Chapter 1: While The Dying World Redefines
Nathan was relieved when he saw the four missing crew members come through the launch bay doors. He'd had to make a difficult decision. Their mission was to rescue the children, and they couldn't veer from that. That meant leaving what happened to Ben, Jonathan, Lucas, and Kristin up to fate. Thank goodness that everything worked out, but if it hadn't, he never could have lived with himself. But he quickly pushed the thought out of his mind. There was no sense dwelling on it, right?
He wanted desperately to go see them, to be sure they were perfectly all right. Of course, he knew they were. Dr. Levin had given him a full update on their health. Despite being a little cold and shaken up, they were fine. "Nothing a few days off-duty won't cure," Joshua said. But Nathan needed to see it for himself. Unfortunately, he couldn't get away from the bridge until hours later. By then, the four of them were resting comfortably in their rooms. Nathan visited Jonathan and Ben first, knowing he wouldn't spend too much time with them. Certainly, he made sure they were all right, made a bit of small talk with them. But really, Lucas and Kristin were his main focus. After leaving Ben's room, he headed towards that of Lucas.
Nathan knocked and waited for a response.
"It's open," Lucas called.
Nathan entered. Lucas was seated in front of his computer playing some sort of shooting game. "Hey, kiddo. How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine," Lucas answered, not bothering to turn away from his game.
"Aren't you supposed to be resting?" Nathan asked, trying to make conversation.
"I am resting," Lucas countered, sounding somewhat annoyed. "Is that what you came here to tell me? That I should get some rest?"
"No, actually I came to see how you were."
"Well, as you can see, I'm fine." Lucas continued to play his game, still making no attempt to make eye-contact with the captain.
"Yeah, you mentioned," Nathan agreed. "Mind if I sit?"
Lucas shrugged. "Sit."
Nathan waited for a few moments, hoping Lucas would say something, but he kept playing his game, not really bothering to acknowledge the captain's presence. Finally, Nathan said, "Mind if we talk?"
"It'd be nice if I had your full attention," Nathan hinted gently.
Lucas sighed and turned off the game. He spun around in his chair, his arms crossed, looking at the captain expectantly.
"Look, you have every right to be angry," Nathan began.
"I'm not angry," Lucas replied. "We knew what had to be done."
"Yes, we did. But sometimes, it's easier said than done. In the end, it all worked out…but it might not have. And I can't help but feel guilty about it. I feel like I owe you an apology."
"Me?" Lucas questioned.
Nathan nodded. "Yeah, see there's one difference between you and the others on board that raft."
"Don't say it," Lucas broke in. "Don't say I'm a kid."
Nathan sighed. "You know I don't think of you like that. But you are a minor, which means I'm responsible for you. Perhaps having you on that launch was irresponsible of me."
Lucas shook his head. "I wouldn't have let you keep me here, and you know it. I wanted to help those children just as much as everyone else did."
"Maybe so," Nathan agreed. "Still, the next mission, we're going to have to play it safe. I need to make sure nothing happens to you."
"But it didn't," Lucas insisted.
"No, but that's only by the grace of God. We might not be so lucky next time."
Lucas sighed. "So, what? I can't go on missions anymore because something might happen? Does that really seem logical to you?"
"That's not what I'm saying at all. We'll just leave it up to Dr. Levin. The next mission, he decides what all of you can handle," Nathan explained.
"Oh, so the doc, Commander Ford, and Ben are all included in this?"
"That's right," Nathan said. "I want to be sure the four of you have plenty of time to rest."
Lucas thought for a moment. "I guess that's a good compromise," he admitted. "But I feel fine."
"Well, be that as it may, I think you need a rest. You've all just been through something pretty traumatic."
"I guess," Lucas muttered, looking at the floor.
"Is there something else you want to talk about?" Nathan pressed, noting the teenager's change in demeanor.
Lucas shrugged. "Not really. I was resting…honest. I just needed something to take my mind off things."
"I understand. So, you're really all right?"
Lucas hesitated for a moment. "I…I was scared," he finally admitted. "It was the most frightening experience I've ever had in my life. I…I…I thought you'd forgotten about us." Lucas' voice trembled with emotion.
Nathan wrapped the young man in his arms. "Oh, no, kiddo. I could never forget about you. We just…we tried to get to you as fast as we could."
"I was angry," Lucas finally admitted. "But not at you…at me. I…I was angry at those kids after the storm had hit. I just kept thinking I'd wish you'd come get me instead. That was selfish. And after we finally got rescued, I felt guilty for it."
"Oh, Lucas…it's okay. You don't need to feel guilty. You can't help what you were feeling in a stressful situation."
Lucas sighed. "Maybe." He paused for a moment. "I am glad you saved those kids. I wouldn't have wanted them to die."
Nathan gave him another tight hug. "Me too, kiddo, me too."
Nathan spoke with Lucas for quite a while. In reality, Nathan needed it as much as Lucas did. But, finally, he had to say goodnight since he wanted to see Kristin before it got too late. "And if you need anything, you make sure you call me. I don't care if it's 0300 hours, got it?"
Lucas smiled. "I will, Cap. Goodnight."
Nathan headed to his own quarters first. He wanted to bring Kristin a little something, although it probably wasn't needed anymore. Still, he knew it would bring a smile to her face. He glanced at the clock. It was after 2100 hours; he hoped she was still awake, considering the trying day they'd had. He debated whether or not he should try the intercom, but decided against it. Then, she might think he was paging her and that wasn't the case.
He headed to her door and knocked gently. "Just a moment," he heard her call. She didn't sound as though she'd been asleep, so that was promising, he decided. She opened the door a moment later. "Captain, hello," she greeted with a smile, sounding a little surprised.
"I…I'm sorry it's so late. You weren't asleep were you? I wanted to be sure you were all right."
She waved a hand. "I wasn't asleep." She stepped aside. "Please, come in."
"Uh, well," Nathan began, "I brought you a little something." He handed her a sweatshirt, the warmest one he owned. "I know it's a few hours too late, but-"
Kristin was dressed in jeans and a sweater of her own, but she unzipped the sweatshirt Nathan had given her and slipped it on. "Oh, no…it's perfect," she gushed, even though it was a few sizes too big and practically hung down to her knees. "It's so warm."
Nathan gave her a smile. "I only wish I could have given it to you earlier. Keep it as long as you need."
"Thank you," she replied, hugging herself and snuggling in the warm fleece. "I've been a little chilly since coming out of the storm, so this is a lovely gesture."
"Does Dr. Levin know that?" Nathan asked, his voice suddenly laced with concern.
She chuckled softly. "He knows, and it's fine. He can't prevent the common cold, unfortunately. But it's probably just a case of the sniffles. It's nothing to worry about."
Nathan nodded. "Sorry…I'm just…I wanted to be sure."
"Uh, do you mind if I stayed for a bit? To talk?"
"That would be fine," Kristin said with a nod. She motioned to the small table and chairs. "Have a seat. Would you like some hot tea? I've only drank about five cups myself," she admitted.
Nathan waved a hand. "No, thank you. I don't need you waiting on me."
"It's no trouble. I'm going to have one myself. Please?"
"All right," Nathan finally agreed.
A few minutes later, Kristin placed a cup in front of him. "There you go." Then she sat across from him, sipping on her own cup. "So…"
Nathan took a sip. Kristin had sweetened it with just the right amount of honey; it tasted delicious. "So…uh, well, I wanted to be sure you were all right, physically and mentally."
"Oh…I'm fine," she said again.
"That's exactly what Lucas had said," Nathan noted. "And come to find out, he wasn't exactly fine."
"You spoke with Lucas? What's wrong?"
"No, nothing's wrong," Nathan assured her. "No need to get excited. He was a little shaken, that's all."
She nodded, feeling more relieved. "Well, I think we're all a little shaken, but the most important thing was saving the children. And everything turned out well."
"I…I had wanted to come after you, but-"
"Shhh," Kristin whispered softly. "There's no need to apologize."
Nathan reached across the table and squeezed her hand. She was right; obviously, the children were the most important thing, but the decision had killed him.
"It all worked out in the end, didn't it?" she said with a smile.
"Yeah, of course it did. I just had to be sure you were okay."
"I'm fine," she assured him. "Really."
"Well, I'm going to tell you the same thing I told Lucas…and Ben and Jonathan as well. No missions until Levin agrees. I don't want any more accidents like this."
"As much as I understand that, it might not be preventable. It's not like we planned this."
"No, I know," Nathan agreed. "But I don't think I could handle a repeat of this."
She chuckled softly. "You and me, included. But, everything will be fine. What's that old saying? Lightning doesn't strike twice?"
"No, but they didn't say anything about hurricanes," Nathan said with a small laugh.
She smiled. "Goodnight, Nathan."
"Sleep well, Kristin."
Over the next few days, Nathan found himself quite busy since he and the crew were still working on the aftermath of Hurricane Sheila and getting the equipment repaired properly. By the end of the week, he finally had a bit of time to himself. He headed to his quarters. There was something he hadn't done in a while, and he felt the need to do so.
He put a photograph into his computer to generate a hologram. Suddenly, the enlarged image of the smiling face of Carol Bridger appeared.
"Hello, sweetheart," Nathan greeted. "I know it's been a while, and I'm sorry. It's been a long week, but you probably knew that already. I just-"
At that moment, there was a gentle knock at his door. "It's open," he called.
Kristin appeared a moment later. Although Nathan had just shut the hologram off, she'd seen it. "I…I'm sorry. Am I…interrupting anything?"
"No…I was just…sometimes, I feel the need…" Nathan tried to find the words to explain. He didn't think, "Sometimes, I talk to my deceased wife like she's still here," was sufficient. Nor did it sound very sane. "I was just doing some reflecting," he finally said.
"I see," she replied quietly. "You don't need to explain anything to me. I know what it's like. Sometimes, I speak to James like he was standing in front of me. It's…comforting."
"It's makes you feel like he never left?" he guessed knowingly.
"Exactly. Um, well…I wanted to bring your sweatshirt back. I had it washed." She handed over the neatly folded shirt.
She gave him a nod. "It was no trouble. Um, well, I guess I'll leave you be then. Sorry to have bothered you." She started out the door when Nathan stopped her.
"Wait," Nathan said. "You…you don't have to leave. I mean…I was going to go see you later anyway. I haven't had much time for that lately."
She turned back to him. "Well, you've been quite busy, so it's understandable."
"How have you been?"
"I've been fine. I did catch a little cold, but it's much better," she assured him. "Dr. Levin says I can go back to work on Monday. Frankly, I'm itching to do so. I'm quite…bored," she admitted.
Nathan chuckled softly. "You do have a hard time taking time for yourself, don't you?"
"A little," she admitted. "Oh, but Lucas has been a dear. He's been keeping me company. He's doing much better as well."
"Have you eaten dinner yet?" Nathan asked after a pause.
She shook her head.
"Want to grab a bite to eat?"
"As long as we pick Lucas up on the way," she told him.
"That sounds lovely. You go on ahead and I'll meet you?" Nathan asked.
She nodded. "See you in a moment then."
Nathan waited until Kristin had closed the door. Then, he turned the hologram back on. "I don't know if you're the one responsible for making sure they were all right, but I feel the need to thank you. And if it's not too much trouble, can we keep it that way?" He paused for a moment. "I miss you so much." Then he shut the hologram off and stood there for a few moments, quietly reflecting. Then, he headed out the door in search of Kristin and Lucas.
Chapter 2: The Reasons We Strive To Exist
Monday morning, as promised, Dr. Levin allowed everyone to return back to work. But Nathan was a little leery about it.
"You're sure they'll be all right?" Nathan had asked him earlier that morning.
Joshua smiled. "Of course, Captain. They're fine. And they're ready. I don't think any of them would agree to any more bed rest. They're physically healthy, and it seems like their mental states are where they should be as well. I honestly have no reason to keep them from anything."
Nathan nodded and gave him a grateful pat on the shoulder. "Thanks, Joshua. I was just worrying needlessly."
"Well, there's no reason for it. Like I said, they're ready."
Nathan gave him a nod, and the two parted ways. But he really didn't feel much better. They might have been ready to go back to work, but he wasn't sure if he was ready. Sure, it was fine now. But what about when a new mission came up? What then? He sighed, feeling defeated. Logically, he knew he was being silly. The odds of having another accident of any kind were slim, certainly. But the worry was there, and he couldn't shake it.
He looked up to see the smiling faces of Lucas and Kristin enter med bay. He waved as he was about to approach them. But as if on cue, his PAL beeped.
"Bridger," Nathan answered.
"Captain?" It was Lieutenant O'Neill. "We have a distress call from a nearby submarine; the Poseidon. They're located about 200 miles just off the coast of California at the moment."
"I've never heard of it," Nathan replied thoughtfully. "UEO?"
"Not exactly, sir. It's an expedition team of scuba divers. Unfortunately, they all appear to be suffering from a case of the bends, their medical officer included. We're the nearest ship. They're asking us to rendezvous," Tim explained. "We should be able to get to them in the next hour or so."
"Tell them to stay where they are; we'll be there," Nathan replied before cutting the link.
"Well, well, our first day back and already, there's excitement," Kristin commented since she'd overheard.
Nathan simply nodded. "Staff meeting in twenty minutes. And be sure to tell Joshua as well."
"Of course, Captain."
A short time later, the senior staff was gathered around the ward room table. Nathan had just finished explaining the situation to everyone. "So, we'll get a team together to help them immediately. Of course, we'll need a med team." He looked toward Kristin and Joshua.
"I've taken the liberty of organizing a team before I even got here," Kristin told him.
Nathan nodded. "Commander Ford?"
"Yes, sir?" Jonathan sat up proudly, expecting to be on the rescue team. He'd been just as antsy as the others on his week of rest; he was eager to get back into action.
"I want you to take the bridge while I'm away," Nathan continued.
"Oh…" Jonathan couldn't mask his disappointment, but being the well-trained UEO submariner that he was, he quickly recovered. "Aye, sir," he replied as though it didn't bother him.
"Lieutenants O'Neill, Ortiz? You two will be accompanying us as well," Nathan stated. Then, he looked toward Joshua and Kristin once again. "And our med team…"
"We've already got it under control," Kristin assured him.
"You've mentioned," Nathan said, "but I think I'd like Joshua with us instead. You can handle things in med bay, can't you?"
Kristin's jaw fell open, almost at a loss of what to say at first. A few moments later, she found her voice again. "W-what did you say?"
"Doctor, I think it's best if you stay here to establish a plan of action. Once those scuba divers get here, med bay is going to be swamped; I think your abilities would best be served preparing the staff for that," Nathan explained.
Kristin didn't like it, not one bit. She shot Nathan a glare. "Well, perhaps I could see you after the meeting to discuss my plan of action then? It won't take long."
Nathan gave her a nod. "I think that can be arranged, Doctor." He then turned to the others. "The rest of you will carry on as normal. Any questions?"
No one spoke, so Nathan dismissed them. Everyone filed out, save for Kristin.
Once everyone had left, she stood and shut the door. Then, she turned back to Nathan, still glaring, folding her arms over her chest. "What the hell was that?" she demanded.
"I take it you're not very pleased with my decision?"
"That's an understatement," she said dryly. Then, after a pause, she asked, "Why?"
"I already told you."
"Nathan, I am the chief medical officer. Therefore-"
"You don't think I know that?" Nathan spoke over her.
"Right now, I'm not sure. I'm not saying that Joshua isn't perfectly capable, but-"
"Yes, he is perfectly capable. It seems like you're ego's a little bruised," Nathan accused.
"My ego? My ego? This has nothing to do with my ego! The point I'm trying to make is this: I'm the chief medical officer; I am the chief physician. Therefore, I should be the first one you call for medical emergencies such as this. Dr. Levin is my assistant…my assistant. He should be the one staying behind!" Kristin shouted angrily, the volume of her voice rising progressively with each word.
"You seem to be forgetting one thing," Nathan shouted back. "I'm the captain. Therefore, when it comes to missions, I'm the one who calls the shots. I have good reasons for making the decision I've made, and I'm staying with it. And last time I checked, I didn't need to justify it to you!"
"Oh, really, Captain? And you seem to be forgetting that as the chief medical officer, I can have you dismissed from duty if I feel you're not well enough."
"I'm as healthy as a horse, so good luck in trying…unless you're going to fake medical records," Nathan challenged.
Kristin turned her back to him, obviously at a loss of what to say next. She didn't like arguing with him, but she was itching to get back to work. This mission was the perfect opportunity, so why was Nathan stifling her? She was taking it personally.
Nathan softened a bit when he noticed the look on her face. He placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. "It's nothing personal," he assured her. "I just really think you'd be better taking care of things here."
"So you're telling me this has nothing to do with what happened last week?" she asked quietly.
Nathan hesitated. He didn't want to lie, but he didn't want to tell the truth either. "My decision stands."
"Look, I don't have time for this. I have work to do, and so do you. I suggest we get to it."
Kristin felt her anger rise once again. "You know, not only does the chief physician need to be sure that the captain is healthy enough for duty, but that also includes mental health. I definitely think yours needs reassessing." She stormed off past him toward the door.
Nathan couldn't help but make one last comment. "That sounds like a challenge, Doctor," he called after her.
"No, dear Captain, it's a promise!" she called back as she stormed off down the hall.
"Fine!" she called back.
"Fine!" She practically bumped into Ben as she turned the corner, obviously in a huff.
"Did I hear shouting?" Ben asked.
"Oh, shut up, Mr. Krieg. Get to work!" With that, Kristin headed back toward med bay, leaving a confused Ben in her wake.
Once in med bay, Kristin set off to work, but it was apparent to all those around her that something was bothering her. She was short with the others, and she kept slamming things around.
Lucas had an inkling as to why she was upset. He'd seen it firsthand. It wasn't often the captain denied the doctor the privilege of helping on a mission, and he was just as shocked as she was. Of course, he never expected to be asked to attend this mission. It didn't seem necessary for a teen computer analyst to be there, obviously. But, he did know he was supposed to help the doctor with anything she needed. The only problem was he wasn't sure what to do exactly. She was standing in front of the supply cabinet at the moment, her arms laden with supplies. He approached her gently.
"What is it, Lucas? As you can see, I'm a little busy." She tried not to sound annoyed, but she was sure she was doing a horrible job at it.
"Why don't you let me help you?" Lucas took some of the things out of her hands. "Where do you want these?"
Kristin softened, this time being sure she sounded gentler. "Can you bring them into the first examination room, please?"
"Sure thing." He headed in that direction while Kristin followed him.
"Just set them on that table there." She craned her neck towards the far table in the corner.
Lucas arranged the supplies in a neat pile. "Okay, what's next?"
"Lucas, I'm sorry. I…I'm not upset with you," Kristin told him, finally knowing it needed to be said.
"I know, Doc. It's okay."
Kristin shook her head. "No, it isn't. I was terribly rude to you back there. In fact, I've been rude to just about everyone here. It's unacceptable."
"Forget it," Lucas told her. "I already have."
Kristin continued to lay out the supplies that would be needed, but didn't speak. She wasn't sure what to say.
"It's only because he's worried. He doesn't want to say it, but that's why," Lucas said quietly.
Kristin nodded knowingly. "But the most infuriating thing is that he won't say it. Maybe that's part of why I'm so angry. The other part is because I'm afraid we're destined to be grounded to this boat the rest of the tour. I don't particularly like the thought of that."
"You and me, both," Lucas agreed. "He needs to be shown that nothing's going to happen, but how can we show him that if he's not going to give us a chance?"
After a moment, Kristin got an amused look on her face.
"That smile tells me you have an idea," Lucas noted.
"Something like that," she said. "But it's going to have to wait until after we handle this little matter."
Lucas gave her a questioning look.
She patted his shoulder. "You'll find out in due time, Mr. Wolenczak; you'll find out in due time."
Hours later, the little matter had been handled, and all the scuba divers were resting as comfortably as they could, considering the pain they were in. However, they were being monitored, and both Kristin and Joshua believed they'd all make a full recovery. They didn't feel they were in danger of having any casualties, which was a relief.
By evening, Kristin felt confident enough to take a break. Besides, she was starving; because of her earlier sour mood, she'd skipped breakfast. And she was so busy during lunch, she'd skipped that too. She turned to Lucas. "What do you say we go get something to eat, hm? I definitely think you've earned it." She placed an arm around his shoulders and the two headed out the door only to be stopped by Nathan.
"Glad to see you're feeling better," Nathan noted by the smile on Kristin's face. "Uh, could we talk…privately? It will only take a minute."
"Right," Lucas said. "Uh, I'll save you a seat, Doc." He quickly headed off towards the mess, leaving the captain and the doctor alone.
"So, Captain, what can I do for you?" Kristin asked, crossing her arms over her chest. Her tone was gentle, however.
"I just wanted to congratulate you on a successful mission," Nathan began. "And…I, uh…wanted to apologize for earlier."
"Oh? I see," Kristin answered quietly.
"I think we both said some things we didn't exactly mean," Nathan said.
"Well, you might have, but I meant what I said."
"Yes, the mission did turn out well, and yes, Joshua handled it. But, if you think I am going to sit idly by and be grounded to this submarine every time there's a mission, you have another thing coming."
"What makes you think I would do such a thing?"
She shrugged. "I'm not sure, but something tells me you're still worried about what happened during Hurricane Sheila. But, I know you'll never admit it. However, I do have something that will ease your mind. Then, maybe things can get back to normal around here."
Nathan raised an eyebrow. "What makes you so sure you know what I'm thinking?"
She simply chuckled. "Why don't you join Lucas and me for dinner, and I'll explain my plan to you?" She headed off down the hall, not bothering to check if he was going to follow her or not.
Nathan stood there for a moment, somewhat dumbfounded. A moment later, he came to his senses. He hurried off after her. "Wait for me."
Once in the mess hall, Kristin was happy to see Lucas, Jonathan, Ben, Katie and Tim sitting around a table. As promised, Lucas had saved a seat for her right next to him. He waved to her and the captain when he saw them.
"I'll go get us something," Nathan offered, getting in line.
"Good evening, everyone," Kristin greeted, sounding quite cheery.
The others returned the gesture, save for Ben. He gave her a questioning look. She simply chuckled and sat between Lucas and him. "By the way, I wanted to apologize for my outburst before, Ben. It was uncalled for."
Ben waved a hand. "Uh, it was no problem." He wiped his mouth with a napkin and stood to leave. "Well, you enjoy your dinner. Excuse me."
"Wait," Kristin said, placing a hand on his arm. "I actually have something I need you to hear." She turned to Jonathan. "You too, Commander."
By this time, Nathan had returned. He placed a tray in front of Kristin and sat across from her with his own. "So, what's this idea you have?"
"Well, we are heading north, are we not?" she began.
"Yes…I suppose," Nathan replied. "But-"
"A friend of mine from my research university, Dr. Jeffrey Talbot, happens to be in Alaska at the moment studying North Pacific Right Whales. You know, they are endangered, and he's been begging me to join him for months. He's working with his team to try and preserve the species, helping them breed and whatnot. Well, I never had the time…but it seems I've just had an opening in my schedule. And I thought it would be a rewarding experience for Lucas. And to be sure you won't worry, I thought Commander Ford and Lieutenant Krieg could accompany us. Of course, it won't be a for a few days since we'll need to wait until the scuba divers are returned back to the mainland safe and sound. But I was hoping I could tell him we'd be there by the end of the week?" She gave Nathan a pleading look.
"Well, I'm not sure Commander Ford and Lieutenant Krieg would be very interested-"
"That sounds like a marvelous idea," Ben agreed.
"You…you do?" Nathan questioned.
"Sure, I'll go," Jonathan agreed.
"Very cool," Lucas added.
"Then, it's settled," Kristin said with a smile. "I'll give Jeffrey a call as soon as I'm finished. I-"
"Wait a minute, wait a minute," Nathan interrupted. "How long will you be gone?"
Kristin shrugged. "Well, you did say Joshua is quite capable of handling things, didn't you? Of course, we'll only be gone two days so you don't worry. Certainly, I'd love to take longer…maybe another time though."
"Please, Cap?" Lucas begged. "Like the doc said, it'd be such a rewarding experience."
Nathan sighed. He really didn't have a very good excuse not to say yes. "Very well. But two days only."
There was a chorus of cheers from the group. After that, their meal was accompanied by excited talk about the mini expedition. After a short time, however, the others had to leave. Some had to get back to duty while others were going to turn in for the night. The only ones left were Kristin and Nathan.
"You know, that was very devious of you, using my words against me," he said after a moment.
She batted her eyelashes at him. "I have no idea what you mean."
"Yes, you do," Nathan countered. He sighed.
She patted his hand gently. "You have nothing to worry about. I doubt the whales are carrying weapons," she teased. "And the beauty of it is that once you see nothing will happen, you won't be paranoid about letting us go on missions anymore."
"I am not paranoid," Nathan argued.
She chuckled and patted his arm gently. "Whatever you say. Goodnight, Captain."
"Goodnight," he called back to her. He watched her leave, but he couldn't deny the fact he was worried. He only hoped it was unwarranted.
Chapter 3: We Feign Control
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The next few days were uneventful. The scuba divers made a full recovery and were transported back to the mainland on launches by the end of the week. That meant the little expedition was about to get under way, but Nathan was having second thoughts. The group was still packing, so he headed to Kristin's room and knocked.
"It's open," she called.
Nathan entered to find she had clothing strewn all over her bed and an open suitcase half-filled on her table. "Very organized, as usual, I see," he commented good-naturedly.
She chuckled softly. "Yes, well, Alaska's a little chilly this time of year, so I'm trying to decide what to bring."
"It looks like you have enough clothing there for a week," Nathan pointed out.
"Perhaps, but I'd rather bring extra than not enough. Have you checked on Lucas, by chance? I want to make sure he brings enough warm clothing as well. It's not like we're spending two days in Pearl Harbor. I just hope he realizes," Kristin said, thinking out loud as she continued to pack.
"I'm sure he does," Nathan assured her. "So, you're still adamant about going?"
"Of course; why wouldn't I be?" She stopped packing for the moment and looked at him.
Nathan shrugged. "I don't know. I guess part of me hoped this was just a little ploy to get back at me. I didn't think you'd actually go through with it."
