Crane finds himself without a command
and without direction in this story that continues where Spirit of the
Brown Bear left off. It does stand alone, however.
Something is afoul, but just what is it?
Cigarette smoke drifted lazily toward the large, round, garishly bright globe hanging from the high ceiling. It made the faces of the two individuals in the large conference room seem ghost white, but did not reach into the outer areas. Shadows danced macabre and grotesque around the walls as the man paced and then sat down. The small woman moved her fingers, watched the man but didn’t say anything for several minutes.
“If we only concentrate on one individual at a time, we can inflict some damage, sir,” she finally said. “And if we are very careful, very, very subtle; make small, seemingly innocent strikes at various points of a single impregnable part of the whole, then we can eventually undermine the entire structure.”
“You are saying that by destroying one part of Seaview’s complement, you could destroy the entire crew?”
“We could weaken her and it would make it much easier to destroy her. Or capture her, sir.”
“But we have tried that,” the leader barked.
Xo Lin started at the intensity of his voice, but she gathered her control and continued. “We have flitted from one person, one plan to another, Excellency. We need to work methodically, continue to concentrate on one link and when it breaks, we gnaw at the next link until we have the chain ready to fall apart.” She paused. “If we select the right links, I do not think it will take much effort.”
The man stopped pacing and sat down next to his subordinate. “I can only suppose that you have a specific plan?”
“Yes, Excellency, I do,” she said so softly that the man had to lean forward to hear her.
He lit another cigarette, puffed on it for several minutes, watching the smoke drift and mingle with the haze of the previous cigarettes. He nodded. “Tell me.”
Lee Crane stood staring at his cabin, now empty of belongings except for the two filled duffle bags by the door. He started at a sudden knock, but with a sigh, opened the door.
“Uh, Skipper,” Chief Sharkey ventured. The chief took in the two duffle bags, the totally empty condition of the room and gave his commander a bewildered look. “Skipper?”
“Help me take these forward, Chief,” Lee said tonelessly.
“What’s going on, sir?” Sharkey asked, hefting one of the bags and reaching for the other one. As had been usual of late, his commander appeared not to have slept the previous night.
“I’ll get this one, Chief,” he said, taking the second bag.
“What’s going on, Skipper?” Sharkey persisted. He was somewhat alarmed, realizing that this wasn’t just someone taking a trip. This had more of the appearance of someone moving out.
“You’re getting a new captain,” Crane said softly.
“What!?” Sharkey exclaimed, almost dropping the bag. “But why? I mean, I guess it’s none of my business, but I mean….” He paused and then plunged on when the younger man didn’t immediately answer. “I mean, don’t you like it here on the boat anymore?” Then he stopped, feeling totally inane. “I’m sorry, sir.”
“No, Chief, you have nothing to be sorry for,” Crane answered. They were in the control room and he paused to look out the large herculite windows at the dark sky beyond. Lights lit the immediate area, but for a few guards patrolling the area, it was empty on the dock. Putting down the duffle bag, Lee pulled out the official letter he had received the previous evening and handed it to the chief of the boat. He might as well let Sharkey know, he thought. The man was COB, after all.
Sharkey set down the other bag and took the proffered document. He read it silently, his eyes opening wide in shock and horror. “This isn’t fair, sir. I mean with everything going on lately. I mean, that mission, your mother….”
Crane cut him off with a hand gesture, then shrugged. He was still numb with his own shock. “Sometimes life isn’t fair,” he said with a soft sigh. “However if I had been more astute; if I had been more aware of what was going on around me, I would have seen this coming.” He took a deep breath. “Part of being in command is being aware. So I suppose they made a perfectly fair assessment and judgment.” Again he shrugged.
“But Captain, we should have been allowed to give you a proper send off,” Sharkey protested. “The men would want that.”
Crane gave a sardonic smile and then shook his head. “No, Chief. You weren’t here then, but I came in without fanfare. In fact I ruffled a few feathers with my tactics. I would prefer to leave without fanfare.”
“I still can’t believe they did this.”
“Apparently, they can and they did,” Crane said with finality. “Just give the new captain a fair shake. Of course, I know you will.”
Sharkey nodded. Part of him wanted to cry, part of him was too angry to allow such sentiment. How could someone do this? Did the admiral know? Of course, not, or he would have been here. No, he would be in his office screaming at the fools who did this. That’s what it was. I have to stall…. “Skipper, I have a bottle of Scotch in my locker. I’d be honored if you would share a drink with me.”
Crane smiled softly and laid one hand on the chief’s shoulder. “I appreciate that, Chief, I really do, but you saw the orders. I don’t think I need to stay here any longer. I, uh, well, I need to be going.” He paused for a few minutes, looking around. “I would hope that they would finally give Mr. Morton a shot at the Gray Lady. He certainly deserves it.”
Again all Sharkey could do was nod his head. He thought again of the contents of the document. “Sir?”
Crane said nothing for a moment. He walked through the control room, the heart of the submarine, touching almost reverently the consoles, the periscope island, the computer banks. Finally, he stood before the large observation windows watching the dark waves. As hard as he had tried, Lee couldn’t shed the feeling of overwhelming grief. Somehow, he felt this command, this beautiful gray lady would be his forever, or at least until he decided it was time to go. He sucked in a trembling breath and reached out to touch the clear herculite. Then he remembered his audience and drew back. “You were saying something, Chief?” he asked without turning around.
