Foam on the Large Wave

 

(Fisi 'o e nauaoam)

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4

 

 

“Coded message, Admiral,” Sparks called out.

Nelson quickly walked the length of the control room and grabbed the piece of paper.  As he read, his hand began to tremble.  “Dammit,” he whispered.  His worst fears had been realized.  Despite all the precautions, it had happened….

“What is it, Admiral?” Chip Morton asked.  He had seen the stricken look on his superior’s face.  “Are you all right, sir?”

“I’m fine,” Nelson answered hesitantly before continuing.  “But Captain Crane was abducted from the Taipei Airport,” he added, tonelessly.   At the same time he crumpled the paper and threw it onto the worktable. 

The only sounds in the control room for the next few minutes were the clicking and pinging sounds of the machinery.  “What are your orders, sir?” Morton asked quietly, his stomach churning from sudden anxiety.

“None,” Nelson responded tonelessly.  

“What do you mean, none, Admiral?  Shouldn’t we be heading to Taiwan?” Morton asked angrily.   Then in a quieter voice, “Did he get the information?”

The admiral chose to ignore the first questions; the outburst had been a knee jerk reaction of a man fearing the worst for his friend.  “Yes, he did.”

Morton looked at him curiously for a moment.  “Did you know this was going to happen?”  He tried to keep his voice as emotionless as the admiral’s, but he couldn’t keep his suspicions from his face. 

“No!”  But there was an apprehensive pause before the admiral continued.  “I had believed, hoped all the precautions would have prevented this,” Nelson said, his eyes still on his hand, willing it to stop trembling.  He closed the fingers into a fist.

“You mean that two plus weeks of no contact, sir?”

“Yes, Commander.”  The admiral finally looked into the XO’s face, saw the doubts.  “Chip, I didn’t know much more than the rest of you.  This was planned by different people at ONI and I had only minimal input.  They wouldn’t have given me as many updates as we got, had I not raised holy hell.”  Nelson stopped, aware that he sounded like he was making excuses.  Am I?  Probably.  His conscience had been jerking his stomach into knots from the moment Lee had rowed the raft away from the Seaview.  

“But it was a pretty sure possibility, wasn’t it, Admiral?” Morton said accusingly, his eyes hardening.  Then he gasped and opened his mouth to speak. 

“Don’t, Commander,” Nelson said warningly.  “Not now.”

Morton closed his mouth but still gazed at his superior, struggling to temper his anger. 

Nelson was pretty sure he knew what was on Morton’s mind.  Lee was set up.  He was sacrificed to stop another crackpot dictator, spy, government.  And Morton was right.  Harriman had been deluding himself if he had even hoped otherwise.  The information was so very vital that he had believed that this was the ultimate, the penultimate goal; that nothing else mattered.  However, it seemed that there were those in the government who felt that the information was secondary to finding out who had killed Anderson, and who had been stealing scientific and weaponry secrets for the past year.  Was it? No, it wasn’t.  A man’s life is never worth that kind of sacrifice.  Damn them!  Harriman could only hope that the safeguards he had been told about would keep Lee safe until they or someone else could rescue him.  He walked over to the chart table and gazed at the map of the Pacific Ocean.  He quickly found Taipei, Taiwan and looked over the expanse where Lee might be right now.   “Commander, give me a bit more time, then I will be able to explain everything I know about this operation.  I’ll be in my cabin.”

“Aye, sir,” Morton said, his anger under control for the moment.  He avoided the surreptitious glances of everyone in the control room.  The XO didn’t often lose his equilibrium like that—and Chip had lost it quite spectacularly.   A half an hour later, one of the mess hands brought a tray with fresh mugs of coffee.  After everyone had gotten a cup, the commander took the tray.  There were two mugs left.   “Take the conn, Mr. O’Brien.”

Quickly making his way to the admiral’s cabin, he knocked.  At the tired sounding ‘come in,’ Morton entered and approached a desk littered with memos, blueprints and innumerable scrawled notes.  “Coffee, Admiral.  It’s fresh.”  His anger and frustration had cooled considerably in the past thirty minutes.  

Nelson nodded, but didn’t look up.  He was trying to put together what he had of the new propulsion unit specifications, but he wasn’t able to concentrate.  Lee held the missing piece; the part that would make this all work.  Why can’t I figure it out from what I already have? he wondered.    And where are they taking Lee?

“I’ve been thinking about what you said, Admiral.  I apologize for being so, uh, rude.”

Nelson finally looked at the steaming mug, then at Morton.  Everyone had been on edge lately.  Everyone was worried.  “No, Chip, I don’t blame you for your frustration.  It only matches the frustration I’ve been feeling.”  Morton was looking at the blueprints. 