Kristin rolled her eyes and let out a groan. "Are you still worried about all this?" And before Nathan could answer, she continued, "Well, you have another thing coming because if you think-"
Nathan put up his hands as if to say, 'I surrender'. "Kristin, no need to get excited. I'm not planning on telling you 'no', if that's what you think."
She softened. "Good. Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but no, it wasn't a ploy. As I said, this will be an educational experience for Lucas, and Jeffrey's been begging me for months. And-"
"And Commander Ford and Lieutenant Krieg were just begging you to go too, hm?" Nathan finished for her.
"Not exactly. You know why I've asked them to go. I realize their enthusiasm may not be genuine, but I figured it was the only way to appease your worries." She went back to packing, stealing glances at him every so often.
"Commander Ford, yes," Nathan agreed. "But Ben? Well, in a crisis, he is quite valuable, I suppose."
"There won't be any sort of crisis whatsoever," Kristin assured him. "You're such a worry wart."
Nathan ignored her comment. "As soon as your launch arrives, I expect a phone call. I know it'll be late, but I'll be awake. And I'd also like one tomorrow sometime and Sunday as well, and-"
Kristin laughed. "Yes, Father."
Nathan blushed slightly. "It's just that-"
She waved a hand. "Oh, don't apologize. I think it's sweet." She placed a hand on his arm. "You're so cute when you're paranoid."
"I am not paranoid. I just want to make sure you arrive safely. Is that such a crime?" Nathan asked.
"All right, all right," Kristin answered. "And no, it certainly isn't. In fact, I appreciate your concern. We will check in periodically, I assure you. Any more rules you want me to follow? No boys allowed? Don't stay out past ten?" she teased. She zipped her suitcase and turned to him expectantly.
"Just come back in one piece…all of you," Nathan said sincerely.
Kristin smiled. "I promise."
A short time later, the group of four was in launchbay, just about to board the launch.
Nathan gave Lucas a tight hug. "You be sure to listen to the doctor…and you and Ben stay out of trouble."
Lucas rolled his eyes. "How much trouble can we get into on a whale expedition?"
"Oh, believe me, I'm sure you two will find some. Just refrain, please." Nathan cast a glance towards Ben so he was sure he heard him.
"Trust me, Captain, I don't plan on messing this up," Ben assured him, "not if it's going to make you stop worrying."
"I am not worried," Nathan insisted. "I just want to be sure you four are okay after your trauma. I thought you needed a break, that's all."
Lucas and Ben exchanged a glance. "Whatever you say," they said in unison.
"Look, are we going to stand around chatting all night, or are you going to let us leave anytime soon?" Kristin said, becoming somewhat impatient. "Jeffrey's expecting us."
Nathan sighed. "Sorry." He turned to Commander Ford. "Just make sure-"
"Captain, I'll look out for them," he promised. "Nothing to worry about."
Nathan nodded. "Right. Thank you." He watched as Lucas, Ben, and Jonathan boarded the launch. Kristin lagged behind.
"Well, this is it," she said. "Are you still worried?"
"Well, I'm not exactly thrilled to see you go, no," he admitted. "But I am not worried."
Kristin chuckled softly. "Of course. Well, I'll see you in two days then." She turned to head into the launch when Nathan stopped her by placing a hand on her arm.
She turned back to him. "Yes?"
Nathan hesitated for a moment. He wanted to wrap his arms around her, hold her for just a moment. But, he felt it too forward. He opted not to do so. "Just take care of yourself," Nathan told her.
She smiled. "I will. Goodbye." With that, she disappeared into the launch.
"Goodbye," Nathan whispered. He was worried, but he wasn't exactly sure why. Still, he just chalked it up to being paranoid. In fact, when Kristin got back, he'd tell her so. Yes, that's what he would do.
Seward, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska
It was well after 2200 hours by the time the small launch reached the shores of the Kenai Peninsula.
Commander Ford opened the launch door and looked outside. He saw two men waiting nearby on the shore with a dogsled. He turned to Kristin. "Are those your friends, Doctor?"
Kristin had been struggling with her suitcase, so she was glad to put it down for the moment. She looked out the launch door and saw two men approaching the launch. She smiled and waved, recognizing Jeffrey instantly.
"I see you've made it," Jeffrey said when he reached the launch. He held out his hand to Jonathan. "Dr. Jeffrey Talbot…and this is my son, Adam." He motioned towards the younger man next to him. "If you can pass us your luggage, we'll load it onto the sled here."
"Commander Jonathan Ford," Jonathan answered. "And thank you."
Once all the luggage had been loaded and everyone had been introduced, Jeffrey said, "Our camp is just down the shore a bit. Does anyone have a problem with walking?"
Everyone shook their heads.
So, a short time later, they arrived at a cozy little cabin. Once inside, there was a fire going in the fireplace, and Jeffrey had hot soup and hot chocolate waiting for them. "I thought you might be hungry."
"Oh, this is wonderful," Kristin gushed gratefully.
"I thought after you ate, we'd round up the others and head out," Jeffrey explained.
"At night?" Lucas questioned.
"Sure, why not?" Adam replied. The young man was a few years older than Lucas, but he shared his father's enthusiasm. "You didn't want to wait until tomorrow, did you? The pods are just as active at night as they are during the day. In fact, we've been tracking a nearby pod with our sonar. Want to see?"
"Sure," Lucas replied, now just as excited.
The two young men headed into a nearby room where all sorts of computers and tracking equipment were.
"Well, they seem to be hitting it off," Jeffrey commented.
"Well, Lucas doesn't see a lot of people his age, so I'm glad Adam's taken to him," Kristin answered as she sipped her hot chocolate. "I hope you don't mind me being so bold, but could I use your vid-phone before anything? I need to let Captain Bridger know we've arrived safely."
"Ah, of course. Right through there." Jeffrey pointed her in the right direction.
Nathan had been trying to read one of his favorite books, but he couldn't get past the first page. He'd read it over about fifty times while he was checking the clock, anticipating the moment when his vid-phone would ring. When it finally did, he jumped up and quickly hit the view button.
"Bridger," he answered, immediately hearing the soft, melodic laughter coming from the other end.
"Were you sitting on top of the phone?" Kristin teased. "It barely rang once."
Nathan tried to act naturally. "Actually, no." He held up the book in his hand. "I was just reading."
"Ah, the poetry of William Butler Yeats. Sailing to Byzantium is one of my favorite poems," Kristin commented. "The metaphorical quest of man pursuing his own vision of eternal life and his own concept of paradise; it's so beautiful."
"It's one of my favorites, too," Nathan agreed. But, he really wasn't in the mood to speak about poetry at the moment. "And, yes, the meaning is beautiful, but maybe we can speak about this another time? You all arrived safely, I assume?"
She smiled. "Yes, Mr. Worry Wart. Lucas is currently checking out the sonar tracking readouts of one of the whale pods with Jeffrey's son. Ben and Jonathan are in the kitchen with Jeffrey eating a hot meal, and as soon as I'm finished with you, we're going out to study one of the pods right now. So, see? There is nothing to worry about. Everything's fine. And, we'll be in bed by midnight, Father."
"Okay, so maybe I was over-reacting a bit," Nathan agreed. "But all kidding aside, I'm glad. You will call tomorrow?"
"Of course," she answered. "I wouldn't want to worry you."
"I am not worried," Nathan insisted. "It's just that it's my job to make sure my crew is safe, even when they're on missions. And technically, this is a science mission."
"When all is said and done, I won't say I told you so."
"Very confident in yourself, aren't you?" Nathan teased gently.
"Of course," she replied with her Cheshire cat grin. "Um, did you want to speak with the others?"
Nathan shook his head. "No, no reason to interrupt them. I won't keep you since you're about to leave. You'll call in the morning, though?"
"Yes, of course," she answered. "I already told you."
"Sorry...well, I won't keep you; go on," he urged.
"Sleep well, Nathan."
Nathan waited for Kristin to cut the link. Just before she did, she said, "Once out of nature I shall never take; my bodily form from any natural thing; but such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make; of hammered gold and gold enameling; to keep a drowsy Emperor awake; or set upon a golden bough to sing; to lords and ladies of Byzantium; of what is past, or passing, or to come."
Nathan smiled. "You know it by heart."
"I told you it was my favorite," she replied with a shrug.
"How about when you get back, we have a long discussion about that poem?" Nathan suggested.
"I'd like that very much. Goodnight." With that, she cut the link.
Nathan sighed, this time feeling a little better about his fears. Perhaps Kristin was right. He was just being silly. Feeling he could now focus on his book, he reopened it and began to read aloud, "That is no country for old men…"
As Kristin headed back out into the kitchen, she heard laughter and she heard Jonathan saying, "And then the doctor turned to Ben and said, 'yes, Mr. Krieg, fish poop." This resulted in a chorus of laughter amongst the group.
Then Lucas cut in, "And Ben here also gave some of that glowing fish poop to a UEO general."
Another chorus of laughter.
"Ah, sharing some of our antics, I see," Kristin said, noticing several unfamiliar faces sitting around the table.
"Well, it seemed like a good ice breaker," Ben agreed.
Still chuckling, Jeffrey stepped forward. "We've definitely heard a lot about you too," he said with a smile. "You never told me you met a ghost."
"Because it was nitrogen narcosis," she replied, giving Ben, Jonathan, and Lucas a look. "Um, really, do we need to share every detail with them?"
"Sorry," the three answered sheepishly.
"Oh, don't be too hard on them," Jeffrey replied. "We've been sharing our own stories as well. And now that you're finally here, let me introduce you to the others quickly, and then we'll head out on the boat." He pointed to each person as he said his or her name. "This is Alison, Jenny, Jordan, Zachary, Eddie, Sam, and Sophia. Guys, this is Dr. Westphalen."
Everyone waved and greeted her.
"Hello," she answered back, trying to make a mental note of all their names.
Alison stood up and grabbed her hand as they headed out to the boat. "Don't worry about trying to remember our names. You'll learn them fairly quickly on the boat."
Once everyone was on the boat, it sped off. Adam and Lucas watched the sonar, and it wasn't long before they found the exact area where are a small pod of whales were.
"They're feeding," Adam explained. "But we should be able to catch a good glimpse of them."
With carefully positioned spotlights and binoculars, it wasn't long before a large mass appeared above the water.
Everyone gasped and cheered audibly.
"Tomorrow, we'll be able to get a closer look," Alison said.
The group watched the whales for quite a long time. But after a while, Jeffrey suggested they head back to shore. "We all need our rest."
Kristin looked around the small boat in search of Jonathan. She found him on the other side of the deck, watching the waves as they moved along the water. She carefully approached him. "So, what did you think of that, Commander?"
"Actually, it was quite fascinating," he answered.
She gave him a questioning look. "Really? You're not just saying that?"
"Why would I?"
"Oh, come now, Jonathan. I know you don't particularly want to be here. The only reason you are is because you don't want to be stuck on seaQuest while the others are out on missions. You want to convince the captain there's nothing to worry about," Kristin pointed out. "It won't hurt my feelings if you tell the truth."
Jonathan sighed. "All right, to be perfectly honest, no, I didn't particularly want to come. Sometimes, I don't understand why you get so excited about certain things. But after seeing these animals up close, knowing that their numbers are dwindling, and seeing how majestic they truly are, well, I'm starting to change my mind. And I'm not just saying that."
She smiled. "That means a lot to hear you say that. And I'm glad that, although this isn't your ideal thought of a good time, that you're making the most of it."
"I know you and I always butted heads in the past, but now, I'm starting to understand your quest for science. And, well, I suppose the science team is an integral part of seaQuest. I…I'm glad you're there."
"Oh, Commander…that…that's very sweet of you to say. And you know my feelings on the military, but I'm glad you're there too."
"Thanks, Doc…but maybe we could just keep that between us for now?" Jonathan asked hopefully.
She chuckled. "Don't worry, Commander. I wouldn't want to taint your clean-cut UEO image…even if my science team outnumbers yours." Her tone was light, however.
Jonathan smiled. "You're never going to let me forget that, are you?"
She placed her arm around his shoulders. "Not a chance, Jonathan, not a chance."
The poem mentioned is Sailing to Byzantium by William Butler Yeats. If you don't know it and would like to read it, you can find it here: http://poetry.poetryxpoems/1575/. The meaning of the poem will actually play an integral part of the story, if that helps to give you a hint.
Chapter 4: Though We're Bound To Learn
Seward, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska
Kristin awoke to the smell of something delicious wafting through the cabin. She could hear some of the others already bustling around the kitchen, although they were trying to be quiet. She quickly got dressed and ran a brush through her hair; then, she headed out to investigate.
"Morning, sleepyhead," Jeffrey greeted her.
Kristin saw that everyone else was up and about…even Lucas. She blushed slightly, realizing she was the last to awaken. "Why didn't you wake me? I hope I didn't put us behind schedule."
Adam smiled at her. "There is no schedule here."
Jeffrey placed a plate of eggs, sausage, and toast on the table and placed a cup of coffee in front of it. "Go on," he urged Kristin. "Everyone else has already eaten."
Kristin hesitated at first, still feeling a little embarrassed that she'd slept so late. She never did so on seaQuest, but she finally obliged, unable to resist the savory scents of the meal. She took a bite. "Oh, this is wonderful," she gushed.
Jeffrey smiled and sat next to her. "Glad you like it. After you're ready, we'll head out then?"
Kristin nodded. "Yes, um, after I make a quick call. It won't be long," she promised.
Jeffrey nodded. "Of course." Then, he added, "Is Captain Bridger always so…over-protective?"
"He's just worried about something bad happening to us," Lucas cut in. "Since the hurricane," he explained.
"The hurricane?" Alison questioned.
"We had a slight accident during a rescue mission," Kristin began.
"And we wound up smack dab in the middle of Hurricane Sheila," Lucas finished.
"Wow!" Adam commented. "And you lived through it?"
"Surprisingly, yes," Ben answered.
"Well, naturally, the captain is a little leery of our well-being," Kristin stated. "I told him there's nothing to worry about, but I know he is. I promised I'd check in with him to assure him that we're just fine."
"Well, we've had our share of accidents here too," Sam piped up. "A few weeks ago, we got caught in a storm while we were out too. Blew the boat around pretty good; everyone had a few minor bumps and bruises, but the boat's the one that really got hurt. Took us a few days to fix all the damage."
Jeffrey's crew nodded their heads in agreement.
"Oh, dear," Kristin muttered. "Well, I won't mention that to the captain."
Jeffrey patted her shoulder gently. "Don't worry; the weather reports all say this weekend will be perfectly clear. Not a cloud around for miles."
Kristin quickly finished her breakfast and drank down her coffee. "Well, that's good to know." She looked at Lucas, Ben, and Jonathan. "Any one of you want to help me?"
Lucas stood. "I will. I want to tell him about last night."
Kristin smiled and put her arm around Lucas' shoulders. "I'm sure he'll love to hear that."
Nathan was in his quarters, eagerly waiting for Kristin's call before heading to the bridge. The only problem was she was late. Well, they never actually discussed a time to call. However, he knew Kristin was an early riser. Therefore, he had already expected a call by now. If she were on seaQuest, she'd already be working in the science labs.
Nathan looked at the clock for about the hundredth time. It was nearly 0800 hours. Why hadn't she called yet? He began pacing. Certainly, he knew he was probably being irrational. Technically, this was a bit of shore leave for her. Perhaps she'd slept in; she was certainly entitled to do so. Still, he started imagining a hundred horrible things, worrying needlessly.
A moment later, his PAL beeped. It was Tim O'Neill. "Captain, you have a call on a secure line; Dr. Westphalen and Lucas."
Nathan breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you, Mr. O'Neill. Put it through to my quarters, please." He stood before the vid-screen and hit a button. He smiled softly when he saw the two faces before him.
"Good morning, Captain," Lucas greeted. Then he added, "As you can see, we're alive and well, so you can stop worrying. We would have called earlier, but Sleeping Beauty here just woke up not too long ago."
"I am not worried," Nathan insisted. "I was actually just heading to the bridge. I completely forgot you'd be calling," he lied.
Lucas rolled his eyes. "Whatever you say."
"So, how was the whale watch?" Nathan asked, changing the subject.
"Oh, it was so cool," Lucas gushed. "We watched a feeding whale pod. Even Commander Ford had fun."
"He did?" Nathan was somewhat shocked.
"He did," Lucas confirmed. "As soon as we're finished with you, we're going out again. I can't wait to see them during the day. Adam told me about one of the whales they've been watching that's ready to calve; maybe even today. I really hope so."
"Adam?" Nathan questioned.
"Jeffrey's son," Kristin explained.
At that moment, Lucas heard Adam call his name. "Be there in a minute."
Nathan smiled. He was glad Lucas was having so much fun. Kristin was right; it was an educational experience for the teen. And obviously, he'd made a friend as well. It was good for him. "You go on ahead. You can tell me all about it when you get back tomorrow."
Lucas grinned from ear to ear. "Okay. Tell Darwin I miss him though."
"I will," Nathan promised.
As Lucas left, Nathan looked at Kristin. "So you're enjoying your time off as well apparently?"
Kristin blushed slightly. "You know I don't normally sleep late. I guess I just needed it. Sorry. You've probably been wondering when we'd call."
"Well, the thought did cross my mind," he finally admitted, "but I wasn't worried."
"Good, because there's nothing to worry about. As you can see, we're perfectly all right."
Nathan nodded. "Lucas certainly looks like he's having fun. And even Jonathan?"
Kristin chuckled. "Yes, apparently, they're all having the time of their lives. Maybe next time, you'll join us?"
"I'd love that," Nathan confirmed. "We'll have to plan some shore leave together."
"Done. So, everything all right there?"
"Same old, same old," Nathan replied. "Nothing out of the ordinary. We're patrolling the waters, but nothing terribly exciting. You're not missing anything."
"Are you almost ready, Doc?" Lucas called.
"Just one moment," she called back to him. She turned back to Nathan. "I'll call you when we get back, all right?"
"All right," Nathan told her. "Have fun."
"We will. See you later," she said before cutting the link.
Nathan sighed. Apparently, he was worrying for nothing. He quickly headed to the bridge, ready for an ordinary, uneventful day.
Seward, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska
Everyone filed out of the cabin, all ready for a day of whale study.
Jeffrey stood in front of them all. "I thought we'd do something a little different today. Since we have some guests with us, we have more hands on deck. Therefore, I thought we could split up into two groups. This way, we can cover more ground and get a bit more work done. So, Adam, our friends from seaQuest, and I will be on my boat. The rest of you can go on the other. We'll keep in contact via the radio. Any questions?"
No one said anything, so Jeffrey continued. "Okay, then; let's go."
A short time later, both groups were on their way. Lucas scanned the waters as the boat moved. "So, how long before you think we'll see any of them?" he asked Adam.
Adam shrugged. "I'm not sure. Our sonar actually hasn't picked up any of our whales yet."
"Your whales?" Ben questioned.
"He means the ones they've tagged," Kristin explained.
"That's right," Adam confirmed. "Alone, our team has tagged around a hundred whales. I know that doesn't seem like a lot, but it really is. Seeing them is rare, since they are so endangered. But since we've started tagging them and studying them, learning their habits, we've gotten to know certain whales. Some of them, I know which ones they are just by their markings."
"Why are they so endangered?" Jonathan asked.
"When whaling was still legal, they were the most targeted because of their slow speed, and when killed, they float on the surface. Since whaling has been outlawed, they've been victims of the trade industry, dying due to ship collisions and loss of habitat," Adam explained. "The World Wildlife Foundation thinks they'll be completely extinct within the next couple hundred years. We intend to change that."
"Wow," Lucas muttered. "I had no idea."
"I'd better go help Dad. You want to come?" Adam asked the others.
Everyone nodded and followed Adam into the cabin.
"Don't worry," Adam said. "If we're right about Serena giving birth, we think we know where she might be, along with a few of her friends."
"Serena?" Ben questioned.
"That's what Adam named her," Jeffrey explained. "He likes to name all the whales."
"If we do have a calf today, maybe you can name her?" Adam suggested, looking at Lucas.
Lucas smiled. "Cool."
"Is there anything we can do, Jeffrey?" Kristin asked.
"If you'd like, you can radio the others." He nodded his head towards the radio. "Set the frequency to channel eight. Tell them we're heading out into the Gulf of Alaska to check on Serena. They'll understand what you mean."
Kristin nodded and did so. When she was finished, she said, "Are they going to meet us?"
Jeffrey shook his head. "No, we won't see them until tonight. They're going to be working along the bay here. But, we'll get more work done this way."
The boat continued on its way into the Gulf of Alaska. Unfortunately, Adam found nothing on the sonar, and it was nearly lunchtime.
Kristin noticed everyone looked rather dejected. Seeing the small pod last night gave everyone hope they'd see more whales today, her included. But she also felt the need to try and cheer everyone up. And, considering she had little to do, she decided to make some lunch for everyone, hoping it would help put some smiles on their faces. She emerged from the galley with a plate of sandwiches.
"Why don't we all have something to eat?" she said as she set the tray down.
No one attempted to eat, however.
"Look, I know everyone's feeling…discouraged, but that doesn't mean we won't find anything," she said, trying to stay positive. "Maybe-"
"I got something!" Adam shouted, interrupting her.
Everyone rushed to stand behind him, all looking at the sonar map.
Jeffrey patted him on the bag. "Great job, son."
"Do you think it's Serena?" Adam asked hopefully.
"There's only one way to find out," Jeffrey answered. "But why don't we all eat since Kristin took the time to make us a wonderful lunch, hm? Then, we'll be on our way."
"Awesome," Adam replied, a smile on his face. He walked over to the tray and took a sandwich. "Thank you, Doctor."
Kristin smiled. "It was no trouble."
Everyone followed suit and ate quickly. Then, Jeffrey steered the boat in the proper direction, and it wasn't long before they found a small pod of whales. However, they knew Serena would be in shallower water, so they moved on closer towards Glacier Bay. And sure enough, they found her, but their smiles quickly faded as they realized there was a problem. The whale looked as though she was in distress.
Jeffrey docked the boat, and the group walked towards the whale. Jeffrey carefully approached her and did a quick examination. "I can't say for sure, but I think the calf is in a reverse position."
"So what do we do?" Jonathan questioned.
Jeffrey turned to the others. "Looks like you're all going to get a crash course on delivering a baby whale."
It wasn't until dusk that Serena had entered hard labor. Kristin was delegated to monitor Serena's vital signs while Jeffrey, Ben, and Jonathan were working on getting the calf out safely. Lucas and Adam were assisting by hand tools and instruments that were needed.
As soon as the calf neared the birth canal, Jeffrey said, "I'm going to try to reposition it." However, it was easier said than done. After several attempts, he realized it was to no avail. Instead, he turned to Adam. "Get a rope from to boat."
Adam returned quickly with a rope, which Jeffrey tied around the calf. He then passed the end to Ben and Jonathan. "We're going to need to pull…hard," he instructed.
Serena grunted as she tried to push her baby into the world. Eventually, the calf moved into position to where the men had to pull.
"Pull!" Jeffrey ordered.
The men pulled with all their might. This happened several times over until finally, the calf was free.
"We have a baby!" Jeffrey shouted.
Immediately, Serena moved to tend to her baby as Jeffrey and Kristin worked to help clean and sex the calf.
Finally, Kristin announced, "It's a boy!"
Adam turned to Lucas expectantly. "Well, what should we name this little guy?"
Lucas thought for a moment. "How about…Triton?"
"Ah, like the Greek god," Kristin said.
"Or like The Little Mermaid," Ben added.
Everyone laughed. "Yes, that too," Kristin agreed.
It was getting late, and they were losing daylight, so the group quickly finished their work with the calf, inserting a tag just under his skin; then, they packed up the tools and equipment and headed towards the boat.
As soon as they were all inside, Jeffrey looked at Adam. "Get on the radio and inform the others we're going to be a few hours late."
Adam did so, and they started on their way back to the Kenai Peninsula. Kristin took it upon herself to look through the galley refrigerator and find something decent for dinner. Suddenly, however, the boat jerked and swayed. She instinctively grabbed onto the counter.
"Sorry," Jeffrey said apologetically once he had regained control. "We've come into a bit of a rough patch."
"Or more like a storm," Adam announced, turning up the weather radio.
An unexpected winter storm is heading towards the Northern part of the Gulf of Alaska and surrounding areas, the announcer said. Water conditions will be treacherous. The announcer then went on to explain safety precautions.
Jeffrey groaned slightly. "I didn't even think to check the weather reports for this area. We've strayed so far from the peninsula, I didn't anticipate we'd run into anything."
"So, now what?" Lucas asked worriedly.
"Oh, I'm sure there's nothing to worry about. It…it's just a little storm, right Jeffrey?" Kristin said, putting a comforting arm around Lucas' shoulders.
"Just a little storm," Jeffrey confirmed. "It might take us a bit longer to get back, but it's nothing we can't handle."
Ben looked out the window. Snow had begun to fall…and it was coming down fast. "You sure about that?"
"Of course," Jeffrey said.
Kristin, Lucas, Ben, and Jonathan all exchanged worried glances. Certainly, this wasn't like going through a hurricane. Nothing bad would happen, right? At least, they hoped not.
Chapter 5: The Meaning Of Moments Like This
The situation quickly escalated into something more than a bit of patchy weather as the small boat was tossed around like it weighed nothing by the pitching waters. Jeffrey, who was doing his best to keep the boat steady, looked over his shoulder and ordered Adam to pass out life jackets. When Adam gave him a questioning look, he explained, "Just a safety precaution."
Adam nodded, but the worry had already set in. "Can't we steer towards shore until the storm is over?"
"What do you think I'm trying to do?" Jeffrey snapped. He was obviously stressed, upset with himself for getting them into their current situation, and he wished he could figure out a way to get them to safety. Feeling guilty of his outburst, he quickly apologized. "Sorry," he muttered.
Jonathan approached him, ready to offer his services. "Maybe I could give it a try?"
Jeffrey thought for a split second, but when he weighed the options, he knew the seaQuest XO was perfectly capable. He certainly couldn't do any worse. He stepped aside. "Be my guest."
