four first, if they all test the same we'll figure that for a fair sample. If any of them are different we'll reconsider."
Lee sent Riley and Anderson out for water samples from the main current, while he and Ski did the first cave collection. He assigned leadership of the second dive to Sharkey and the third to Chip, which would allow him to get back on board and in uniform before Chip needed to leave the Conn and get suited for his dive. He didn't like to have both he and Chip unavailable at the same time in the fairly narrow confines of the canyon.
The cavern opening was large and the current moving into the cave strong. Lee and Kowalski allowed the current to move them into the cave swimming with caution and keeping close to the sidewall. They were careful to stop frequently and check the power of the current so they didn't suddenly find themselves overwhelmed by more water pressure than they could manage.
Lee was swimming slightly in front with Ski about five feet behind him, their accustomed scheme for cave diving, when Lee stopped and held up his hand to stop his partner. He could see a sudden narrowing of the cave twenty feet ahead. He didn't want to get too close to a place where the current would increase exponentially and likely be stronger than they could swim against. He kept his position as he pulled out his sample bottles and began making his collections. He was putting the samples back in his carryall when he saw Ski gesture over his head. Looking up he was surprised to see a large strand of Cladophora moving over their heads in the opposite direction to the current. He saw Ski start to swim up to grab the passing seaweed; knowing as well as he did that the Admiral would want the sample, especially with it moving in the opposite direction from the prevailing current.
As Ski began to swim away from him Lee realized that for the weed to be moving past them at the speed it was traveling the current above their heads had to be very strong. He grabbed for Ski's leg as the upper current spun Kowalski and snatched him out of his reach. Lee kicked hard barely managing to catch hold of Ski's passing leg. Grabbing a rock outcropping on the cave side with his other hand he held on for both their lives, biting down hard on his regulator as the weight of Ski's body twisted him around. He nearly lost his hold on the rock and wondered for a moment if his choices would be releasing Ski or having his shoulder dislocated. He watched Ski using his hold on his leg as leverage to push against the current and move his upper body to the rock face.
The whole thing took perhaps thirty seconds and Ski had a grip on the rocks and was nodding down at him. "I'm okay, Skipper, you can let go."
Lee nodded and released his hold gradually, making sure that Ski had a good grip on the cave wall. Once Ski had worked his way, hand over hand down the rock face to where he tread water waiting for him Lee closed his eyes for a moment and allowed himself to fold forward over his arm. That stretch while he held Ski had been far beyond the range of motion his arm had thus far achieved. He thought it was probably well beyond any range of motion his arm had ever had. He fought to keep his breathing even as he waited for the worst of the pain to pass.
Ski was treading water in front of him watching him carefully, waiting for him to make eye contact, very kindly not broadcasting his distress to the whole boat on the throat mic. After a moment Lee looked up at him and gave him the okay sign, which Ski returned, but neither man made any effort to leave the cave. Ski waiting him out while he got himself organized enough to swim.
Ski signed asking if he needed help. Lee shook his head and indicated he needed another minute.
"Let's see if we can get a sample of the water up there, can you hold me?" He asked Ski as he pulled a squeeze to open bottle from his carryall.
It only took them a cautious few moments to collect the water, Kowalski holding tight to his leg as he slowly floated up into the upper current his left arm stretched above his head feeling for the new water direction. Once he had the final sample safely stowed the two men, very warily left the cave. They swam keeping low to avoid the overhead current and close to the cave wall well within reach of a handhold should they need one.
Lee spit out the regulator as soon as the water level in the airlock dropped below his chin. He rolled up against the bulkhead cradling his arm against his chest swearing softly to himself, "Damn, damn."
"You okay, Skipper." Kowalski had his hand on his shoulder his mouth near his ear to be heard over the sound of the pumps pulling the water from the airlock, his voice mic in his other hand well away from his mouth.
"Yeah, damn arm." Lee straightened with an effort leaning his head back against the bulkhead. He needed to get himself under control before the airlock hatch opened or he'd have Jamie all over his case. "I'm fine, you okay?"
"Yeah, ah… Skipper, thanks, I don't know what happened that water spun me around so fast I lost my bearings. I owe you another one."
"Are we even yet?" He smiled at Ski and would have given him a reassuring grip on the shoulder if he could have let go of his damn arm. He straightened from the bulkhead as he saw the wheel on the hatch begin to spin and put his command face back on. He gave Ski a quick smile knowing the rating wouldn't mention his momentary weakness in the airlock. Ski was one of the few people he could trust with an occasional moment of vulnerability. He knew Kowalski wouldn't take advantage of his weakness.
"Have Doc check you over, make sure you're okay."
"You too, sir?" Ski raised an eyebrow at him quizzically to which he gave no response as the hatch opened and the small space was full of eager hands helping them out into the Missile Room.
"What happened, Lee?" Nelson had him by the arm, thank God his left arm, helping him from the airlock. Lee took a step away from the hatch and began to unbuckle the tanks and pull off his hood suddenly feeling the need to shed all that extra weight as soon as possible.
"The main current is flowing into the cave okay, but there was an even stronger current from somewhere flowing out over the top of it. Caught Ski and spun him. There's a lot of water moving down there, a really strong riptide of some kind. It's a much stronger current than we expected, I think because the water in the canyon was masking the flow from the caves."
Nelson nodded thoughtfully turning to Dr. Lester. "That could be why we're seeing so much more nutrient life, the extra aeration caused by the two streams meeting must be super oxygenating the water here."
Lester nodded and the two scientists began talking excitedly about the need to gather additional water samples in the area. Lee made no comment; glad to have diverted Nelson's attention, eager to get out of the wet suit and make sure no harm had been done. He glanced away from Nelson anxiously looking for Jamie and was relieved to see Frank instead of the doctor waiting for the returning divers. Frank he could handle with a little stoicism and a good command face.
Lee dried off from his shower and changed into a uniform and sat down in his desk chair. He cradled his sore arm against his chest, his head back and his eyes closed. He replayed the two minutes in the cave with Ski. The sudden movement of Ski in the current, his grab and holding the other man for those crucial thirty seconds. What if Kowalski had missed his first grab for the rocks? Could he have held Ski until he got a hold if it'd taken a minute or two minutes? How long could he have held? Had he endangered Ski by diving with him or had he saved him? Had he passed this first test of fitness or failed?
He'd thought it would be clear to him if he were fit to command. He'd thought, when the test came, he would know if he'd passed or failed. Now Lee was uncertain. He replayed the scene in the cave in his head again while he absently ran his fingers along the line of the scar in his arm. He'd held Ski as long as he'd needed to. He guessed, in the end that was all that mattered.