“This….” Morton began, his finger tracing the outline of an ion conversion generator.  A call on the intercom, along with Nelson’s warning look, cut him off.

“Yes, Sparks,” he said.

“Another message, Admiral.  They request it code private, your eyes only,” Sparks said, his voice anxious.

Nelson nodded and motioned to Morton.  This was too soon.  Something was wrong and the time for absolute secrecy was over.  He had allowed himself to be pulled along in the ebb and flow of this mission for too long without giving his men any kind of information, regardless of what ONI had told him.  “Stick around, Mr. Morton,” he said.  Then Nelson motioned for Chip to lock the door as he strode over to the communications panel in one corner of his room.  “Send it through, Sparks.”  Nelson gave his high priority, top-level security code and waited.  It didn’t take long.  The combination of Cyrillic and alpha-numeric figures began printing and he started translating in his head even as the printer continued sending the message.   His breath caught in his throat and he lost his train of thought.  Mentally shaking, Nelson forced himself to concentrate.  Finally, the machine stopped and lay silent.

Nelson jerked the communiqué from the printer and took it to his desk.  He pulled a cigarette from the pack by his elbow, but didn’t light it.  The paper lay in front of him, accusing him.  He rubbed his sleep-deprived eyes and sighed. 

Morton had stood quietly, knowing that information would be forth-coming since he had been admitted to the “inner sanctum” as the men were want to call Nelson’s cabin.

“A bit of background, Chip and then I’ll give you the update,” the admiral said, as he lit the cigarette and took a steadying drag.  Morton looked surprised, but Nelson ignored the XO’s gaze.  Jamie would dress him down later for backing down on his vow to quit smoking, but right now, he didn’t really care.  “I, and several other scientists have been working on a highly secret project for some months.  When we first began we were able to meet together publicly.”

“The Helsinki Conference, sir?” Morton asked. 

Nelson nodded, feeling a quick touch of pleasure at the astuteness of his men.  “That was when we found out we were all working on the same project.  Then one of the scientists, Henderson, was attacked; a kidnapping attempt, we believe.”  Another puff of the cigarette.  “We began meeting two at a time, using couriers to compare notes when we couldn’t meet.  Then the couriers started disappearing.  Dr. Delacroix was killed in yet another kidnapping attempt.”  He paused and looked steadily at the younger man.  “It was quite apparent that someone wants this information quite badly—and with good reason.  What we are developing is so revolutionary, so radical that the government, company or man who owns it could very well become the most powerful entity on earth.”

“Does it have to do with the proposed changes in the Flying Sub’s propulsion system, Admiral?” Morton asked softly. 

Again Nelson felt that bit of pride.  “Very astute, Chip.  It became harder and harder to compare notes.  Very highly trained espionage experts were involved by now, but even then there were problems.  Henderson went under cover and then the spy who contacted him disappeared. 

“So the captain was tapped to be the next courier,” Morton said.

“Yes, Chip, he was, but for more than just a trusted courier.  This was Dr. Mendez Lee was to contact; the man, I believe, who has the key to breaking the roadblock that I and the rest of us have experienced.”  He paused again, then crushed the half-finished cigarette in an ashtray.  It shredded under the force of his frustration.  “The last time we had been able to meet was at the institute about three months ago.  I had told him my problem and Mendez began thinking right there. I got word last month that he had found the solution.”

“But that wasn’t all,” Morton prompted. 

“No,” the admiral said softly, looking again at his message.  “The government felt it imperative that whoever was getting this information, whoever was killing couriers, spies and scientists alike, was highly dangerous and needed to be caught.”

“It’s not the Republic?”

“No, not this time.  At least I don’t think so.  The ONI thinks this person or persons is some new threat.”

“So Lee was supposed to be abducted,” Morton mused aloud.

“I didn’t want to believe it.  I was told that wasn’t the ultimate goal, only a possibility.”  He pulled out another cigarette.  “But I contacted ONI just a little while ago.  Raised hell and was told that they had more or less hoped Lee would be contacted by these unknowns.  So, I’m afraid it was.  I saw the signs, but didn’t want to believe them,” he added, his voice tight with anguish.

Morton sighed.  “Did Lee suspect?”

Harriman nodded.   “Probably had a better handle on what would happen than I did.”

“Why Lee?” Morton asked, his voice rising in anger again.  How could they do this?  Damn them!!

Nelson knew it wasn’t directed at him this time, but at the situation.  “I was told it was because Captain Crane had proven himself so resourceful in these kinds of assignments before,” he replied, gazing deeply into his subordinate’s eyes.  “I have been thinking that there was more to it than just Lee’s ingenuity and talents,” Nelson said.  “I suspect that it was mainly because of his position on the Seaview and his proximity to me and the research.”