Jonathan took the wheel, maintaining control of the vessel for the time being, but he feared he wouldn't be able to keep that way for long. He turned Jeffrey. "Maybe we could radio for help?"
"I can try, but no one's going to be able to get through this storm."
Lucas had overheard. In fact, the others stood nearby, trying to offer any sort of assistance if necessary. "SeaQuest can! We can radio them."
"That's if they're nearby," Ben countered. "They could be hundreds of miles away by now." He turned to Kristin. "Did the captain happen to mention their location when you spoke with him?"
She shook her head. "No, but they were patrolling the waters; providing there were no emergencies, they could be closer than we think," she reasoned.
"Or they could be hours away…" Jonathan added. "But Lucas has a point. There's a chance. We have to try."
"And if they're nowhere near us?" Ben questioned.
"We'll try an open line," Jeffrey said. "SeaQuest and any other nearby boats could answer it. It's a gamble, but it's something."
Jeffrey tuned the radio into the appropriate line. He then spoke into the microphone, "Mayday, mayday, this is Doctor Jeffrey Talbot of The Moby Dick of the Northern Right Whale Recovery Team in the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. Five members of my team and I are currently on the water in Snowstorm Edward, exact location uncertain. Mayday, mayday." Jeffrey then put the signal on a continuous frequency. He turned to the others. "Someone should hear it."
Jonathan nodded. "And hopefully get to us on time before-"
Suddenly, the boat jerked and jolted as there was a deafening crash. Kristin tripped and fell backwards; she tried her best to hang on to something, but the boat was in a near-vertical position. She heard the surprised cries from the others as they were tossed around as well. A few moments later, the boat seemed to come to a stop, but she heard the eerily familiar sound of rushing water as the boat jerked back to a normal position. That was not a good sign.
She felt strong arms help her up. It was Jonathan. "Are you injured?" he asked her.
"I…I don't think so." She quickly scanned the area for the others. They all appeared fine. "What…what happened?"
"We've ran into more bad luck," Ben said dryly.
"We hit what appears to be a group of jagged rocks. I couldn't see them," Jonathan said, sounding somewhat apologetic.
Kristin cringed inwardly. This was not good. Still, she tried to remain positive. "We'll…we'll get through this." She turned to Jeffrey. "Is there a survival raft?"
He nodded. "Of course there is, but-"
She knew what he was going to say. He was going to tell her all the reasons they shouldn't go out there. The weather was too much for them to bear. But they hadn't much of a choice. "It's better than staying in here."
They quickly made it to the boat's surface…well, rather the part that wasn't submerged beneath the freezing water. Jeffrey inflated the raft and climbed in, carefully helping the others in. Unfortunately, it wasn't like going through Hurricane Sheila. It was far worse. At least when they were in the Bermuda Triangle, it was quite a bit warmer. They didn't have that luxury here.
"N-now w-what?" Lucas asked, his voice already trembling from the cold.
Jeffrey quickly opened the survival pack he'd taken. He passed out survival blankets. "We try to stay warm."
But the small raft was no match for the crashing waves. The group did their best to bail out the water they could, but they were getting drenched…and losing body heat fairly quickly.
"We need a better plan," Jonathan finally said, holding up a rope.
Kristin knew exactly what he meant. It was the same thing they'd done during the hurricane.
"Just in case," he added.
She nodded. "Good idea." She turned to Jeffrey and Adam, who seemed rather confused about the situation. "It's a way to keep us connected in case we get separated," she explained.
Getting the hint, they quickly began working.
seaQuest , 275 miles off the coast of British Columbia, Canada
On the seaQuest bridge, nothing out of the ordinary was happening. It was simple protocol with patrolling, never much more. When the submarine wasn't involved in missions, this is what they did. It was nothing terribly exciting, but it was necessary.
Suddenly, however, things seemed to get more interesting.
"Captain, we're picking up a distress call," Tim O'Neill informed.
"Location?" Nathan asked.
"Unclear, Sir; somewhere from the Gulf of Alaska."
Gulf of Alaska? Nathan thought. He knew that was near where Kristin and the others were. "Play it through the loudspeakers."
After listening to the message, Katie piped up. "Wasn't that the doc's friend? Dr. Jeffrey Talbot?" The concern in her voice was evident.
Nathan sighed audibly. "It is." He turned back to Tim. "Anyone else closer to them?"
Tim shook his head. "Not that I'm aware of. There is a horrible storm in the gulf at the moment, Snowstorm Edward. Everyone was advised to get off the water hours ago."
"Apparently, Mr. Talbot missed the memo," Nathan muttered. He looked at Katie. "Set a course for the Gulf of Alaska, Commander. And you have the bridge for the moment."
"Sir?" Katie questioned.
"I need to inform Levin. I'll be back shortly," he said before leaving the bridge.
Gulf of Alaska, life raft
Working on the rope tying had taken everyone's mind off the situation for the moment. At least they were doing something productive, something that was actually going to help the situation. Kristin had taken to helping Lucas with his knot. Everyone else had already been tied. She tried to work quickly, but her hands weren't working as well as they should due to the cold.
She felt the last bit of rope go around her waist. She looked to see Ben. "I remember how to do this," he said with a small smile.
"Thanks," she replied, returning his smile. "Glad you remembered something from-"
At that moment, a huge wave rose up and engulfed the small raft. As soon as the wave subsided, another hit. And then, another still. The raft couldn't withstand that kind of abuse; it overturned.
The shock of the freezing water sent a pain through Kristin's body as she was thrown into the water against her will. However, she willed herself to push on. She pushed herself to the surface, unsure if she was able to do so, exactly, since the waves were pounding against her small body. She frantically looked around for the others. She finally saw them a few hundred yards away. They'd climbed onto some of the rocks jutting from the water. Jonathan saw her and was trying to untie his rope in order to get to her.
She stopped him, however. "Stay where you are; I'll come to you!"
"Lucas is still missing!" he yelled back to her.
Kristin's heart sank. Lucas. She hadn't gotten his rope secured when the waves hit. She looked around, but didn't see him. She cupped her hands over her mouth and called his name. No answer. No, this couldn't be happening. She promised she'd take care of him, that nothing would happen to him. She took a deep breath and went beneath the water again, searching for him, hoping that by some small chance, she'd find him.
Suddenly, she saw him, just a short distance away. She did her best to swim to him, but her limbs felt like lead. She knew she was quickly losing body heat, but so was Lucas. She finally reached him after what seemed like ages. As though she had superhuman strength, she was able to get him to the surface. But, they were still a bit of a swim away from the others. She shook him gently. "Lucas?"
The teen mumbled something she couldn't understand, his eyes still closed.
"Lucas, honey, please wake up. I…I know you're cold, I know you're tired. But you're going to need to help me." She shook him again. "Lucas?"
Finally, he opened his eyes. "I…it's s-so c-cold."
"I know, Lucas, I know," Kristin replied, her own teeth chattering. "We just need to swim a little further, but I can't carry you on my own. You have to help me. Do you think you can handle that?"
Lucas nodded. He looked towards the others. They were all calling them.
"Take my hand," Kristin instructed. "Whatever you do, don't let go. We'll do this together, okay? I'm right here."
Lucas nodded. He tried to ignore the cold of the water, tried to push through the waves. He tried to listen to the doctor's voice; Kristin continued giving out encouraging words as they swam to the rocks. After what seemed like forever, they finally made it.
The group cheered as Jonathan helped lift Lucas out of the icy water onto the rocks.
He then turned to Kristin. "Give me your hand."
She lifted her hand out of the water, when another wave came and crashed against her, carrying her away from them once again.
"No!" Lucas yelled. "You…you have to find her."
Jonathan didn't waste any time. He quickly released his knot and dove into the water. But after several minutes of searching, he realized his efforts were futile. He swam back to the small island of rocks where Ben and Jeffrey helped him out of the water.
"You mean you're just going to leave her out there?" Lucas questioned hysterically.
"Lucas, I-I tried," Jonathan said, shivering. "It…it's no use. Once help gets here-"
"Th-that c-could take hours!" Lucas cried. "Sh-she could die!"
A launch with a med team was prepared as soon as seaQuest entered to Gulf of Alaska. With Lieutenant O'Neill's communication skills and Chief Ortiz' WSKR, they were able to track the radio signals from The Moby Dick. But their hearts sank when Mother found The Moby Dick beneath the water.
The med team, however, quickly found that the boat was empty. The crew had escaped. The seaQuest launch combed the areas nearby. Finally, they found the group; they were showing signs of hypothermia, but were alive. They quickly got the group onto the launch.
Joshua examined Lucas while the rest of his team worked on the others. "D-doctor W-westphalen," Lucas choked out.
"Don't strain yourself, Lucas," Dr. Levin ordered gently. "After we get you back to seaQuest, we'll inform her you're all right."
Lucas shook his head. "N-no…sh-she's m-missing." His voice was barely above a whisper since he had already lost a lot of body heat and energy.
Joshua looked at Jonathan, who was on the stretcher next to him. "Kristin was with you?"
Jonathan nodded. "W-we tried-"
Joshua waved a hand. "It's all right; I understand." He suddenly became worried. Could they find the doctor in time? And if they couldn't, could anyone survive this storm? He turned to one his assistants. "Get on the radio and inform the captain we found them."
Nathan waited in launchbay for the med team to return. He knew something like this was going to happen. He didn't know how he knew, but he did all along. Still, he wasn't going to complain, wasn't going to say, "I told you so." He just couldn't wait to see that his crew members were well and safe.
As the med team returned, carrying the patients on stretchers, Joshua stopped to give him a quick update. "They're stable, but we need to get them to medbay quickly before things get worse." Nathan watched as the stretchers were wheeled through. It didn't even dawn on him that Kristin wasn't with them at first. "Let me know as soon as you're finished," he called to Joshua before heading to the bridge.
But as he started giving orders on the bridge to reset their course, he started to think about it. He'd seen Lucas, Jonathan, and Ben. Had he seen Kristin? He hadn't; he was sure of it. Was she not with them?
He quickly shook the thought from his mind. He had to be mistaken.
It was two hours later before Joshua called him into medbay. Once Nathan entered, Joshua ushered him into his office. "They're all resting comfortably; they're going to be fine in a few days," he assured him.
"Good," Nathan said, breathing a sigh of relief. However, he could sense something else in Joshua's tone; there was something he wasn't telling him. "There's bad news?" he guessed.
Joshua hesitated. "We didn't know this until we already had them all on the launch, but apparently, there's one person missing."
Nathan's heart sank. "Missing?" he repeated.
"Until this storm lets up, I don't see if there's much we can do. That's even if she-"
"She?" Nathan asked. "Please, don't tell me it's Kristin."
"I'm sorry, Captain. Apparently, the others tried to find her. The waves just…it was too much."
Nathan nodded solemnly. This was like a nightmare. This couldn't be happening. He'd told her…begged her not to go. There was a reason for it. He just knew something awful was going to happen.
"Um, would you like to see the others?" Joshua asked, noticing how uncomfortably quiet it had gotten. "You won't be able to stay with them long, however."
Nathan nodded. Joshua pointed him in the right direction as he headed into Lucas' room. The boy was sleeping under heated blankets. Nathan carefully approached his bed and placed a gentle hand on his forehead, brushing a few stray hairs off his face. "Hey, kiddo," Nathan said softly. He felt his voice begin to shake slightly as the thought of losing him crept up. He was so grateful he hadn't lost him, but knowing that Kristin was nowhere to be found had finally sunk in.
Nathan took Lucas' hand in his own and squeezed it gently. He gave it a kiss. "I…I am so glad you came back to me." He felt a few tears threaten to fall, but he quickly choked them back. "We…we're going to find her," he whispered after a few moments. "Don't you worry. We'll find her." He then sat with Lucas for a few more minutes quietly. He said a few silent prayers of thanks for Lucas' safe return and said a few more asking to keep Kristin safe, wherever she was. He then placed a gentle kiss to Lucas' forehead before leaving to see the others.
Every one of the patients had been resting, sleeping. No one was able to tell Nathan anything. He knew he had to explain to the others what had happened. As the captain, his job would be to make such official announcements. But, frankly, he was too tired, too emotionally exhausted for the moment, and it was late. He decided it would have to wait until tomorrow.
Of course, once he was in the privacy of his quarters, he found he couldn't sleep. His thoughts wandered to Kristin. He paced around his room absentmindedly. There had to be something he could do; but what? He needed to talk to someone.
He turned to his hologram computer. There was the smiling face of Carol. "Hello, honey," he whispered. "I…I suppose you heard what happened? This-"
At that moment, there was a knock at his door. Nathan sighed and shut the hologram off. But as he did so, he wondered who could possibly be knocking at this hour. He opened the door and was shocked by what he saw at first for standing there was Kristin. Her arms were wrapped around herself as if she was trying to keep warm. She was shivering, and Nathan noticed a small trickle of blood coming from her forehead. "Kristin?"
"N-Nathan, I…I'm s-so c-cold," she whispered.
Nathan instinctively pulled her inside his room. He took a blanket and wrapped it around her. "We should get you to medbay. Dr. Levin will-"
Kristin shook her head. "Not yet. P-please, l-let me s-stay here?"
Nathan nodded, wrapping her in his arms and rubbing gently to help her keep warm. He had a feeling he knew what was going on. He just was too afraid to admit it yet. But he also had a niggling feeling in the back of his mind that history was repeating itself.
Chapter 6: In The Peaceful Hour, The Quiet Spell
Nathan and Kristin stayed that way for several minutes. However, his efforts to stop her from shivering seemed futile because he could feel her shaking. "Kristin, we really should get you to medbay." His tone was gentle yet insistent.
Kristin shook her head. "N-no…I f-feel w-warmer already," she replied. But her bottom lip quivered as she spoke.
Nathan gently pushed her up to look at her, really look at her. She looked very pale; her skin almost had a bluish look to it. That was worrying. There were dark circles under her eyes as well. She didn't look much like herself. "At least let me page Dr. Levin?" Nathan pleaded gently.
She shook her head and snuggled up against him again. "J-just h-hold m-me…p-please?"
Nathan sighed and wrapped his arms around her and did his best to help her get warm again. Nathan knew Kristin was stubborn when it came to her health, but this really didn't seem like her. Had she been through a storm that left her nearly hypothermic, he knew she'd never refuse medical help. Then a thought came to him. Did Kristin know what happened? If his theory was correct, he realized she may not. He decided to test it. "What happened?"
Kristin pulled away to look at him; she gave him a somewhat confused look. But Nathan also noticed that she wasn't shivering as much as she had been, which was a relief. "D-don't you know? The others? They…they did find the others, didn't they?"
Nathan put a reassuring arm around her shoulders. "They did, and there's no need to panic. Dr. Levin says they're all going to be fine. Lucas, Ben, Jonathan…they're all back safe and sound."
"And Jeffrey and Adam?"
"Resting in medbay as well. It would really make me feel better if you let Levin look at you as well."
Kristin put up a hand. "Nathan, I'm fine." She stood and removed the blanket from her shoulders. "See, I'm not even shivering anymore."
"But…your head. You're bleeding, which is why we really should get you to medbay. Joshua can check to see if-"
Kristin walked into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. "Oh, this is something I can take care of myself. Can you hand me the first aid kit?" she called to him.
Nathan obediently handed it to her and watched as the cleaned the wound. After a while, she noticed his reflection in the mirror and how he was looking at her. "It was just a little bump on the head," she said, turning around to face him. "It's going to be fine."
"Do you…remember what happened?" Nathan asked again after a few moments. He wanted to ask her so many questions, but he didn't want to bombard her.
She shrugged. "Of course. Now I suppose you're going to lecture me?"
Nathan put up his hands. "No, not at all." He placed his hands on her shoulders. She wasn't shivering anymore, but her face still had its pale and peaked look. He pulled her into an embrace. He needed to feel her up against him, to be sure she really was there with him, that she wasn't a dream. But as he tightened the hug, she let out a slight gasp. He immediately released her. "What's wrong?" Concern laced every word.
She waved a hand as she tried to compose herself once again. "I got thrown around a bit during the storm…just a few bruised ribs, I'm sure. They're just a little tender." She turned back to the mirror to finish tending to the bump on her head.
Nathan continued to watch her. He heard her wince as she tried to clean the wound. He stepped forward and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Why don't you let me help you…please?"
Kristin handed him the small piece of gauze she'd been using and allowed him to tend to the bump.
"Ouch," Nathan commented when he looked at her head. He couldn't tell before because her hair covered most of it, but now, examining it in the light, he could see a dark bruise with a small gash in the center. There was still dried blood that needed to be cleaned. Nathan gently dabbed at it, but heard Kristin wince again. "This…this is going to sting a little." Nathan offered his opposite hand to her. "Squeeze my hand when it hurts."
She gave him a doubtful look. "Just get it over with," she insisted, looking at his hand but making no attempt to take it.
Nathan waited patiently with his hand still outstretched to her. "Just trust me, okay?"
Kristin sighed and reluctantly took his hand. Then Nathan continued to tend to her bump, gently cleaning the dried blood from her head. He felt Kristin squeeze his hand every time it hurt, but she held still for him.
A few minutes later, Nathan said, "There, all clean…and I don't think it needs stitches either."
Kristin offered him a smile. "That…wasn't so bad."
"My hand helped, didn't it?"
She nodded. "You were right."
He shrugged. "Well, you're not used to being on the patient end of things…I, on the other hand, have been many times. I know a few tricks."
"I'm not the best patient, am I?"
Nathan smiled. "Doctors never are, are they?"
Kristin's smile faded slightly.
"No…I…you were fine. I do wish you'd have those ribs checked out, though," Nathan told her.
Kristin sighed. "If I spoke with him in the morning, would that make you feel better?"
Nathan nodded. "Yeah, it would. Thanks."
She walked over to him and placed a hand to his check. "You're very welcome. As I said before, you are so cute when you're worried."
Nathan took Kristin's hand in his and gently removed it from his face. He then took his other hand and placed it on top of hers.
Kristin gave him a questioning look. "Nathan?"
"Kristin…can I ask you something?" he asked quietly.
"Anything," she replied softly.
"How…how did you get back to seaQuest? You do know the others were found before you were?"
Kristin hesitated slightly. Her face contorted as she desperately fought to recall just how she did get back to seaQuest. She suddenly realized she couldn't remember. In fact, the last thing she remembered was being carried by the current after she'd helped Lucas to safety. She looked into Nathan's eyes as if searching for the answer. She couldn't find it, however. "I…I can't remember."
Nathan expected this. He'd seen this same situation before. But he couldn't tell her, not yet. She needed to find out for herself. And with time, he knew she would. Still, he hoped that by the good grace of God that they'd find her in time, perhaps even before she had to hear the difficult news because he knew it would break her. It nearly broke him…the thought of it. And he simply couldn't admit it…not yet.
"It's all right," Nathan told her, wrapping his arms around her, this time being careful not to hurt her. He rubbed her back gently in an effort to comfort her, assure her that there was nothing to worry about. "It's perfectly all right."
A few moments later, Kristin whispered, "Nathan, would you mind if I lied down? I'm suddenly so tired. I don't think I can quite make it to my room."
Nathan nodded and helped her lay on his bunk. He covered her with a blanket and sat next to her. The two talked quietly for a little while until finally, Kristin didn't answer him after he'd asked her something. He looked at her and saw that she'd fallen asleep. Nathan placed a gentle kiss to her forehead and dimmed the light above his bunk.
Then he carefully headed toward the small sofa in his room and attempted to rest himself. He tossed and turned in an effort to get to sleep. Finally, he fell into a rather restless sleep as his mind was filled with dreams of the past.
Annapolis Naval Academy, 1983
Nathan had been attending the academy for two years, and he loved it. He was a career man through and through. And he'd met so many wonderful people there. Of course, he and Scott Keller were roommates, but he's also met William 'Bill' Noyce. And then there was Sam Paxton. Sam was quiet when he first arrived at the academy, mostly keeping to himself. However, Nathan helped bring him out of his shell. He and Sam had grown close.
Nathan and Sam were among the top-ranking junior officers in their year, along with Bill and Scott. And they were offered the opportunity to attend a special training exercise. Today was a very exciting day for them since they'd be with other top-ranking officers like themselves.
"You will be split into two groups," their instructor called out. "When I call your name, please stand." The instructor read a list off, which included Nathan and Sam. When he was finished with the first list, he said, "You will be assigned to the Alliance." The instructor motioned to a small ship nearby used for practice simulations such as this. Then, he continued to call out another list of names, including those of Bill and Scott. "The rest of you will be assigned to the Confederacy." The instructor then gave out orders to higher-ranking officers and explained what they should be doing in this simulation.
The concept was simple. This was a war-simulation in which some of the members had to prepare a battle plan. However, Nathan and Sam weren't needed for that. They were on the rescue team. They were to help get the 'injured' members to the medical team without getting caught by the 'enemy'. Since Sam and Nathan had both been trained in first aid and were among the best swimmers, it seemed simple enough.
Both teams were given a time period to 'prepare'. And then, a gunshot rang out. That meant it was time to begin. Nathan was amazed by how fast it had started, but he and Sam and the other members of their team seemed to know exactly what to do. He and Sam dove off the side of their boat to get to the 'injured' members who were waiting for them.
But suddenly, a fairly easy simulation quickly turned into a difficult one as other members were to 'block' Nathan, Sam, and the rest of the rescue team from getting to the 'injured'. Nathan and the others were immediately forced to improvise and come up with a different strategy. But in the meantime, they were being bombarded by simulated weapons.
Nathan and Sam instructed their group of divers to move to a small clearing so they could construct some sort of new plan. But when they did so, they didn't realize that a battle strategy group was waiting for them.
Although the simulated weapons weren't meant to harm or hurt, Nathan felt himself being hurled beneath the water. He wasn't even sure what had hit him. Then, he felt something hit his head, and everything had gone dark.
The next thing Nathan knew, he saw a bright, white light. He heard a voice that told him to follow it. He did so, and found himself standing in an emergency room, staring at his lifeless body while various doctors and nurses worked to revive him.
"He's gone," one of the nurses announced, looking at the flat-lined monitor. The familiar long beep could be heard by everyone.
"No," one of the doctors protested, taking the defibrillator paddles in his hands. "He's not gone…not yet."
"But, Doctor…" another nurse protested. She went over to him and placed a hand to his shoulder. She whispered softly. "He's been gone for nearly five minutes. He's not coming back. It's a lost cause."
"No…there's no such thing as a lost cause." The doctor then instructed the nurse to charge the defibrillator paddles. "Clear."
Nathan couldn't believe what he was seeing. He was…dead. Or was he? He suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder that caused him to jump. He turned and saw Sam.
"Hey, buddy," Sam greeted with a smile. Sam had a bump on his head. He was bleeding.
"Sam? What happened? Did you get hurt, too?" Nathan was terribly confused.
"We both did. I'm in the room right next door. Or…at least I was," Sam told him.
"Are we both…dead?"
Sam nodded solemnly. "But we're not both meant to go."
"What do you mean?" Nathan asked.
But it wasn't long before Nathan found out what Sam had meant as he suddenly was pulled away from Sam. He heard Sam yell, "Goodbye," as Nathan was suddenly back in his own body. He coughed and sputtered as the doctor tried to explain what had happened.
"But…Sam…my friend…" Nathan sputtered.
The doctor patted his shoulder gently. "I'm sorry," he said sincerely. "We tried…but he was just…gone too long. But there has to be a reason why you're getting a second chance."
Nathan sat bolt-upright after his dream…his memory, actually. His heart was beating so fast. He had a hard time catching his breath.
"Nathan? Are you all right?" Kristin sat up in bed and looked questioningly at him.
Nathan stood and went over to her. "I…I'm fine. I just…had a very vivid dream…a bit of a nightmare, actually."
Kristin narrowed her eyes and examined him with a scrutinizing eye. His eyes were wide, as though he'd seen a ghost. And small beads of sweat dotted his forehead. "I'd say," she replied. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"N-no…thank you." He placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. "You just go back to sleep. I'm just going to do a bit of reading so I can relax once again."
But Kristin took the warm afghan off of her and stood. "I think that perhaps I should go back to my room. You've been so kind to let me stay here, but what would the others say if they saw me here in the morning? Besides, I think that the reason you're having nightmares is because I'm forcing you to sleep on that lumpy sofa."
Nathan smiled softly. "It's not as uncomfortable as it looks, really."
"Well, be that as it may, you need your rest too. I really am feeling much better, thank you." She gave him a small peck on the cheek and started towards the door.
"You'll still see Levin in the morning?" he asked.
She smiled. "I promise, Father."
Nathan chuckled. "Well, you certainly must be feeling better if you're remembering to tease me now."
"I remember quite a lot, actually," Kristin admitted. "At least about some things. "Once out of nature I shall never take; my bodily form from any natural thing; but such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make; of hammered gold and gold enameling; to keep a drowsy Emperor awake; or set upon a golden bough to sing; to lords and ladies of Byzantium; of what is past, or passing, or to come."
"The poem…you remembered," Nathan said softly.
"I couldn't possibly forget. And I remember you also promised me we'd have a discussion about it," Kristin hinted.
Nathan smiled. "I thought you said we both need our rest?"
"Well, I didn't mean tonight."
"Tell you what, how about we plan something tomorrow night? Maybe I could make you dinner?" Nathan offered.
Kristin grinned. "That sounds lovely."
"Great," Nathan replied. "See you then."
"If not before," Kristin said. She opened his cabin door and started down the hall. Nathan stood in the doorway and watched her go. "Goodnight," he called.
"Goodnight, Nathan. Sweet dreams," she replied before disappearing around the corner.
Chapter 7: Seduced By The Promise Of Bliss
"Nathan, come find me! Help me, please!"
Nathan tossed and turned in his sleep. He moaned softly.
"Nathan, please, I need you to find me!"
"Kristin?" Nathan awoke with a start, trying to catch his breath. He'd heard her voice plain as day, but then, he realized it was just a dream. A dream. He sighed loudly, remembering the night before. Kristin had been there with him, hadn't she? Or maybe that was a dream as well? He honestly wasn't sure. He had thought he knew. When he held her in his arms, she felt real. But he couldn't help but think that perhaps it was just his mind playing tricks on him. He reluctantly threw the blankets off; he hadn't slept very well most of the night under the circumstances, but part of him wanted to stay in bed in an attempt to try to forget reality. But to no avail. The captain didn't have that luxury, especially with the situation at hand. He had work to do.
