~*~August 1940, Moskenesøya Island, Norway
From his perch on a promontory above the well-hidden coastal cave known by locals as the Kollhellaren, a diminutive blue-eyed boy dutifully scanned the churning waters of the Norwegian Sea. Accustomed to standing watch for any signs of German U-boats or destroyers out to overtake poorly armed merchant ships, he diligently fulfilled his duty until a veritable wall of fog threatened to envelop both him and the cavern entrance. Intimately familiar with every hand and foothold in the rock face, he clambered down and dropped onto the narrow band of coarse sand and moss covered rocks that that would lead him downslope to the dark stone doorway. With one last look over his shoulder he stepped over the natural sill and slipped inside.
Not taking any chances that "his" cave had been infiltrated by the occupiers since his last visit, the boy hugged the wall and on occasion, paused to listen for voices or sounds of movement. On this day, however, he heard only the dull echoes of his own footfalls. As he moved towards the inner reaches of the cave, darkness began to wrap him like a shroud so he reached into the pocket of his wool coat and removed a candle stub and a single matchstick. With a sharp strike on the wall he lit the candle and with his path now illuminated, he ducked down and entered through a narrow opening in the rocks. He traveled nearly fifty feet before the passage opened up into another room and there he wedged the candle between two rocks then plopped down on a large stone platform. After crossing his legs the boy stared at the south wall where nearly a dozen foot-high red stick figures appeared to dance in the flickering candlelight. Fueled by many family stories of the ancients who settled the area and his own fertile imagination, he was immediately transported back in time.
~*~ Present Day off Moskenesøya Island, Norway
When Lee Crane, captain of the submarine Seaview, stuck his head through the sub’s laboratory door, he couldn’t help but crack a smile. With a lively discussion among Seaview’s visiting scientists swirling around him, retired Admiral Harriman Nelson, Seaview’s owner and founder of the Nelson Institute of Marine Research, was definitely in his element. The climatologist, ocean fisheries expert, biologist and chemical oceanographer who had assembled in the admiral’s domain to review preliminary data from their study of cod and herring production in the North Atlantic region were competing both for the floor and for the admiral’s attention.
Rather than interrupt, Lee stepped inside and stood near the open door. As he half-listened to the commentary he recalled another recent and rather loud conversation between him and the sub’s designer where he had been informed of their mission and who would be aboard.
"Hello, Lee. Have a seat."
Lee slid into one of the guest chairs in Nelson’s institute office as the admiral handed him the latest proposal.
"The Norwegian government has requested a study of productivity in their fishing grounds. As you know it’s been two years since that shift in the Gulf Stream. Since practically their whole economy is based on fishing, they were interested in knowing …"
As Lee listened he scrolled down to the list of participants. Upon reading one name he shot up like a rocket. "You’re kidding? Melton blew up a plane and killed the pilot and he shot up Seaview!"
The admiral cocked his head. "No, Lee, I’m not. Dr. Melton’s actions were totally out of his control. You of all people should understand that."
After being reminded once again of his own experiences at the hands of the chief intelligence officer from the People’s Republic, Lee grimaced.
Nelson reached into his desk drawer, pulled out a pack of cigarettes and shook one out. After quickly lighting up he took a long draw. "He’s eager to make amends for what he did while under the PR’s influence and he is still the world’s leading expert on the effects of the Gulf Stream on climate. The Norwegians are eager to find out if their prime cod fishing grounds are recovering. They’ve had a couple of very lean years."
"I guess I’m not quite as ready to trust him as you are."
"I understand how you feel. If it would make you more comfortable with the idea I will see to it that you are available to personally monitor Dr. Melton’s every move."
"Admiral, you can’t mean that. I…"
The steely look sent his way stopped Lee in his tracks. Though he was reluctant to allow the climatologist to return, there was no way he wanted to be his babysitter. Deflated, Lee settled back into his chair. "That won’t be necessary, sir."
Lee’s reverie was interrupted by Henrik Jorstad, the Norwegian fish specialist and coordinator of the project. "Don’t you agree, Captain?"
"Um… I’m sorry," he said with a guilty grin, "what was your question?"
"I want to collect the next samples in the Moskstraumen. It is where we expect to see the greatest change to the bottom profile and it is the most critical to the development of young fish."
As he considered the request Lee’s smile slowly disappeared. The area in question, nicknamed the "maelstrom" by writer Edgar Allen Poe had been known by sailors for many centuries. One of the strongest tidal currents in the world, its mile-wide whirlpools had been responsible for the destruction of many a ship. Though many accounts of its fantastic power were likely exaggerations, Lee wasn’t eager to test their accuracy with his boat.
"I’m afraid we can’t take Seaview in there. It’s much too shallow for us to maneuver safely."
"However, Captain Crane and I already discussed using the Flying Sub," chimed Nelson.
Lee took a deep breath then nodded. "I don’t want FS-1 ground into the bottom, so before we try any sampling we need accurate measurements of the current velocity. That may take us a good part of a day with the ADCP unit."
"Agreed." Nelson turned to the scientists. "Unless anyone else has a comment or a question I believe that will be it for tonight."
After the quartet said their goodnights and shuffled out, Nelson waved for the captain to close the door. As Lee complied he casually wiped beads of sweat from his forehead then painted on a weak smile before facing his CO. "Things going well, Admiral?
"Quite well, Lee. It looks like we’ll be able to predict to within twelve to eighteen months when the salinity and pH will be back to previous levels. Unfortunately, the food web was likely disrupted far more by the shift and it will take more time to recover. That’s why we need the plankton and juvenile fish samples, to establish a baseline."
Lee nodded. "I understand, sir."
"How are things going with you and Dr. Melton?"
Despite his concerns Lee had found his interactions with Melton to be both pleasant and informative. In fact, he had been pleased by how well all the scientists worked together as a team. "I have to say the cruise has been easier than I thought it would be, and Melton’s actually a pretty nice guy."
The admiral laughed. "Yes, yes he is, though he is a bit on the eccentric side."
The comment made Lee’s smile turn up a notch. "Admiral, if there’s nothing else I think I’ll…"
The admiral cocked his head. "Tour the boat?"
"Good idea, sir." After a polite nod Lee stepped from the lab. He walked only a few steps before he reached for the bulkhead to brace himself. After several moments he stood up straight, wiped his brow with his sleeve then proceeded shakily down the corridor.
~*~ Day 2
"Morning, Lee," greeted Chip Morton, Seaview’s XO, as he stuck his head through the captain’s open cabin door. "You want to catch a bite?"
Lee looked up from his report. "Already had breakfast but I could use a status report."
Lee’s pale complexion and the dark circles under his eyes told Chip that his friend was in no mood for teasing about his tendency to skip meals, or about anything else. "I just finished calibrating the ADCP and had it loaded on FS-1. We’ve determined the first high slack water will be at 0921 hours. The detail will be ready to go whenever you are."
Lee cast his eyes downward and pretended to peruse the reports on his desk. "Who’s on the detail?"
"Garza, Embery and Riley."
"Switch it to Kowalski and Patterson."
Chip cocked his head. "Is there a problem?"
Lee shook his head then looked up. "No, no problem."
For a brief moment Chip considered asking Lee if he had read the research articles on claustrophobia that he had left for him. Since the last time he had broached the subject he had been rewarded by two days of stony silence, he decided on a different tactic. "Lee, I could use the practice. If you want me to take her out I’ll…"
Lee vigorously shook his head and pointed to a small stack of folders in his desk tray. "I need to complete those reports for the admiral then I’ll be ready to go. I’ll see you in the conn in thirty so we can go over the placement. Carry on."
With a quick nod Chip acknowledged the order and stepped outside. Out of habit he pulled the door closed behind him. He had traveled only twenty feet down the corridor when he heard the captain’s door click open. Expecting further orders, he looked back; however, Lee failed to make an appearance. With a grimace and a slow shake of his head the blond continued aft.
When Chip entered the wardroom he found all five scientists gathered around an old map that he immediately recognized as the Carta Marina. Created in the sixteenth century by the Swedish bishop Olaus Magnus, the map was considered by historians to be one of the most accurate depictions of Scandinavia and northern Europe available at the time. What most often drew the attention of modern viewers was not the detail, but Magnus’ depictions of fabulous sea creatures, some of them appearing to devour sailing ships. It was no surprise to the exec that the illustrations were the topic of vigorous debate by the researchers.
"They were based on superstitions and myths," declared Harald Knutsen, the chemist and the youngest of Seaview’s visitors, as he rose from his chair. "There was nothing to support any of it. No photography and no well preserved samples. Just a few decomposed parts and pieces."
"And each generation embellished the tales of the last, making it difficult to separate truth and myth in the historic record," added Jorstad. "I have spoken to many fishermen and none can offer concrete proof of the existence of creatures that large or that menacing but they swear upon their ancestor’s graves that the tales are true."
The admiral was quick to defend the artist and his sources. "Don’t dismiss them all as the products of drunken sailors’ imaginations. Most of the creatures can reasonably be identified as species of giant whales, squid or octopus. Though most have been hunted to extinction that doesn’t mean some don’t still exist and we’re discovering new species every day!" And some are the results of a mad scientist’s work, he thought as he recalled his last visit to Norway.
"I have to agree with Admiral Nelson," declared biologist Ingvara Solem, as she pointed to the map. "That one is labeled ‘Orca’ and it is attacking what is obviously a large baleen whale. Most of the monsters have blowholes and could only be large cetaceans. This one shown near the Lofotens looks like a snake but the long body could be the tentacles of a giant squid."
"Ah! The elusive kraken," chided Knutsen.