There was a soft knock on his door and he sat up in the chair and ran his hand over his head thinking he should have combed his hair before he sat down.
"I figured you could use this." It was Jamie with an ice pack and a bottle of pills.
Lee sighed softly and thought back to his time commanding the Alabama with her corpsman and no doctor. He smiled at Jamie. He didn't enjoy the mothering when he didn't want to be fussed over. But when he'd been most frightened about his arm it'd been so good to have Jamie there. He guessed while he didn't really feel like he needed Jamie at this moment, he'd be glad he was around when next he did.
"Kowalski said you pulled him out of a pretty strong whirlpool. That calls for an icepack and a pain pill."
Since this was exactly what Lee had been thinking he couldn't really fault Jamie for fussing. So he kept up his smile and took the ice pack and when Jamie came out of the bathroom with a cup of water raised an eyebrow at the pills.
"Extra strength ibuprofen, nothing I regret to say, with which you aren't very familiar."
He returned Jamie's rueful smile and downed the two pills.
"Do you want me to look at it, Lee, even though it's fine?"
Lee had to give Jamie a big smile at the doctor's preempting his favorite medical phrase and shook his head.
"Truly it's fine, Jamie, nothing I haven't done swimming or working out with Rogers. It'll be a little sore for a few days and then back to normal."
"You mean very sore for a few days and then back to merely sore?" Jamieson cursed himself at that snarky comment as soon as he made it. Here he was having a rational conversation with Lee about his health and he had to make a sarcastic comment. Was a wonder the two of them got on as well as they did the amount of time they spent sniping at each other.
"Sorry, Lee, was uncalled for." Jamieson gave him a quick squeeze of his good shoulder. "Well, maybe not uncalled for but unnecessary."
Lee laughed at that and Jamieson joined him. As provoking as Lee could be, he was so basically good-natured and likable that Jamieson couldn't stay angry with him for any length of time. He thought the younger man relied on that charm to see him through too many medical problems. But since they were both still walking around maybe it wasn't a completely bogus approach when one needed as much medical attention as Lee had in the past five months.
"Now, I know that this is going to be hard for you to do after four years at Annapolis and your long service in the U.S. Navy, but if you put that hand in your pocket, or at least the thumb of your hand in your pocket it's going to take a lot of the weight off that bicep and allow it to remain flexed. It'll ease some of the pain."
Lee looked at him with exaggerated horror. "You want me to put my hands in the pockets of my uniform?"
"I suppose if my exec or my admiral ask me what I think I'm doing lounging around with my hands in my pockets, l could say it was at my doctor's orders?"
"Yes, you could. Since I'm assuming there isn't much chance I could get you to lounge around with your arm in a sling."
Lee laughed outright before giving him that trademark sheepish look from partially closed eyes through long lashes. "No sling," the two men said together.
"Try the pocket, take a few minutes now with the icepack, it'll prevent swelling and ease the pain later. Then stick your hand in your pocket and go do what you need to do instead of resting."
Jamieson gave Lee another gentle squeeze to his shoulder and left him alone in his cabin a thoughtful look on his face and an icepack on his arm. He wished he could do more for Lee but the pack and pills had been more than he'd thought the man would allow. He decided to count this intervention a success.
Lee finished tying his shoes and headed out to talk to the Admiral and Sharkey about the remaining dives, his hand tucked into his pocket.
It took four days for the pain in his arm to recede to the point he considered himself safe to dive again. Most of that time was spent in the vicinity of his and Ski's cave dive. They mapped a network of currents through the intersecting caverns and canyons until Lester and Nelson had determined what currents were pouring water into the main stream they were tracking. He'd maintained as much equanimity as he could while Chip and Sharkey and Ski led out the dive parties and he stood in the big windows, a resigned observer. Then it was back to all ahead slow while they dragged the tracking array along their midlevel ocean stream to the next intersection of currents.
This slow sailing and current mapping gave Chip and Lee time for crew training. They drilled the Conn on torpedo launching and the torpedo ratings on loading and unloading the tubes with the variety of ordinance they were now carrying. They managed to rotate most of the crew through the torpedo drill before Nelson informed them they needed another dive for water collection.
The cruise passed in a pleasant haze of work and diving with all of the crew that were interested getting an opportunity to do some collection diving. The novelty soon wore off for the less enthusiastic divers. A month into the cruise a core group of a dozen divers were doing the bulk of the diving with Chip and Lee figuring prominently in the group.
The two friends continued to spend an hour or more a day in the weight room working out and trying to devise new and more inventive ways of strengthening Lee's arm. His sparring matches with David Rogers, the MAA, had begun to draw a few enthusiastic watchers. The beginning of the second month saw he and David spending half an hour sparring and the other half an hour teaching those ratings who wanted to improve their martial arts skills.
Once a week he took a couple of minutes before Chip came to the weight room and did his pull ups. He counted off silently to himself as he watched his form with the same cold eye he knew his SEAL trainer would use. Each week he finished up well short of his goal and a sore arm for his trouble.
Five weeks into the cruise and they pulled in the array to replace batteries. While they had the array aboard they put into Papeete for fresh vegetables and fruit and to give the men a break. The crew drew lots for twenty watch keepers and the rest of the hands got a day ashore. Lee and Chip drew lucky and left Bobby O'Brien with the watch and a promise to return in time for him to get a run ashore that night. The two men headed off to the beach and rented windsurfs for the day. They invited Jamie to join them but he begged off saying he didn't need to watch them trying to get themselves killed he'd splint their wounds when they got back aboard.
Week seven of the cruise and they were well into the Philippine Sea and in a maze of canyons and cross currents on the fourth day of collection dives. Lee had the Conn while Chip and five other divers were collecting water samples, when sonar picked up an underwater contact. The contact was easily identified as a submarine even though it was at the maximum edge of their listening capability, which in those turbulent waters was inside the twenty-mile range.
They had surface contacts all the time and never gave them too much attention. That they'd detected another underwater boat was very unusual. Seaview made no effort to keep quiet and in addition to the noise of her regular operation they were also in constant radio contact with their dive teams, broadcasting their presence to anyone listening hard. Their noisy presence should have been obvious to any other submarine. This detection of another boat by the Seaview was, therefore, extremely unusual. It could only mean the other boat either had very poor listening capability or didn't care if the Seaview knew they were in the area.
Lee listened to the sonar with Kowalski and agreed that they were listening to an old Plavnik class Soviet submarine. He had Kowalski run the screw sounds against their library of recorded propeller noises from other boats.