He brought his hands up to his eyes and rubbed the sleep out of them. He really thought Kristin had been there with him just a short time ago. He noticed the afghan he'd given her still lying on the foot of the bed. Of course, that could've just been coincidence, he told himself. He used the same afghan many times before. That didn't prove a thing. He shook his head and headed to the bathroom to wash up.
But as soon as he'd got there, he saw the first aid kit still sitting on the sink, open with various supplies sitting on the back of the sink: the roll of gauze and antiseptic. He'd used them to clean the bump on her head. He suddenly realized she had been there…hadn't she? He sighed again. He nixed the shower idea. Instead, he put the supplies back in the first aid kit and placed it back in its rightful place. He washed his face and then dressed quickly. He needed to get to the bottom of all this.
Nathan still wasn't positive he wasn't dreaming. Yes, he'd had strange experiences before, things he'd never really shared with anyone. However, he wasn't even sure what he had experienced. Perhaps it was all some strange illusion. Therefore, he had to do something he wouldn't normally do. He had to enter Kristin's room without her permission. He needed to see for himself if she was onboard or not.
He'd only done so once before, and that was when he knew full well she was in there. But it was warranted; she was unknowingly playing chess with Rubin Zellar for goodness sake. Of course, her initial anger quickly wore off once she found out that was the case. And she never said anything after that, except of course, thank you.
Nathan left his quarters and quickly headed down the corridor. The night guards were still on duty since it was still before 0600 hours; other than that, the halls were empty. No one would ever question the captain if he entered a crew member's quarters. No one would think anything of it. But Nathan felt better that no one was around to really see what he was doing anyway. He felt uncomfortable entering Kristin's room uninvited all the same. He wasn't sure why, but as he stood outside her door, he knocked gently, as if willing her to answer, telling him to come in, even though she was half asleep. Of course, he received no answer whatsoever.
He stood outside her door for a few moments longer, mustering up the courage to go inside. He shut his eyes tightly and turned the handle. Part of him hoped he'd see her sleeping soundly on her bunk, but no. The cabin was empty. He shut the door behind him and looked around. Funny, it was almost as though he could sense she was there recently. But she wasn't there now. He could see her bunk looked as though it had been slept in. That's odd, he thought. Kristin was always so neat and tidy. Unless she'd been called to medbay for an emergency, she'd never leave her bed a mess like that. At least he didn't think so.
As he examined his surroundings more carefully, he noticed a familiar scent-her perfume. It was almost as though she'd just sprayed it. He breathed in for a moment. It wasn't a light after-scent, not as though it had clung to some of her belongings and that was why he could smell it now. No, it was far too strong for that. It wasn't offensively strong, just strong as though it had been recently applied. He quickly brushed the thought of his mind, however. It had to have been his mind playing tricks on him again. He wanted so badly to believe she was there, but she couldn't have been.
But then, he noticed a mug sitting on the table. He walked closer to it, assuming it had been left there before she'd left on the mission. But then, he noticed it was half full of tea…again, out of the ordinary for Kristin. She'd never leave a half-empty mug on her table, especially if she wasn't intending on coming back for days. But then, Nathan noticed that there was steam rising up from it. And just to be sure it was warm, he felt the outside of the mug. Indeed, it was.
Nathan shook his head. It was exactly as he'd suspected during his encounter with Kristin. This wasn't a dream. This was something else. He knew that for sure now. He quickly left Kristin's room and headed to the ward room. He had calls to make.
Nathan dialed Bill Noyce's number. Yes, it was early, but he had to inform him of the situation. He silently chastised himself. He should have done that as soon as he found out Kristin was missing, but then, he didn't want to believe it himself. He quickly shook the thought out of his mind, however. No sense in dwelling on it now.
A minute later, Bill's tired face appeared on the screen. "Nathan?" he questioned, quickly sobering when he saw him. "Something's wrong." It wasn't a question, but rather an observation. He could see it in his face.
"There was an accident," Nathan began. He then told him of how the storm thwarted the mini-mission and the condition of Kristin's team. "…and there's one other…horrible thing." He paused and took a deep breath. "Kristin…she's missing. She's lost in the storm somewhere. The storm was raging so badly, no one could get through. It was only by sheer luck we found the others. I just checked the weather report; Snowstorm Edward is still going strong. We…someone has to find a way to get to her."
Bill was quiet for a long moment. He had to look at the situation objectively, something he knew Nathan wasn't doing. He knew Nathan and Kristin were close. And after Carol, Bill could definitely appreciate that. Nathan was his friend, and he was glad he'd found someone of the opposite sex to confide in. Perhaps there was even a budding romance there. But he also needed to bring a bit of reality into the situation. "Nathan, I am so very sorry; Kristin…she was a good woman. A damn good scientist and an excellent doctor. And I know she was your friend. But I can't allow you or anyone to go out into that storm, not now. There are warnings all over the place about it."
"You're already speaking as though she's already dead," Nathan said bitterly. "You can't possibly expect me to-"
"Nathan, it's not just me. The brass wouldn't allow it either. You really think they're going to let you or anyone else from the crew risk their lives for one person?"
"We risk our lives every day for the fate of the world," Nathan countered angrily.
Bill sighed. "You know full well what I mean. It's too dangerous."
"But she could die!" Nathan yelled. "And I won't allow it if-"
"Nathan, I have to think about what's best for the rest of the crew, something you're not doing. You know the protocol."
"I don't give a damn about the protocol right now! I am not going to sit idly by and wait." He brought his hand to the vid-link control panel to cut the link.
Bill, however, noticed. "Nathan, don't hang up on me. Once the brass gets word of this, they'll relieve you of command."
"That's a risk I'm willing to take." He then pushed the button, causing the screen to go blank.
Nathan sighed angrily. Apparently, he wasn't going to get any help from Bill on the matter, which was frustrating. Of all people, he'd expected him to understand. But then, Bill did always have a tendency for siding with the brass. And Nathan couldn't blame him. He knew it was protocol. Had this been any other submariner, they'd be ordered to retreat, wait until the storm let up. No sense in losing more lives for one person.
But Kristin wasn't military. Yes, she knew what seaQuest was when she signed up for it, but she wasn't expected to put her life on the line. Certainly, she had in the past. Some of their missions had been very risky. But Nathan still felt an obligation to attempt to rescue her, no matter how futile it seemed. He looked at his watch. It was nearing 0700 hours. The day crew would be up and about, getting ready for their watch. He quickly came up with a plan, which he'd discuss at the staff meeting. However, his PAL beeped, interrupting his train of thought.
"Bridger," Nathan answered, trying to sound cheery, but he realized he probably fell short on that effort.
"Captain, I'm sorry to bother you so early," Joshua told him, "but Lucas, Ben…well, nearly everyone's awake. Lucas has been asking for you. I wanted to let you know."
"I'll be there shortly," Nathan promised before cutting the connection. Originally, he hadn't factored a stop in medbay into his plan, at least not yet, but he wanted to see Lucas. He just wouldn't stay there long.
Nathan met Joshua in medbay. "How are they?" he asked.
"Doing fairly well, actually, under the circumstances," Joshua replied. "I'll keep them in medbay the rest of the week, most likely. But they'll make a full recovery, I assure you. Lucas has been asking for you."
Nathan lowered his voice. "Do they remember what happened…with Kristin?"
Joshua hesitated. "It hasn't come up yet. Perhaps it would be better coming from you?"
Nathan nodded. "I'll be making an official announcement about it later," he said reluctantly. "I'll speak to the patients about it as well," he promised.
Joshua placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed gently. "If you need any help…"
Nathan offered him a weak smile. "Thanks." He then turned and headed toward Lucas' room.
As soon as he appeared in the doorway and saw Lucas' face, his heart melted. Lucas was lying back, watching some old cartoon on the vid-screen, but he wasn't really paying attention. As soon as he saw the captain, he smiled softly.
"Hey there, kiddo," Nathan greeted, gently ruffling his hair. He took a seat next to his bed. "I heard you've been asking for me." Nathan reached over and turned the vid-screen off.
Lucas nodded. "I…I'm sorry," he said quietly.
"Oh, Lucas." Nathan carefully wrapped him in his arms. "You don't need to apologize. I'm just glad that you're safe." He then released him and helped him lie back. "Is that why you've been asking for me? Because you thought I was angry with you?"
Lucas shrugged. "Well after the hurricane incident…and now this, I…I thought…"
"Lucas, no…I could never be angry with you, not for something like this. You know I care about you…just as much as…as much as anyone here." He took his hand in his and squeezed it gently.
There was a long moment of silence. Nathan lovingly ran a hand through Lucas' hair, brushing a few stray pieces off his forehead.
Finally, Lucas broke the silence, "She saved me."
"What?" Nathan asked, not quite sure he heard him right.
"The doc," Lucas continued, "she saved me. I…I almost died, and she…the water was freezing. I don't even know how she did it." The teen's voice trembled with emotion. "I was ready to give up when the boat hit the rocks. But then I felt…I felt strong arms. I have to wonder how she was able to lift me. She was just as cold as I was. I heard her voice. She…she…she told me that I had to help her…that we had to swim together."
"Lucas, you don't-" Nathan interrupted. He placed a hand on his arm to stop him. Lucas was near breaking down, Nathan could see. He didn't want to make his condition any worse.
But Lucas ignored him. "Somehow, we made it. The commander, he grabbed my hand. I felt the doc push me up. She…she saved me." Lucas finally let out a sob, no longer to hold it in any longer. "And…and then," he finally said through his tears, "I…I watched the water take her. And…and then, she was just…gone…" Lucas finally succumbed to his tears, no longer able to hold them in.
Nathan couldn't do much except wrap his arms around him. He felt choked up himself, but didn't want Lucas to see him crying, at least not now. "Sshh," he comforted softly. "Please, don't cry. It's okay."
Lucas' tears finally subsided. He sniffled against Nathan's shoulder. "Did…did they find her?"
Nathan paused for a moment. He knew Lucas needed to know, but that didn't make saying it any easier. "Not…not yet, kiddo. The storm…"
Lucas pulled away, now frantic. "Why aren't you out there looking for her? You have to find her! She…she could die if-"
"Lucas, believe me, I promise you I'm going to do everything in my power to find her. I've been speaking with the admiral. In fact, as soon as I'm finished speaking with you, we're going to get a rescue team together." He placed a hand on his shoulder. "I'm not going to rest until I find her, I promise you."
Lucas seemed to calm slightly. "If…if she dies, I don't think I'll ever be able to forgive myself." His voice trembled slightly as he spoke. He looked into Nathan's eyes. "She saved me."
Nathan couldn't help but wrap him in his arms again. "I…I know, kiddo." His own voice trembled as he did his best to keep his own tears back. "We just…we need to stay positive now. I'm going to bring her back."
Nathan then made a quick appearance to see Ben and Jonathan. He promised them both the same thing, that he would bring Kristin back. As 0800 hours rolled around, however, he had to excuse himself. He needed to do more than talk.
One hour later, the remaining senior staff gathered around the ward room table. Nathan delivered the difficult news yet once again. Not only that, he had to explain the other difficulties that might come with doing a rescue mission such as this, including the reservations of the brass. "The UEO would rather we wait until the storm lets up. I can't guarantee there won't be reprimands to come if you do decide to help with this mission. And please know I won't think any less of you if you refuse. And neither would Doctor Westphalen. I'm sure if she wouldn't expect anyone to lose their jobs over her." He paused for a moment and looked around the room. Every face wore a solemn look. "Of course," Nathan continued, "some of you will have to stay behind. We can't leave seaQuest unattended. Uh, well, I suppose the decision is yours. Those of you who would like to be excused from going against the wishes of the UEO may leave now." He paused and waited, but no one made any attempt to move.
Katie finally stood and spoke, "Sir, I think I speak for the rest of us when I say that none of us wants to let the doc die, not if we can do something about it."
The others nodded their heads in agreement.
Nathan nodded, very moved by the gesture. "Then we have work to do. Commander, I'll need you to take the bridge. Mr. O'Neill, Mr. Ortiz, Chief Crocker, you three will be on a launch with me and Dr. Levin. We don't have time to waste."
Chapter 8: We Soon Forget
Gulf of Alaska, seaQuest launch MR-8
"Damn," Nathan muttered under his breath.
They'd been searching through the small area of the gulf where Jeffrey, Kristin, and the others last were. They even found the remains of Jeffrey's boat. But they couldn't find Kristin. On Joshua's suggestion, they hadn't left the launch since the snowstorm was still raging, and it was far too dangerous to be out in the elements.
The problem was that once the launch surfaced, there was little visibility. They had to keep descending into the water and resurfacing in order to clean the ice from the wind shield of the launch. It was very tedious work, and Nathan quickly became frustrated since they'd been at it for two hours, making little headway.
"We're not getting anywhere this way. Mr. Ortiz, pull up onto the shore."
"Aye, sir." Miguel started to veer to the left towards the shore.
But Joshua became dismayed. "Captain, I thought I warned you that we really shouldn't leave the launch? In this kind of weather, hypothermia and frostbite can set in within minutes."
"Which is exactly why we can't keep going the way we've been," Nathan said, turning to him. "I know the risks, and I'm willing to take them." He then dressed in the winter gear stored in the back compartment of the launch.
As the launch came to a halt, Nathan said, "No one else is being forced to leave the safety of the launch. Certainly, you're welcome to come along. I won't be long." With that, he opened the hatch and stepped outside. He immediately was met with a gust of wind that caused a chill to invade the small gap where the zipper wasn't quite pulled up all the way on his parka. He promptly pulled at the zipper, trying to ensure he wouldn't lose any body heat unnecessarily. He took a deep breath, the icy air causing his lungs to ache. But he hadn't time to reflect on that since he had a mission in mind. He trudged through the blanket of snow that covered the ground and began searching for any sign of Kristin.
He wasn't sure how much time had passed, but he realized he'd been walking for quite a while. He guessed about fifteen minutes, give or take a bit. He turned and looked at the path his boots had created. He couldn't even see the launch anymore, nor could he see anyone else. Part of him had expected at least one of them to come out to help, but then, he wasn't terribly surprised. Asking them to put their health and lives at risk for something that wasn't even UEO sanctioned, well, he understood from a military standpoint. From a moral standpoint was a different story, but he didn't have time to analyze it.
He walked a few more feet, hoping to see, by some small chance, a sign of Kristin. He also knew the likelihood of even finding her alive. In such conditions, the fact she'd still be alive at all was a long-shot. But he had to remain positive, hope for the best. He walked a bit further, but saw nothing but white. In a futile effort, he cupped his hands over his mouth and called, "Kristin!" He did that a few more times over, then listened. But his only response was the howling wind.
As much as he hated to admit it, Joshua was right. There was no way they were going to find anything in these conditions. Nathan could feel his limbs going numb as it was, and he was wearing protective clothing. He shuddered slightly when he thought of Kristin's petite frame exposed to the icy conditions. The chances of finding her actually alive seemed to get smaller by the minute. But he quickly chased that thought from his head. No, must remain positive.
Nathan continued walking, trying to keep his eyes peeled for any sign of her. Yet a few minutes later, he realized he needed help. He closed his eyes and said a silent prayer, feeling there was no other outlet of help that remained. But when he opened his eyes again, he was met with the same vast white openness as before. Then, he had another thought. Carol. He was still convinced she had helped keep the four crew members safe during the hurricane. And if she could do that, couldn't she help Kristin? At least make sure she stayed alive until they could find her?
Nathan took a deep breath and closed his eyes again. He imagined he was talking to her smiling face via his hologram generator, just like he'd done since she died. "Carol, please, stay with her? Give her the strength to survive? And make sure she knows I'm coming for her. I love you." Nathan followed that with another silent prayer, hoping it might help the situation. And suddenly, he felt a hand on his arm. He jumped and looked at the figure standing next to him. It took him a minute to realize it was Joshua.
"Are you all right, Captain?"
Nathan nodded. "A little cold, but fine. I was just taking a break."
"I know you have your heart set on finding her today, but I don't think-"
"You're right." Nathan knew he was defeated, at least for the time being. "As soon as the storm lets up, we'll come back. Let's head back to the launch."
Once they returned to seaQuest, Joshua insisted on giving Nathan a full examination to be sure he was in perfect health after being out in such treacherous conditions.
"Well, you seem okay," Joshua finally stated after checking all his vitals. "But I don't think it would hurt for you to take the rest of the day off."
"I feel fine," Nathan insisted. "I don't need to be put on bed rest, too."
Joshua paused for a moment. "Off the record, Captain, can I ask you something?"
"After being out there in that storm, you know we might not find her, don't you?"
Nathan looked down at his hands, feeling at a loss. "Yes…" he finally replied quietly.
Joshua gave his shoulder a squeeze. "I know how…difficult it is to accept that. It's going to be hard for all us to accept, but I think you know it's going to be the hardest for you. Since we're only patrolling, I think it would be in your best interest to retire for the day. Reflect on it. Then, when we know for sure, well, it won't come as a complete and utter shock."
Nathan listened intently. Joshua was trying to be so tactful, and he appreciated that fact. And he also knew he was probably right. But he had other matters to attend. "I had promised Lucas I'd see him later. And he's going to want to know…"
Joshua nodded knowingly. "Can we compromise? You go back to your quarters and rest for a while. The others are all doing well…well enough that I don't have a reason to keep them in medbay any longer. I still want them to rest, but there's no reason they can't do that in their own quarters. As for Doctor Talbot and his son, we can put them in guest quarters. Once I release them, I'll let you know. And you're welcome to go see them. But for the rest of the day, stay off duty? Does that seem feasible?"
"I can do that," Nathan promised. He stood and started towards the door; he had an afterthought, however. "Joshua?"
"Thanks…for everything. You won't tell Lucas?"
"I'll let you handle that," he promised. "And you're welcome."
Nathan went back to his quarters as promised. He had planned to stay awake and try to analyze everything that had happened so far. He wanted to try to make some sort of sense of it all. But when he lay on his bunk, he realized he suddenly felt drained. And certainly, it was warranted, considering he hadn't slept well the night before. It wasn't long before he fell into a blissful slumber.
It wasn't until he heard the beeping of his PAL on the bedside table that he awoke. He glanced at the clock; nearly 1700 hours. He slept longer than he thought. He rubbed his eyes and grabbed his PAL. "Bridger."
"Captain, sorry…did I wake you?"
It was Joshua. "Yeah, but it's fine. I was just doing what you told me to do."
Nathan could tell Joshua was smiling, pleased that he was following his orders. "Well, I had promised I'd call when I had released the patients. Lucas is waiting for you."
"He asked about me?" Nathan guessed.
"He asked about Kristin. I told him I didn't know."
"Thanks. I'll go speak with him right away."
"You're welcome. Have a good night, Captain."
Nathan cut the link and got out of bed. After checking his appearance in the mirror and washing his face, he headed to Lucas' room. He knocked on the door.
"It's open," Lucas called.
Nathan entered the room. Lucas was lying on his bed. There was heavy metal music playing in the background; Led Zeppelin, Stairway to Heaven. Lucas had his laptop sitting on his lap, and Nathan could tell he was engaged in some violent video game. He could hear shooting sounds coming from the speakers. He chuckled softly. "Feeling better, I see."
"Lots," Lucas replied enthusiastically, closing his laptop lid and setting the device aside. "I'm just glad to be back in my room. At least I can see Darwin." He motioned to the aqua tubes, and sure enough, Darwin was there looking inside.
"I'm sure he likes seeing you too," Nathan replied. He sat in an open spot on the bed next to him. "And I'm really happy you're feeling better."
"So…what's the word on the doc?" Lucas said, not wasting any time. "Dr. Levin says he doesn't know anything, but I didn't quite believe him."
Nathan gave him a nod. "We thought I should be the one to tell you. Lucas…"
"We tried; I tried. But the storm is far worse than you can ever imagine. It's not safe…for any of us. It's just going to have to wait until the storm is over…or slows down at least."
"So that's it?" Lucas snapped angrily. "You're just going to leave her out there? You promised me you'd save her!"
"Lucas, it's just easier said than done right now. You know I want nothing more than to have her back her safe and sound," Nathan began.
"Yeah, right," Lucas said bitterly.
"Now, that's hardly fair. You know I care about her, and I damn well wouldn't leave her if I could get to her. In your heart, you know that. I know you're angry; I am too. I wish I could get to her. I wish I knew exactly where she was. If I did, don't you think I'd be out there right now? No matter how bad that storm was? And I wouldn't rest until I got her back here! But the problem is that none of us knows exactly where she is. All we can do is hope that we'll find her safe and sound, you got that?"
Lucas still looked angry. He didn't speak, but he nodded solemnly.
Nathan sighed. At least it was something. "Look, I'd better let you get back to your 'rest'. Don't stay up too late." He gently ruffled his hair. "Goodnight, kiddo."
Nathan headed back to his quarters. He knew he should probably go and see Dr. Talbot and even Ben and Jonathan, but he decided to forgo the idea for the night. Besides, he wanted to be ready, just in case his hypothesis was correct. And if he was correct, that meant Kristin should be knocking on his cabin door very shortly. He changed into a pair of khaki pants and a button-down denim shirt; not terribly fancy, but dressy enough.
He then stood before the small stove in his kitchenette area in his room. He was making shrimp and pasta with vegetables, something he knew Kristin would enjoy. When the food was finished, he plated it up and set the table. He then lit the candles and placed a bottle of wine on the table. Perfect, he decided.
A moment later, as expected, there was a gentle knock on the door.
"Come in," Nathan called. And he breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Kristin's smiling face.
She was wearing a light blue sundress with a white cardigan. "Hello," she greeted him. "Oh, something smells delicious."
"Glad you could make it," Nathan replied. "You look lovely."
She chuckled softly. "Thank you. And I wouldn't miss this. Did you think I had some other obligation?"
Nathan shrugged. "Well, I wasn't sure." He pulled out her chair and motioned for her to sit. He then opened the wine and poured some into her glass. He then did the same with his own and sat across from her.
It wasn't long before they were engaged in deep conversation, both their meals nearly finished and the bottle of wine nearly gone.
"I never knew you liked baseball," Kristin replied after Nathan had just told her about how he had played shortstop on his high school's baseball team.
"Of course. And you know, there is the big UEO Navy/Army baseball game every year. It's coming up. You should come. You know, we're always looking for extra players."
She quirked an eyebrow and gave him a doubtful look. "Nathan, there's a reason I'm a doctor and nothing more. I was never very good at sports. In fact, I'm horrible at them. No coordination whatsoever. I couldn't even make cheerleader. You don't want me on your team."
"Aww, come on…it's just for fun. Towards the end of the tour, we start practicing. I can give you some pointers…" Nathan pleaded.
"Just for fun? Is that what you called it when General Clayton came here? You two were competing in every little thing. I'm surprised you didn't have an eating contest."
"Who says we didn't?" Nathan quipped. "Just think about it, okay?"
Kristin sighed. "Very well; I'll think about it. But I can't make any promises."
"I'll accept that. So, what about you?"
"What about me?" Kristin asked before downing the last bit of wine in her glass.
"Tell me about the young Kristin. What were you like?" Nathan pressed. "I told you about me."
"Only that you played sports and dated the head cheerleader," Kristin pointed out. "That's not a whole lot to go on."
Nathan conceded. "Fine…you tell me something, and I'll tell you more. A trade, of sorts."
"Very well, but I get to choose what you tell me." She gave him her famous 'cat that ate the canary' grin. "Please?"
Nathan smiled at her. "You drive a hard bargain. Okay."
"Well, in high school, I was quite the opposite of you. I was shy, reserved."
Nathan raised an eyebrow. "You…shy?"
She gave his arm a gentle push and laughed. "Yes, as shocking as it is, I was very shy. I found it difficult to make friends. I went to Saint Bernadette's Academy and-"
"I'd never imagined you went to Catholic school."
"Well, my mother wanted us to have a proper education, but even more shocking is we weren't Catholic. Oh, no, we Westphalens followed the good old C of E, but there were no protestant schools in our district. Oh, but the nuns adored me."
"I'll be they did," Nathan teased.
"I was a very good student. There was one who even called my mother and insisted I'd be the perfect candidate for conversion. Mother simply thanked her and hung up the phone, and I was too young to protest. Apparently, I had been visiting the chapel and praying to the Virgin Mother, and Sister Agatha took notice."
"So, you were a shy, religious book worm when you were younger?"
Kristin laughed. "You make it sound incredibly boring. Oh, wait…I guess I was incredibly boring. It wasn't until I went to university before I came out of my shell. And not long after that, I met Cynthia's father…and that's that."
"I take it that's a sensitive subject, so I won't pry."
She gave him a soft smile. "I appreciate that."
She held out her glass to him and allowed him to refill it. She took a sip. "So, I guess it's my turn to ask you something."
"So it is," Nathan agreed.
Kristin stood, her glass of wine still in her hand. She walked to the book case in the corner where Nathan had various pictures along the top of it. She took another thoughtful sip as she scanned them. There was one of Nathan when he was younger, straight out of the academy. Kristin noted how handsome he looked, but moved on.
There were photos of various military awards ceremonies. The last photos were of his son, Robert and Carol. Kristin picked up the photo of Carol. She turned and looked back at Nathan, who was watching her intently. She motioned to the picture in her hand. "She had kind eyes."
Nathan gave her a knowing smile and a slight nod.
"W-would you mind…telling me about her? Please?" she asked gently. She knew it was as sensitive a subject as was her ex-husband, but she couldn't help but wonder about the woman in the photo.
"She was…a lot like you, actually," Nathan said after a moment of thought, walking over to her and taking the photo from Kristin. He stood there with her, staring at it.
"Like me?" Kristin said. "How so?"
"Well, she didn't like sports for one…of any kind. For the record, she'd never participate in the baseball games either, even though she was asked."
"Smart woman," Kristin commented.
"And she wasn't too fond of the military and their protocol either. In fact, she hated when I was away. All she wanted was for me to be home with her…" he trailed off.