"Why not?" Nelson shoved his hands into his pockets. "I’ll admit that sailors didn’t always have the best eyesight and their consumption of alcohol might have played a part in legend but Magnus was one of the more learned men in the region and he did his homework. Think about it. Carta Marina had the first known depiction of the various eddies and tidal currents throughout the northern oceans, including the Moskstraumen. Why would he pay so much attention to those details then destroy his credibility by tossing in a bunch of mythological creatures if he didn’t think there was a basis for them?"
With a nod Jorstad conceded the admiral’s point. "Since we are speaking of superstitions, Admiral, what legends or myths have you heard about the Moskstraumen?"
"As I recall from the Old Norse poem the Grottasöngr, King Frodi hired two female giants to operate a mill to grind rocks into soil that would give rise to food for his people. When the giants became dissatisfied with their heavy workload they killed the king. Unfortunately for them, the new king sent the pair out to sea where they were forced to grind salt…which is an explanation for how the seas became salty. Their ship, the giants and the millstone sunk at the location of the whirlpool. Today, ships must pass through the hole in the millstone."
"Do you believe that story?" queried Knutsen
"As an attempt by an unsophisticated people to explain the geologic formation of the earth and other mysteries, yes."
"Admiral, I would have thought a scientist with your credentials would be more skeptical than most about such fantasies. Perhaps, then, you also believe the theory that the Moskstraumen is the portal to the land of the dead?"
The admiral locked eyes with the young man who up until now had been cordial and upbeat and he sensed intense anger. For several long moments no one said a word. It was Melton who broke the tension. "Now we are more enlightened and have the tools to resolve many ancient mysteries. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing real data from the current meters. Admiral, I would like to personally observe the deployment if that’s possible."
"It shouldn’t be a problem. Let me check with Captain Crane."
Nelson’s statement caused Chip to cringe into his coffee cup. Once the group departed, he speared some scrambled eggs, but after one bite he set down his fork, leaned back and sighed. What had been a relatively easy cruise was about to get complicated.
"Lee, I want you take Dr. Melton out with you."
Seldom caught unaware, Lee was startled by the sudden appearance of the admiral and Melton at the plot table and by the unwelcome order. "In FS-1?"
Nelson grinned. "Of course in FS-1. He wants to get a first hand view of the current. I happen to think it would be a good experience for him."
Lee stood to his full height. "Admiral, I’m afraid I can’t allow it."
"Phhhhtttt. Why not?"
Lee shot a glance at Melton before returning his gaze to his superior. The admiral excused himself then ushered Lee further into the control room. "I thought you two were getting along."
"It’s not that."
Lee nodded. "Not that I believe all the legends, but it’s still risky. We know the surface currents run over ten miles per hour and the wind is close to twenty. Add to that the unpredictable fog and you have the makings of a real nightmare. Once I get some idea of how she handles under those conditions I might change my mind but right now passengers are out of the question!"
While Lee’s reasoning was sound, the vehemence in the younger man’s voice gave the admiral pause. He had long been concerned that baggage from the younger man’s past missions might some day take their toll. Though Lee had brushed off his concerns, Nelson doubted that Lee had recovered from his most recent brush with death at the hands of a bizarre bee-like family. Out of respect for the officer and the man, Nelson decided against bringing up the issue, at least for the time being. "All right, but if there is any way to arrange a ride, I want it to happen."
Lee stood at the bottom of the ladder and kept his eyes glued to the Flying Sub’s hatch. With each click of the wheel his throat constricted further and another bead of sweat popped up on his forehead. When the inner hatch snicked closed it was as if his fate was also being sealed and he let out a quiet gasp. A loud cough nearby reminded him he was not alone and after wiping away the telltale moisture he began barking out orders. "Lash those instruments down tight and double check the telemetry. I don’t want to lose a second’s worth of data!"
"Aye, sir!" snapped both Kowalski and Patterson as they scurried to comply.
Once seated in the pilot’s chair Lee fumbled to secure his harness and attach the throat microphone. When he reached for the controls his hands began to tremble. Unable to stop the motion he dropped his arms, clenched his fists and closed his eyes.
"Ready, Skipper," announced Kowalski as the ratings took their seats and buckled up.
Lee had no choice but to grasp the controls. "Then let’s get going! Flying Sub to Seaview. Ready to launch!"
A series of deep, controlled breaths allowed Lee to focus long enough to guide the craft to the site north of the Moskstraumen where they would collect their first two sets of measurements. When FS-1 came to a stop on the surface he leapt to undog the top hatch. Under the guise of ensuring there were no ships around to create a hazard he poked his head through the opening. Out of sight of his men, he greedily gulped the fresh air. Come on Crane. Get a handle on this…thing. Focus, focus…you are relaxing on a beach. A wide white sand beach…Clean, fresh breezes… It was a voice from below brought Lee back to the reality he was desperately trying to avoid.
"Three minutes ‘til high slack, Skipper," announced Kowalski as he donned headphones and seated himself on the deck in front of the profiler’s controls. From his position nearby, Patterson flooded the escape hatch and released the retractable arms that held the ADCP unit. About the size and shape of a small barrel, the unit contained four transducers, a compass and various sensors, and operated much like sonar. The head of the device was on a swivel so it could be aimed in almost any direction.
"She’s at ninety degrees to us and locked, Skipper,"
Lee drank in one last breath before dogging the hatch and descending the ladder. He then made a quick check of the navigational computer before taking his seat at the controls. Almost immediately his throat tightened and his hands began to shake noticeably. With a quick glance over his shoulder he leaned back in his seat and ran a hand through his hair. To his relief, after a minute of staring out the windows his symptoms began to subside. He snapped on his throat mic he turned his attention to the task at hand; maintaining FS-1’s position against the dangerous current.
"Start pinging, Kowalski."
"FS-1 to Seaview. You should be receiving the first signals in thirty seconds."
"Telemetry is working. Keep me informed of your progress," ordered Nelson.
Dr. Melton’s theory that the surface currents would move more rapidly than the ones below was soon proven correct. Before many minutes passed, the speed of the current increased substantially and Lee was forced to run the thrusters at full power to hold the sub steady. Fortunately, though the current’s maximum speed reached sixteen miles per hour, or over three times that of the Gulf Stream, the Flying Sub remained upright and undamaged.
"That’s fantastic, Lee! And Dr. Melton and I are both very impressed by the preliminary data. This should put an end to any speculation about the strength of the current. It’s fast but it’s possible to navigate."
As the scientists celebrated his success, Lee’s attention shifted to his next trial. In order to sample the bottom of the Moskstraumen it would be vital to know how FS-1 would handle twenty feet above the seafloor and in the eye of the vortex. To Lee, the more crucial test was that of is own abilities given his current mental state. It was not a good sign that when he gave the order to dive his voice cracked and his chest tightened.
While the current was not as rapid, the bottom waters of the maelstrom were turbid. Even with the bow lights up full, Lee could see practically nothing. "Patterson, man the fathometer!"
"Aye, sir," responded the rating as he slid into the copilot’s seat.
"Keep you eye on that screen. This close I need a reading every fifteen seconds," he added, his voice rising with each word.
"We’re at twenty…twenty two… twenty one…nineteen… eighteen…." A sudden sharp tilt of the sub caused Patterson to grab the armrests. "We’ve lost trim! It’s gonna flip us, Skipper. Skipper?"
Lee knew he had only seconds to make a correction before the sub would spiral into the bottom. He was about to reach for the emergency ballast control when by some act of fate the sub suddenly leveled off. The men breathed a collective sigh of relief but their test was far from over. FS-1 bobbled several more times before Lee pulled back on the controls and steered the craft safely to the surface several hundred yards beyond the whirlpool.
As a bruised Kowalski held onto the back of the pilot’s chair and pulled himself to his feet, Lee unbuckled his harness, stood and swayed. At that moment the radio crackled to life.
"Seaview to FS-1, we detected some instability in the measurements. What’s going on over there?"
Lee recognized concern in the admiral’s voice and in his choice of words. "We’re fine, Admiral."
"What happened, Lee?"
"Eddies. Now that I know how fast they move, I can compensate."
Nelson grimaced at Lee’s choice of words. While the presence of eddies was possible in any fast moving current, he questioned his captain’s explanation. Compensating? Is that what Lee’s doing? Standing in the observation nose surrounded by the scientists who had been monitoring FS-1’s progress, Nelson chose his next words carefully. "Hmmmm. I suppose you could do that. But I would prefer that we made some adjustment to the stabilizers. Bring her back in and I’ll see what I can do."
"But Admiral, I could make another pass…"
"The tide has already shifted. Besides we don’t need to risk FS-1 at this stage. No, best bring her in. I’ll see you in a few minutes."
Lee’s stomach roiled at the thought of having to repeat the test but he knew it would be necessary. For now he was more than happy to oblige his superior. "Be right there, sir."
"You can’t be serious?"
The admiral raised an eyebrow. "You think I can’t handle it, Lee?"
"No, sir, it’s not that…"
"We’ll be fine, just fine. FS-1 should handle better than ever after that program adjustment. I’ve briefed Dr. Melton on deploying the ADCP and we’ll only be making another surface test.... which you have already proven is quite doable. After that it will be a pass or two overhead so Dr. Melton can get a look. We’ll be back here well before dark."
Lee settled back onto the corner of Nelson’s desk and weighed the pros and cons of the admiral’s plan to take the Flying Sub into the Moskstraumen and to allow the climatologist to accompany him. While Nelson was certainly qualified to handle the craft he designed and tested, Lee knew firsthand the difficulty of controlling her in the fast current. The OOM was also refusing to take a copilot which would have given him a greater margin of safety. While those issues were significant, Lee greatest concern was Melton. He knew all too well that presence of another scientist was a significant distraction. In the end he knew any further arguments would fall on deaf ears so he rose to his feet and faced his friend and mentor. "And you’ll check in frequently?"
"Every thirty minutes."