"It's the Nizhny, sir." Lee checked the read out on his chart table and became very concerned indeed.
"Sparks, call in the dive teams. Bring the boat to general quarters, Mr. Wilson, and rig for silent running as soon as our divers are back."
Nelson was in the Conn five minutes after the quiet order to rig for silent running had gone through the boat.
"Lee?" he asked as Lee brought the boat up to one third speed and dove down below the Tessio current hoping to mask their position in the sounds of the fast moving mid-ocean water.
"We detected a sub about twenty miles north of us on a converging course, the screw sounds make her the Nizhny, a decommission Russian Plavnik class attack submarine. I'm taking evasive action to try and move out of her vicinity. I'm not sure I can run silently enough to elude her dragging the array; I may need to drop it. We've been on to COMSUBPAC about her but they don't know anything more recent than we do."
After following the current for a few minutes Lee changed their heading.
"Come to a heading of 110 degrees all ahead slow." Lee made the hundred and eighty degree turn back upstream of the current at an oblique angle away from the other sub. He was fairly sure he could lose the other boat if he dropped below the current and stopped the Seaview. The turbulence and their not dragging the noisy array through the water should make them undetectable. Lee knew that the array with its multiple homing devices should be locatable once it was dropped. But spreading over five hundred yards when fully deployed the array could easily become entangled in the current or a large fish and end up spread all over the Pacific. This would be a serious set back to Dr. Lester's project and he hesitated about dropping it. He left the decision of what to do with Nelson and waited for his response.
"Drop the array if you need to, Lee, in order to figure out what he's up to. Keep me informed." Nelson told him before walking into the nose of the boat to sit and read where he could keep track of activity in the Conn, while allowing his command team to control the boat.
"What's he doing now, Ski?"
"The current is dissipating his screw sounds, I think he's maintained the same heading, should pass over us on our port side."
Lee took the spare set of headphones again and stood listening. The sound of the other boat were still clearly audible but the diffusion and the ambient noises of the current that masked their position also made pinpointing the Nizhny more difficult.
"All stop," Lee ordered.
"I don't want to take a chance on him hearing us release the array, I'll hold it for now," he told Chip his attention still on the sounds of the other sub.
"He's moving off, sir." Ski said.
Lee nodded; the propeller noise had changed as the angle on the other boat altered. He looked over Ski's shoulder to check the computer, generated estimate of the other boat's track. They sat silently below the Tessio current for six hours while the Nizhny moved in and out of their range of hearing obviously hunting for something. Each time the other boat moved out of range Lee moved the Seaview a little further upstream under the current. Finally, at around 2300 hours they hadn't heard the other boat for an hour and Lee released the array. He allowed the Seaview to slowly sink into the silence of water too deep for another submarine to enter. Very carefully he began to hunt the other sub, moving Seaview slowly back into the area where they'd last heard the Nizhny.
He and Chip took turns watch on and watch off for the next twenty hours hunting to no avail. The Nizhny had disappeared as suddenly as he'd appeared leaving no trace.
Lee found the Admiral in his Lab with Dr. Lester doing something with the water samples they'd collected. "No sign of him, Admiral, I'm going to head back over to where we left the array and see if I can pick it up without using the homing devices. I hate to signal the whole Philippine Sea where we are if I can avoid it."
Nelson nodded rubbing the back of his neck thoughtfully, "No hurry, we still have almost a month's worth of water samples to test."
Lee smiled and nodded. He knew there was plenty of testing left to do but they also needed to finish the current mapping so they could get back to Santa Barbara. Their next cruise was scheduled for only two weeks after they got back and that didn't leave them much leeway for finishing their work on this trip.
They got lucky with the array thanks to a computer simulation that their new improved understanding of the Tessio current made possible. They picked the array up only five hours after they began their search. Three hours later the dive teams had untangled all the sensors and guidelines and reattached the complicated arrangement to the Seaview and they were again mapping ocean currents.
Once they had the Seaview back on track with her mapping mission, Lee pulled Chip into the nose and the two officers sat down to do some planning for their next possible run in with the mysterious Russian sub. They spent several hours running possible scenarios of what the Nizhny might want and might do against possible reactions by the Seaview. Once they'd figured out what was the most dangerous things the sub could do if he attacked they determined what their best reactions would be and selected the best possible ordinance for their response. The two men gave the torpedo rooms the weapons they wanted loaded ready in the tubes and headed to dinner at 1900 hours, tired but pleased with their plans.
The next day passed uneventfully but the following day Riley thought he detected the Nizhny again, at the extreme limit of their sonar, keeping pace with them. It was several hours before they got a good enough recording of his screw noises to run it against their computer and get a positive identification on him. As soon as they made the positive identification Chip, who had the Conn, notified Lee who after twelve hours on duty had taken a break for a shower and a short nap.
Once back in the Control Room Lee went to stand beside the sonar station. "He's still back there, I'm sure, Skipper, I catch a bit of his screw noises every few minutes. He's on the edge of our sonar range and I think it must be the edge of his range too and he keeps coming closer to make sure he's still got contact with us." Lee nodded his understanding to Riley and walked back over to the chart table with Chip. The two of them studied the map of the sea bottom, trying to determine the likely course of the Tessio current through the complicated canyons and seamounts of the eastern Philippine Sea.
"He could just be curious?" Chip suggested, doubtfully.
"I wouldn't be so concerned if he was actually registered somewhere, but according to ONI he was supposed to be decommissioned five years ago." Lee slowly turned the ring on his left hand while he studied the map. "He'd be easy enough to elude if we needed to, we already proved that. I don't like letting him track us, all the options on his side."
Chip remained silent, there really wasn't much either man could say. The other boat could still be under commission for the Russians, who had originally built him, or he could have been sold to some other country or he could be in the hands of terrorists. There was no way of knowing for sure what his story was or how much of a danger he represented.
"I'm off to talk to the Admiral. Send another sighting report to ComSubPac and get Kowalski up here on sonar. Oh, and Chip try not to let anything happen until I get back." Lee clapped Chip on the shoulder and headed up the spiral stairway toward the Admiral's Lab glad to see a few smiles around the Control Room for his last quip. It was good to know the crew was relaxed and comfortable with this situation.
He came in the door to the lab and closed it quietly behind him and stood leaning against it, his hand tucked in his pocket watching the Admiral and Dr. Lester converse quietly. After a few moments he gave up on waiting to be noticed and smiling slightly to himself said, "Excuse me, Admiral, could I have a moment of your time?"