Kristin could see the sudden change in his eyes. She saw sadness; she started to second-guess what she'd asked of him. "Nathan, you don't-"
"No, it's okay," he said gently. "Sometimes, I wonder what she saw in me. We were opposite in many ways."
"Well, they do say opposites attract."
"This…this photo was taken the day we moved to the island," Nathan told her. "She was happy that we'd finally be together, happy that I'd retired."
"I think I would have been, too," Kristin noted.
"But she never asked me to before that. It was just after Bobby…well, I couldn't say no to her anymore."
Kristin nodded. "You two loved one another very much. I wish I could have known her."
"I think she would have liked you," Nathan said, taking the photo from her and putting it back in its rightful place.
Kristin blushed. "Well, had she known me, I don't think she would have liked the fact I'm having dinner with her husband."
Nathan laughed. "That's not exactly what I meant. I mean-"
"I know… Do you think she would…approve of this? You…and me?"
"Being close?" Nathan asked.
She gave him a nod.
"I like to think she had something to do with this…all of this. And I think she would definitely approve. Why?"
She shrugged. "No reason."
But Nathan didn't quite believe her. He moved closer to her and took her hand in his. "I think it's time we have a little talk."
"We've been talking all evening."
"Yes, but not about this."
She obliged and followed him to the small sofa.
"I think it's both apparent we care for one another, perhaps more than friends?" Nathan started. "And you're wondering if I feel the same way?"
"Nathan, I…I know you're still in mourning and…"
Nathan then did something that surprised both himself and Kristin. He leaned over and kissed her.
At first, Kristin wasn't sure what to make of it, but she then closed her eyes and reveled in the sensation as the kiss deepened.
Nathan finally broke the kiss. "Does that answer your question?"
She nodded, unable to speak at first. "So now what?"
"We take it one day at a time."
The two talked a little while longer, laying out the guidelines of their relationship. But as it got later, Kristin couldn't stop herself from yawning.
"As much as I've enjoyed the evening, I really should go. Besides, don't you need to get up early?"
"Yeah, someone needs to work around here," he teased. He kissed her on the forehead. "That bruise looks a little better though," he noted.
"It is, thank you."
"See you tomorrow?"
"If not, come find me," she told him. She gave him one last kiss. "Goodnight, Captain. Thank you for a beautiful evening." And with that, she opened the door and left.
Chapter 9: That Nothing's Happened Yet
Kristin headed in the direction of her quarters, but she noticed Katie at the other end of the hallway. She smiled and waved, but Katie didn't return the gesture. She was looking in her direction, but it was almost as if she was looking past her, not at her.
Thinking that Katie was just lost in thought, Kristin walked up to her. "My, you're up late," she noted.
Katie still didn't answer her. The younger woman was standing there, looking rather pensive.
Kristin placed a hand on her shoulder, but what happened just then shocked her. Her hand went through her. Kristin stared in confusion for a moment. It had looked like it wasn't real. It looked like some old ghost movie where apparitions could walk through people. She shook her head. No, this couldn't be happening. She must be dreaming. She tried again. She put her arm around Katie's shoulders.
Again, it went clean through. Kristin didn't know what to do.
Just then, Katie let out a deep sigh and walked away, never noticing Kristin at all.
Nathan lay down on his bunk after cleaning, sighing contentedly. He was happy…well, somewhat. He finally told Kristin how he really felt about her. Too bad it wasn't exactly real. Well, it was and it wasn't. The fact was she could know exactly what happened, but he wasn't so sure. When he'd had these encounters in the past, if encounter was the right word, he rarely saw the individuals alive again. He sighed sadly.
"No," he muttered to himself. "You can't think that way."
He rolled over and tried to find a comfortable position. He just wanted to go to sleep, try to forget about the events of the day, and start anew tomorrow. "Then, I'll find her," he vowed. He only hoped she'd be alive when he got there. After a final prayer, he finally drifted off, thoughts of Kristin on his mind.
When Nathan woke, he was standing on the beach of his island. He looked around and saw a woman standing there. Her back was turned to him, but he had a feeling he knew who it was. He placed a hand on her shoulder, and she turned to him, a smile on her face.
"Carol?" Nathan said in surprise. He wrapped her in his arms and hugged her tightly. "Oh, sweetheart…I never thought I'd be able to do that again. It's been so long." He took a deep breath. Her hair smelled like roses. He realized how much he missed that scent.
"I know," she replied, pulling away. "I've missed you, too, but you know I can't stay."
He nodded slowly. He expected this.
She took his hand and pulled gently. "Come walk with me."
"Where are we going?"
Suddenly, there was a flash of light, and in a split-second, they were standing in front of a brick house, obviously, no longer on the island.
"Where are we?" Nathan asked after getting over his shock.
"You'll find out; let's go inside," Carol instructed. She started up the walkway, which was lined with pots of flowers in various varieties and colors. Nathan was surprised when she didn't even knock. She opened the door and stepped inside.
Bewildered, Nathan followed suit. There was a small entryway leading into a living room. Everything was neat and tidy; there were wood floors, but the living room had a large area rug with colored flowers in it. And the decorations in the room matched the colors perfectly. Nathan noticed that whomever lived here certainly had good taste and an eye for decorating. Nathan noticed a mantle with pictures on it. He looked through them, but didn't see anyone he recognized, until he came to one of a young man. Then, it dawned on him; it was James Westphalen. He turned to Carol. "Is this-"
At that moment, Kristin entered the room. She was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, and she looked a few years younger. Her hair was also longer, hanging loose over her shoulders. But she looked lovely, Nathan thought. His breath caught in his throat.
Carol noticed and gave him a knowing smile. "You're in love with her."
Nathan felt his cheeks redden. "Carol, I…"
She chuckled and waved a hand. "Oh, it's perfectly all right. You can admit it. It's not like I'm around anymore. I never expected you to remain alone for the rest of your life."
"I'm not sure if I'm even ready," he admitted.
"Yes, you are." She turned her attention back to Kristin. "If you haven't already guessed, she can't hear or see us. Just watch."
Nathan did so. Kristin was sitting on her sofa, papers strewn about her. She was copying notes out of a book. "What's she reading?"
As if on cue, Kristin picked up the book as she changed positions on the sofa. Nathan was able to see the title then: Topography and Thermal Range Variances in Our Changing Oceans, written by none other than himself.
Nathan suddenly remembered the day he and Kristin had met; she told him she knew his work.
Kristin then shook her head, her brows knitted in confusion. "That doesn't make sense," she muttered in frustration. She flipped to the back cover. Nathan guessed she must be reading the 'About the author' section. She then stood and crossed the room, heading to the vid-link. She punched a number into the keypad and waited patiently.
A man's face appeared on the screen. He was about the same age as Kristin, Nathan guessed, with dark hair and blue eyes. "Kristin, what a surprise. It's been a long time. How've you been? Still teaching at the university in England?"
She smiled at him. Doctor Ted Schneider was an old friend of hers and fellow scientist. And he also had one quality she loved; he knew a lot of other scientists in the field-worldwide. She was hoping he could help her. "Yes...it's been too long Ted," she agreed. "And, yes, still teaching at the university and working the night shift at the hospital. I've actually applied to a different sort of science program, but I don't know if my application has been accepted yet."
"My, you do keep busy. When do you sleep?" he teased.
"Oh, believe me, I find the time," she assured him.
"Well, don't keep me in suspense. Where is this new position of yours?" Ted asked.
"Would you mind if I don't say yet? I don't want to jinx it."
"Very well. So how have you been otherwise?"
"Frustrated. I'm trying to prepare a lecture for my next class, and I'm having a little trouble. I've been reading Nathan Bridger's work and-"
"Nathan Bridger," he replied knowingly.
"You know him?"
"I know of him, yes. I don't know him personally," Ted told her.
Her smile faded. "That's not what I wanted to hear," she admitted. "I was hoping to speak with him personally."
Ted chuckled. "And you thought I'd just have his number lying around somewhere?"
"I was, yes." Kristin had been dead serious. "It's just that I've been reading his book, and I have some questions. I'm a little confused, and I thought that if I'm going to explain it to my students, I ought to understand the subject matter myself. You wouldn't happen to know someone who might know how to get a hold of him, would you?"
"Kristin, honey, you don't watch the news very much, do you?"
"Well…not lately," she admitted. "Why?"
"Look at the copyright on that book in your hand," Ted instructed.
Kristin did so and saw that it was a few years old. "2014," she said. She looked back at Ted and gave him a questioning look. "What does that have to do with anything?"
"In case you haven't noticed, it's 2017. And you'll also notice he hasn't written anything new lately, and it's likely you won't see it. You can try all you want, but you're not going to reach him. Word is, he's become a hermit, lives an island in the Yucatán."
"Yes, well, that's what it says here." Kristin showed him the author's page. "But I still don't see-"
"Apparently, he's had some tragedies in his life. He's cut himself off from the rest of civilization. He's unreachable," Ted told her.
Kristin sighed. "Well, if you're sure there's no way to reach him."
"I really am sorry. Even if he wasn't, I don't know anyone who knows him personally. Do you think I can help you with your problem?"
"Not unless you happen to know about the geology of the Atlantic as opposed to the Pacific and how that's changed over the course of history."
"Sorry, they don't happen to teach that to biologists," he quipped.
"I didn't think so," she said with a weak smile. "Thanks anyway."
"Anytime. Take care of yourself. And let me know if that other position works out for you."
"You, too, Ted, and I will. Goodbye."
Kristin sighed again once she'd cut the link. "Unreachable," she muttered, looking at the book in her hand. "Well, I guess it's back to the drawing board for a new subject for tomorrow's lecture. Guess I won't be getting much sleep after all." She placed the book back in the book shelf in the corner of the room. "Sorry, Nathan Bridger."
Nathan turned to Carol. "She told me about this the day we met…that she tried to contact me."
"I know," Carol replied.
"So, that's why you're showing me this?"
"Not exactly. I'm showing you the point at which your fate changed," Carol said.
"My fate? But Kristin didn't know me then."
"You're right, she didn't…not in the physical sense. But your work definitely sparked her interest. Why do you think she wanted a position on the seaQuest so badly?"
He shrugged. "Well, it sounded like she was pretty frustrated with her teaching and working night shifts and not sleeping much," Nathan answered.
Carol shook her head. "No, it was because of you . She knew seaQuest was your brainchild."
"I'm afraid I don't quite understand..." Nathan thought for a moment. "So you're saying she landed a position on seaQuest just so she could speak to me about my work? But she didn't even know I'd be captaining it. That happened much later."
Carol rolled her eyes. "Oh, Nathan, I love you, but sometimes, you really are clueless." She turned to look at him. "Yes, she knew that you weren't there. You showing up happened after the fact, but that doesn't mean it wasn't meant to be. Do you remember the moment you two met?"
"How could I forget? She was giving Commander Ford a tongue-lashing."
"And do you remember what happened after that?" Carol pressed.
"It was only six months ago," Nathan told her. "I laughed and she asked me if I found it amusing. Then she wanted to know if I was a stowaway. Then I introduced myself."
"And that's it," Nathan answered. "I really don't see-"
"I know you don't. Apparently, I'm going to have to spell it out for you," Carol said. "You didn't notice the change in her demeanor?"
"Her demeanor? No…I mean, she didn't seem so angry then, but-"
"Think about it, Nathan. Look at that woman," she said, pointing. "What do you see?"
"I see…I see a woman who…"
"Yes," Carol said with an encouraging nod.
Nathan looked back to the mantle. Behind it were various certificates and honors she'd received in the span of her career. "Has had to work hard her whole life," he finished.
Nathan thought for a moment. "I don't know," he finally admitted.
"Her whole life, she's had to prove herself. Being a woman, she was looked down upon by the men in her field, that was until she could prove she was as smart as they were, if not smarter. And that's what she was doing with Commander Ford that day. But she didn't have to do that with you. Do you know why?"
"Because you saw her as a person. You saw her for who she was…and the moment you decided to stay on seaQuest was the moment that changed both your lives forever. You were a buffer; you quickly proved that you were a comrade, that you were on her side. She knew she could trust you," Carol explained. "Of course, I knew she'd be good for you as soon as I saw her."
"So you did set this up?"
Carol smiled. "I wish I could take credit for it, but no; we don't have any influence over the lives of humans. We simply make wishes and hopes, just like you do. But I definitely wouldn't change anything. If I can't be with you, I'm glad she is." She then took his hand in hers, and there was another flash of light. They were back on the island beach.
Nathan and Carol walked in silence for a short time.
"I suppose you know why I'm here, though?" Carol finally asked.
Nathan shook his head. He had a guess, but he was too afraid to say it.
Carol looked at him doubtfully. "I think you do. You never wanted her to go on that expedition."
"Well, in case you haven't noticed, she's not the easiest person to say no to."
Carol smiled. "Yes…but you were worried and for good reason."
"But I can't change what's happened."
"No, but you can rectify it. You know what you have to do."
"I tried, but I couldn't find her. And…and I'm afraid I'm too late. I've lost her," Nathan replied quietly.
"No, you haven't," Carol countered. "She still has time."
"But the storm..."
"Is letting up," Carol continued. She placed both her hands on his shoulders. "She's still alive. She doesn't have much time, but she has some. I've made sure of that."
"You don't think I'm going to let the second woman you've ever loved leave you?" She placed a hand on his cheek. "Oh, Nathan, I do miss you. But you know I can't be with you. Don't let her slip away, too."
"I won't, I promise…but how-"
"Don't let her slip away…"
Nathan awoke suddenly, sitting straight up in bed. He'd seen Carol in dreams before, but she'd never spoken to him. Usually, he'd ask her questions, and she'd just stand there, smiling back, never answering…much like what happened when he'd speak to her hologram. He wondered if it was real or simply just a dream. But it had seemed so real. But then, so did Kristin…
He glanced at the clock. It was 0300 hours. Well, there was only one way to prove if the dream had any merit. He sat in front of his laptop and checked the status on Snowstorm Edward. And Nathan was amazed by the headline: Snowstorm Edward Finally Leaving the Gulf Area.
Nathan quickly dressed. He knew he'd have to wait until daylight, but he was going to make sure he had a plan in mind. He wasn't going out there blind. Carol had told him Kristin didn't have much time. He'd go out there by himself if he had to. But as he was dressing, he found a note sitting on the bedside table. Funny, he hadn't noticed it before. He picked it up and read it. It simply read, Come find me.
Nathan instantly recognized the hand-writing as Kristin's. He sighed. "I'm working on it, sweetheart." He put the note in his pocket and headed to Kristin's room. There was one thing in there that he needed, and that was a map of the gulf. He knew she'd had one. When she was speaking to him about the expedition she had showed him it.
"See, we'll only be in this little area. It's nothing to worry about."
"Nothing to worry about, indeed," Nathan said with a sigh.
He headed to her quarters. He knocked on the door, but she didn't answer. He'd expected that. He walked inside and began looking for the map. He knew he'd seen it on her desk the last time he was there, but he couldn't see it. He began rifling through it when he heard something. He turned and saw an upset-looking Kristin sitting on the floor. Her knees were pulled up to her chest and she was crying softly.
Nathan stopped what he was doing and knelt before her. He placed a hand on her shoulder. "Kristin?"
"Why didn't you tell me?" she asked.
"Because I decided it was best for you to figure it out on your own," Nathan said gently. "You didn't seem to remember, and I-"
"Well, I remember now," she said miserably. She buried her face in her knees and let out a soft sob. "I just don't understand it." After a few minutes, she looked at him, tears streaming down her face. "I need to know. Please? Nathan, why are you the only one who can see me?"
Chapter 10: We're Living For Moments Like This
Nathan stared at her for a moment. He'd anticipated this moment, the very moment when she'd ask him that question. And he imagined telling her, but one thing he hadn't anticipated was how difficult it was going to be. He looked into her dark eyes and froze; the look in her eyes was so desperate, so heart-breaking, he wasn't sure if he could say it now.
"Nathan?" she whispered softly. "Please?"
"It's…it's a long story," he finally choked out. He adjusted his position and sat next to her on the floor.
She laid her head on his shoulder. "It doesn't look like I'm going anywhere." Her voice trembled slightly.
Nathan sighed and put his arm around her shoulders; he knew she needed the comfort, although he was sure he wasn't going to be enough when all was said and done. "It…it all started when I was at the academy. My roommate, Sam and I were asked to participate in a battle simulation. No one is supposed to get hurt in those things, but this one was an exception. It didn't end well."
"He died?" Kristin inferred.
"We both did," Nathan replied sadly. "I remember seeing a light…and I remember watching my body lying on a gurney. I was standing in the middle of that emergency room, and it was like a dream. Sam was standing next to me…" his voice trailed off as he felt tears come to his eyes at the memory of it. He swallowed hard, trying to keep them at bay. But when he spoke again, his voice trembled with severe emotion, "He said that it wasn't my time…that I had to go back, but he…he couldn't come with me. I tried to argue, tried to protest. This…this wasn't how it was supposed to be. But it was too late. I remember screaming, and then I woke up. I was back in my body, and the doctor told me that they tried to save Sam, but couldn't. It was too late for him, but he told me I was given a second chance, that I shouldn't waste it."
There was a long pause as Nathan tried to compose himself enough to be able to continue. He could see Kristin was staring at him intently, her eyes brimming with unshed tears, causing them to glisten.
"And what happened?" she finally asked.
"I had a hard time moving on," he admitted. "I felt so guilty. Why was I the one who lived while Sam had to die? It…it wasn't fair. I was at the top of my rank before the accident…and I quickly fell to the bottom after Sam died. I couldn't hack it. I was about to quit…but then something happened."
"I started getting visitors," Nathan replied.
Nathan nodded. "It…it all started when Susie Cox showed up at my apartment."
"Susie…" Kristin replied thoughtfully. "Wasn't that the cheerleader you said you dated in high school?"
"The one and only," Nathan confirmed. "Only the reunion wasn't as happy as you might think. Well, it was…at first. We had a nice chat, she and I. Then she gave me a hug and kiss, told me she loved me. And then she said she hoped to see me again one day, but that it was time for her to move on. And that was the last time I saw her." Nathan paused for a moment. "A few days later, I heard that she had died a week earlier in a car crash."
Kristin gasped softly. "But-"
"She was the first of many," Nathan continued. "They'd always come to me, and then they'd move on…cross over, if you will. All these people I loved…they'd come to me after they died. After we graduated and were stationed, do you know how many of my friends I saw?" He turned to her, tears in his eyes, his voice shaking. "Too many…" his voice trailed off.
"Nathan…" Kristin said quietly. He had buried his face in his hands. She'd never seen him that way. Yes, she'd seen him looking sad, looking pensive…but never quite like this. She placed a hand on his shoulder, and he turned to her, his cheeks wet from the tears he'd shed.
Nathan knew he needed to keep telling his story, no matter how painful because she needed to hear it. He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. "Sorry," he muttered. "I…I've never really told this to anyone else," he admitted.
She nodded in understanding. She didn't speak, but put her arm around his and squeezed gently in an attempt to offer support.
"Well, after Susie's visit, something told me to stay. It was just…a feeling. And I suppose it was a good one because I met Carol not too long after that. And after some time, I healed," he explained. "And I felt better about my life. We courted, got married, and it wasn't long after, Carol became pregnant. We had the perfect life."
"And your gift?" Kristin said. "What happened?"
"I went quite a long time before I saw anyone else. I actually thought I'd lost it…and I was glad of that. It wasn't until just before Bobby became lost that I saw anyone else, and it was someone I never expected to see again. I was on shore leave for a week, and I was in town by myself. We were living near Pearl at the time. And I saw a man who recognized me instantly. He introduced himself as Frances 'Frank' Sullivan; Doctor Frank Sullivan. He was the one who saved me," Nathan explained. "He saw me walking on the beach, and he recognized me. Carol was shopping, so he invited me for a cup of coffee. So we sat and had a chat. He wanted to know what I'd done with my life."
"And what did you say?"
"I told him about the academy, getting married, having a son. But he asked again what I'd done with my life. I told him I didn't understand. He reminded me that I was given a second chance for a reason. He then told me he was sick…terminal cancer. I heard that he died a week after he came to see me. His wife had sent me a letter saying that he had been asking for me as he lay on his deathbed…in Ohio. I hadn't even realized until after the letter…" Nathan paused for a moment, thinking about everything he had told her so far. He wasn't sure he could continue, but he felt her warm breath on his arm. She gave him an encouraging squeeze. "Well, I did think about what he said…about what I was really doing with my life. He meant I needed to be more active with my fellow man, I think. I wasn't really. I was only living for myself. And I was planning on changing…but that's when tragedy struck. A month later, we learned Bobby was killed in action." Nathan felt tears threaten to fall again, and his voice became strained as he struggled to hold them back.
Kristin took Nathan's hand in hers and held it as he spoke.
"But I never saw Bobby. I knew…I knew that if he were really dead, he would have come to me. I know that in my heart. But I never saw him. He can't be dead; I just know it. I don't know where he is, but I know he isn't dead. That's why I never believed it," Nathan said. He looked at Kristin then. His were tears in his eyes, but he wouldn't let them fall, not yet. He took a deep breath, swallowed hard, and wiped his eyes. "That's when I retired; that much you know. We bought the island and moved. I had to…I had to get away. It was just Carol and me, and it was perfect. And I was able to…avoid seeing anyone else, if you catch my drift. It wasn't until a year later that it all caught up with me," Nathan said. "That's when Carol got sick. It…it happened so fast. One moment, she was fine. By that evening, she was so sick. I just…I just did everything I could to try and keep her fever down. I stayed with her all night, not wanting to leave her side. I tried to stay awake, but I fell asleep shortly after three in the morning. And by the time I woke up, she was gone…or so I thought."
"What do you mean?"
"After all the proper arrangements had been made, I came back home to an empty house. The reality began to set in…but then I saw Carol again. And it was as if nothing ever happened. She didn't seem to remember what happened at all. And it was a lot like this," he said, motioning between Kristin and himself. "I wasn't sure if she'd ever realize what really happened. But one day, she did. She found out the truth. And when she did, she was gone. It was over. That's when I shut down completely. Why the hell do you think I was on that island for so long by myself? I couldn't…I just couldn't handle losing someone I loved like that again." He now had tears streaming down his face, no longer able to hold them back.
"Nathan," Kristin finally said. "If…if you saw Carol after she'd passed…and you saw all your friends after they'd passed…" Her voice trailed off as the reality of what could be happening finally set in. "If…if you can see people before they cross over, then does that mean…" She trailed off as she attempted to process it. A soft gasp escaped her throat. She turned to look at him. "Nathan, am I…am I…dead?"
Nathan shrugged. "Kristin, sweetheart, I honestly don't know. I think you're in a liminal state at the moment; you're between the realms of the living and the dead. I-"
"No!" Kristin interrupted, her voice strained. "That…that can't be. There was an accident."
"Yes," Nathan replied. "And you never came back, Kris."
She shook her head. "No…I remember being pulled into the water. But then I saw a light," she argued.
"Honey, everyone sees a light. That's how it works."
Kristin put her hands on his shoulders, giving him a shake. "No, you have to find me! You have to save me! I came to you because I wanted you to find me!" She finally broke down, sobbing uncontrollably.
Nathan wrapped her in his arms. "I'm trying, honey. I…I need to know if you know where you are. I came to find the map."
She shook her head. "I don't know," she said through her tears. "Nathan, I'm so cold. I don't know how much longer I can…"
Nathan felt a sudden emptiness. He couldn't feel her warmth against him. He suddenly realized she was gone; she'd disappeared into thin air. His heart sank. He hoped that wasn't a bad sign. He glanced towards the clock. It was after 0500 hours; he hadn't realized how long he'd been talking to her. He wiped any stray tears that were left in his eyes. He had to pull himself together. He stood and looked around, as if searching for any sign of her, but to no avail. He looked on her desk one more time, searching for the map. Still, there was nothing. He sighed heavily and was about to leave when he caught something out of the corner of his eye.
It was her bulletin board and tacked to it was the map. Nathan noticed little red dots where she'd marked the course to show him. He pulled the tack out of the board and looked at the area she'd marked. And then he saw something he hadn't noticed before. There was a red circle around an area just to the right of the expedition area with the words, Come find me, again written in Kristin's handwriting, just like her note. He folded the map and put it in his pocket. "Don't worry, sweetheart. I'm coming," he promised before heading to round up a rescue team.
Kristin wasn't sure what was happening. One moment, she was crying in Nathan's arms, the next she was across the room. But this time, Nathan couldn't see her, no matter how hard she tried to get his attention.
"Nathan!" she yelled after several futile attempts. She was standing right next to him, screaming in his ear. But he didn't see or hear her.
Kristin brought a hand up to her mouth, stifling a sob. "This can't be happening," she said to herself. She tried to put her hands on his shoulders, but they went through him, just the same as what happened with Katie.
"No!" she cried in frustration. "Nathan, please, look at me. I'm right here!" She watched him take the map off the bulletin board and mutter something she couldn't hear. Then she watched him leave, and she fell apart completely; she was so alone and confused. And she wasn't sure if she was destined to stay in whatever realm she was trapped in, only being able to watch her friends live their lives and nothing more. She sank to the floor once again, her shoulders trembling as her sobs wracked her small frame.
She wasn't sure how long she cried miserably when she felt arms go around her. She thought it was her imagination at first, but then she felt hands rubbing her back in an effort to comfort her. "Nathan?" she whispered through her tears.
"I'm afraid not, honey," said a female voice she didn't recognize.
Kristin pulled away and started at the woman before her in shock. "You…you're…"
The woman held out her hand in greeting. "I believe you called me woman with the kind eyes," she replied with a soft smile. "Carol."
Kristin instinctively backed away. This had to have been one of the strangest dreams she'd ever had. "I…you…you're not…you're…"
"Dead?" Carol finished for her.
Kristin nodded, her mouth agape in disbelief.
Carol placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Trust me, you're not dreaming."
"How did you-"
"It's one of the perks of the afterlife, sweetie. No need to be alarmed."
Kristin suddenly felt light-headed. "I…I think I'm going to faint," she said weakly.