Lee slowly shook his head. "All I can say is there must be some primal urge in scientists the drives them to explore the unknown, despite the risks."
Nelson broke into a wide grin. "Hmmmm. It’s not just scientists. I see the same traits in certain sub drivers."
Lee responded with his own toothy smile. "Touché, Admiral. I’ll have Chip check out FS-1 one more time."
Nelson rose from his own chair. "You do that. I’ll inform Dr. Melton."
With their eye-opening but successful test of the Moskstraumen complete, the admiral and Melton were soon viewing the whirlpool and the craggy headlands of nearby Moskenesøya Island from an altitude of forty-five hundred feet. They were as impressed by the view as any tourist. When they approached the coastal area the admiral tapped Melton’s arm and pointed out the window at the numerous rocky islands that dotted the Vestfjord. "See those skerries?"
"Yes, what about them?"
"Legend has it that kraken were often found among them. The creatures were attracted to large schools of fish that migrated through there and they would spread out like huge floating islands to feed. Despite the danger, the fishermen would bring their boats right up next to or right above them. Some of the more foolish would actually walk across them in order to pull their nets." Nelson let out a chuckle. "If you’re still up to it, I’d like to get a closer look at the ecosystem. We might even run into a kraken or two!"
Melton forced a smile. "Of course, Admiral, I’ll be glad to help."
After carefully considering his options, the admiral set down near a rocky beach on the mainland and dropped anchor. Once he had gathered up several specimen jars and placed them into a bag he reached into the diving locker and pulled out drysuits for both himself and Melton. "Here, it’s low tide but the water is ice cold."
The scientist waved him off. "I’m afraid I can’t swim well, Admiral. Why don’t I stay here and photograph these magnificent surroundings?"
Nelson nodded. "We’d only be waist deep, but suit yourself. There are cameras in that locker loaded with high speed film."
As Nelson shrugged on his suit Melton pulled out the photo gear. "This one with the telephoto lens will do."
The short distance to the beach proved to be a challenge but for Nelson it was well worth a few bruises. Instead of the damaged or sterile environment he had expected, he found the area teeming with life. When he caught sight of exposed thalluses of the giant kelp Laminaria at the waters edge he couldn’t help but grin. Its presence was a strong indicator that the remainder of the ecosystem had survived or was recovering from the current shift. After gathering the necessary samples from among the rocks and placing them into his bag, he glanced at his watch. He would have just enough time before his next check-in to explore what appeared to be a cave, some one hundred yards up the beach.
As he stood in the mouth of the cavern, the admiral was struck by the size of it. With a ceiling of over 150 feet, it had to be one of the largest coastal caves in Scandinavia. It was easy to understand how ancient people might have been attracted to it for shelter, despite its remoteness. Looking back over his shoulder, he noticed that Melton was busily snapping photos of both him and the cave. When the climatologist let the camera drop to his chest and began to wave frantically, Nelson turned to look behind him. It was too late. He felt a sharp pain in his shoulder and in seconds he faded into the blackness
"At last we will have a bit of justice!"
"Yes, yes. Justice!"
Lee was leaving nothing to chance. Already on tenterhooks over the admiral’s plan to go out alone with Melton, he ordered Sharkey, the COB, to assemble a fully supplied and armed shore party. When his premonition of trouble came true and the admiral missed consecutive check-ins it took less than a minute to launch three zodiacs, with him in the lead craft. After a thirty minute search the Flying Sub was located anchored among the small rocky islands near the shore. "Fan out that way! And down the beach!" he shouted into the buffeting wind. "I want every inch of ground covered. Kowalski, Costner, you’re with me!"
The captain climbed onto the sub’s flip down ladder but stopped short when he heard a voice coming from inside. After waving his men around he crept closer to the hatch until he could make out the speaker. It was Seaview’s communications officer attempting to contact the admiral by radio. Lee drew his pistol and stuck his head through the opening. After quickly verifying that the sub was empty, the deflated captain descended the ladder and snatched up the microphone. "FS-1 to Seaview, come in Seaview."
"Morton here, Captain. What have you found?"
"Nothing that makes any sense. The admiral never mentioned making any stops but FS-1 is anchored near shore. The top hatch was open and his uniform is draped across the pilot’s chair. Everything else looks normal. Some of the men are scouring the beach but from here it looks deserted."
"Any damage to the Flying Sub?"
"Nothing obvious. If she checks out I’ll take her up for a better look around the islands."
"I have Kelly and Garza reviewing the sonar and radar tapes. So far no signs of any passing traffic, though with all the biologics and pounding from the waves it could have been masked like FS-1 was. I’ll let you know if they find anything."
"Have COMSUBLANT contact the Norwegian navy to see if they have any search vessels nearby. And monitor the local television and radio broadcasts for any mention of Seaview or the admiral. I’ll have my handheld so let me know of any developments. It will be too dangerous to return tonight so we’ll bivouac here."
Lee signed off and peered up through the hatch. "Kowalski!"
"Tell Costner to check the hull then check the circuits for signs of tampering."
Lee bent down and cautiously lifted the bottom hatch cover. He was relieved to find only the ADCP, secured in its rack. He next inspected the storage locker that held the diving gear. Curiously, the only items gone from it were one drysuit, a thermal undersuit, a pair of gloves and a pair of heavy-duty dive booties. All four of the air tanks were in place and their gauges indicated they were completely full. One by one he opened the remaining lockers. He was about to reach for the last one when he received a call from Sharkey.
"Skipper, we found a camera between a coupla rocks. Might have been dropped there; it’s pretty banged up."
Lee snatched open the photo locker and verified that one of the sub’s cameras was indeed missing. "It’s ours, Chief. Hold onto it. We’ll get it back to Seaview to see what’s on it."
"Ah, no need for that Skipper, the film’s gone. It’s empty."
Lee scowled at the implication. "Okay, Chief, carry on with the ground search. Kowalski and Costner will go up with me in FS-1."
"Aye, Skipper. I hate to say this, but it’s startin’ to rain."
Lee now had a brand new reason to worry. Not only was rain a frequent occurrence at this time of year, it was often followed by days of heavy fog. "Let’s get this done!"
The men in the Flying Sub wasted no time in completing their inspection; however, by the time they were aloft the rain had turned into a deluge. Lee managed only two quick passes before it became impossible to differentiate between sea and coast. With a heavy heart he contacted the ground team. "Call off the search for now, Chief. We’ll start again at first light."
After leaving Sparks with instructions to contact the Atlantic sub fleet commander and to limit transmissions to essential traffic, Chip headed towards Officer’s Country. He had just passed the periscope island when Knutsen stepped out in front of him, blocking his path. It was obvious the scientist had been listening in on his conversation with the captain. "Commander, you sent out a search party and you’re contacting our navy. What has happened to Admiral Nelson?"
Not wanting to reveal to the scientist that the men might have been targets of a kidnapping, Chip attempted to skirt the issue. "There’s a possibility that either the admiral or Dr. Melton has been injured so we sent men with medical equipment to check on them."
"Why would he need the navy’s help unless he already knew something serious had happened to Nelson?"
"It’s protocol. Besides, the area where the Flying Sub was found is pretty rough, as I’m sure you’re aware. Captain Crane wants to call in people with knowledge of the area and equipment better suited for surface rescues than Seaview. It would be a big help to us if you went back to your research. When we locate them I’ll come and inform you all, personally."
The slight Norwegian ran both hands through his shaggy blond hair and glared up at the officer. "But…what…what if the admiral never returns? How will we complete our project? It is vital to my…our country!"
Chip was taken aback by the scientist’s disregard for the admiral’s situation. "Your project," he responded icily, "is not my primary concern at the moment. I’ll assist where I can but if you feel you can’t carry on without Admiral Nelson you’re welcome to stay in your cabin until we can drop you off in Bodø."
"You’re not a scientist. What good will your help do us?"
Chip squinted. "Right now, I run this boat. You want anything done you have to go through me."
When the scientist crossed his arms and held his position, Chip’s eyes flashed. "If you continue to interfere, I’ll have you locked in your cabin, simple as that. What’ll it be, Dr. Knutsen?"
Knutsen lowered his arms and hung his head. Without another word he stomped off towards the spiral stairs.
Chip glanced over at O’Brien, who had come to stand beside him. "I’m on my way to inform COMSUBLANT that we have a situation. If he comes back here to make trouble, have him hauled back to his cabin and post a guard."
Though the beams of their battle lanterns barely penetrated the thick gray cloak that surrounded them, the FS-1 crew finally located the mouth of the cave where the search party had hunkered down for the night. Their arrival caught the COB by surprise. "Skipper, I thought you guys woulda stayed in…"
Lee interrupted. "A Norwegian cutter and rescue crew will be here at first light. I want everyone ready to head out when they get here."
Lee looked to his men. Concern was etched on every face. "All right, listen up. Let’s continue to assume the admiral is somewhere nearby and has just lost communications. As you know, this terrain makes our scans useless so we’ll have to do this on foot." Lee reached into his pack and pulled out a set of charts and maps. "I’ve assigned each of you to a portion of the grid. You’ll be working with men from the local mariner’s rescue group. Since they fish these waters they are familiar with the terrain and I’ve been told most speak some English. Remember we are visitors here, so keep your guns out of sight. Gartern," he said to Seaview’s only Norwegian speaker. "You and Kowalski will be with me. Everyone else, check your assignment and try and get some sleep."
As his men sought out suitable ground for their sleeping bags, Lee picked up a lantern and warily sized up the cavern. It was large for a cave and that gave him some solace. Though most of the floor was loose rock, there were pockets of silt and moss. Lee squatted to examine one area more closely.
"See something, Skipper?"
"Tracks. Chief, did you walk this way when you searched the cave?"
"Yes, sir, me and the men looked in every corner, even in the little rooms at the back." Sharkey pointed a thumb towards the rear of the cave. "I can show them to you if you want, Skipper."