Nelson turned and examined him as if he had never seen him before and Lee waited while the other man came back from whatever he had been discussing with Lester.
"Yes, yes, Lee, certainly." Nelson stood looking at Lee expectantly now, his eyebrows raised interrogatively.
"In your office, perhaps?"
"Yes, yes, Jack, I'll be right back." Nelson patted Lester on the back gaining the other man's attention for a moment as he waved Nelson away.
"We think we're seeing definite indications of a mixing of deep water currents all thought this sector," Nelson said as he preceded Lee out the door of the lab. "We'll need to stop soon and take some deeper samples and try and determine the direction of the deeper current."
It was Lee's turn to nod absently as he followed Nelson down the corridor toward the Admiral's cabin.
"Now, Lee, what is it?"
"That sub is back, sir, they've been following us for the past three hours, possibly longer, but certainly for three hours. They can deploy their sonar array, so their tracking ability is going to be as good or better than ours with Dr. Lester's equipment trailing behind us."
Nelson sat down at his desk and pulled the lower drawer out and rested his feet on it. "Sit down, Lee, sit down."
"I've notified ComSubPac of the sighting, I don't like that he's back. The first time might have been curiosity, but he's stayed in this vicinity long enough to pick us up again and is certainly following. I don't like it."
"What do you want to do about it?" Nelson smiled at him as he asked and Lee returned the smile. They both knew there wasn't anything Lee could do about the other sub. They were in International Waters and the other boat had no responsibility to notify them of who they were or what they were doing.
"I don't like it, sir," Lee repeated massaging his forehead. He thought this headache had nothing to do with being tired and everything to do with being frustrated and worried about the sub shadowing them. "I have a very bad feeling about this."
"I don't like it either, but I don't see where there's anything we can do. Let me know when you hear from ComSubPac. They're sure to send a boat this way to pick up his trail, that may be enough to encourage him to move on to parts less traveled."
Lee stood up and walked to the door and stood for a moment with his hand on the knob his head bowed in thought. "You can't think of anything here he could be searching for or protecting can you?"
Nelson was silent for a moment before shaking his head, "Not a thing… There are a lot of old wrecks in this area left from World War II but that's about all I know of any possible interest and I can't imagine what value they'd have after all these years."
"I wondered, because if he's not looking for anything else, he's stalking us. I wondered, why."
"Yes, why indeed."
ComSubPac had responded to their sighting report by the time Lee returned to the Conn. The Salt Lake City was already en route from the East China Sea and would be up to their position in seven hours.
"What do you want to do?" Chip asked standing close enough to him at the chart table that their conversation wouldn't be overheard in the Conn. Lee stood staring out the windows in the front of the boat slowing turning his class ring on his finger.
"I don't like it, but so far all he's done is track us, I'm inclined to keep mapping and wait for the Salt Lake City. She'll be up to us soon. What do you think?"
Chip nodded slowly, "Seven hours for the Salt Lake, you want to bring the crew to general quarters?"
"No, but let's rig for silent running and be ready to disappear the instant things get any weirder. This time I want to release the array as soon as we decide to hide."
Chip nodded again, "Yeah, I agree, we had no trouble finding it last time and if we decide to try and trap him with the Salt Lake we aren't going to want to drag all that noise behind us."
"Let's get a good look at these canyons around us. I want a plan for where we're going to go if we decide we want out of here." The two men bent back over the plot table bringing up maps of the canyons and currents in the area and more importantly the data they'd thus far collected on temperature readings above and below the Tessio current. Using that information they began projecting temperature zones for the region ahead of Seaview.
"Skipper, high powered screws, I have two torpedoes in the water, 21,000 yards bearing 224 degrees." Ski shouted out in a raised voice above the quiet background noise of the Conn.
"Chip, counter measures. Come to a heading of 140 degrees, all ahead standard, make depth 500 feet." As soon as Lee finished his commands to the Conn crew he picked up the intercom mic and clicked to clear the line. "Rig for silent running. Come to General Quarters. Missile Room, drop the array." He could hear Chip behind him on the periscope mic instructing the aft Torpedo Room to fire the two counter measure torpedoes they'd already loaded.
"Chip, fire tubes seven and nine as well and reload seven and nine with RK2s load eight and ten with counter measures."
"Torpedo Room, fire seven, fire nine." Chip spoke into the mic as Lee was already moving away from him toward sonar.
"Aye, sir, seven and nine RK2s, eight and ten counter measures."
"Sparks send a sighting report to ComSubPac, notify them we've been fired upon and are returning fire. Tell them we need some ASW planes over here."
"Sonar, I have another target, bearing 330 degrees, range 19,000 yards. Sir, I make Target 2 a second Plavnik, depth 200 feet, designated as Alpha 1."
"Hard left rudder, come to a heading of 230 degrees. Chip prepare to fire forward torpedoes one and four on my command. Sparks send the second sighting report and an action report."
A chorus of 'Aye, sirs,' responded to this flurry of commands and Lee stood waiting as the great sub reversed her starboard turn and came around to port, waiting until her forward tubes could bear on this new target.
"Chip reload one and four with counter measures after we fire."
"Sonar, I have torpedo sounds from Alpha 1, four torpedoes, sir, now bearing 320 degrees, range 14,500 yards and closing. Range on torpedoes from Nizhny 9400 yards."
"Bearing on Alpha 1," Lee demanded.
"Bearing on Alpha 1, 340 degrees, range 15,000 yards."
"Chip, fire your torpedoes and give me a range on our countermeasures to the Nizhny torpedoes?" As Lee turned away from Chip toward the plot table he was aware of Nelson coming into the Conn and joining he and Chip. The Admiral stood quietly at the table watching and listening but making no comment.
"Torpedoes one and four fired. Range on countermeasures to Nizhny torpedoes 3,000 yards."
"Fire 2 and 5."
"Aye, sir, firing 2 and 5 reloading with RK 2s."
"Detonate Nizhny countermeasures now. Give me a bearing on the Nizhny."
"Sonar, I have two more torpedoes from Nizhny, bearing 230 degrees, range 13,500 yards."
Lee kept the Seaview turning, firing toward the second target as the tubes faced in her direction but continuing his turn so the Seaview would be sailing toward the first target, the Nizhny.
"Fire tubes three and six and reload RK 2s."
"Aye, sir," came from Chip. "Countermeasures detonated on Nizhny torpedoes, sir."
"Sonar, I have one torpedo bearing 315 degrees true, range 2800 yards exploded by countermeasures."