“A particularly rich prize,” Morton said bitterly. 

“I’m afraid so,” Nelson murmured.  His stomach knotted as he admitted aloud what he had been afraid to admit for the past two weeks.

Morton said nothing for some time.  “If the captain was meant to be captured then there had to be some kind of failsafe.  Some way to track him or find him,” the younger man said, his voice hopeful.

Nelson knew what close friends the two men had become during Lee’s command.  It was even deeper than it had been when they were midshipmen at Annapolis.   At times it seemed that the various components of the two men’s personalities meshed and complimented one another perfectly.  Lee’s determined and courageous drive, his in-your-face devotion to duty, incredibly defined sense of right and wrong, and Morton’s cautious, measured, steady capability, his calm willpower.    It made the information he had all the more difficult.   But, again, Nelson knew the time for subversive secrecy was well past.  The admiral was afraid that it would take them all working together to save Captain Crane.   “There were two things, actually,” he said.  “First, the information that Lee received was implanted in such a way that conventional methods of extracting information won’t work.  And it was planted deep into his subconscious in a way that even he has no earthly idea what it is.”    Morton started to pace.  “The other was a very tiny device, a transmitter, that would allow ONI, and ultimately us, to track Lee’s progress and destination.  It was implanted the same time that the information was.”

“Then why aren’t we going after him instead of sitting here off the South American coast?” Morton asked impatiently.  Lee was out there somewhere and he was in trouble.

“Because the supposedly undetectable tracking device was discovered a short time after the kidnapping and destroyed,” Nelson said bluntly.

“What?”

“Apparently this power is more clever than the ONI.”

“Are you saying that we have no way of finding Lee?” Morton asked.

“I didn’t say that, Chip.”  Nelson lit the second cigarette, but immediately stubbed it out.  “We know that he was apprehended in Taipei.  Also we know that the plane was a small, private jet, one that could fly only a certain distance.”

“They could change planes,” Morton interrupted. 

“They could, but I have several reasons why I don’t think they did,” Nelson said, pointing to a chair.  Morton’s pacing was making him nervous.  “The previous courier, a CIA operative at the top of the game, showed up dead in Hawaii.  He wasn’t killed there but the body was dumped on a remote beach to muddle things.   Personally, I think that this unknown, while apparently wealthy, doesn’t have unlimited resources.  I believe the jet is non-stop….”  Harriman stopped abruptly.  “No, it would have to refuel somewhere.  We can use that.”  He rubbed his chin in thought, his eyes glittering with determination.  “We’ve laid tracks, trails and deep, dark spy scenarios enough to confuse the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  I feel that whoever this is won’t do that.  He or she has been anonymous and very, very clever.   I think our enemy is in the Pacific somewhere.”

“But where, sir?”

“I don’t know, Chip, but I think if we do some good old-fashioned research we’ll find some red flags and ultimately find Captain Crane,” Nelson said fervently.

“But in the meantime, they’ll try to extract this information in the conventional ways,” Morton said, almost shivering at what his imagination was showing him.  “Including torture.”

Nelson shook his head.  “We are only assuming that.  Why would someone torture a person they depend on for important information?  They might use truth drugs on him, but I doubt they would use anything so crude as physical torture.”  He sighed and gazed intently at his acting first officer.  “And we all knew when we signed up for this duty what it entailed.  As well as what could happen.”

“I know, Admiral,” Morton said, frustrated.  “I know.”

“We’ll find him, Chip,” Nelson said with conviction.  “We always have.  We won’t let Lee down now.” 

Morton nodded.  “Do you want me to do some triangulation work on that jet’s last known position?”

“Yes.  I’ll give you the data ONI has already sent me and I’ll get more details.   Use it’s direction and whatever information you can find on its range,” Nelson directed.  “I believe we are talking about any place between the Indo China Sea and southern New Zealand.”

“Aye, Admiral.”  Morton turned to leave. 

“And Chip.”  Morton stopped in his tracks, his hand on the doorknob.  “Lay in the quickest course to the Institute.”

“Institute, Admiral?”

“Old fashioned research has to be done in a facility with enormous resources.  The Seaview is most likely being monitored.  I can’t risk requesting information electronically,” Nelson explained.

“Aye, aye, sir,” Morton said, then he hesitated. 

“Carry on, Chip.  That’s all we can do for now.  That and pray.”

The XO nodded and left.

 

 

Chapter 5
Foam on the Large Wave Prologue
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Contents
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