"You could have covered up their tracks!"
Sharkey’s wince caused Lee to change his tone. "We’ve all had a long, hard day, Chief. Go get some shut-eye."
"Aye, sir, but it’s gonna be tough with the admiral out there somewhere."
Lee nodded. "I know. Carry on, Chief."
Despite his COB’s assertion that the cave had been thoroughly searched, Lee scanned its rock ledges and crevices for anything that might have been overlooked. When he reached the narrow passages to Sharkey’s "rooms" he ducked into the left opening. Suddenly, a wave of panic forced him to his knees and though the ambient temperature in the cave was in the mid-fifties, beads of sweat rolled into his eyes and he struggled to breathe. With escape being his only thought, he backed out and turned around.
Kowalski’s surprise appearance caused his CO’s already pounding heart to skip a beat.
"I was gonna hit the sack just to pass the time but if you need me for something else, I’m game."
"No," Lee replied hoarsely as he turned away and pretended to study a rock formation. "Nothing tonight. Go get some shuteye."
"Aye, sir. See you in the morning." The rating hesitated briefly before walking away.
Determined to face his demons, Lee watched the bobbing lantern disappear from view then he sucked in a deep breath, aimed his beam into the opening and plunged through. Almost immediately, the walls began to close in and he again found himself on his knees, clawing for air. Desperate for some type of relief, he removed his cover and stripped off his parka. When that tactic failed, he flailed his arms until he laid a hand on the lantern, snatched it up and fumbled with the switch. Unfortunately, darkness only made things worse and it took every ounce of control he could muster to flip the light back on.
Like a lion tamer attempting to keep his cats at bay, Lee continuously panned the light across the cave walls. Out of the corner of his eye he glimpsed something red. Concerned that he had been discovered, he stood, spun around and aimed the beam in that direction. Instead of a member of the crew he found himself facing several red-colored stick figures painted on the lower half of one wall. For the next minute he stood and stared, mesmerized by the scene. Though still swaying, he finally took a step forward and ran a shaky finger over one of the pictographs. "Powdery. Definitely not recent," he said aloud before managing a weak chuckle. The admiral’s archaeology lessons are starting to rub off on me. He will definitely be interested in these.
A sudden tremor reminded Lee of why he had entered the small cave. With no sign of the admiral and finding no comfort in the company of the matchstick men, he grabbed up his pack and made another hasty retreat.
The heavy odors of fish and diesel fuel, a chugging motor and an incessant rocking motion confirmed for Harriman Nelson that he was in the hold of a fishing boat. That bit of knowledge gave little solace; he was in the dark and bound hand and foot with duct tape with his arms pulled behind his back. The bindings forced him to lie on his side, though thankfully, he could still wiggle the tips of his fingers. The same could not be said of his very cold toes. Thankfully he was not blindfolded. He only hoped that it was an oversight and not because his captors were unconcerned about being recognized.
But who had taken him and why? In his many years of service, and in particular since he had built Seaview, he had received death threats from a wide range of deranged individuals, anarchists, environmental fanatics and anti-nuclear activists among them. While it had been no secret that he was assisting the Norwegian government and that Seaview would be in the vicinity, they had not seen any wayward boats, nor had they received reports of protests through their local news sources. Of course, there was always the People’s Republic, but how would anyone from the PR have predicted that he would be on that very beach at a given time? Was it Melton? Had he once again been co-opted by the government that was always out to do him harm?
Unwilling to wait any longer for answers, Nelson scooted over a few feet and kicked at the wall. He managed several strikes before giving in to exhaustion. "Drugs," he muttered before closing his eyes. Fifteen minutes later he had recovered sufficiently to try again but this time he rolled onto his back for leverage. "Thump, thump, thump! Thump, thump, thump!"
The response was muffled, and to the point. "Stay…quiet…kill…you."
"Let me talk to you! Tell me what this is about. Show your face!"
"No chance…that. You...get…what…deserve! You …pay!"
"What is it I‘ve done? What are you talking about?"
When the only reply was a loud thump from above, Nelson cast a scowl into the darkness.
Though he held onto hope that he would soon be found, the passing hours brought a significant deterioration in his condition. The first to go was the feeling in his fingers, ears and nose. When his unzipped drysuit could no longer protect him from the creeping cold he began to shiver violently. Though he recognized the symptoms of acute hypothermia and repeatedly flexed his legs in an attempt to generate body heat, he didn’t have the strength to continue for long. Dizziness eventually turned to disorientation and when he tried to call out for help he was unable to do more than mumble a few words.
Instinctively aware that the hatch had been opened, Nelson let out a grunt.
"Time to get him out of there," boomed a voice from somewhere above.
"Yes, yes, as you say," came a meek reply.
A child? They have a child involved in this?
As he was winched from the hold, Nelson struggled to remain conscious and to catch a glimpse of his captors. He failed on both counts and soon succumbed to the darkness.
Awakening both confused and nauseous, the admiral let several minutes pass before attempting to move. Though he was no longer bound, he was unable to extend his legs and they were cramping badly. After rolling up into a seated position he rubbed his thigh with one hand and felt around in the darkness with the other. He quickly discovered he was no more than a captive animal. He had been placed in a wire mesh cage and had been given a small bowl of water to drink and a few chunks of dried fish to eat. After searching in vain for an opening, he thrust his body against the side of the cage. The only thing that accomplished was to splash the contents of the dish all over him. A second, harder thrust sent the cage toppling over onto its side. The racket must have drawn the attention of his captors because light suddenly appeared under what he discovered was a doorway. Footsteps soon followed but they stopped just outside.
"What the devil do you want? Come and tell me why I’m here!"
"You know why!" It was the same heavily accented voice from the boat.
"If I don’t know who you are, how can I possibly know what you want?"
"It is past time for you to pay your debt to the People of Norway. We are here to rectify that. That is all you need to know."
As Nelson tried to make sense of the comments, he again heard footsteps.
"Keep an eye on him while we finish setting things up."
"He will not go anywhere," came the reply in clear, Americanized English.
What the devil. Is that Melton?
When the door remained closed and the light flickered out Nelson’s hope of answers and a quick rescue was snuffed.
~*~ Day 3
"Ground search, maybe later, air and sea search, not a chance. Visibility is practically zero for the entire region, even with infrared." Chip leaned back in his chair and massaged his forehead, bracing for his captain’s response.
"We can’t waste any more time! What about the local rescue group?"
"They’re meeting at one of the fishing villages a few miles up the coast. There they’ll receive a briefing then fan out and head your way. In this soup, I wouldn’t expect them before 1200 hours, if then."
Even through the radio Lee’s frustration was palpable. "See what you can do to light a fire under them!"
"I’ll do my best."
"What have you heard from naval intelligence?"
"COMSUBLANT is handling that end. So far, no ransom demands and no threats. They checked into Melton’s activities again and found nothing. They seem convinced it was an accident. Even you have to admit the admiral’s curiosity sometimes gets the best of him… and we are in some of the roughest waters around."
"I’m not buying that. There was only one suit missing and there was that empty camera up on the rocks. We’re going to treat this as a kidnapping and carry on with our search until we have definitive proof of what happened."
"Of course. Any further orders?"
"Not right now. Keep me informed. Crane out."
Chip stood up and for nearly a minute he stretched his fatigued muscles. He hadn’t slept more than a few hours in the past twenty-four and had relied on Cookie’s potent brew to keep him going. When he discovered he was out of joe he called for a steward to bring him a new pot. A short time later he heard a knock on the door and reached to open it.
"Just set it…" Chip winced when he found the three scientists assembled in the corridor.
"See, I told you," said Knutsen as he looked to the others.
"Commander, we would like to speak with you," announced Solem. "We understand you are very busy but we think we might be able to help."
"Finding Admiral Nelson."
"I don’t see how…"
Jorstad piped up. "Dr. Knutsen was born in the Lofotens and knows his way around. Dr. Solem has friends that live there and they could start a telephone relay. Since it is their off season I could mobilize some of the fishermen to assist with their boats."
Chip knew what he was about to say would not go over well. "It’s too early and too dangerous to involve untrained civilians. And we have to follow protocol."
"So you’re saying you won’t take our offer of help because of some arbitrary procedures?" asked Knutsen in disbelief.
"I’m saying there are international rules against invading a sovereign nation. Your government has already filed a complaint in the U.N. because we landed an armed search party. They have to approve any further actions on our part in advance."
"If we don’t locate Nelson all our work will have been a waste!" railed the chemist. "We need to find him!"
"I would like nothing better, but if we don’t do things right, we won’t be allowed to search for him at all and Seaview and all her resources will be sent packing. What will you do then?"
The question seemed to take some of the fire out of Knutsen.
Chip pulled his door closed and ushered the trio down the corridor. "Look, I understand your concerns. Your government is send…"
Knutsen reeled around. "I don’t think you do!"
Jorstad grabbed the younger man’s arm. "That’s enough, Harald. Why don’t you go work on the latest salinity figures?"
"Because, Henrik, it is obvious he is trying to placate us! He knows Nelson is not coming back."
"Now, Harald. Please."
Knutsen shook loose from his hold and straightened his sweater. "I cannot understand how Nelson could gain a solid reputation as a scientist when he goes off on whims that put his real projects in jeopardy."
Chip raised his brow. "What do you mean by that, Doctor?"
"It doesn’t matter now."
"Harald! If you know something you must tell him," insisted Solem.
"Absolutely," added Jorstad.
Knutsen clenched his fists and his voice turned ice cold. "Can’t you see? There is no one to blame but Nelson. If he hadn’t been exploring some absurd myth he wouldn’t be missing…or dead."
Chip matched the man’s tenor. "What myth, Doctor?"