"Chip, go active with the sonar on torpedoes seven and nine get that second fish from the Nizhny." Lee directed Chip to try and use the Seaview's torpedoes to explode the torpedo that had eluded their countermeasures or at least damage it sufficiently that it couldn't track their change of course.
"Mr. Lewis, what's our heading?"
"Bearing 315 degrees, sir, speed 25 knots, depth 500 feet."
Lee waited a moment as Seaview continued her turn toward the Nizhny, waiting now until his stern tubes came to bear on Alpha 1.
"Take us down to 3,000 feet, all ahead flank, full dive on the planes. Deploy stationary counter measures."
"Chip, detonate our initial counter measures on Alpha 1. And go active with the sonar on torpedoes two and four. Fire tubes eight and ten, reload countermeasures."
The Seaview tilted steeply forward and began her dive below the Tessio current into the darker colder waters under the fast moving mid-ocean waters. Lee waited a moment and ordered, "all slow, rudder amidships." And the activity on the Seaview stilled, as she became a thing of stealth trying to elude any enemy she failed to kill with her torpedoes.
"Sonar, how much water under our keel?"
"Bottom at 4200 feet, sir."
"Mr. Lewis take us down to 3,400 feet all ahead slow."
"Sonar," Kowalski said speaking softly in the quiet of the Conn, "explosion at thirty degrees true 1400 yards." As Kowalski spoke the boat was tilted by the pressure wave coming off the explosion of the second torpedo from the Nizhny.
"Sonar, countermeasures have detonated two torpedoes from Alpha 1 at 5400 yards. I still have two torpedoes bearing 220 degrees relative, range 11,000 yards, I have four torpedoes bearing 330 degrees relative, 6,000 yards."
"Depth 3,400 feet, steering 230 degrees true, speed 10 knots."
"Chip, detonate our second set of countermeasure torpedoes on the Nizhny." Lee ordered.
"Sonar give me a range on the Alpha 1 torpedoes."
"3,000 yards, sir but they're well above us."
"Chip, detonate our stationary countermeasures."
"Sir, I have a response from ComSubPac. There are two aircraft off the Stennis, ETA 32 minutes."
"Very well." Lee knew that by the time the thirty-two minutes had elapsed this fight would be fairly well over.
They all waited. To fire their torpedoes now would give away their position, if they had indeed managed to hide from the other boats under the Tessio current. But even if they had successfully hidden from the other boats there was no guarantee they could elude their torpedoes. So Lee waited. He waited for all of those torpedoes to keep running and keep getting closer before he could make his move and try and put something between the Seaview and the four torpedoes from Alpha 1, the target that he and Chip had not anticipated.
"Sonar, I have a computer identification on Alpha 1, he's the Orlov, also a decommissioned Plavnik."
"Very well." Lee waited.
"Sonar, torpedo explosion 230 degrees relative, range 4800 yards, sir, second torpedo explosion also 4800 yards same bearing."
They waited, listening, hoping they would hear nothing, knowing the sound of a torpedo could spell their doom.
"Sonar, I have fast screws passing above us, sir on a bearing of 60 degrees relative. The Nizhny torpedoes, sir their right above us, 3,000 yards…" They could all hear the screw sounds magnified by the water and their fear.
"They're receding, sir, they're passing above us."
Lee waited not wanting to give the torpedoes the target they were seeking.
"Nice work, Mr. Morton. Come to a heading of 220 degrees, all ahead flank come to depth of 300 feet. " Lee turned the Seaview toward the Nizhny and began his counter attack.
He waited some more, aware of Chip and Nelson standing beside him now, both men silent, holding the remaining enemy torpedoes and the two enemy submarine locations in their heads.
"Sonar, range and bearing on Nizhny."
"Sonar, aye, bearing on Nizhny 20 degrees relative, range 7,000 yards."
"Missile Room," Lee spoke into the mic.
"Missile Room, aye."
"Activate the homing beacons on the array."
Lee thought he would try and throw a little confusion into the mix as long as they had a moment before the main act.
"Range on Nizhny?"
Sonar, range on Nizhny 4,000 yards, sir. I have sounds of torpedoes seven and nine exploded by Orlov's countermeasures."
"Chip see if you can get a lock on Nizhny with torpedo two or four."
The Seaview seemed to sprint through the water now accelerating toward the Nizhny.
"Sonar, I have torpedo sounds from the Orlov, two torpedoes, bearing 350 degrees true range 12,000 yards."
"I have a torpedo lock on the Nizhny." Chip reported.
"Activate torpedo on the Nizhny and detonate countermeasures on torpedoes eight and ten."
"Come to a heading of 180 degrees, come to a depth of 1,000 feet, fire stationary countermeasures." the crew all braced themselves as the Seaview made a hard turn, rolling the boat hard on her port side as she dove and turned at the same time.
"Sonar, Nizhny's been hit."
"Fire tubes seven and nine. Come to 300 feet, course 20 degrees. Sonar, what's your bearing on the Nizhny now?"
"Dead ahead, sir, 3,000 yards."
"Chip start active pinging on the Orlov torpedoes, all of them, give him something to worry about besides shooting at us."
"Sonar, I have sounds of Nizhny breaking up, sir, 2500 yards dead ahead."
Lee kept the Seaview steaming full speed ahead for the Nizhny hoping very much that she was indeed breaking up and wouldn't be there when the Seaview arrived. He stepped over to the torpedo computer where Chip was working to get a lock on the remaining two torpedoes bearing down on them from the Orlov.
"I've got one, sir."
"Detonate, Chip," Lee ordered.
"Sonar, range on the Nizhny?"
"He's gone, sir, 2,000 yards to the turbulence."
"Range on the last Orlov torpedo?"
"Sonar, four thousand yards, sir."
"Do you have a bearing on the Orlov?"
"Negative, sir, I lost him in the turbulence, last bearing was 230 degrees relative 17,000 yards."
Lee held himself very still; all he could do now was wait. They were headed for a great hiding place in the debris and turbulence of the exploded Nizhny. Now it was a question of his timing, and perhaps, a little bit of luck.
"Sonar, range to the turbulence?"
"One thousand yards, sir, range on the last torpedo 2,500 yards."
"Chip fire your last countermeasures and detonate at five hundred yards."
"Aye, sir, firing eight and ten, detonating at five hundred yards."
The Seaview began rocking violently as she entered the turbulence from the explosion of the Nizhny. "All stop, rudder amidships." There was a violent explosion and the boat dove hard to starboard turning almost fifty degrees on her side throwing everyone in the Control Room about violently.
"Sonar?" Lee called out as he pulled the Chip to his feet from the deck.