Carol shook her head. "No, you're not," she assured her. "You just need to understand what's going on here, and I'm here to explain it. But first thing's first." She passed her a box of tissues. "Come on, dry those tears."
Kristin stared at the box for a moment, worried her hand might go through it if she reached out to accept it.
"It won't bite you," Carol promised with a kind smile on her face.
Kristin took a deep breath and reached a hand out to take the box from her. Her hand didn't go through it, much to her relief. "Thank you," she replied before taking a tissue out and dabbing at her eyes.
"No problem," Carol answered. "Now, I know you have about a million questions running through your head at the moment, but let me explain to you what's going on. And we'll go from there, got it?"
"Good," Carol said. "Well, as Nathan said, you're in-between. You're not dead…not yet, so don't worry."
"How can I not worry? Did you see what just happened? I'm a bloody ghost!" Kristin cried.
Carol laughed softly. "You are not a ghost. Ghosts are the souls of those who have died who are not at rest. Your soul is just confused."
"Oh, that sounds so much better when you put it that way," Kristin said dryly.
Carol sighed. "Kristin, let's talk seriously. You really don't have much time, so I need you to listen."
But Kristin interrupted. "I don't even know what's real anymore. How can I possibly listen to something I can't believe?"
"Oh, I'd forgotten that you're a woman of science. You need logic and reasoning. You'd like proof?" Carol guessed.
"That would help, yes."
Carol thought for a moment. "Well, I was going to save this for the end of our conversation, but I might as well tell you now. You had a brother?"
Kristin nodded. "But-"
"I know him," Carol continued, not stopping to let Kristin get a word in. "In fact, he was supposed to come see you, but I asked for the assignment myself because of the special circumstances. James relented, but he asked me to give you a message. He says he loves you and that he's so very proud of you, angel face."
"Angel face?" Kristin muttered in shock. "James used to…"
"That was his pet name for you, yes?" Carol finished for her.
Kristin nodded. "To this day, no one has ever called me that. It's sort of a long-running joke from when we were young. I played one the angels in the Christmas pageant when I was six. And I was so very nervous. And James…you know, he was two years older than I, and he was playing Joseph. He put his arm around me, and said, "Don't worry, angel face; I'll be right on stage with you." And ever since, he called me angel face, especially when I was feeling down."
Carol smiled at her story. "That sounds like him," she said thoughtfully. "He also says not to worry; he'll see you again one day."
"Could…could I see him, by chance?"
"Oh, no, honey, I'm sorry. He's off on an assignment of his own. But he told me to tell you he's always with you."
Kristin nodded. "Okay, so I believe you. What are you exactly? An angel?"
Carol shrugged. "You can call me that if you like. Others call us souls, spirits, ghosts. We really don't have an official name. I'm just here to help you…and Nathan in the long-run."
"Why me? Why would you, of all people, want to help me?" Kristin asked.
"Why wouldn't I? Because you and Nathan are…slowly becoming a couple?"
Kristin nodded. "If I was dead, I don't think I'd enjoy my former spouse romancing another woman," she reasoned.
Carol took Kristin's hand in her own. "Let me put your mind at ease. I don't hate you. In fact, I'm happy you two have become close. If I can't be with Nathan, you are exactly the type of person I'd choose."
Kristin blushed. "Thank you, I suppose. But would you kindly explain to me then why one moment, Nathan could see me? And the next? Well, you saw…"
Carol nodded. "It's because you finally became aware of what was happening. Nathan won't be able to see you again, not this way. That's how it works."
"So that's it?"
Carol shook her head. "Oh, no, sweetie. This is definitely not it. You still have a chance. As I said, you're not dead yet. Your body is still very much alive…for now. You do know you're running out of time, though?"
Kristin nodded. She wasn't sure how she knew that, but she did. "Am I going to die?"
"No one can answer that question but you," Carol told her. "You have a choice to make."
"What? You mean I need to decide if I want to live or die?"
"Essentially, yes. Look, you're really here too early. This isn't how it was supposed to be, but sometimes, certain events can alter the original plan…like your whale expedition. No one anticipated that storm, and well…if no one can find you in the next few hours, you will die. But when one is brought here too early like this, sometimes we give them a choice."
"Were you given a choice?"
Carol nodded. "And before you question me about the choice I made, you need to understand why I chose the way I did. I was sick; I had contracted a mutated form of yellow fever. It was so advanced that I had gone into a coma before I passed. Even if I had decided to come back, I would have still been in that coma. And there was no guarantee I'd ever come out of it. I asked to see a glimpse of what Nathan's life would have been like had I decided to stay. I couldn't do that to him. And had I stayed, he never would have left that island. He wouldn't have done half the things he's already done. So as painful as it was, I had to leave."
Kristin nodded. "So what are the risks if I decide to live?"
"Honey, you're a doctor. You know what the risks are, don't you?"
"Nerve damage, sensitivity to cold, possible infection or gangrene," Kristin said in her medical voice. But then she softened. "What about Nathan? Am I a detriment to him?" she asked worriedly.
"I can't say for sure, but I think you are good for Nathan. And it's not just Nathan you need to worry about. Lucas, Katie, even Commander Ford…everyone on this boat cares about you. You need to think about how your death will affect every one of them. But there is an upside to everything; if you do decide to leave the world you know, you'll be with James. I know he'd be glad to see you. And you'd be able to visit the others."
"You visit Nathan?"
"Only in dreams; he can't see me anymore, not like you can see me. But I can come watch him, observe if I feel the need. Sometimes, it's comforting."
Kristin nodded. "But I don't…"
Carol placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. "I'll give you a little time to think, but you need to decide very soon. You don't have much time."
Chapter 11: So Hold Me, Whisper Gently
Nathan wanted to speak with Joshua first, deciding he was essential to the rescue team.
Joshua answered fairly quickly. Although he was still dressed in lounge pants and a T-shirt, he didn't look as though he'd been sleeping. "Captain? Good morning."
Nathan gave him a nod. "I know it's early," he said, somewhat apologetically. "Can I come in?"
Joshua nodded and stepped aside to let him pass.
Nathan noticed the expectant look on his face to which he simply stated, "I want to go back out there."
Joshua sighed. "But I don't-"
"The storm has passed," Nathan told him in an effort to convince him that they needed to go look once more. "All I'm asking is for one more chance. I just want to look once more."
Joshua sighed. "Well, I suppose it will be a little easier now…"
"So are you on board?"
Joshua nodded. "And the others?"
"I'm going to round them up," Nathan assured him. "Be ready by 0700 hours?"
"I'll meet you in launch bay," Joshua promised.
Nathan gave him a nod and turned to leave.
Nathan turned back to him.
"I do hope you're right," Joshua said sincerely.
"I do, too," Nathan replied. "I do, too." And with that, he left the room.
Kristin didn't need to think twice. "I want to live."
"Oh, I did forget to mention one thing, though," Carol said, putting an arm around Kristin's shoulders. "You might want to rethink your answer."
"There's a catch." It wasn't a question; it was an observation.
"Not a catch exactly, sweetie," Carol replied. "More like a rule. It's just that if one has been here too early, as in your case, we give him or her the option to choose. However, that can only be done once. If you choose to go back and you end up back here too early again, you don't get a second chance. You're here to stay. Do you understand?"
Kristin's heart sank. That did cause a bit of a problem. "Does…does that happen often? That someone might find him or herself here too early more than once?"
Carol sighed. "I'm not going to lie and say it never happens because it does. That is few and far between, however; and one must believe that there's a reason for it. Everything happens for a reason. That's our motto here, and it's true."
"How much time do I have…to think?"
"Time enough. Um, perhaps I should leave you alone?" Carol said thoughtfully. She turned to leave when Kristin grabbed her arm.
Carol turned to her, giving her that kind smile; the same one she saw in the picture in Nathan's room.
"I mean…um…I don't…" Kristin stammered awkwardly.
Carol nodded. "I know what you're going through," she simply replied. "You don't need to explain. But you're a big girl. You've never really needed anyone to make decisions for you. This is no different. You already know in your heart what you want."
"So you're saying I should follow my heart?" Kristin asked, feeling terribly unsure of herself all of a sudden.
"Oh, sweetheart," Carol said, pulling her into a hug, "I wish I could tell you, but I'm not allowed. This has to be your choice and your choice alone. I'm not allowed to influence you in any way. Just remember that whatever you choose was meant to be."
"But how do I-" Kristin began.
"I need to go," Carol told her. "I'll be back in a little while. You'll be fine."
Kristin tried to voice another protest, but Carol disappeared into a mist right before her eyes. She sighed loudly. "Well, I guess that's that." She sat down on her bunk, her head in her hands. She had thought she knew the answer; she thought it was so simple. But now, after finding out that little extra detail, it didn't seem so simple anymore.
Being on a UEO submarine, death was always a possibility. It came with the territory, unfortunately. Even as a civilian, she had to put her life on the line. Perhaps it wasn't as required as the military personnel. Certainly, if she felt a mission was too dangerous, all she needed to do was tell Nathan no, and he'd send Levin in her place. But she wasn't that kind of person. And in the past week, she'd faced death twice now. How many times could she keep toying with it?
She didn't know the answer to that, and that was the problem. And there was one other thing making her question her earlier decision, and that was James. It had been so long since she'd seen him. She thought back to the moment when she had seen him last. She was in her residency years then. The family had a going away party for him just before he'd left on the expedition on island 2-A47 in the Indian Ocean. She felt tears sting her eyes at the memory of it.
"Take care of yourself, angel face," he told her.
She gave him a bone-crushing hug. "I'm going to miss you…so much."
"Hey, someday, we'll be out there together…after you're finished getting all your degrees," he teased gently. "Geologists need doctors, too."
She smiled through her tears. "I'd like that."
He made a fist and tapped her chin lovingly. "It won't be long. I'll write every day. I promise."
"You'd better. I love you."
"I love you too, sis," James said.
And that was the last she'd heard from him. Oh, she did receive a few letters, but then the letters suddenly stopped. And they were all left wondering what happened until the other family members of the rest of the expedition team started questioning the sudden silence, and the government began an investigation. Then Rubin Zellar claimed responsibility for the deaths through the use of his experimental neurotoxin.
She sighed as she tried to fight back tears. This wasn't helping her make a decision, was it? She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. No, she needed a different strategy. She went to her desk and took out a notepad and a pen. She was going to write down the pros and cons. But just as she started to do so, she heard a familiar voice.
She turned and couldn't believe her eyes, for standing before her was James. He looked just as she remembered him.
He waved his hand. "Hi, angel face."
She ran to him and wrapped her arms around him, sobbing with joy. "Oh, James, I've missed you so," she said through her tears.
James wrapped her in his arms. "Same here. I…I never thought I'd see you here so soon."
She pulled away to look at him. "Neither did I. Um, but I thought I wouldn't be able to see you."
He shrugged and gave her that crooked smile of his. "I pulled a few strings…I had to see my baby sister, at least for a little while; that is, of course, unless you decide to stay…"
"I…I'm not sure," she admitted. "Seeing you again is like a dream come true, but…" She looked around her room and walked to the small shelf where she had pictures of her loved ones there. There was one of Cynthia and one with Nathan, Lucas, and her. "This is my home…and Cynthia…Nathan and Lucas…the rest of the crew…" Her voice trailed off sadly.
James nodded. "I…I know," he answered. "That's why I wanted to see you before you left."
She looked at him, surprised. "What makes you so sure I'm leaving?"
He flashed her another grin. "Kristin, you're my baby sister. Even though you didn't know it, I've been with you the whole time. I've watched you get all the degrees you wanted…and even more. I've watched you get married…and divorced. I watched my niece grow up. I've seen how hard you worked for everything you've done in your life. And I've seen how close you've become with the rest of the crew. And by the way, I approve."
"I mean, of Nathan…I approve. He's good for you," he stated simply.
"You sound a lot like Carol," she noted.
He smiled. "Carol and I talk about you two a lot, actually. All she wants is for him to be happy…and I want the same for you. You both deserve it."
She felt tears sting her eyes again. "That…that really means a lot," she said softly. She picked nervously at her fingernail. "I…I'm torn, though. I'm not sure I can leave you."
"Oh, angel face, no…I'll be fine. I've been fine, ever since I died. You don't need to worry. But this…this isn't your time. You have so much more to do in life. I know that."
"And you didn't? Your life…it was taken from you. You didn't have a say," Kristin exclaimed.
"But it was my time. I had done everything I wanted in life. That was it. I didn't need more than that. Yes, it hurt. It hurt to leave you and Mum and Dad, but that hurt goes away. And we'll see each other again someday," James explained.
"So you're telling me I should go back?"
"Not at all," James told her. "I just don't want to be the reason you stay, if that's what you decide. I just wanted you to know that I'm fine. I think you have a lot more to offer to the world, that's all."
Kristin simply nodded. "You're going to leave now, aren't you?"
"I have to. I have other people to help. This was just a quick stop on my way."
Kristin felt more tears creep up. "I don't want to say goodbye," she said, her voice trembling.
"Oh, honey," James uttered as he held her close once more. "It's not goodbye…more like see you later, okay?"
She nodded and held him tightly. She sobbed softly for a while as James held her in one last goodbye hug.
Finally, however, James said, "I…I have to go, angel face. I'll be seeing you."
She nodded reluctantly. "I love you," she whispered.
"I love you, too, sis…always." Then, just like Carol had done, he disappeared into a mist.
Kristin sighed heavily as she did her best to stifle her tears. This was going to be a difficult decision.
As soon as Nathan spoke with the rest of the crew, everyone was volunteering, just as before. The general mood of the boat just wasn't the same without the good doctor around, and if they'd do anything to have her back.
Nathan wondered if Kristin knew how much the others loved her. The only thing he could do is thank everyone for doing so. Just as before, however, he asked Katie to take the bridge and took Chief Crocker, Chief Ortiz, and Lieutenant O'Neill with him.
They boarded the launch, headed for the Gulf of Alaska once again.
"The same location where we were yesterday," Nathan instructed.
The others gave him strange looks.
Finally, Joshua spoke up. "Captain, we already looked there…and didn't find her."
Nathan finally showed him the map. He wasn't going to, considering the message Kristin had left. He just didn't want to be bombarded with questions that he couldn't answer. But it was the only way to explain why he wanted to go back. "This is a map of the course of The Moby Dick. We already know they veered from that path." He pointed to a location of the map just outside of the red outline. "That would have put them here…and this is where we were yesterday. If her body was taken by the undercurrent, it's possible that she might have washed up on these rocks." He pointed to the circled area.
The others exchanged glances with one another.
"It's a long-shot," Tim finally said. "But possible."
"Anything's possible," Nathan told them. "I just ask that you trust me."
Kristin had finally calmed down, at least enough to where she wasn't crying any longer. That did not mean, however, that she wasn't going through emotional turmoil. She had scribbled down all the pros and cons. But when she was finished, both categories had the same number of reasons. That didn't really help matters.
"Oh, this is impossible," she uttered in frustration, burying her face in her pillow. "I wish I'd never have gone on that expedition in the first place."
"I know, sweetie," Carol said softly, rubbing Kristin's back gently in an effort to comfort her. "Unfortunately, we don't have a way to turn back time here."
Kristin sat up and laid her head on Carol's shoulder. "I just don't know what to do."
Carol put an arm around Kristin's shoulders. "You're going to have to make a decision quickly."
"Yes, you can," Carol encouraged. "You've known all along what you wanted. You're just letting guilt cloud your vision."
Kristin looked at her. "How did you-"
"It comes with the job, remember?" She sighed and placed her hands on her shoulders. "Close your eyes."
"Close your eyes," Carol said again.
Kristin took a breath and complied.
"Now think about what you want. Don't think about James or Nathan…what you think anyone else wants you to do. Think about what Kristin wants."
"Think about what I want," Kristin repeated. Kristin did her best to clear her mind. As difficult as it was, she forgot about James, forgot about Nathan…forgot about all her family and friends for just a moment. And then it was clear what she wanted. She felt as if a weight had been lifted off her shoulders.
When she opened her eyes, she saw a huge grin on Carol's face. "That helped, I see."
Kristin nodded. She wasn't going to ask how she knew this time. "Do…do I need to say it out loud?"
Carol shook her head. "I've known all along what you were going to choose. You just needed to know in your heart that it was right."
"I do have one question, though," Kristin said after a moment. "My body…do you know if I'll have long-term effects from the cold?"
"Ah…" Carol replied knowingly. "I knew you'd ask that. Well, as I've told you, I've been watching over Nathan all this time. And since you've come into his life, I've been watching over you, too."
"You…you have?" Kristin asked in surprise.
Carol laughed softly. "Of course, darling. You've heard of guardian angels?" She held out her hand and shook Kristin's. "Nice to meet you. As I said before, some people call us angels. Really, we're just here to help the rest of you. Anyway, as I said, I like you. You're good for Nathan, and I can see why he cares about you. Therefore, I've done what I could to protect you. And it's been no different during the storm. I couldn't prevent the storm nor could I prevent the accident. But I could manipulate certain elements of the storm. I was able to ensure that enough snow covered you to sustain an adequate enough body temperature, and I'm sure you remember the life raft?"
Kristin nodded, although she was somewhat confused.
"It's been blocking you from the wind. I know this hard for you to understand, but you're going to be physically fine, for the most part. Doctor Levin will say you're just very lucky…because that's usually what the living say when we intervene like that. There's no other explanation for it," Carol said.
"I…I don't know how to thank you," Kristin replied, feeling choked up.
Carol waved a hand. "Just take care of Nathan, and that will be thanks enough."
"What happens now?"
"Just close your eyes," Carol told her, "and I'll handle the rest."
Kristin closed her eyes once again. All of a sudden, she felt something strange. She tried to open her eyes, but couldn't. She opened her mouth the speak, but no sound came out. She then felt as though she couldn't breathe, as if someone had knocked the wind out of her. Help, she thought. She suddenly felt weak. She was going to faint. She felt herself falling. And everything went dark.
Once the launch had landed on shore, the group exited.
"If we split up, we'll cover more ground," Nathan suggested.
The others pondered on this and nodded in agreement.
"Just be sure to have your PAL units ready," Nathan told them. Then he turned and headed to the right. He wasn't exactly sure where he was going. Really, all that could be seen was white. Snowstorm Edward had been very generous with the snow and walking through it had been just as difficult as before. And it wasn't much warmer; the only difference really was the fact the wind was not as strong.
He walked for quite a while, but he didn't see anything out of the ordinary…nothing that would suggest that Kristin was there. He sighed in frustration and looked around, turning in a circle. White, white, white, orange, white. Wait a minute, he thought. Orange. He didn't know what the bit of orange in the distance was, but something was telling him he had to investigate.
He walked for what seemed like a long time as the bit of orange was a good distance away. As he neared it, however, he could see it was a raft…well, what was left of it anyway. It had definitely taken a beating by the storm, now deflated and having bits of ice and snow sticking to it.
He wasn't sure why, but something was telling him to move the raft. He started removing the snow that lay on top of it. When the raft was free, he pulled on it. And then he saw her. She was covered in a blanket of snow, only her face visible, her eyes closed.
Nathan wasn't sure if she was alive. He removed his gloves and gingerly touched her cheek with his fingers. Cold as ice. He put his gloves back on and started to dig. He had to get her out of that snow. Once she was free, he felt for a pulse. He held his breath in worry until he felt the gentle thumping against his two fingers. It was faint, but definitely there. Oh, but she was so cold.
Nathan took out his PAL. "Joshua?"
"I've found her. She's alive…but her pulse is very faint."
There was a long pause. "The rest of us are together. Tell us where you are."
Nathan looked around. That was a problem because he wasn't sure. He did his best to describe his surroundings. "Look for the bright orange," Nathan finally said. He took the raft and hung it on a nearby tree.
"We'll be there as soon as we can," Joshua replied before cutting the connection.
Nathan knew it might be a while before they got there. He knew what he had to do. If he didn't act fast, Kristin could lose what little body heat she had left. He unzipped his parka and took it off. Then he took off his sweater and his undershirt until his bare skin was exposed. He then took Kristin's limp body in his arms, unbuttoned her sweater, and pushed it off of her.
He then held her close, gasping slightly at her cold skin against him. But it was a small price to pay for her life. He held her tightly and whispered."You're going to be fine, Kristin, you're going to be fine." He only hoped that was true, and he hoped the others would hurry.
Chapter 12: This Is What We Live For
Nathan wasn't sure how long he and Kristin were out in the cold. It seemed like a lifetime, however. He had changed positions many times, wanting to be sure he kept Kristin as warm as he possibly could, but in doing so, he lost body heat himself. He watched the white puffs of steam rise from every breath he took; he did his best to concentrate on his breathing, tried to stay conscious of everything around him. He checked over his shoulder on occasion to see if he saw anyone coming near them, but all he saw was white. No figures on the horizon coming near them. No sign of rescue. Just white.
It blinded him. He had to shut his eyes for a few minutes. When he opened them again, he hoped to see something different, but to no avail. He swore under his breath in frustration and turned his attention back to the woman in his arms. He had finally found her, but that wasn't going to do much good if he couldn't get her back to seaQuest very soon.
He debated if he should carry her back to the launch. Kristin didn't weigh much, so lifting her wouldn't be a problem. However, trudging through the snow and getting back to the launch would pose a challenge. He got out his PAL unit and paged Levin. "I was just wondering what type of progress you'd made." He tried not to sound panicky.
He waited for an immediate answer, but none came. He waited what he felt was an ample amount of time and tried again. "Joshua, do you copy?"
He tried Crocker's PAL, then Ortiz' and O'Neill's. No one responded, which left Nathan very concerned.
He waited for what he guessed was another thirty minutes, give or take a bit. And when he still saw no sign of life, he quickly made his decision. He pulled his own sweater and parka on over her to keep her warm since putting her own sweater back on her would have been too risky as it wet from the snow. Then, he put his undershirt on; at least that was something. When he was through, he effortlessly lifted Kristin into his arms and started walking in the same direction he'd came…or so he thought.
He did his best to follow his footprints, although some of them were now eroded from the wind. But after a while, he found that he became quite exhausted. And his limbs were freezing. He couldn't feel his feet anymore, and that made it difficult. His hands hurt, even through the gloves he wore. He'd gone maybe half a mile when he had to stop and rest. He saw a small formation of rocks nearby. He laid Kristin down on one of the flat ones and sat beside her, worrying his efforts to do something so ambitious might have been for naught. He swore in frustration yet again.
He sighed and shook his head. "I'm so sorry, Kristin. I tried…but…" No, he couldn't give up, not yet. He'd gone this far. He removed the parka and sweater from Kristin's body again. And he did the same with his undershirt and held her close to him again. This time, he put his parka over them, like a blanket. It wasn't much, but it was better than nothing. He rubbed her arms and back, trying to maintain what little body heat they had between them.
He wasn't sure how much time had passed, but he started to lose consciousness after a while. He struggled to stay awake, tried to concentrate on his breathing again. One short breath of air resulting in a frosty puff, then another...and another still. He counted them over and over again, but the his body hurt as the cold pierced him. Every breath caused a sting of pain in his chest. Finally, staying awake seemed too great an effort. He finally blacked out.
Nathan was slowly pulled out of the darkness.
"Captain, sorry it took a little longer than anticipated. We're just going to lift you up on the stretcher here. Don't worry…the doctor's already being carried back," Joshua said.
Nathan muttered something incoherent. He felt his body being lifted, heard Joshua calling out instructions to whoever was helping him.
"There," Joshua said, squeezing Nathan's shoulder gently, "everything's going to be fine."
Nathan nodded, suddenly feeling a wave of darkness wash over him again.
Nathan was lulled out of the darkness by a familiar voice, but it didn't sound like Joshua this time. He opened his eyes to find he was once again standing on the beach of his island in the Yucatán. He turned in the direction of the voice. There was Carol standing there, a smile on her face. "Hello, sweetheart."
"I'm glad to see you again."
Nathan looked around and sighed dejectedly.
"You're looking for her?" Carol guessed.
"Yes…where…did she…" Nathan couldn't say the word he was thinking. He was too afraid.
"No, she didn't," Carol assured him. "She's fine…and so are you…although it was a close call for a moment. You're both resting in medbay on seaQuest now."
"This…this was the first time…" Nathan's voice trailed off. He was going to say that it was the first time that he saw someone who had been in a liminal state who didn't die, but he couldn't bring himself to utter the words, as if saying it might destroy what had already happened.
"So it was," Carol agreed. "How do you feel about that?"
"Well, if Kristin is really going to be fine, I'm happy."
"She is going to be just fine…after some rest," Carol said again. "But is that all?"
"Should there be more?"
She gave him another smile. "You remember what Frank said to you that day?"
"Frank? You mean Dr. Sullivan?"
"Of course…he said…" Nathan stopped suddenly. No, it couldn't be.
"But there has to be a reason why you're getting a second chance", Frank had said, not just that day but at the coffee house as well.
"Destiny works in a mysterious way, doesn't it?" Carol asked after a while.
"I…I thought you said that you have no control over the lives of humans," Nathan stated.
"We don't," Carol agreed, "but you do know there is a Higher Power who does."
"So…you're saying this was set in stone? A long time ago?" Nathan questioned.
"Possibly…perhaps not right away, but I think someone somewhere knew what was going to happen," she said. "In all honesty, I don't think any of this was quite by accident. You and Kristin are bonded for life through this experience. Even if it comes to be that you two are separated, you'll always have this bond."
Nathan turned to her, a look of alarm on his face. "What do you mean?" He couldn't imagine seaQuest without her.
Carol gave him a soft smile. "You needn't worry yet. All I'm saying is that you two may not work together forever. It all depends what path you both decide to take."
"I'm confused," Nathan admitted.
Carol took a deep breath. "Destiny isn't always an easy thing. Essentially, every person does have a destiny mapped out…well, rather destinies . Which destiny is taken is your choice, depending on what path you choose. The same goes for Kristin, Lucas…every person in your life right now. You realize that could easily change at the end of the tour. Some will move on…and that's life."
Nathan nodded in agreement. He'd seen it many times before. "But with Kristin?"
Carol shrugged. "I can't say…but my point is that I think you two will always remain in touch. And perhaps more than that, if you so choose."