"Microcosmus. Crab-fish. Kraken. Whatever you wish to call it. I heard Nelson tell Dr. Melton that he wanted to explore its feeding area." He laughed coldly. "It looks as if the mighty myth hunter has become its prey."
"That may be why the Admiral landed here but it doesn’t explain what happened to him. There were definitely humans involved. Melton is the obvious candidate. Maybe too obvious. Check out our other guests a little further."
"Already on it," replied the XO.
"Skipper, Skipper! Come and see this!"
"It sounds like the men found something. I’ll let you know what develops. Crane out."
Lee jumped down from his rocky vantage point and took off in the direction of the shouts. In the swirling vapor were two of his crew, standing with a man dressed in the canvas oilskins, a hood and high top leather boots typical of fisherman in the post World War II era. The man said nothing but in his outstretched hand was a familiar object. Lee took the diving glove and examined it more closely. "Where did you find this?"
The man squinted and shook his head.
Lee showed him the glove. "Ask him where he found it."
Gartern turned to the Norwegian and began to quiz him. The man pointed towards the skerries."Tre hundre meter i nordvest."
Lee nodded in understanding. "Did he see anyone? Anyone at all?"
"Hadde han se noen?"
The man shook his head.
"How did he happen to find it?"
"Hvordan kom han tilfeldigvis finner det?"
"Jeg mistet et stykke av rigg min og kom tilbake for å finne den. Jeg droppet anker når tåka ble for tykk. Det var rart å finne slikt ut i det øde området."
"He lost a piece of his rig and came back to find it. When the fog became too thick he dropped anchor. He says it was unusual to find something like a glove out there, since it is so isolated."
Lee turned to Sharkey and ordered him to remain with the four divers as they searched the shallows. By the time he turned back around the fisherman had disappeared into the brume.
"Here comes the rescue party," announced Kowalski, as he pointed towards a group of ten men heading towards them. "They sure look prepared."
Bearing heavy packs and carrying heavy duty ropes and hooks, the team of burly men certainly appeared to be a match for the treacherous conditions. After introductions, Lee briefed the men and showed them the glove. When chatter arose from the back of the group and several of the men rushed over to a large flat stone and spit on it, he shot a glance at Gartern. The rating picked up on the conversation and shook his head in dismay.
"What is it?" whispered Lee.
"Superstition, sir, just superstition."
"If it’s going to cause problems, I need to hear it."
Gartern pulled the captain aside. "They’re worried about the draugar."
"I’ve heard of them… they’re just another myth."
"Yes, sir, but unfortunately for us, they believe."
"You’d better tell me the rest."
"The draugar are also referred to as the undead. Sea draugar are said to be angry spirits of mariners who’ve drowned at sea. They sometimes take on the appearance of fishermen in oilskins and can come and go in the mists around the skerries."
"And they think our fisherman friend was one of them."
"That’s what it sounds like, Skipper. They said no living man would be out there alone in this fog. I’m afraid there’s more. Legend has it that the appearance of a sea draugr is a sign that another mariner is about to die. They are pretty skittish. Spitting on the nearest stone is supposed to ward off the creature."
"Great." Lee said with a sigh. "All we need is for our men to get wind of that. Better keep it to yourself."
"Aye, sir, I’ll be glad to."
After turning to face the entire group Lee pulled a photo of the Admiral from his pocket and held it up. "This is one of the men you will be looking for. He will likely be wearing a silver colored diving suit. The other man is about fifty years old, and is losing his hair. He was last seen wearing a short black jacket, white shirt and black trousers. If there are no questions, let’s pair up and get going!"
Most of the men checked their maps then headed off. One of the older Norwegians lagged behind. "Question?" asked Lee.
"My companions and I were wondering if you are considered a hero."
Caught off-guard by the question, the captain looked to Gartern. The rating rubbed the back of his neck nervously. "Well, sir, legend has it that only way a draugr can be destroyed is by exhuming the body, burning it and spreading it at sea."
"What does that have to do with my being a hero?"
"Only a hero can get rid of a draugr for good."
Lee shook his head. "I think I’ve heard enough. Look," he said to the Norwegian, "if you or the others are too afraid to continue you can stop right here."
The man looked Lee in the eye and saw fire. "No, you should be sufficient," he said flatly.
"Good. Then let’s get going!"
Based on past experiences with visitors, Chip routinely checked the backgrounds of each person who stepped foot on the boat. Since he had been on medical leave when the current lot was placed on the manifest, he had been unable to perform the checks personally. In light of the admiral’s disappearance and Knutsen’s erratic behavior, he ordered facsimiles of the documents from the Institute and sat down in the nose to study them, beginning with Melton’s.
When Lee had been told that the climatologist would be aboard, he had requested copies of Melton’s psychological evaluations from the FBI and ONI. As Chip scanned the pages, he couldn’t help but relive the scene in the control room where Melton had held a gun on the crew and shot up both the radio and the controls. While the man’s aberrant behavior had been attributed to adrenaline, it was later found that the transmitter that had been taped to his abdomen had been connected to a receiver implanted just under his scalp. The paragraph in the psych report dealing with that issue was of particular interest to him.
"The alternate administration of the stimulant adrenaline and a depressant were likely used to fatigue the patient, making him more open to suggestion. According to witness reports, one of those suggestions was to kill Admiral Harriman Nelson. There were at least two attempts made on Nelson’s life. Once the offending items were removed from his body, the patient demonstrated a total change in attitude. He no longer made threats to kill Nelson and even assisted the admiral with the remainder of his [classified] mission."
Concerned more with the meaning behind the words Chip skipped down to the bottom of the report.
"It is unknown whether the patient has been fully purged of all urges or suggestions, however, since he is aware of what he did and shows signs of remorse, it is highly unlikely that he will act upon any fleeting suggestions."
With a doubtful sigh Chip set aside the reports and pulled out Melton’s biographical profile. New York City native…University of Miami graduate… cum laude…met his wife in Miami …one daughter…one grandson…frequent travel to international conferences…research well regarded…no surprise the Navy used him to study the effects of currents on climate…worked on several top secret projects… owns several patents…never been arrested, not even a speeding ticket! Despite dissecting the information in various ways, Chip found nothing to indicate that Melton had any connections to their known enemies either before or after his kidnapping. It also appeared the scientist had worked hard to make up for his past.
Next Chip examined Ingvara Solem’s files. By all accounts she was exactly what she claimed to be; a zoologist specializing in salt water fish life cycles, happily married to an environmentalist with an oil company and a devoted mother of two. Henrik Jorstad’s file was nearly as clean, though a past meeting with the admiral and a recent messy divorce were worth checking out further.
A quick scan of Knutsen’s file was enough to raise Chip’s hackles. Solem had said he was from the Lofotens but there is no information on him before age eighteen… started out at the University at Oslo but dropped out, no reason given. Two years later he showed up at Stony Brook and pursued his degrees in Ocean Chemistry…taught in the States…returned to Norway just a couple of years ago…made connections with the Norwegian Fisheries Department…lobbied heavily to be included on this project so he could work with the admiral…nothing about his travel or what he did in the U.S. and no criminal records but…I just don’t trust him.
Chip leaned back in his chair. Given Knutsen’s past reactions to simple questions, confronting him without more specifics would likely be counter-productive. Deciding that the best route was to send a few inquiries to the chemist’s professors at Stony Brook and his teaching colleagues, the officer gathered up the files and carried them over to the ship’s safe located near the radio shack. As he set the papers inside he glanced at the lockbox that held the passports of all of Seaview’s visitors and crew. He quickly unlocked it, removed Knutsen’s documents and began to thumb through them. When he reached page seven he let out a sigh. How did we miss that!
Though he couldn’t pinpoint exactly where the haunting moan was coming from, Sharkey was certain that one of the men was pulling a prank on him. With his admiral still missing and time ticking away he was in no mood for jokes and he let them know it. "You guys, cut it out! If you don’t I’ll see to it you have triple watches for the next month!" The moaning continued so Sharkey ground out his cigarette and rose up, prepared to kick some tail. He headed directly for the cave where he had last seen the ratings. There he found all four of them hunkered down around a small fire. "Where have you guys been?"
"Right here, Chief," responded Costner with a shiver. "It’s too damp and cold to go sightseeing."
"We’re all beat," added Fletcher as he pulled his parka up around his neck.
"Sure, sure, sure. I’m supposin’ you think I would …" He threw up his hands. "Never mind."
"Something wrong, Chief?"
"No, nothin’s wrong. I’m gonna take pity on you jokers and take the first watch. Get some shuteye and don’t let me catch you…." With a shake of his head the COB turned and headed for the portal. When he reached the sill he glanced back over his shoulder. To his surprise, the men were already settling down into their bedrolls. With some trepidation he felt for his gun, pulled his coat tighter and stepped outside.
Hearing no more otherworldly sounds, Sharkey sat down on one of the large rocks that dotted the beach. With nothing to look at but an insipid gray curtain, he pulled out his cigarettes and lit up. Before long, memories of his early days on Seaview began to click through in his head like a silent movie reel. His surprise appointment to COB, his quals, his less than stellar first meeting with the crew and the empathetic skipper’s pep talk were followed by his first chewing by the exec, Cookie’s "initiation" with ghost pepper chili sauce, and Kowalski’s three hundred dollar poker lesson.
Though he chuckled through those scenes, when he replayed his first year working for the admiral, sentimentality began to creep in. He had not been the admiral’s first choice to replace the previous COB, Curley Jones, and Nelson had made it clear that he would serve at his pleasure. Knowing that didn’t help ease his transition into the job, nor did Nelson’s genius and gruff manner. Then something changed, big time. After becoming trapped together on a hidden island the two had shared personal stories and developed a friendship seldom afforded a flag officer and a non-com. That camaraderie now caused him to be extremely worried.