"Something got the last fish, sir."
"Sonar, any sign of the Orlov?"
"Negative, sir, I have nothing on my longest range, but it's very noisy here, sir, I can't be sure what's out there."
The Seaview continued to rock and Lee glanced up at the depth gauge. They were at 1700 feet and still sinking.
"Full rise on the planes, slow blow on the ballast, Mr. Lewis, very slow blow I want to make as little noise as possible here."
"All ahead one third," Lee ordered, knowing he would need enough forward motion to allow the bow planes to aid the Seaview in rising. He needed to temper the need to not sink with the need to not be detected by the missing Orlov.
"DC, report." Chip spoke into the mic.
"DC, wait." Came back from the damage control officer.
Lee looked at the sinking depth gauge and ordered, "Mr. Lewis, cycle the vents."
"Chip anything on seven and nine?"
"Negative, sir, I've directed them on to the last bearing we had for the Orlov."
"All ahead two thirds, rudder amidships. What's our depth?"
"3,100 feet, sir."
"DC, sir, we have a small electrical fire in the starboard circuitry room, also some buckling in the bulkheads between frames C32 and C34. DC parties are shoring there now. We have flooding in the Store Room at frame C33 port side."
"Very well." Chip replied to the damage control officer and looked over to Lee and Nelson, who stood braced against the chart table as the rocking of the Seaview slowed and she began to climb back up through the water.
"Come to 300 feet, heading 210 degrees all ahead slow. Chip deploy our sonar array."
As the chorus of confirmations followed his orders Lee leaned back over the plot table and did a quick calculation. Those subs had to come from somewhere and odds were the Orlov would be running home since his attack had failed. Where was home?
"Lee?" Chip asked joining him at the table.
"I'm guessing he's running home?" Lee asked Chip and Nelson quietly. "I'd like to cruise here quietly and lick our wounds, let The Salt Lake City and the ASW planes from the Stennis track the Orlov."
Lee waited for input from Chip and Nelson, while he listened to the DC reports from the remainder of the boat. Except for the flooding on C deck it appeared they'd escaped relatively unscathed.
"I agree, Lee, let the Navy hunt him, we're too noisy with the flooding and we need to repair our damage before we get into another fight." Nelson said, gripping Lee's arm with one hand and Chip's with the other. "Very nice job, gentleman, very good indeed."
"I'm headed down to C deck, Chip, keep us at 300 feet and slow until I can see how bad the damage is. Keep the crew at GQ and silent running for the time being, let's not add to the noise of our damage."
Chip nodded his agreement and turned back to the plot table as Lee headed aft
The tension and quiet of the Control Room gave way to chaos and noise as soon as Lee's feet hit the deck at the bottom of the ladder down to C level. He could barely hear Sharkey shouting instructions to the damage control party over the sound of the water pounding against the watertight door separating the DC party from the flooded compartment.
"How's it look, Chief?"
"We're trying to save this section by shoring up the storage compartment bulkhead. If we lose the compartment we'll lose this section. I've got guys welding reinforcing to the bulkhead at frame 34 aft. Forward Mr. O'Brien has a work party shoring up the bulkhead at frame 32. If we can hold this compartment long enough they can get their reinforcing in place and we'll limit the flooding to just this section." Lee nodded his understanding and stepped over to the compartment wall and felt the bulkhead. The compartment was already half flooded.
"We're trying to get all this shoring into place before we lose the hatch, there's already buckling in the middle here," Sharkey pointed at the center of the bulkhead where Lee could see some change in the shape of the wall. "The hatch is holding, I'm afraid we get much more buckling though we could lose the hatch."
Lee nodded his understanding and turned to help two crewmen coming into the corridor with a timber. They quickly braced the timber against the middle of the bulkhead and Lee helped hold it in place while a burly crewman hammered blocking into place with a sledgehammer. The noise of the welder and the constant pounding of the water hitting the bulkhead next to them made communication nearly impossible but the men all knew what they needed to do and worked quickly.
"Skipper, we're getting leaking from the hatch." Sharkey shouted five minutes later grabbing his arm and pointing toward the hatch into the flooded compartment. Lee looked down the corridor in both directions to reassure himself that all the watertight doors were closed and dogged.
"Get some shoring over here," he shouted at a passing crewman pointing at the door. A moment later someone passed him anothe and they began to hammer it into place against the hatch. They had the piece of wood braced against the base of the opposite side of the corridor and were pounding the first piece of blocking into place when the hatch seal broke. The big, steel hatch blew toward them taking the piece of 8x8, Lee and the two crewmen with it. The horrible force of the water blew them back against the opposite corridor wall like rag dolls smashing the timber down on top of them, followed by of tons of icy seawater. The sound was deafening as men began yelling and rushing out of the adjacent storeroom, heading toward the closest watertight hatch. The water was already too high to allow the hatch to open, the automatic water sensors having locked the door closed.
"Up the ladder," Sharkey shouted, grabbing arms and sending men up the ladder Lee had climbed down fifteen minutes earlier. Within a minute the water was thigh high, the force of the current so strong that men could hardly fight against its power to reach the ladder.
Lee grabbed the arm of a man who'd been hit by the flying timber and allowed the water to wash them down stream until he could grab an upright section of the ladder. "How many down here?" He asked, as Sharkey helped him hang on to the man against the force of the water.
"Eight, sir, plus you and me, three out already." Sharkey yelled back at him as he helped the next man up the ladder.
Lee did a quick head count of the men he could see. "Is the store room empty?"
"Yes, sir," Sharkey yelled back, "I've got them all accounted for with Jilson here." Sharkey helped lift the injured man up the ladder to waiting hands from B deck. The water was already up to their waists and both men were beginning to shiver.
The men waiting for their turn at the ladder were holding on to each other to keep from being swept away. The climb was slow going as the water fought with each man to pull him from the ladder. Willing hands reached down from the open hatch above grabbing sailors and pulling them to safety.
There were still two crewmen at the bottom of the ladder, Lee and Sharkey when the rest of the storeroom wall tore loose and smashed into the ladder breaking their holds and tearing the ladder from its moorings. The water was instantly over their chests, rising very fast.
Lee smashed against the wall behind the ladder and immediately sank below the surface. The initial blast of water was too strong to fight and the current had moved him to the end of the corridor before he could get back to the surface. As he drew in a breath of equal parts salt water spray and air he looked about desperately for the rest of the DC party. He could see Sharkey already struggling back toward the ladder dragging a semi-conscious crewman with him. Lee allowed himself to sink below the surface reaching out frantically in the rapidly rising water for the body he knew had to have been carried to this end of the corridor by the force of the water.