Nathan nodded again. "So…is the spell broken? I won't see…anyone else again?"
Carol laughed softly. "There's a reason you were given such a gift. You already know your mind is open to such abilities. Savannah Rossovich told you that months ago, but this wasn't some curse brought upon you by some evil entity. You really need to stop seeing it as such."
Carol gave him a doubtful look. "Perhaps not with Kristin, but before her?" she challenged.
Nathan relented. "All right…maybe at times. But it's not easy…"
"No, of course not, but you do know that saying: that you're not given anything you can't handle? Well, apparently it was believed that you could handle it. And you have," Carol reasoned. "So whether or not this is the last time, I can't say. It all depends, but whatever happens, I'm sure there will be a reason for it. For everything, there is a season, you know."
"Is this the last time…I'll see you?" Nathan asked after a long pause.
Carol moved closer to him and wrapped him in a hug. "You'll see me when you need me in dreams, but you need to realize you really don't need me anymore...not like you used to. You've known that for a while. You're going to be just fine."
"I love you…I'll always love you," Nathan told her, holding her tightly.
"I know…and I love you…but we both know that you need to move on. And you've already started to do that. You've just been resisting." She pulled away to look into his eyes. "I'm telling you now you have my permission. Go ahead. I just want to see you be happy."
Nathan brought his lips to hers, in a sense, saying goodbye. "I'll miss you, kiddo."
"You don't need to forget me," she said. "I'll always be with you, Nathan."
Nathan suddenly awoke, coughing. It took him a moment to realize what was happening when he felt a straw touch his lips and heard someone gently telling him to drink. He did as he was told, letting the cool water quench his parched throat.
"Glad to see you back among the living," Ben teased. Then he added, "We've all been taking shifts, waiting for you to wake up. I sent Lucas to bed an hour ago."
"How…how long have I been out?" Nathan choked out.
"Two days," Ben answered, "but Dr. Levin expected that. I should probably go tell him you're awake."
He turned to leave, but Nathan put a halting hand on his arm. "Kristin…is she…"
"She's in the next room; she hasn't woken up yet. Admiral Noyce contacted her daughter, Cynthia. She arrived yesterday. I don't think she's left her mother's side since."
Nathan simply nodded, suddenly feeling exhausted despite the fact he'd just woken up.
Ben gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze. "I'll be right back."
A short time later, Dr. Levin appeared in his doorway. "Ah, glad to see you're awake, Captain," he greeted pleasantly. "How are you feeling?"
"Like death warmed over," Nathan admitted.
Joshua laughed softly. "That's to be expected. Um, I'm going to be honest with you. You were slightly hypothermic when we found you, and you also had some minor frostbite; nothing too serious, but you'll probably have some permanent cold sensitivity."
Nathan nodded, but he didn't really care about himself at the moment. "And Kristin?"
"Is alive because of what you did," Joshua replied. "That was very smart, what you did trying to generate body heat. Surprisingly, the only injuries she sustained was a gash on her head and some broken ribs, along with some minor frostbite, along with being hypothermic. I'd say she was touched by an angel. I'm quite baffled as to why she doesn't have anything more than that, but I'm not going to question it."
"I feel like an idiot," he admitted. "I can't believe I didn't take any specialized equipment out there with me. I...I was just thinking that I needed to find her..." his voice trailed off.
"You can't blame yourself," Joshua told him. "Everything worked out in the end."
"How…how long before she wakes, do you think?"
Joshua shrugged. "I really can't say. That all depends on her, but you don't need to worry. She's going to be fine."
"I'm always going to worry," Nathan said quietly.
"Well, be that as it may, you still need your rest. I'm just going to check your vitals here, and then I'll give you my assessment." Joshua continued with an examination. After he was finished, he took the stethoscope out of his hears and wrote something down on a chart.
"So, what's the damage?"
"Your vitals are normal, so that's a good sign. If everything goes well, I may release you by tomorrow night. We'll see." With that, Joshua gave his arm a gentle squeeze and exited the room.
Nathan lay back and closed his eyes. He took a deep breath. Carol had been right. Not that he doubted her, but lately, he wasn't sure what to trust. He heard someone else walk back in.
"Don't mind me, Cap." It was Ben. "You just rest. I'll be here if you need anything."
Although Nathan hadn't intended to go back to sleep, it wasn't long before he fell into a restful slumber, thoughts of Kristin on his mind.
When Nathan awoke, the lights in his room were dimmed. He guessed it was still in the middle of the night. He looked to his right where Ben had been sitting. He still half-expected to see him there, but the chair was empty. He reached over to the bedside table to take a sip of water, but he suddenly saw delicate, familiar-looking hands appear before his eyes. They lifted the glass for him, brought it to his lips.
"There you are," a voice said.
Nathan did as he was told. When he was finished, he saw the smiling face of a young woman. She had auburn hair and dark eyes. Upon careful examination, he realized he was staring at what appeared to be the young Kristin Westphalen, the same woman he'd seen with Carol. "Kristin?"
She laughed softly. "I'll take that as a compliment." She held out her hand to him in greeting. "Cynthia Westphalen."
Nathan took her hand. "Hello…I-"
"I hope you don't mind me coming in here. I've actually been going back and forth…well, at night when most of the others are asleep, that is. It's just that my mother's told me so much about you, I feel like I know you already. My only regret is that we haven't met before…and I'm only sorry we're meeting in such unfortunate circumstances," she said.
Nathan smiled softly. She was very much her mother's daughter. "I-"
"I really don't know how to thank you. Joshua…Doctor Levin...said the only reason my mother's even alive is because of you. I…I wanted you to know that I am extremely grateful, and if there's ever anything you need, I-"
Nathan placed a hand over hers. "Cynthia, it's quite all right. You don't need to give me anything."
Tears welled up in her eyes all of a sudden, but she gave him a small smile.
"I do wish you'd let me get a word in, however," he added.
She nodded and pulled away, her back turned to him. "Sorry…I guess I'm just a little nervous."
Nathan could hear her voice trembling, saw the slight shake of her shoulders. "Cynthia?"
A soft sob escaped her throat, but she quickly stifled it, pushed it down. Several minutes later, she finally turned back to him and wiped her eyes. "I didn't mean to…sorry," she muttered, obviously embarrassed. "Perhaps nervous isn't quite the word…more like restless…"
Nathan couldn't believe how much she reminded him of Kristin. "You don't need to apologize," Nathan told her. "I understand." He motioned to the chair next to him. "You can have a seat and stay a while if you'd like."
She gave him a small smile, her mother's smile. "You sure you won't mind listening to me? You are supposed to be resting; isn't this breaking some sort of rule or something?"
Nathan shrugged. "I think we can make an exception. I'm not tired anyway."
Cynthia's smile grew even larger as she sat. "Neither am I."
Nathan reached over and squeezed her hand. "Go ahead," he urged.
"I just can't wait until she wakes up," Cynthia said with a sigh.
"Did Joshua…Doctor Levin tell you anything?"
"He said he expects her to be fine. It's quite remarkable, really. With everything she's been through, she'll be fine. It…it isn't that I don't trust him. I'm just not going to feel that it's true until I see her open her eyes. It's just that…it's really just the two of us. Grandmother and grandfather have long since passed…and Uncle James. I just can't imagine…the waiting is killing me…" her voice trailed off.
"You and me, both," Nathan replied. "But we both know how strong your mother is. Everything…everything's going to be fine, I'm sure of it."
Cynthia gave him a look, the same look he'd seen on Kristin's face many times. It was one of surprise, but also one of gratitude. "She told me you were good at things like this."
Cynthia nodded. "She told me how close the two of you are."
"And I wanted you to know that I think you're good for her," Cynthia added. "In fact, I think it would be great if you two eventually became more than friends…"
Nathan looked at her in surprise. "You…you do?"
Cynthia chuckled softly. "Let's just say I'm not blind. I can see the look on her face when she talks about you. I haven't seen that look on her face in a long time, that's all." She gave his hand another squeeze. "I'll just leave it at that. I don't want to make you uncomfortable now."
"I…I just want her to be happy…"
"She is," Cynthia confirmed. "Oh, I'm sorry…I've been terribly rude, though. How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine," Nathan assured her. "I'll be much better when I'm out of this bed. I don't like being cooped up like this."
"You sound just like her," Cynthia noted. "My mother might be a good doctor, but she's a horrible patient. You'll see…"
"I actually found that one out," Nathan replied. He told her what happened after the hurricane. "She wasn't too happy with me, but then, I had good reason, apparently."
"That sounds like her," Cynthia greed. "Stubborn as hell. But then, so am I. She says that's where I get it."
Nathan smiled softly. "I'm really glad I woke up when I did."
"I am, too," she agreed.
The two of them continued talking, both telling their favorite stories about Kristin. It helped pass the time, and somehow, talking about her made the wait for her to awaken seem less trying. At about 0400 hours, however, Cynthia decided she ought to get back to her mother's room.
"I've probably talked your ear off enough now," she said. "And I can't help notice that you keep yawning."
Nathan waved a hand. "It's fine. I'm not…" He stifled a yawn. "…that tired yet."
"She was right," Cynthia noted as she stood, "you're a terrible liar."
Nathan was too tired to defend himself. "I think you and I need to talk about what else your mother has said about me sometime."
Cynthia gave him a peck on the cheek. "Later, perhaps," she said. "It was wonderful to meet you, Nathan Bridger."
"Likewise, Cynthia Westphalen."
Chapter 13: How We Learn Who We Are
It was dark. Kristin couldn't see, but she could hear and feel. She wasn't asleep, but she wasn't quite awake either. She felt…cloudy. She felt a warm hand cover hers; she could hear voices speaking in concerned whispers. She wanted so badly to open her eyes, but she couldn't. She tried to remember what had happened but she couldn't quite remember. She struggled to think of the last thing she could remember. It took her a while to sweep the cobwebs from her mind. She heard a familiar voice.
"How is she?"
Kristin could hear the hesitance in the answer. "As good as can be expected, I suppose. I'm just hoping she'll wake up soon."
"Have you been in with the captain?"
The captain? Kristin thought. Nathan. That was the last thing she remembered. She had been speaking to Nathan about the Yeats poem. And she vaguely remembered the whale watch and going out on Jeffrey's boat. Then what? Her mind went blank. She couldn't remember anything after that. But did that mean something happened to him as well?
"Yeah…he's doing better. Doctor Levin says he'll probably release him tonight."
"And how is he…emotionally?"
There was a pause. "He keeps asking about her. Anyone can tell he's worried."
"Join the club."
"It's going to be okay. The doctor said so."
The doctor? Kristin guessed she was in medbay. Oh, what happened? Try to remember, she told herself.
"I know, I know. I just…I'll feel better when she wakes."
"Look, I'm going to the mess hall for a bite. You want to join me? It might help to get away for a little bit. Just fifteen minutes?"
"No…thanks. I think I'd rather stay here."
"Oh, okay. Do you want me to bring you anything?"
"I'm fine, thanks."
"Okay…I'll see you later then."
Kristin heard the person leave. She struggled to remember who the voices belonged to; she only knew that one was male and one was female. She suddenly couldn't remember, and it was frustrating as hell.
Kristin knew that she was now alone with the woman. She felt her warm hand on her cheek.
"Oh, when are you going to come back to us, Mom? We're all waiting for you," she whispered.
Mom? Kristin thought. Cynthia. Kristin tried again to wake up, but to no avail. One thing she knew for certain, though: if Cynthia was there, something very bad must have had happened indeed. She felt Cynthia's hand move to her own, give it a squeeze. Kristin tried to squeeze back, but she couldn't tell if she had succeeded. The only thing she could do was wait and hope the details would come back to her in due time…or at least that the others would fill her in.
As she struggled to collect her thoughts, however, she suddenly felt woozy. So tired. Like she hadn't slept in days. She heard Cynthia say something again, but couldn't quite make it out. Kristin struggled. No, please, Kristin begged, although she wasn't sure who she was begging. Stay awake. Don't. But her drowsiness won her over once again. Darkness had won.
Kristin awoke gasping for air. She wasn't quite sure why. It caused her to go into a coughing fit.
"Whoa, easy, easy," someone said.
Someone else said, "I'll go tell the doctor right away."
Another voice said, "Kristin? Kristin, honey, are you okay? Do you remember what happened?"
Kristin shook her head. "W-water…" she choked out, her voice hoarse.
A straw immediately touched her lips.
"Drink," a voice said.
Kristin drank until she didn't feel quite so parched.
A moment later, she heard another voice order everyone out, at least for the time being. She recognized that one. It was Joshua.
Once they had privacy, Joshua sat next to her, and checked all her vitals. "How are you feeling?" he finally asked when he was finished.
"I'm not sure," she admitted. "Rather confused, I suppose."
He smiled softly. "Why don't we start with the physical? Are you in any pain? Are you cold?"
Kristin's brow furrowed. She did feel a little cold. Her whole body felt stiff, but she wasn't sure if it was pain exactly. She tried to change her positions slightly and felt a sharp pain in her chest. She gasped.
"I'll take that as a yes," he replied as he helped her into a different position. "You have some bruised ribs," he explained.
"I have a bit of a headache as well," she said. "And I am chilly."
"Well, you had quite a bump on the head as well as hypothermia and a case of frostbite," Joshua explained. He eyed her for a moment. "You don't remember what happened, do you?"
She looked at the IV coming out of her hand and shook her head. "I…I probably should, but…"
"Don't strain yourself," Joshua told her, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. "There was an accident during the whale expedition."
She cringed. "Lucas?" she asked worriedly.
"Oh, no…he's fine. Everyone else is fine, so don't worry about them," Joshua assured her. "There was a storm, and it progressed too quickly." He paused and let Kristin adjust to the news.
After a few minutes, she looked at him. "Tell me."
"The boat hit a group of jagged rocks. Your group took refuge in a life raft, but that was short-lived. You were all tossed overboard." He took a deep breath. "The others said that Lucas couldn't be found right away."
"Oh, God…" Kristin breathed.
"You went looking for him. You helped him get to safety. And then you were dragged away. We…we thought you were lost forever."
After another long pause, Kristin spoke again. "How did you find me?"
Joshua averted her gaze for a moment. "I'm honestly not sure because you have defied just about every precedent. By all rights, it seems you shouldn't be alive. Call it a miracle. Call it the grace of God. I'm not really sure what you believe in, Doctor, but I know I certainly have had my eyes opened from all this." He looked at her then, his eyes glistening. He patted her leg. "I'm not the one who found you, though."
"Nathan?" she guessed.
He gave her a look. "How did you…"
"J-just a guess. So I was lost in the storm? How long?"
"Almost three days. Like I said, it's a miracle. Never in my medical career have I ever seen anything like it, and I'm sure you'll agree. You are a lucky woman, Kristin. Now, I want to run some tests to see how much nerve damage you could have, but from what I can tell, it should be minimal."
Kristin simply nodded.
"I know you still have a lot of questions, but I want to remind you that you need rest, so one thing at a time, okay? And I don't know if you know this, but your daughter is here."
"Just a few tests, and you can see her," Joshua assured her.
When Joshua was finished, he said, "Well, it looks like my earlier assessment was correct. You have some slight nerve damage, but nothing too serious. And you'll probably have some permanent cold sensitivity, but really, that's minor compared to what could have happened."
Kristin nodded again. "So, the captain…is he…"
Joshua chuckled softly. "Now you sound like him."
"Oh, I'm sorry. It's just that he's been asking about you too. Uh, you two were both out in the storm for a bit," he explained. "He's fine…far better off than you. I just wanted him overnight for observation. I'm releasing him later. I'm sure, if you're up to it, he'll come see you."
Joshua put a hand over hers. "Now, I'll let your daughter come back in for a little while, but then, you need to rest, okay? I don't want you over-exerting yourself, and please, no arguments, okay?"
Kristin smiled softly. "I know after Sheila I wasn't the best patient, but this time, I promise I won't argue. I'm exhausted."
"That's to be expected." He gave her hand one final pat. "I'll see you later."
"Thank you, Joshua."
Kristin heard Joshua speaking to the others in the hallway. She sighed softly; she wasn't sure who the group comprised of, but she heard a few protests.
"I promise she isn't going anywhere," Joshua said, "and I know you're all eager to see her, but she's still healing. Come tomorrow, it will probably be a different story."
She heard a few 'all rights' uttered and smiled to herself. At least they weren't giving him too hard of a time. She lay back and closed her eyes. Her head still felt a little fuzzy.
A minute later, she felt a hand on her shoulder. Her eyes fluttered open.
Cynthia had a warm grin on her face. She hugged her mother gently. "Oh, Mom…I'm so glad you're okay."
Kristin pulled Cynthia into her arms and hugged her a little tighter. It had been quite a while since they'd seen one another in person, and despite the pain she was in, she wasn't going to let that ruin a welcoming embrace. "I'm glad you're here, sweetheart."
The two stayed in each other's arms for several minutes. When Cynthia finally pulled away, she had tears running down her face. She took a tissue from the nearby table and wiped the stray tears away. "I…I was so worried about you."
"I'm sorry. I never meant to-" Kristin began. She was near tears herself. She hadn't realized how much pain she'd caused.
"No, please, don't apologize," Cynthia urged gently. "I think I just learned what it was like to be in your shoes, that's all."
Kristin gave her a confused look.
"With me," Cynthia explained. "I…I put my life on the line all the time. And I guess I never realized you did too. We're both risk takers…for good causes."
Kristin grabbed her daughter's hand. "Well, I wasn't trying to teach you some sort of lesson, Cynnie, dear."
"I know…but I do know what it's like to be on the other end now; the worry of not knowing…it was hellish."
"Cynthia, darling, you're going to make me cry now," Kristin replied, her voice trembling.
"Oh, Mom." Cynthia hugged her gently again and handed her a clean tissue. "I never said I wanted you to stop, nor was I suggesting you tone things down. You never do with me, do you?"
Kristin shook her head as she dabbed at her eyes. "No, but there's a part of me that wishes you would…just so I knew you'd be safe."
"And there was a part of me that wishes you were at home baking cookies like my friends' mothers instead of saving whales," Cynthia countered. "But then I thought of how boring that would be and how I wouldn't be who I was today if I didn't have the kind of mother I do have. I'm glad I have a mother who stands up for what she believes, stands up for just causes. I wouldn't be doing what I am now if it weren't for you. What I'm saying is that I don't want you to change. Of course, I hope something like this doesn't happen again, but I'd never expect you to change. We Westphalen women…we don't change…we make things change."
Kristin smiled softly. "I have to remind myself who the parent is here."
"Well, working with the kids, you pick up a few things," Cynthia replied. "I guess I'm just now applying them to my own life."
"Hmmm," Kristin said. "I see." She paused for a moment and sighed softly. "I'm not sure I've ever told you this, but I am very proud of the woman you've become."
Cynthia gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek. "And I owe it all to you." And as an afterthought, she added, "But I think I'm the one who should be proud."
"I'm too tired to argue," Kristin admitted. "So how long do I have you here?"
Cynthia gave her hand a squeeze. "For as long as you need me…although it would be ideal if I could leave by the end of the week. But that's not necessary."
Kristin smiled. "I'm wounded, not broken. I'm not dying."
Cynthia brought Kristin's hand to her lips and kissed it. "I know, Mommy, I know, but I'm not leaving you until you're at least walking around. You get some sleep, okay?"
"Mm-hm," Kristin muttered. As much as she wanted to stay awake and talk with her daughter for hours on end, her body was telling her it had had enough for the moment.
"I'll be right here," Cynthia whispered. She kissed her forehead. "Sweet dreams."
The second time Kristin awoke, her head felt a little clearer. She looked around the room for Cynthia, but didn't see her. Judging from the dimness of the lights, Kristin guessed it was late into the night now. She was about to call a nurse to help her sit up at least when she heard a voice.
"I've been waiting for you."
Kristin squinted in the dim light. "Nathan?" She hadn't seen him sitting in a chair on the other side of the room.
He stood and walked towards her and sat in the chair to the right of her bed. "I was so happy when I'd heard you'd woken."
"I…Joshua…he told me what you did. I…I'm not sure how you did it, but I don't know how to ever thank you," she said quietly.
"Oh, Kristin…you don't need to thank me for anything. I didn't-wait…did…did you say you don't know how I did it?"
"Yes... Is…is something wrong? Should I know? I…I have a feeling there's a lot I should be remembering…but I can't."
Nathan took her hand and squeezed it. "No, I didn't mean…please, it's not your fault. I'm sure you'll remember eventually." Nathan actually hadn't anticipated her forgetting everything that had happened. So she didn't remember the dinner, the conversation, the kissing, Carol…any of it. Part of him felt a little crushed, but he didn't show it.
She nodded. "That's what Joshua told me. I mean, I know there was an accident, that the boat crashed. But I don't remember any of it. Do…do you know the last thing I remember?"
"We were discussing that poem. I…I can't remember anything after."
"You will," Nathan assured her. "By the way, I sent Cynthia off to bed. The poor dear didn't sleep very well last night…and I don't think she did any napping today either. I promised her I'd stay with you."
She smiled softly. "Well, I appreciate that, but aren't you supposed to be resting too? I'm not sure Joshua would approve. Besides, I don't need to be babysat. I'm not a child."
Nathan gave her a grin. "I know, Kristin, I know. I just wanted to see you." He placed a kiss to her forehead. "I just thought I'd never see you again…and now that you're here, I don't want to take my eyes off of you." He caught her gaze and held it for several minutes.
"Nathan, I…" Kristin finally said. "I don't want to put you out."
"You're not. And, I have been resting," he promised. "In fact, Joshua said as long as I didn't overdue it, he was fine with me staying in here."
"Then I can't lecture then," she said with a smile. Then she adopted a serious look. "I never meant to scare you."
"I know," Nathan said, taking her hand in his.
"Can you ever forgive me?" she asked, her voice trembling. Her eyes shone with unshed tears.
"Oh, honey," Nathan uttered. "I wasn't…I'm not angry with you. No one is…and you have nothing to be forgiven for." He took a tissue and wiped her eyes. "No more tears, okay?"
She nodded. "I suppose no one is angry now…but you never wanted me to go in the first place. And I just thought you were being silly. Apparently, I should have listened to you."
Nathan waved a hand. "Water under the bridge now. And I was probably just being a little overprotective."
"Well, I promise, next time you voice your concerns about me doing something a little risky, I'm not going to argue," Kristin promised.
Nathan laughed softly. "I'm going to hold you to that, you know?"
She smiled. "Good, because I wouldn't expect anything less. And Nathan?"
"Thank you…for caring," she said sincerely.
Nathan placed a kiss to her cheek. "Well, you're the one who makes it so easy."
Kristin blushed. There was a pause as the two just smiled softly at one another. "Um…so…what do you think of her…Cynthia, I mean?"
"Oh, she reminds me a lot of you. She's a sweet kid."
Kristin smiled. "Yes, she is."
"She and I had a long talk; she said you told her that we're close."
"Did she? What else did she tell you?" she asked nervously.
Nathan laughed slightly. "Why? Did you say something you shouldn't have?" he teased.
Kristin's face got red. "No…"
"She just told me how worried she was about you…and that she's glad you and I are friends," Nathan told her.
Kristin smiled. "She's a smart girl, that one."
"She gets it from her mother," Nathan replied.
"I'm glad we're friends too," she said sincerely.
"Likewise..." Then he added, "And I hope we always are."
Chapter 14: It Defines Us, Ever Reminding Us
"What about Lucas?" Kristin asked next. "Joshua said he'd gotten lost during the storm, that I actually helped find him."
Nathan nodded. "Uh…yeah… He's had a hard time accepting it, and quite frankly, I had a hard time myself. I know he was angry at me for a while and-"
"Angry at you?"
Nathan sighed. "You know, we don't need to talk about everything that happened while you were missing in one conversation. We could talk about this later…"
"I want to know why Lucas was angry," she insisted.
"The UEO didn't want any of us going after you while the storm was raging. It was too dangerous."
She raised an eyebrow. "And you listened?"
Nathan laughed softly and shook his head. "Bill knew I wouldn't anyway. But the first time we went out, we couldn't find you. The storm was too much."
"The first time? You mean you visited the gulf more than once?" Kristin surmised
"Yes…and when we didn't find you, I had to break it to Lucas. I…I know it was hard for him. You know, he sees you as more than the CMO here," Nathan said. "And the thought of losing you, especially when he knew he was alive because of your actions, I think the thought was too much."
Kristin nodded, feeling tears creep up. She had a sudden flash of memory. It was very brief, but she suddenly saw Lucas in her vision, shivering from cold. She was talking to him, telling him he had to swim. Then the memory quickly faded.
Nathan was staring at her intently. He could tell by the look on her face something was going on in her head. "Kristin?"
"I…I just remembered something…it was brief…but…" She let a few tears fall. "I…I never meant to hurt anyone. I didn't want to cause Lucas any pain."
"Oh, Kristin," Nathan soothed. He wrapped her in a gentle hug. "No…everyone knows that. Lucas knows that. Please, don't cry. There's no reason for that anymore. I spoke with Lucas earlier. He's fine; he's relieved that you were found, and he's eager to see you. But he's just fine."
"Of course I am. I wouldn't lie to you," Nathan assured her. "Everyone's eager to see you. When you give the okay, you're not going to have a free moment to yourself," he teased.
She smiled softly. "I'm not going to complain. I've missed you all."
"The same goes for us, you know," Nathan told her.
Kristin tried to stifle a yawn. "Oh, excuse me," she said apologetically.
"I think I need to let you get back to sleep," Nathan noted. "We have lots of time to talk later. Besides, now that we've spoken, I feel much more relaxed. I could use some sleep myself."
"I'll see you later then."
"Later," he said, placing a kiss to her cheek. "Sweet dreams, kiddo."
Kristin lay back, closing her eyes. She was still quite exhausted, so it wasn't long before sleep claimed her.
Kristin found herself on the sandy shores of a beach, though she didn't recognize her surroundings. Despite the breeze, it was quite warm, the warm sand surrounding her bare feet. She looked around to see if anyone was there with her, but didn't see anyone. She turned towards the lapping waves, listening to the soothing sound. But then, she heard a voice.