"Ooooooooohhh. Oooooooohhh. Ohhhoooohhh."
The moaning now seemed close, too close. Sharkey leapt to his feet, pulled out his pistol and aimed it into the mist. "Who’s out there? Come on, show yourself!"
"Admiral? Admiral, is that you?"
Sharkey took a few tentative steps, then setting aside his childish fears and the scuttlebutt that ghosts of dead mariners haunted the coast, he stood tall and strode towards the water. Like a mythical kraken, tentacles of fog reached out and grabbed him and he was sucked into its mouth.
Rather than explain Knutsen’s behavior and unusual travel patterns what Chip learned from his inquiries had him asking more questions about the chemist’s mysterious past. Despite the holes in Knutsen’s history Chip went directly to the chemist’s cabin to confront him with what he did know. With a quick nod to the guard he snatched open the door. "You failed to list your recent visit to the Soviet Union on your disclosure statement. Care to tell me why?"
Knutsen glared back at Seaview’s XO. "That is none of your concern."
Chip leaned down, his face within inches of that of the seated scientist. "Anything that affects the security of this boat or the people on it is my business." After a brief pause, he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out the small electronic device that had been found in the handle of Knutsen’s bag and held it out. "What is this for?"
"You had no business going through my things!"
"Let’s try again. What is it for!?"
"It’s a tracker for… luggage. I can’t afford to lose my important papers."
Chip set the mechanism on the table. "Then show me how it works." When Knutsen hesitated the officer took the opportunity to strike. He snatched up the device and held it in his fingers. "Based on your little trip to Murmansk and this, I have ordered another background check on you, Dr. Jorstad and Dr. Solem. This time it will include your families, friends and business associates. You could…"
Knutsen rocketed to his feet. "What gives you the right to intrude into my personal affairs?"
"Something in your private life you don’t want us to know about? Maybe your government would be interested in knowing exactly where you were last year. Should I give them a call?"
"This is an invasion of my privacy. We are all here on a vital government project yet you are spending all your time investigating me. What reason do you have to…?" Knutsen’s eyes suddenly widened. "You think I had something to do with Nelson’s disappearance!"
With no hard evidence, Chip avoided an outright accusation. "As far as I’m concerned, everyone on this cruise is a potential suspect and all three of you will be confined to your cabins until this is resolved." Chip opened the door to leave then turned around. "If you come up with some plausible answers to my questions, notify the guard outside and he’ll find me."
After leaving the crewman with instructions for handling the volatile scientist, Chip made the short trek back to his cabin. He sat down in his chair and pulled Knutsen’s dossier from his desktop tray and began to pore over it. Visits to the Russian city of Murmansk, home of the Soviet naval fleet, were always suspect, and though there was no indication that Knutsen had any military connections, it wouldn’t be the first time that the promises of wealth or fame had caused a budding scientist to change loyalties. Of course there were other things that might attract a scientist to the region, but most of those also required special permission from the Soviet government. After conceding he had nothing specific to go on he leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes.
The exec had just dozed off when the blare of the klaxons caused him to leap to his feet. In less than half a minute he reached the control room. "Mr. Cermak, what do you have?"
"Sonar reports a vessel within three hundred yards, headed directly for us, sir. They aren’t answering our hail. I’ve already alerted the sail watch and maneuvering."
Chip stepped over to sonar and stood behind Kelly.
"Sir, it profiles like an old style fishing trawler. It came from out of nowhere."
With a potentially fatal collision imminent, Chip snatched up the nearest mic. "XO has the conn. Engineering, all ahead full! Thirty degrees left rudder!"
"Sail watch to conn. We’re being fired on."
Chip grasped the periscope rail and shouted into the mic. "Keep your heads down and hold on!"
"Skipper, we found Dr. Melton, or, uh, he found us."
Lee leapt to his feet. "What’s his condition? Is he able to tell us where the admiral is?"
"He’s not sayin’ much, Skipper, just groanin’. Lots of cuts and bruises and he’s ice cold. He could sure use Doc’s help."
"You know the protocol, Chief. Strip off the wet clothes, put a hat on him and warm up some rocks to put under his arms and in his groin. Treat any major open cuts but don’t move him around. I’ll contact Seaview and see about getting a med team to him. If he says anything about the admiral, contact me immediately."
By Lee’s calculations his group had covered less than ten square miles; however, every inch had been hard won. Each man in his party had been injured either by sharp rocks or falls on the slick surfaces. Hoping to discover a quick, but safe route back to the cave, Lee pulled his soggy map from his coat. He quickly determined there were no roads leading back to the beach. With a scowl he shoved the map back into his pocket and yanked his radio from his pack. "Crane to Seaview."
"Sharkey has Dr. Melton. I need you get a med crew together and send them in on a zodiac. Notify Jamison that he’s hypothermic and out of it."
"Aye, sir. I’ll get… right on it."
Lee sensed the odd tension in his XO’s voice. "Is something wrong?"
"I think we just avoided a collision with a trawler that took potshots at us. I notified the Norwegian cutter and they‘re on the lookout. We’re en route back to our previous location right now. Should arrive within ten."
"Bennett got winged, but Garza is fine."
"Not as far as we can tell. No sign of the admiral?"
"Okay, I’ll get that detail started."
"Very well. Conditions have gotten worse and the men are all pretty banged up. We’ll wait for daylight to move out. Keep me updated on Dr. Melton’s condition. He may have been the last person to see the admiral alive."
~*~ Day 4
"There’s another one over here, Skipper."
Lee threw down the stick he had been using to examine the mangled goat carcass and walked over to view the one Kowalski had found. It was as badly disfigured as the last two and had the same wound patterns. He looked to Erik Wold and Tor Pedersen, the Norwegians who had, under protest, followed him to the outskirts of the abandoned fishing village. "Those bite marks are large. What type of predator could have done that?"
The men looked at each other then back at the officer. "There are no large predators in Lofoten. This is not something natural. It is a sign, a warning."
"Warning for what?"
"To leave this place."
"Not until we’ve looked under every rock."
"You may regret saying that."
The Norwegians’ eyes grew wide. "Draugr," whispered Pedersen, the older of the two. Wold nodded in agreement.
"Sounds like a wild dog. Whatever it is, it’s close." Lee pulled his gun from beneath his coat and signaled for Kowalski and Gartern to do the same. "Let’s move out, but keep your eyes open."
With the ratings on the flank and the Norwegians lagging behind, the group proceeded downhill towards the village.
Nestled on narrow strips of land between mountains and the sea, most early twentieth century fishing villages in the Lofotens were postcard perfect. Bright white community centers, manager’s cottages and libraries contrasted beautifully with the blood-red paint of the work buildings and the rorbuer, two story cabins that housed transient fishermen. In its heyday sixty to seventy crews would make a village their temporary home but by the mid fifties most of the villages on the ocean side of the island chain had been abandoned. When they arrived at one of those abandoned villages, it was no surprise to Lee and his party that only the stone foundations of the blacksmith shop, cotter’s shed, saltery and barn appeared to remain. As they approached the shore where the rorbuer would have stood they discovered only a small amount of rubble. There were no signs of recent habitation, human or otherwise.
The men were making their way back up the hill when they stumbled onto a dilapidated building that had been used to process fish. It had a large dry sink wrapped around two sides and the remnants of the drying racks were attached to the eaves. The rear of the building had collapsed but the heavy wooden front door still hung by a single rusted hinge. Lee holstered his gun, then using the holes left by the missing handles he lifted up on the door and pushed. Though he succeeded in forcing the door, he also disturbed a nest of rats and nearly a dozen of them scurried across his boots and out the door. After a quick step back to let the rodents disperse, Lee put his shoulder into the door and forced it open the rest of the way. The rush of stagnant air from rotted timbers caused memories of his entombment to flood back and he swayed. Though forced to grab the door frame to keep from falling, he brushed off offers of help from the Norwegians.
"Give me a flashlight!"
Kowalski stepped over and handed him his lantern and the two men peered inside. It was immediately obvious that the building had not been occupied for quite a long time.
"Let’s move on. Spread out but don’t lose sight of the next man."
Lee had taken only a few steps when he received a call from Patterson, requesting that he meet him northwest of the village near the base of the mountains. When Lee arrived the rating was alone. "Where are the others?"
"They didn’t say a word, sir, just took one look at this and scrammed."
Lee studied the fifteen foot high and nearly forty foot wide mound of earth in front of him. The presence of a burial mound, known as a tumulus or barrow, was not unusual; this far north the permafrost made underground burial impossible. Most such sites were preserved, either because they were considered sacred or the superstitious inhabitants of the area were afraid to disturb them. Unfortunately, neither respect nor fear would stop thieves from removing potentially valuable Viking artifacts from some of the tombs. The freshly dug holes in the side and loose bricks littering the ground attested to that.
"It looks like the work of grave robbers."
Wold dismissed the suggestion. "Commander, everyone knows that only poor fishermen were buried there. Believe what you want, but those holes were made from the inside out. Look there," he said as he pointed to one of the stacks of bricks. "Those were from the corpse door."
Everyone turned towards Patterson, who had lifted one end of a large flattened stone and was studying the intricate symbols carved on the underside. When Pedersen ran over to him and grabbed his arm, he dropped the rune stone and it cracked in half. At that moment the ground beneath the stone began to give way. Before anyone could reach out to grab them, the two men were swallowed up by the earth.
Though his first instinct was to render aid, Lee assumed much of the ground was unstable and his added weight would only make things worse. He looked around for somewhere to fasten a rope, but the fogbound, treeless landscape provided nothing suitable. With time running out for the trapped men, he grabbed the end of Wold’s rope and tied it to his waist and ordered the three men to serve as anchors. With the rope secured and the men seated to give them leverage, Lee crept on his hands and knees towards the eight foot chasm. Peering inside, he saw a large mound of sodden earth some ten feet below the rim. There was no sign of the men. "Patterson, Pedersen, can you hear me? Patterson! Pedersen!"