“Uh, Skipper, what . . . er . . . where will you go now?” He remembered the part about administrative leave.
Lee shrugged and turned. “Probably take some of my accrued vacation time and go someplace I’ve always wanted to go,” he said noncommittally. “I’m really not sure, Chief.”
Sharkey gazed at the young captain for a short moment. He knew where Crane always wanted to go. Right here on this boat, but he said nothing.
“Time to go,” the captain said, shouldering the duffle bag.
Sharkey picked up the other one and followed the skipper. They climbed topside and then across the gangplank.
“I can take the other one now, Chief,” Lee said. As much as he’d miss the boat, it was the crew he’d miss more. “Take care of the men, Francis,” he added softly. He took the chief’s hand and shook it. He looked ready to say something, but evidently thought better of it.
Sharkey nodded. Shouldering the two bags, Crane walked out of the circle of the dockside light and into the darkness. The chief knew that the sag of the wide shoulders wasn’t just from the weight of his possessions.
Sharkey felt something heavy in his chest, something that yammered for release. All he could do was kick the nearest mooring post and then curse softly as the pain messages reached his brain.
Lt. Commander Chip Morton sat in his office in the main Institute building, gazing at his morning mail in abject shock. Emotions rattled through his mind like hailstones. Puzzlement, elation, worry, anger, sadness, even some fear. He reread the letter, an official one from the Navy Department, Washington D.C., despite the fact that he was on reserve status. ‘Effective immediately, you will assume command of the SSRN Seaview. A further board of evaluation will determine the duration of the command.’ It had been signed by the secretary of the Navy. His first such letter, the one that made him exec some six years ago, had been more of a courtesy, since the Admiral had already approached him for the job, snagging him from his exec job on a surface ship. He had been elated then. Now? He more or less felt the same sensation one has after eating too many pancakes with too much syrup. There was a sick feeling in his gut that was a total antithesis to that first feeling of so long ago.
To be honest, Chip did feel some pride that he was considered good enough for the captaincy of Seaview, but in order for him to command that meant that Lee was leaving. Chip frowned. Lee hadn’t said a word. For that matter, neither had the admiral. Why not? Why the bombshell from the Department of the Navy, an organization that had only partial control over NIMR’s operations. Or had that changed, too?
Of course, it was apparent that Lee had not been his usual self since that botched ONI mission, but retire or just quit? Retire? That was a joke. The man who had risen to the rank of full commander in only ten years still had four before he could pull any kind of retirement. Lee had given not so much as a hint of his intentions. There was a short flaring of anger. Why would Lee keep such a thing from him? They were friends, weren’t they? Even more than they were colleagues.
Morton called Lee’s office. There was no answer. His bewilderment grew. He called the admiral’s office. Nelson, rather than his secretary, picked up. “Chip?”
“Admiral, do you… Have you…” Suddenly, he didn’t know what to say.
“Chip, come over to my office right now.” And he hung up. The voice had sounded urgent and worried.
Obviously, the admiral knew. But just as obvious was the fact that there was no foreknowledge. What the hell was going on? And since when didn’t the admiral have at least partial control over the doings of his operations? Chip strode out of the office, the letter still clutched in his fist.
“Sit down, Chip, while I continue trying to locate Lee,” Nelson said when Morton walked through the door. His eyes were dark with anger—and worry. He was frustrated at the thought that he had been sidelined in the running of his own submarine and operation. He was angry at how adversely this had to be affecting Lee; especially after the first six months of this year. The man had been hit with one crisis after another, including the family issues he had had to deal with when his mother had died suddenly the previous month. It seemed rather ironic that he had felt that things would calm down for the young captain after Lee had quit working with ONI. Rather, it appeared that just the opposite had happened.
Chip waited for some time while Nelson tried number after number, apparently not having any kind of success. Finally, with a heavy sigh, Nelson simply lay the phone down and massaged his forehead. Chip decided now was the time to tell the admiral what he was thinking. “I always thought back in the beginning how wonderful it would be to captain the Gray Lady, but not like this….” Morton sounded almost reflective. “I don’t care what the brass back in Washington say, the Seaview is Lee’s and that’s where he should be!”
Harriman nodded. “I agree with you, Chip, Seaview should be Lee’s as long as he wanted her. However, all of this brings out a rather obvious point, one that I had hoped would be resolved under less difficult circumstances.” The admiral studied his executive officer.
“The point that you deserve your own boat.”
“With all due respect, Admiral, I think we need to find Lee and get this all straightened out first.”
“I agree.” The admiral picked up the phone again and called yet another number. Chip got the impression from his deepening frown, that he had been doing that for some time even before he had arrived. And apparently he didn’t like what he was hearing. Again, Nelson put the phone down. “We may have to do that straightening out on our own. The chief said that Lee left the boat with all his belongings several hours ago. I suspect he may be at home right now, because he’s not in any of the offices.”
“And if he is home, I suspect he won’t answer his phone, Admiral. I think after the past month, he’s just not thinking straight. Let me head out to his apartment and see if I can catch him.”
“Yes, do that, Chip, and I’ll leave a message on his machine if he won’t pick up.”
Morton simply nodded as he left, his mind in turmoil. Why would any conscientious doctor go along with this travesty, especially knowing any kind of past history? Maybe that was it…. The doctor didn’t bother to do any checking.