Not three feet away he thought he felt something soft in the corner. He grabbed on to the cloth with hands nearly numb from the cold. He turned his back to the onrushing water and pushed against the end wall of the corridor using the water pressure to help him keep a purchase with his feet until he was able to haul the motionless body against his chest and out of the water. Gasping for air he pulled the man around until he had the crewman's back against his chest and the other man's head clear of the water. Momentarily disoriented he looked up stream into the rushing water to see how far he was from the hatch and safety. It was an impossible twenty feet away. Wrapping his right arm around the man's body he began to fight the current toward their only hope of survival, fearing it was hopeless.
Lee looked up to see a rope washing toward him in the water and lunged for it. He managed to catch the end of the rope in the roiling water. The rope had a large loop tied in the end and he allowed the water to again carry him against the end wall of the corridor as he pulled the loop over his head. Looking back over his shoulder toward the hatch he gave a thumbs up. Kicking as hard as he could to assist the men pulling on the rope he wrapped both arms around the other man's body. They might make it after all.
Two minutes later and he was lying on the deck of B level coughing and breathing in huge gasps of dry air. He pulled himself up so he was leaning against the bulkhead and then carefully climbed to his feet. He took the mic from the wall bracket and clicked to clear the line. "DC what's the status on the two welding parties?"
"DC, the frames are holding, they look good, sir."
"Very well, let me know if you see so much as a fraction of a change in those bulkheads."
"Sharkey get these men back to their quarters so they can get warmed up and dried off, make sure Doc sees them all. I'm headed back up to the Conn."
"Aye, sir. You bozos stop skylarking and follow me, hustle get your blood moving. Ransom you help Frank get Boots down to sickbay."
Lee was racked with a deep cough as his lungs reminded him he'd inhaled too much seawater. He hung the mic back up and caught his breath as the remaining hands passed him headed aft leaving him with the corpsman and the two crewmen.
"Boots going to be okay, Frank?" Lee asked as he got his breathing under control, beginning to shiver uncontrollably now that the adrenaline was wearing off.
"I think so, Skipper, he's coming around already." Lee nodded abstractly as he headed forward. That had been very close. "Skipper," Frank called after him.
Lee stopped and turned to face him, "Yes?"
"Doc's going to want to see you, sir."
Lee smiled, "I'll be right there."
Frank smiled back at him and nodded, "Sure, I'll tell him, sir."
"Captain." Another voice called to him.
Lee came back and knelt down on the deck next to Malone. "Take it easy, Boots."
"I'm fine, Skipper, I wanted to say thanks before you left. I thought there, for a minute…thanks."
Lee smiled at him, "No problem, glad I was there to give you a hand."
Lee hurried forward as fast as his wet shoes would allow, absently rubbing his arm as he walked. Damn that had been very close, but not too close. He played the last few minutes in the flooded compartment over in his head, the dive for Malone, the grab for the rope, the swim to the ladder. There was no place in that rescue where he hadn't been able to do what he'd intended, no place his body had not been able to do what he'd needed it to do, what his boat and his crew had needed it to do.
He was smiling to himself as he more or less squelched his way into the control room to be met by Nelson and Chip.
"Chip, what are conditions on the surface?"
"How bad is the flooding?" The Admiral asked.
"It's under control but I want to get some pressure off the flooded area."
"Fifteen mile an hour winds out of the SSW, three foot seas."
"Surface the boat, I'm going to my cabin to get changed."
"I think maybe a visit to Subic Bay might be in order, Admiral."
"You go get changed, I'll radio Subic and get us headed to a nice safe navy base."
Lee smiled wetly, rubbing his right arm abstractly as he looked around the Control Room, "Aye, sir."
Nelson frowned at him as he turned to leave, "Is your arm all right?"
Lee nodded his head, "its fine, sir." Catching the look of disbelief in Nelson's face he smiled a bit sheepishly, "Well, maybe a little sore, but I'm not going to be the only sore one after that adventure." Lee gave another quick look around the room. He was reluctant to leave with the boat damaged and that missing sub still lurking about somewhere in the Philippine Sea, but he was shivering uncontrollably and knew he needed to get warm. As he turned and took his first step toward the stairs in the nose of the boat his wet shoes lost their purchase on the deck and he started to slip. Nelson reached over and caught his arm saving him from an embarrassing fall in the Control Room.
He felt his knees start to melt under him as the Admiral's hand closed over the scar and his already strained arm suddenly supported his entire weight. He couldn't prevent a small explanation of pain from escaping before the Admiral reached over with his other hand and steadied him letting go of his bad arm.
"I'm sorry," Nelson apologized. "I didn't think."
"A little sore, sir. It was a bit intense down on C deck for a few minutes there. I think I might have pulled a muscle or something." Lee tried for a quick smile but between the sudden pain and the shivering knew it hadn't come off the way he'd intended. "A hot shower and I'll be as good as new." He thought maybe the second try at a smile had gone a bit better as Nelson relinquished his hold and he stepped away from him again headed for the stairs to his cabin.
He knew he'd missed some by play between the Admiral and the exec when he felt Chip following him out of the Conn. "Don't you have something better you should be doing, Mr. Morton?" He tried to shake Chip loose from one of his mother hen moments but to no avail as Chip smiled and gave him a small shove in the small of his back.
"I'm perfectly capable of finding my own shower," Lee groused, while allowing Chip to chivy him out of the Conn and up the stairs.
"I'm only here to provide backup, like a good little exec."
"Oh, yeah, right, good little exec, who thinks he's a mother hen. I'm fine, go back to work, I'm going to take a shower and I'll be right back down."
"That's where I come in, Admiral said shower, Sick Bay and then Conn."
"He said no such thing, he didn't say anything." Lee countered. By this time Crane was at the top of the stairs and had started down the corridor toward his quarters. He stopped at the door to his cabin to face Chip. "I'm fine, go away already."
"You're really okay?" Chip asked, much more seriously.
"I'm fine." Lee had the good grace to smile as Chip made a face at that. "The bulkhead gave way when we were shoring it up. We all got wet and a bit shook up. But we're all out of the water and I suspect by this time I'm the last wet member of the DC party. I'm fine."
"And you'll go to Sick Bay, and not try to pass Go until you do." Chip smiled again as his tone lightened. "Honestly, the Admiral was worried when they radioed up that the bulkhead had given way and you were down there rescuing crewmen."
"And you know this how? I have a hard time picturing Admiral Nelson telling you he was worried about me getting my feet wet." Lee had his cabin door open now and Chip followed him inside.