Lee moved forward to gain a better view. Without warning, the ground beneath him also collapsed. Despite his lifeline, he fell, landing face-first on top of the mound. Though initially stunned, he managed to roll over and wipe the muck from his face and eyes. After several ragged breaths he rose to his knees. "Kowalski, give me a hand!"
The rating quickly joined him and the two began to dig furiously. When jagged rock fragments shredded their gloves they continued by using their arms as shovels. Three feet down they caught sight of what they believed to be Pedersen’s pack. "We need a hook!" Lee shouted as he increased his pace. A hook and line soon appeared over the fragile rim. When it was within reach, Kowalski grabbed it and latched it to the Norwegian’s belt.
"Pull him out!"
It took everything the men had to extricate their trapped comrade from the mound. He was far too heavy to lift from the hole safely so Lee removed his pack and rolled him over to check for breath sounds and a pulse. Finding none, he laid the Norwegian out as flat as possible and gave several rescue breaths then began chest compressions. As he pumped, his thoughts turned to Patterson, who was buried somewhere below. More than likely the rating had not survived but he was not willing to give up on him.
The rating poked his head over the edge.
Lee was nearly out of breath. "Call the other…two search…crews and…get them over here!"
Gartern turned to the Norwegian. "I need to tell them where we are. What’s the name of this place?"
"It is the end of the world!"
"Come on! Give me a name!"
"You did not heed the warnings. You are in Hell, and you will be punished."
"I think he’s coming around." Dr. Will Jamison, Seaview’s CMO, finished his latest round of vital signs on the injured Melton and put away his stethoscope. "He’s still far from out of the woods, Chip, so take it easy with him."
The XO smiled wearily. "You know me, Jamie. I just need a few facts."
Chip leaned over the scientist. "Dr. Melton it’s Commander Morton. Do you understand me?"
Melton slowly opened his eyes and for several minutes he stared up blankly.
"Dr. Melton, do you know what happened to Admiral Nelson?"
Melton blinked several times. Finally he turned his head and fixed his eyes on the blond. "Loook for kraaa….kra…ken feed…. Took…him…"
"Who took him? Who took the admiral?"
"Ohh ohhhhh, Kra…ken…cave…took him, took Nel…son."
"He’s still out of his head."
Chip held up his hand. "Dr. Melton. Who took the admiral? Was it the monster?"
"Nooootttt… kra…ken. Cave…man…"
"Cave man. Cave man." Chip repeated quietly, trying to make sense of the scientist’s words. Melton began to drift off so he leaned in closer. "Dr. Melton! What about the cave? What man?"
"I’m afraid that’s all you’re going to get from him now."
Chip looked up at the doctor. "Which is practically nothing."
"He needs to rest."
"He needs to tell us what he knows."
Jamison glanced at Melton then ushered the exec over to his desk. "Do you think he was somehow involved in the admiral’s disappearance? When I talked to him he seemed to be well-grounded. No signs of the behavior he exhibited last time."
"I read the psych reports, but I just don’t know. Do you think he was hallucinating just now?"
"That’s hard to say."
"We’re both full of answers, aren’t we?"
The two men shared a grin.
"I’ll be in the control room. Call me immediately when he comes to."
When Chip reached the bottom of the spiral stairs he was met by Cermak, the OOD. "Sir, I just heard from our Navy task force. Two cutters and a destroyer will be arriving within the hour. The commander wants you to contact him and set up a search pattern."
"Very well. Where’s the Norwegian cutter?"
"Two miles due west of our position."
Chip leaned over the plot table and studied the charts. After laying out a search grid he jotted down the coordinates to relay to the other ships. He was double checking his figures when he received a call on the intercom.
"Master-at-Arms to Commander Morton."
Without glancing up, Chip reached for the mic. "Morton, here."
"Dr. Solem wants to talk to you."
"Tell her I’ll be there when I can."
Chip gathered up the charts and his notes and carried them to the radio shack where he ordered Sparks to contact the task force commander.
"Aye, sir. Sir, I just received this facsimile from New York."
Chip took the paper and after a brief glance at it he folded it and stuck it in his pocket. He had just laid the charts on the top of the radio console when he was again interrupted.
"Sick bay to the exec."
Stepping around Sparks Chip grabbed up the mic at the computer console. "Morton to sick bay, go ahead."
"Dr. Melton’s regained consciousness."
"Okay, Doc. Things are heating up here. If he says anything substantial let me know at once."
"Mr. Morton, Gartern’s calling in with a casualty report."
"I’ll get back to you Doc. I may need your services."
As every head in the control room turned towards him, a sense of foreboding washed over Chip. He double clicked the mic. "Morton, here. How many and how bad?"
As if in a dream, the admiral awoke to the smell of burning wax, muffled drumbeats and visions of little red men. He blinked several times before realizing the seven "men" were foot-high stick figures painted on a stone wall and the flickering light of two nearby candles made them appear to move. With his senses somewhat restored he became aware that he was seated and no longer in the crate. When he tried to lean forward to evaluate his latest prison he met strong resistance against his arms and chest. Also unable to turn his head more that a few inches in any direction, he let out an oath. The comment did not sit well with his captors, who remained out of sight behind him.
"Show respect for the court!" bellowed a new, baritone voice.
"Yes, yes, show respect," said the American.
"Court? What kind of legal proceedings are held in a cave? Don’t I have a right to face my accusers?"
The drumbeats suddenly ceased. "Read him the rules."
"Yes, yes, the rules." After some rustling of papers, the recitation began. "All persons are to conduct themselves with proper decorum. No cursing, spitting, stomping or otherwise interrupting the proceedings. Outbursts will be dealt with. No speaking unless directed to do so by the panel. When asked a question you will answer only what is being asked. You will be provided a legal representative when the time is appropriate."
"When in blazes will that be?"
Three sharp drumbeats were followed by another pronouncement by the baritone. "You have been charged with crimes against the citizens of Norway. It is alleged that you willfully and with premeditation targeted and destroyed civilian fishing vessels, killing the men on board. After these heinous acts, those under your command crept onto Lofoten and raped the widows in order to produce your Aryan children. Those men also stole food, leaving the native children to scrounge for morsels to survive."
As the admiral listened to the charges, a disturbing picture formed in his mind. In one of many sad chapters of early World War II, fishermen of the Lofoten island chain, like other Norwegians, were forced to flee their country to avoid being inducted into the German military. Many fishing and merchant boats were sunk and their crewmen, killed or captured. The women and children left behind were subjected to many atrocities. It was estimated that well over 10,000 children were fathered by German occupiers as a part of an organized program known as the Lebensborn. Though he knew his captors were referring to those war crimes, Nelson had no idea why he was being accused of participating; he had spent most of the war in the Naval Academy and in the Pacific theater.
"When your actions forced the mining of the harbors you destroyed livelihoods and left many citizens destitute."
We weren’t involved in the war when Norway was invaded. He has to be referring to the U-boats that saturated the fjords forcing the British to lay mines. If they think the Flying Sub is a U-boat, then who the devil do they think I am?
"In the end, no material loss or damage can compare to the mental anguish of those who lived through your war. The purpose of this assembly is to gain a full accounting for some of those crimes and others heretofore unspoken. Nuremberg was not enough!"
Nazi hunters! They must be!
The drumbeats began again and continued for several minutes before ending in a crescendo. "Now that you have had time to think about them, how do you plead to these charges?"
Let’s see how eager they are to find the truth. "I’m no Nazi and my submarine is no U-boat! There are no more U-boats!"
"Answer the question!"
"Yes, yes, answer the question."
"Phhhhhtttttt. I am not guilty! You have made a mistake! I am an admiral in the United States Naval Reserve! Can’t you tell I’m an American by my accent? I don’t even speak German!"
"I will not remain silent! You need to listen to reason. And let me out of here so I can face you!"
"You were warned! It is time for you to listen to us!"
Though he couldn’t see anyone, Nelson felt a presence beside him. Before he knew it, a rag was stuffed into his mouth and he couldn’t help but gag from its cloying odor. What is that …smell? Cologne? It’s Colibri!
With the accused under control, the baritone called the first witness; the Norwegian from the boat. "I was but a young boy when I was first warned to watch out for your kind. The spring of your invasion I lost what was left of my childhood and my world. That winter I had gone with my mother to the docks to watch my father and the other men leave for the fishing season. That is the last memory I have of him because you snuck up on him and sprayed him with your guns, destroyed his boat and killed him. During those dark days you destroyed many boats and killed many villagers. When there were no more fishermen there were no more fish and children like me were forced to quit school and scrounge for potatoes to eat. Then, when you sent all the other men away I …I..." The voice began to crack up. "I was too young to protect my mother when your sailors came into the village. Three of them, no more than seventeen …took my ma…and…" The man’s sobs were followed by the clearing of his throat. "I listened to what they did to her. It was seared into my brain!"
German U-boats had very young, brainwashed crews. God only knows what they did when they were sent into the villages for their so-called R and R.
"In the fifteen years since the war I have been unable to think about having a family. I cannot forget!"
Fifteen years? The war ended over thirty years ago. Who are these people and what in blazes is going on here?
When the body of Tor Pedersen was hauled to the surface and carried away by his colleagues, Seaview’s search party went at their task full bore. Quiet determination was soon replaced by grunts and groans as the men struggled to remove several large boulders from the sinkhole. Despite their best efforts, they were unable to budge them. When Lee finally called a halt to the operation, most of the men sat in exhausted silence, some nursing their wounds. Only Kowalski remained standing and he angrily kicked at the piles of dirt before storming off and disappearing into the fog. Several men rose to go after him but Lee waved them down.
"Give him a few minutes."