Kristin turned around to see the smiling face of a woman, a woman she had seen somewhere before, but couldn't place where. "Hello," Kristin answered, somewhat unsure of herself.
"You're probably wondering who I am."
Kristin nodded. "Although I'm sure I've seen you before…haven't I?"
The woman took Kristin's hand. "My name's Carol, and I believe you've seen my photograph."
"Nathan's Carol?" Kristin was taken aback. "But…you…you're…"
"Don't be afraid," Carol soothed.
"I'm not afraid exactly…more like confused." She looked around. "Where are we exactly?"
"The island…Nathan's island. You haven't been here yet, but you will…one day, I think."
"Why are you here…with me? I…I don't understand," Kristin said, trying to wrap her head around things.
"There's a lot you don't remember," Carol explained. "During that time, however, you were on a journey. Well, rather, your soul was."
Carol nodded. "Kristin, I want you to know it's okay."
"What? But I don't-"
"Yes, you do," Carol told her. "You think you don't, but you know full well you do. Right now, you and Nathan…you're still testing the waters. He's a widower…you're a divorcée. And on top of everything else, pursuing any sort of relationship could be fraternization…possibly frowned upon by the UEO." She eyed Kristin for a moment. She avoided her gaze, which told Carol she was spot-on with her assessment. "But you've never been one for orders, have you?"
Kristin looked up. "Carol, I-"
"Sshh," Carol said. "Just listen. I'm going to tell you the same thing I told Nathan. I-"
"You…you spoke with Nathan? I mean…you speak with Nathan?"
Carol smiled softly. "When he thinks he needs me, yes. I'm not going to lie to you. I've been watching over him since…well, that's what we do when we can no longer be with our loved ones. And since you've come into his life, I've been watching over you, too."
"Me? But…why? You don't even know me. I…"
"I know enough. I know that if I can't be with him that you're the first woman I'd choose. You're a good woman, Kristin. Don't sell yourself short on that."
Kristin blushed hotly. "I don't even know if he…he hasn't…we've only known each other a little while."
Carol brought a hand to her cheek. "It's because you're both afraid…and that's okay. There's nothing wrong with that. You'll both get over that fear…eventually."
"So, are you saying Nathan and I will…be a couple?"
"It's entirely up to the both of you. I'm just telling you it could happen if you wanted it. It's obvious you two have a connection," Carol explained.
"Carol…I…I'm not sure what to say…"
Carol shook her head. "You don't need to say anything. I'm just helping you…guiding you as it were."
"But what happens now? I can't even remember this journey. What happened?" Kristin asked, desperate to know.
"You'll find out when you're ready. It can't be forced, and even when you do remember, you need to find the courage to act on it, if that's what you truly want," Carol told her.
Carol wrapped her arms around her. "Everything's going to be fine. I have to go now, but I suspect we'll meet again soon."
Carol turned and started to walk away. Kristin went after her, but Carol disappeared into thin air.
Kristin woke up with a start, her heart pounding and her breathing rapid. She didn't quite understand her dream, but then, she decided she couldn't hold much merit to it. After all, dreams were often confusing. She looked toward the bed next to her; Nathan was sound asleep, still not leaving her side. She smiled softly. Maybe there was some merit to the dream after all. Whatever it was, however, she was going to keep that to herself for the time being. She took a few deep breaths and calmed down once again. Although it had been an unsettling dream, it wasn't unsettling enough to keep her from feeling tired, something she feared she would feel for quite a while. She closed her eyes, and it wasn't long before she was asleep once again.
Kristin found herself in Nathan's quarters. The two were talking over dinner. Nathan was asking her about her younger years. Then the conversation progressed to something more intimate: their feelings for one another. And then Nathan finally did what she'd been secretly longing for since they had met. The kiss was rather unexpected, but wonderful at the same time.
"Oh, Nathan," she mumbled in her sleep.
Then they spoke for hours about their relationship, how fast they wanted to go, if either one of them truly wanted to get married again, and the like.
But Kristin felt a hand gently shaking her. "Kristin? Kristin?"
"Hhm," she muttered. "Go 'way."
"Kristin, you've been talking in your sleep for a while now. You're dreaming."
Kristin was suddenly brought back to reality. She opened her eyes and blinked a few times. "Nathan?"
"I'm sorry I woke you," he said quietly. "I've just been listening to you for almost an hour now, and-"
Kristin's face grew warm. "I'm sorry; did I wake you?"
"N-no, not at all. I've been awake for a while myself. That must have been some dream," he noted.
Kristin's eyebrows knitted in confusion. "It was…strange," she admitted.
"You want to talk about it?"
She shook her head. "Not at the moment, if that's all right. Thank you, though."
Kristin looked around and noticed the lights were still dimmed. "What time is it?"
"Just before 0600 hours. The others should be awake soon. You sure you're all right?"
She nodded. "I promise." Truthfully, she wasn't sure. Were these dreams or memories? When she sorted it out herself, she'd be ready to talk. "So do-"
"Ah, I thought I heard voices in here," Joshua said, knocking on the door frame. "So how is the patient this morning?"
Nathan placed a hand to Kristin's shoulder. "I think you're in good hands, so I'll leave you be for now. See you later."
Kristin waved goodbye to him, then turned to Joshua. "Better," she said. "I still feel tired, but I'm better."
"Well, the fatigue is probably going to last for a while. But it's good to hear you feel better. No pain? Chills?" Joshua asked.
She shook her head. "Well, my side is a little tender still, but my head feels better."
"Good; good," Joshua muttered as he put the stethoscope to her chest and listened for a moment. Then he began to check her vitals.
When Joshua had nearly finished, Kristin said, "Could…could I ask you something, by chance?"
"This sounds serious. Are you all right?" Joshua asked worriedly.
"About this memory loss…I… I know head injuries can cause short term memory loss. I also know some people eventually remember while others don't. I've never really gotten to see the after effects of such a diagnosis. I don't know how it happens, exactly. Do you know?"
"Kristin, I'm not exactly sure what you mean…"
She sighed. "I've been having some dreams… Or maybe they're memories? I don't know…but they're definitely ones I've never had before. I…I'm not sure what to make of them. Is this…common? I mean, have you ever heard of someone having odd dreams shortly after a trauma?"
Joshua gave her a look. "Kristin, you know anything's possible. What kind of dreams?"
She looked down for a moment, averting his gaze. "I'd rather not say at the moment. It's…personal. They're just…strange."
"Kristin, I'm not sure I can give you a straight answer. They could just simply be dreams. Or maybe they are memories. If they're bothering you, I could-"
She shook her head. "No…no, I don't need to speak to someone. It's nothing like that," she replied, knowing Joshua was going to suggest she see a psychologist. Then she gave him a purposeful smile. "I'm sure it's nothing, and I'm not sure I'd feel very comfortable."
Joshua eyed her for a moment, looking her up and down with a scrutinizing eye. "As long as you're sure…but just remember it's nothing to be ashamed about either. You know after a trauma, sometimes it helps to-"
She nodded. "I'm fine, though."
"Good to hear, but if you change your mind, I'll arrange something. You do seem to be doing well physically, enough where I think we can let you have more visitors, if you think you're up for it. I also think you'll be able to handle more than the liquid diet we've had you on."
Kristin breathed a sigh of relief. "Oh, good…because I'm starving."
Joshua chuckled softly. "That's a very good sign then. I also think we can let you get up and walk a bit…as long as you don't overdo it."
She smiled. "I won't."
Joshua patted her leg. "I'll have a nurse bring a menu in here, and you can tell her what you'd like for breakfast.
Once Kristin was able to eat real food and was allowed to walk around a bit, she started to feel much better, and she forgot all about the strange dreams for the time being. She and Cynthia had a lovely chat over breakfast, and her daughter seemed in better spirits now that Kristin was up and about.
Just as they were finishing their meal, there was a gentle knock on the doorframe. Both women turned expectantly and saw Lucas standing at the door, holding a bouquet of flowers and looking a little nervous.
Kristin sat up and smiled. "Don't be shy." She waved him in.
Cynthia stood and picked up the empty trays. "I'll go put these away and give you two some time alone." She leaned over and kissed her mother on the cheek. "See you later." As she passed Lucas, she gave him a warm smile and a wink; then she left the room.
Lucas stood there hesitantly, afraid to make a move.
"Well, don't just stand there," Kristin said with a smile. "Come here so I can see you."
Lucas gingerly approached her. "I just wanted to be sure I wasn't interrupting a visit with your daughter."
Kristin waved a hand. "Oh, not at all. I mean, I've been waiting to see you…everyone, actually." She motioned to the flowers. "Are those for me?"
Lucas blushed. "Yeah…I had Ben rustle them up." He handed them over to her.
"Oh, yellow roses." She breathed in their scent.
Lucas smiled shyly. "I remember you saying they were your favorite. I'm glad you like them."
"I do, thank you," Kristin confirmed. She placed the bouquet on the bedside table. "Now are you just going to stand there all day or are you going to hug me?" She held out her arms.
Lucas hesitated for a minute, afraid he was going to hurt her. But then he hugged her gently.
"I'm not going to break, sweetheart," she whispered. She tightened her arms around him, encouraging Lucas to do the same. "Just be careful of my right side," she told him.
Lucas nodded, but hugged her a little tighter, but not so much where he'd hurt her. "I missed you so much."
When Kristin broke the hug several minutes later, her eyes shone with unshed tears. "I've missed you, too. I am so sorry about all of this. I never meant for any of this to happen." Her voice trembled as she tried to hold her tears back.
Lucas reached over to the bedside table for the box of tissues. He took one for himself, just in case and handed the rest to Kristin. "Doc, please…you don't need to apologize. I know you didn't plan this at all. And I'm the one who should be apologizing."
"You?" Kristin asked as she dabbed at her eyes. "Whatever for? You have nothing to apologize for."
Lucas put his hand on hers. "You should've just left me. If you didn't go looking for me, none of this would have happened," he said softly. "It's all my fault."
Kristin placed her hand on his cheek. "Oh, Lucas…no. Do you really think I'd do that? That I could possibly go on living happily knowing I could have done something?"
He shrugged. "Sometimes I think it might be easier if I weren't around. I know I'm a burden to the captain, you, and the others."
"Lucas Wolenczak," Kristin chastised. "I can't believe what I'm hearing. Is that what you really think?"
He looked at her sheepishly. "Sometimes."
She sighed. "Well, I am telling you right now that's not true. No one thinks of you as a burden at all, especially the captain and I. And believe you me, Lucas, I have no regrets about what happened at all."
Lucas looked at her. "You…you don't?"
She shook her head. "If God forbid, we were in the same situation, I'd do it again in a heartbeat…without a second thought."
"Doc…I…" Lucas said, feeling himself getting choked up. "I don't know…what to say."
Kristin pulled him into her arms and placed a kiss to his temple. "You don't need to say anything. I love you."
"I love you, too," Lucas replied, hugging her tighter. "So much."
When the hug was broken, they both had tears running down their cheeks.
"No more tears now, okay?" Kristin said after wiping her eyes. "And no more apologies."
Lucas nodded and sniffed his nose. "Okay."
Kristin patted his cheek and smiled softly. "Good. You're feeling better then?"
Lucas' blue eyes twinkled. "Especially now that I'm here with you."
Kristin gently ruffled his hair. "I feel the same way." She put an arm around his shoulders. "So did anything else happen while I was away?"
Lucas shook his head. "Not really. I did get a little angry at the captain, though."
"We worked everything out, though," Lucas assured her.
She nodded. "He mentioned that, too."
"Do you think I was wrong?" Lucas asked worriedly.
She thought for a moment. "I think that everyone was acting with their emotions. I don't think any of you could help what you were feeling then. I'm just glad you two worked through it."
"Me, too." Lucas laid his head on her shoulder. "Doc?"
"Next time, how about we steer clear of the storms? I'm not sure we'll be so lucky a third time."
Kristin laughed softly. "If that's your way of telling me to slow down, I've already heard it from the captain and from Cynthia. And I'll probably hear it from everyone else, too. I promise you, I won't tempt fate again."
Lucas smiled. "I'm glad to hear it. I don't want to lose you again."
Kristin sighed and hugged him tighter. "The feeling's mutual."
Chapter 15: That Life Never Is
Just then, there was a knock at the door. Kristin and Lucas both looked towards the door to see Amber, one of the nurses. She gave them both a warm smile before speaking. "I hate to break up the party, but I need to take some blood; doctor's orders," she said to Kristin. Then she turned to Lucas. "I'm sorry, but we're going to need privacy here. I'll give you a few minutes to say goodbye."
Lucas nodded and turned back to Kristin. "It's okay; I promised Darwin I'd go play with him; we haven't been able to do that much lately."
Kristin held out her arms for one last hug, and Lucas obliged happily.
"You come back and see me later," Kristin told him. It wasn't a question but a gentle request.
"Of course, Doc. Love you," Lucas replied.
"Love you, too. Stay out of trouble now," she told him as he started towards the door.
Lucas turned back to her and flashed her one of his famous grins. "Don't I always?" And with that, he exited the room.
Once they were alone, Amber turned back to Kristin. "Doctor Levin just wants to check your white cell count because of your ribs," she explained, preparing Kristin's arm for the needle, tying a tourniquet it and feeling for her vein. "I'm also supposed to ask you if you're having any pain."
"Well, a little, but nothing-"
"A little pinch," Amber interrupted as she stuck the needle into Kristin's vein.
Kristin inhaled sharply. "I can't handle," she finished after a moment.
Amber quickly filled three vials of blood, labeled them, and removed the tourniquet and needle. She then placed a square of gauze on the puncture wound and instructed Kristin to hold it in place while she got a bandage. "Would you like anything for pain?"
Kristin thought for a moment. She hadn't accepted anything yet that day, but the dull ache in her side told her perhaps she should. "Will it make me sleepy?"
"I take it you don't like that side effect?"
"I just don't want to miss anything…now that I'm more coherent," Kristin explained.
"The doctor wanted me to remind you that you need your rest," Amber told her firmly.
"I know…and I intend to do so. I promise."
"Well, we can try some acetaminophen for pain now, and later, you take something stronger. Deal?" Amber asked.
Kristin smiled. "Deal."
"Okay; one of us will bring it in shortly. Get some rest," she ordered gently.
After the nurse brought in her painkillers and left again, Kristin looked toward her door expectantly. She was hoping that any moment, someone else would be visiting her. There were still so many crew members she wanted to see, and she knew they wanted to see her. But after several minutes of wishing and hoping, no one appeared.
She sighed and lay back. She was tired but wasn't quite ready to go back to sleep yet, although she seemed to become more enlightened in her sleep as of late. That was a frightening thought. It wasn't that her dream was frightening at all; quite the opposite actually. She remembered feeling at peace, just very confused.
Carol had told her that her soul had been on a journey. What in the world did that mean? Part of her was afraid to find out. And the part about her and Nathan being a couple? Well, she wasn't quite sure she was ready to even ask him what his thoughts were on that just yet. But then she'd had that other dream where she and Nathan had kissed. She sighed in frustration. She was hoping to make sense of these dreams, but she only felt more confused now.
But as though someone knew she needed a distraction, there was a gentle knock on the doorframe. Kristin looked up to see Katie's smiling face.
"Hi, the captain had told us we could visit, but that we couldn't bombard you. Is this a good time? I could always come back later…"
Kristin carefully sat up and gave Katie a smile. "Oh, no, dear, I was hoping I'd have visitors. It's been very quiet around here, and I've been quite bored."
Katie chuckled softly and walked towards the bed. "Well, Dr. Levin did remind us all you needed your rest as did the captain. I think everyone just wants to be careful."
Kristin sighed. "I do appreciate their thoughtfulness, but I've really missed all of you." She held out her arms.
Katie obliged and hugged her gently. "I've missed you, too."
Kristin tightened her grip on Katie, encouraging her to do the same. "You don't need to be quite so gentle."
Katie obliged and hugged her a little tighter. "You…you gave us quite a scare there," she said after a moment, her voice trembling. When she broke the hug, there were tears in her eyes. She took a tissue from the box on the bedside table and dabbed at her eyes.
Kristin felt her own tears creep up. "I think I scared myself," she replied quietly. She took a deep breath. "Katie, I…I'm so very sorry. I never meant-"
"Oh, Doc…no, please. I never meant for you to feel guilty," Katie replied, wrapping Kristin in a gentle hug again.
Kristin allowed a few tears to slip out. "I know that, dear, but I…" Her voice trailed off as another flash of memory came to her. She had been walking through the corridors; it was late, and she saw Katie looking upset, worried. She tried to speak with her, placed a hand on her shoulder…and it went through.
Concerned why Kristin had suddenly stopped mid-sentence, Katie pulled away to look at her. She noticed the color had drained from the doctor's face. "Doc? Are you feeling all right?" Every word was laced with concern. When Kristin didn't answer, Katie placed a hand on her shoulder and called her name again.
Kristin was suddenly brought back to reality. "W-what?" she asked her friend.
"I had asked if you were okay. You suddenly don't look very well. Should I get Doctor Levin?"
"Oh, no; I'm fine," Kristin assured her. "It's just that I keep having memories…it's a side effect with short term memory loss. I'm fine, really."
Katie nodded, but made a mental note to be extra observant of anymore changes in her, just in case. "If you want to talk about it, you know I'll listen."
Kristin offered her a weak smile. "It's no offense to you at all, but I'm still trying to sort things out myself. However, when the time comes that I am ready, I'll certainly consider you. I do appreciate it."
"Well, as long as you're sure," Katie replied. "As I said before, I wasn't trying to make you feel guilty, so please don't. I'm just glad everything turned out the way it did."
"Me, too," Kristin agreed. "And to save you the trouble, you don't need to lecture. I wasn't planning on arguing over a mission with the captain anytime soon. I've learned my lesson."
Katie smiled softly. "I don't blame you…nor do I blame him. You know the captain; he looks out for all of us, and sometimes, he can be a bit of a mother hen. It isn't always appealing, but he has his reasons. What I'm saying is that I don't think you should make promises you can't keep."
Kristin raised an eyebrow. "You don't think I'm being sincere?"
"Please don't take it the wrong way, Doc. That's not exactly what I meant. I just don't think any of us expects you to change, especially the captain. I know I don't want you to change. I think your mini-mission certainly had good intentions attached to it. It's not like you could possibly have known what was going to transpire."
"Yes, but you do know what they say about good intentions," Kristin muttered; she then let out a frustrated sigh. "You're right; I certainly could not have anticipated what happened, but I feel so…so…"
"Guilty?" Katie offered. She took Kristin's hand in her own, knowing full well that was the case. "Why?"
"First of all, it wasn't just me. Ben, Jonathan, and Lucas…especially Lucas. He nearly died, or so I'm told."
"But he didn't," Katie reminded her. "And that was because of what you did."
"And then what I put the rest of you through…I keep trying to think of things I could have done differently. I'd never, ever change what I did for Lucas…but there had to have been some mistake I made…" Kristin's voice began to tremble slightly. She didn't realize truly how much guilt she felt after all this until then, and it was starting to weigh on her.
Katie moved to embrace her again. "Oh, Doc…no, you can't blame yourself. Ben, Lucas, and Jonathan…they're all fine, just fine. The rest of us were, too. I'm not going to lie; it wasn't easy. The thought of losing you…well, I learned just how much you truly mean to me. Maybe that's not such a bad thing. But this is supposed to be a happy time now. The bad thing is over; it's in the past. We…we need to move on."
Kristin didn't reply; she could no longer resist the tears welling up inside her. She let out a cathartic sob; then another. She felt Katie tighten the embrace and begin to whisper comforting words to her, and the rest of the world seemed to melt away.
Several minutes later, Kristin's cries quieted. She immediately felt embarrassed. She quickly pulled away and wiped her cheeks with her hand. "I…I'm sorry. I didn't mean…"
"Please, don't apologize," Katie told her. Then after a slight pause, she said gently, "Maybe you should talk to someone…about the guilt? Doctor Levin perhaps?"
"I'll think about it," Kristin promised. "I honestly didn't realize how much I still have."
"It'll fade," Katie assured her. "Do you want me to stay?" she asked, gently tucking a stray curl behind Kristin's ear. "Or if you'd like to rest…"
"I…I am a little tired," Kristin admitted.
"Then sleep," Katie told her. She leaned over and kissed her cheek. "I'll come back and see you soon."
Kristin nodded, suddenly feeling exhausted. "Katie?"
Katie gave her another gentle peck on the cheek. "Don't mention it. How many times have you helped me? I was just returning the favor. Sleep well."
Kristin never even heard Katie leave. She wasn't sure if it was the fact she stayed with her until she fell asleep or the fact that it wasn't very long before sleep claimed her.
Kristin would know her brother's voice anywhere; she looked around and saw that she couldn't quite recognize her surroundings. It was…well, it almost looked like the typical artist's rendition of Heaven. It was warm and peaceful. The sky was the bluest she'd ever seen it, and there were white, puffy clouds everywhere. She couldn't see the ground. There were people she didn't recognize all around her. She looked around the crowd, searching for James.
"Angel face!" she heard again.
She turned towards the direction of the voice; the crowd seemed to part and there, under a ray of light, stood her brother. She ran to him and wrapped her arms around him. "Oh, James."
"Hey there," he replied, returning the hug. "I'm so happy to see you're back where you belong."
Kristin pulled away. "Belong? You mean I should be here?" She looked around. "Wherever here is exactly."
James chuckled softly. "No, this isn't where you belong. I was referring to the fact that you are back safe and sound with your friends."
"But then how…" she began, looking around again and giving her brother a questioning look.
"I brought you here…but it's only a visit," he explained. "But first, we need to go somewhere more private." He took her by the arm and led her through the crowd until they reached a walkway leading into a small, cozy apartment. He opened the door and instructed her to sit. "This is more like it," he said satisfactorily.
"James, I'm not sure I-"
"I know you don't…yet. That's why I want you to listen for the moment. First of all, you need to leave your regrets behind."
"That's easier said than done," she replied. "I didn't even realize how much guilt I had until just a short while ago."
James sat next to her and put an arm around her shoulders. "Oh, angel face, I know…but you really have no reason to feel the way you're feeling."
She turned to look at him. "No reason?" She shook her head. "No, I think I have every reason. I keep hearing about how hellish it was while I was missing…how upset Lucas was, how upset Nathan was, how upset Katie was, how upset Cynthia was. And the list goes on. I am going to be hearing about how upset everyone was for days…and it was all because of me. How could I not feel bad about that?"
James sighed. "I'm not telling you not to feel bad. Of course you're going to empathize; you always have had a knack for that. That's why you're a doctor, but you also need to separate yourself. You need to realize that no one could prevent what happened. What happened was meant to be, as difficult as it was. There isn't anything you could have done to prevent it. But that doesn't mean you need to take the burden on for everyone else. Do you understand?"
She shrugged. "But that doesn't exactly change the way I feel."
He placed a gentle kiss to her forehead. "I know…but that will fade as the days go on. You just need to let go and realize that what happened was a lesson for everyone involved. Not just you. Not just the captain. Not just Doctor Talbot. For everyone."
"But why did-"
James shook his head. "The why is something you all need to discover for yourselves, but I think you might realize part of the answer already," he replied. "Carol told you that."
"Carol? You mean you know about her?"
James smiled softly. "Sorry, I'd forgotten you didn't know."
"Know what? Oh, I am sick of all the riddles lately," she muttered in frustration. "Why can't anyone give me a straight answer lately?"
"Oh, honey, that's because you already know the answers. You just don't want to admit it yet," James explained.
Kristin groaned in frustration. "That's exactly what Carol said, but if I knew all the answers, I wouldn't be asking. I honestly don't know what's happened to me the past few days. Carol told me my soul was on a journey, a journey I can't even remember. And then I've had these dreams…" She buried her head in her hands. "Oh, James, I'm just so confused."
James put his arms around her. "I know, and I'm sorry."
"What do I do?"
"You need to take your time. These memories...they're going to keep coming to you. I'm not sure if you'll remember everything, but you'll start remembering more and more."
"And then what?" she asked. Her voice sounded so small, it even surprised her.
"I think you know I can't tell you that." He paused for a moment and pulled away to look at her. "In all the years I've known you, I don't think I've seen you quite so afraid," he noted.
"I…I'm not afraid exactly…just unsure."
"I understand, but I'm not exactly the person you should be talking to," he replied.
"I'm just mustering up the courage," she told him, "and part of me is trying to make sense of everything before I do that."
He pulled her back into his arms. "Oh, baby sister, I understand, but did you ever stop to think that maybe he's doing the exact same thing?"
"I know," he confirmed. He sighed. "Kristin, I promise you, you are going to be just fine. You just need to stop putting so much pressure on yourself, let things fall into place. They will. And most importantly, you need to relax. Everything's fine. I promise you."
"You're going to send me back now, aren't you?"
"You can't stay."
She hugged him tighter. "I miss you so much."
"Me, too, but I'm always with you. And I'm always here if you need me."
Kristin suddenly awoke, feeling quite moved by her dream. She felt wetness on her cheeks and realized she must have been crying. She wiped at her eyes, erasing the evidence. Before she could begin to wrap her head around what she'd dreamt, she heard a knock at the door. She looked up to see Nathan.
"I had stopped by earlier, but you were asleep," he explained, walking in. "I hope it's all right."
She offered him a smile. "Of course. I was hoping you'd come by. I mean…I've missed you."
"The crew must have tired you out," he noted.
"No, actually, I've only seen Lucas and Katie. I'm not sure what's keeping the others."
"Well, I did warn everyone they weren't to bombard you. I didn't mean they couldn't see you, though."
She waved a hand. "It's probably because I've been sleeping half the day away." She motioned towards the clock. "I can't believe it's afternoon already."
"You are supposed to rest," Nathan reminded her.
"I know." She paused for a moment. "Nathan? Could I ask you something?"
"Of course. Is everything all right?" he asked, suddenly concerned.
"I've been having these dreams…or maybe they're memories? I've been trying to make sense of them myself. But every time I shut my eyes, I have another one…and I only find myself more confused. Nathan, some of these dreams…they involve you." She stole a glance at him, and he looked down, telling her that perhaps she was on to something. "Nathan, I need to know the truth. What happened while I was away?"