"I'm not as good as you are at reading him, but worried about you I'm beginning to recognize without any trouble at all." Chip sat down at the desk and leaned back comfortably in the chair.
Lee stood looking at him for a moment trying to decide if it was worth fighting with his friend about his over developed sense of protectiveness. He decided he wanted a hot shower more than he wanted a fight. "Do something useful, grab me a clean uniform, I'll be out in a minute."
The shower felt wonderful, short but very hot and by the time he came back into his cabin and to dress he'd stopped shivering and begun to feel the bruises from flying timbers and steel bulkheads. Chip whistled at him appreciatively, shaking his head as he watched him dress. "You are going to be sore tomorrow, you look like somebody beat you up with a baseball bat."
"An 8x8 I think, we had the bulkhead mostly braced when we lost it. I think I was swimming with lumber for a while there."
Chip laughed at him and shook his head in bemusement. "You have a whole crew to mess around with lumber. Honestly, Lee, couldn't you try and be a little more careful, you didn't need to be down there in the middle of the action. You could have cut yourself a little slack and not tried to re-injure yourself on your first cruise back."
Lee turned toward his friend as he tried to fish his tie around his neck with one hand, "Needed to know I could, Chip. Needed to know that in that sort of situation I could do my share."
Chip stepped over to him and knocked his hands down from where he was trying to knot the tie. "And so now your arm is so sore you can hardly dress yourself, that benefits the boat and crew how?" Chip kept his eyes on the knot he was tying deliberately not looking at Lee. "You need to be more careful."
"No, I don't, that's the whole point. If I need to be more careful I need to find a new job."
Chip looked up surprised at how angry Lee sounded. He deliberately chocked the knot up tight against Lee's throat suddenly angry himself.
"A new job? DC isn't your job to begin with, you're the Captain! You should stand around giving orders and NOT be trying to get yourself killed."
Lee's big smile and quick clasp of his shoulder as he stepped back over to the closet to grab a dry pair of shoes completely took away Chip's anger. He tried to keep an angry tone in his voice as he continued. "I don't want to be breaking in a new skipper now that I have this one beat down enough so I can manage him. Try being careful."
Now Lee laughed out loud sitting down on his bunk his arm wrapped around his ribs. "Too many bruises, Chip, don't make me laugh."
"Well, honestly Lee, what about careful?"
"When I need to be careful I'll go back to the navy and get a desk job. I don't do careful and send in the damage control party any more than you do. So cut out with the worried mother act and don't make me laugh, my ribs hurt."
Chip gazed at his friend sitting on the bunk his hair wet and curling around his face looking like a mischievous teenager and shook his head. "Well, okay, I'll maybe grant that a careful Lee Crane is a bit of an oxymoron. I guess I'll continue to escort my captain to Sick Bay every couple of days." Chip sighed melodramatically. "It's a hard job, but I'm accustomed to it. No one ever gives any thought to the pain I suffer watching you recover from all your stupid exploits. But then who cares, I'm only the poor exec…"
"Okay, okay, already! Come on, mom, take me to Jamie, let him do his worse." Lee grabbed Chip's arm and half manhandled him out of the cabin, both men laughing now.
Lee leaned back in the chair absently rubbing his hand along the seam of the scar he could feel through his shirt, looking out the big windows at the sea beyond. "I didn't know if I could stay, I didn't know if I could still do my job."
Nelson nodded, he'd suspected something along these lines. He'd been afraid he might lose Lee. He hadn't wanted to think that Lee could be that stubborn, that unreasonable, but he'd suspected that was what Lee Crane could be. That having decided a certain level of physical ability was required to skipper the Seaview Lee would leave the boat if he couldn't meet his standard. That NIMR and the Navy didn't have the same standard wouldn't matter to Lee.
"I can do thirty-nine pull-ups in two minutes. Last year I could do sixty." Lee looked at him now and smiled slightly, "I'll probably never do sixty again, that's hard to accept."
Nelson didn't say anything. There was nothing he could say. Lee had risked his life, risked his body for the boat and the crew, and the fates had called his bet. He was lucky he could do anything at all, but Nelson knew this wasn't the time to tell Lee how lucky he was to be alive. He knew they'd all had a sense of joy in a life saved, a life still to be lived when Lee had come back aboard Seaview after the awful dive that'd reinjured his arm. Now was the time to measure the cost of that dive.
"But you've accepted it?"
"Yes, I'm strong enough to do my job, that was always my question and I answered it, at least to my satisfaction yesterday. I hope to yours as well?"
Now it was Nelson's turn to smile and his was not the half smile of Lee but the big broad smile that he thought he mostly saved for Lee these days.
"Lee, I can do the nine pull-ups I need to qualify to dive. I'm not the best man to ask how strong a man needs to be to live the life he wants. You were always the only person who could answer that question."
"Johnson wants me to take a team of SEALS to Otbayat. ONI thinks they may have located the base those subs sailed from. They want an expert appraisal of the base, if it could support two subs, you know, the normal drill. They think it might be a People's Republic ploy. There have been eight ships lost in these waters in the past five months. No one really put anything together with the PR until this attack on us. So far all of the missing ships have been civilian vessels. Apparently there is something around here the People's Republic wants to defend enough to take on the U.S. Navy. "
Lee passed the signal paper to the Admiral. "ONI thinks they're basing old Plavniks in Otbayat so they can deny any involvement should someone, say the Seaview, detect their activity."
Nelson nodded at this apparent non-sequitor. He'd also known that Lee's return to work for ONI would be another thing the younger man would use to measure his recovery.
"Guess you've been passing quite a few physicals lately."
Lee smiled. "I passed the SEAL physical before we left port. You don't mind about the mission for Johnson?"
Nelson rubbed the back of his neck looking at Lee while he thought about his answer. Of course he didn't want Lee running off on another wild quest for ONI. But he did want Lee feeling whole and capable again, and if that required that Lee put his life on the line for Johnson, than that's what was required.
"I mind, but I'd mind more if you couldn't go because of something that happened to you on my watch."
"Was never your watch, Admiral, I'm the captain, it's always my watch."
The two men smiled at each other as Nelson nodded his understanding. Having hired Lee to captain his boat he'd hired the whole Lee Crane package. He'd gotten the reward of having a Captain of Lee's courage and ability. He hadn't expected the friendship and the awful toll that having a friend like Lee extracted. Courage admired in the abstract was wonderful he thought looking out the big windows until you reckoned the cost of courageous acts upon friends.
Be glad to know what you thought of this.