Lee reached into his pack and pulled out his first aid kit. After pouring antiseptic on his hands and shaking off the bitter sting he snatched up his radio and stepped away from the group. Though he had lost men before, the rating’s death was hitting him hard. Since his early days as Seaview’s captain, he had come to rely on the young man, both for his skills and for his quiet leadership. He was also one of his most trusted crewmen and in his eyes he was irreplaceable. Unfortunately for Lee, he would have little time to grieve; he still had a mission to complete. After contacting Sharkey and canceling the dive detail, Lee ordered the COB back to Seaview to ferry additional crewmen to his location. He took a deep breath before flipping to Seaview’s frequency and requesting to speak to the exec in private.
"Seaview here, this is Morton."
"Sharkey is en-route to you. Ready fifteen of our strongest men and have them bring heavy ropes, shovels and a block and tackle. Just in case, have them bring explosives."
"Yes…sir," responded Chip, quietly. Several seconds passed. "Is there any chance at all?"
"Negative, it’s a recovery mission," said Lee as he stared down at his shredded sleeves. "But there’s still a chance of saving the admiral. We’ve wasted enough time with all this blind searching. Did you find out anything else from Dr. Melton?"
"He claimed to have seen someone come up behind the admiral but he couldn’t provide much of a description other than he wore some type of hood or hat. He said he tried to follow but slipped on the rocks and got soaked. After that he got turned around in the fog. He’s sleeping, and Jamison wants to keep him sedated for the next twenty four hours."
"What are the chances that he made it all up?"
"Why would he lie? He was practically on his deathbed. Besides, there were no signs of drugs in his system and his injuries match his story."
"Hmmm, maybe. What’s the status of the search boats? And where are all the ground teams?"
"The ships just started on the grid. Admiral Breedlove has taken over task force command and is mobilizing another ground team. There is some other good news. Meteorology says it looks like the weather might actually clear in the morning so both ground and air crews can get started."
"Very well. Get going on that detail. I’ll take a couple of the men and we’ll head towards the next village." Lee reached into his pack and pulled out his chart. "That should be a place called Å. I hope it’s not as desolate and strange as this place."
"Skipper!" shouted a wide-eyed Kowalski as he stumbled out of the fog, nearly knocking the captain off his feet.
Lee dropped his radio and grabbed the rating by the shoulders. "What is it?"
"I heard…Pat’s voice…Skipper. I know it’s not possible but all the same…I heard it!"
Lee knew that hearing voices was as one of the symptoms of shock and though he attempted to reason with the younger man, Kowalski could not be swayed. "It was real, sir. He called my name, saying stuff only he would know. It was like he was making sure I knew it was really him."
"You just lost a good friend. Everyone handles grief differently."
"Sure, Skipper, I know. We’ve lost men before and I was pretty close to some of ‘em. But it’s never happened to me…"
"Howwwwwoooowwwwoooowwwwwooowwwww." The mournful howl repeated several times before the men were able to fix on the source.
"It’s coming from somewhere over there!" shouted Kowalski as he disappeared into the mist.
Lee scooped up and pocketed his radio then pulled his pistol and followed behind the younger man. He found the rating crouched behind a group of boulders, running his hand over a large protuberance on one of the rocks.
"I may be wrong, Skipper, but I would swear this thing is a speaker."
Kowalski jumped back and clutched his ears. "Why would anybody set up something like this way out here, sir?"
"To keep out prying eyes is my guess. As he stared at the well-disguised speaker Lee had a sudden thought. "Where were you when you heard Pat’s voice?"
Kowalski looked at him quizzically then pointed to another, smaller outcropping some ten yards away. "I was sittin’ on that rock, Skipper."
Lee didn’t bother with an explanation and immediately began to scour the area. Near the base of the largest rock he noticed a patch of vegetation that was slightly different than that of the surrounding area. He squatted down and peeled away the mat of moss and lichens, revealing a metal grate. "Kowalski!" When the rating returned Lee grabbed his light and aimed it into the narrow opening. The familiar but dirty face looking up at them brought smiles to both men.
"All hands on deck!"
Though concerned about another collapse, Seaview’s men were highly motivated and in short order they were able to free their shipmate and friend. Fortunately he had suffered only a slight concussion, a few broken ribs and a laceration to his forearm.
"How did you keep from being buried?"
"I must have slipped between the rocks when I fell, Skipper. When I came to I was half covered. Somehow I managed to crawl over to the vent. I was lucky, that’s for sure."
"So you made those noises?" asked Gartern.
"Yeah, there was a radio setup and some kinda control panel and in there. Looked like it was pretty old but it worked."
"Hey, Pat, that sure was a good idea for you to call out to me."
"What do you mean, Ski?" he asked with a sly grin and a wink.
"All right men, police the area."
With a grin Lee plucked his radio from the rock where it had been resting and contacted the boat. "Sparks, put this on the boat-wide intercom."
When the announcement was made that Patterson was indeed alive, the men erupted in cheers. Thanks to a conveniently open mic, the search crew and Patterson heard it, too.
~*~ Day 5
After finding the villages of Å and Tind to be fog bound, cold and practically empty, the group continued north along the Lofoten Road, reaching Sørvågen just after 1400 hours. While the hamlet appeared sunny and welcoming, it proved to be anything but to the Americans. Sørvågen had been Tor Pedersen’s home and apparently angry over his death, residents turned away or went inside when the men approached. When the party entered the lone pub near the docks they were met with angry stares, and soon, every last patron rose to his feet and marched out. The lone barman who remained pretended to ignore the interlopers, polishing the same drink glass over and over. With a nod from Lee, Gartern approached the bar and spoke to the man in his native language. For over five minutes he attempted to elicit some type of response; however, the barman remained stone-faced and silent. Gartern turned towards his CO and shrugged.
Lee nodded towards the door. Once outside he gave his men their marching orders. As they fanned out through the village, he strode over to the dock where several fishermen were making repairs to the net winch of one of the trawlers. When he stopped to watch, the men put down their tools, climbed out of the boat and walked away. Unfazed, Lee took a quick look around, leaned over the bow and scanned the deck. Besides a large toolbox, nothing seemed out of place so he pulled himself up and over the gunnel. He was raising the hatch cover when the sound of footsteps put him on alert. Though he pretended nothing was amiss he casually looked around until he caught sight of a small blond boy of about eight, peeking out from the cabin of one of the trawlers. Not wanting to alarm the boy, Lee completed his search of the hold then moved on to the next boat. When he finally reached the occupied boat he bypassed the cabin and went directly towards the hatch. As he reached for the cover the boy flew past him and leapt onto the dock. He gave chase, but the youngster was quick and managed to duck behind a rorbū. Anticipating that the boy might double back, Lee waited at the front of the building. Sure enough, the youth returned and he was able to reach out and grab his arm. “Whoaaaa.”
"Let me go!" he shouted in broken English as he tried to twist out of Lee’s grasp. "I do not know about …your admiral."
Lee furrowed his brow. "You saw him?"
"No! No one has seen him!"
"I’m having a hard time believing you."
"I do not care!" he spat. "Maybe the draugar took him. That would be fair after what has happened."
As the boy continued to protest Lee held on tightly. In a final desperate attempt to gain freedom the youth threw himself to the ground, forcing him to let go. He scrambled away on all fours until he was several feet away then took off running.
Lee scrubbed his chin. There was something in the boy’s denials that made him suspicious. Unfortunately, there was little he could do to force the truth out of an eight year old.
"Crane to Kowalski."
"Kowalski, here, sir."
"Keep an eye out for a blond boy, fifty pounds, with a dimple only in the left cheek, wearing a light blue sweater under a tan overcoat. Don’t approach him, just follow him and see where he goes and who he talks to."
"Sure thing, Skipper. I’ll tell the others."
Lee quickly signed off and headed back to the docks to complete his search of the boy’s hiding place. The cabin contained many typical fishing accoutrements, including oil cans, tools, ropes and a set of oilskins on a hook. Along the back bulkhead there was a cot, and sticking out below it was a canvas bag and a pair of knee-high leather boots. Lee leaned down and pulled out the bag, then the boots. None of the items contained anything unusual so he shoved them back in place. He was about to leave when a convex lump in the middle of the cot caught his eye and he quickly lifted the mattress. Resting on the springs was a jar, very much like the ones Seaview carried for the collection of biological samples. He snatched it up and stuck it in his pocket. He was reaching for his radio when someone broke squelch.
"Skipper, it’s Kowalski. That boy is on a bicycle and he’s heading south down the road. I’ve got him in sight but he’s moving out fast."
"Whatever you do keep with him! I’m on my way."
Lee finally caught up to the rating on the outskirts of Tind where he was crouched behind a rock. Kowalski pointed to the base of the mountain. "He’s up there, Skipper, behind that big boulder."
Lee sized up the situation. "You go left. I’ll take the right." The men advanced up the hill, rounding the boulder at about the same time. They found the bike lying on the ground but there was no sign of the boy. Lee waved Kowalski over. "Cave or bunker," he mouthed.
Before long the men located a foot-wide opening in the rock, obscured by a large shrub. Upon reaching it, the impatient rating stepped up on the sill to enter. Lee yanked him back by his coattail and shook his head. As the pair hugged the rock face, Lee removed a small mirror from his shirt pocket and held it out over the gap. Though he saw no one, flickering lights inside indicated the cave was occupied. He stowed the mirror and signaled for Kowalski to follow. When the two were well away from the cave he laid out his plan. "We can’t risk hurting the boy. We’ll stay here until he leaves then you follow him while I check out the cave."
Kowalski squinted. "Skipper, wouldn’t it would be better if we both checked out the cave? What if someone else is in there?"
"I’ll take care of them," he said tersely. "That boy could be the key to finding the admiral, so don’t lose him!"
As Kowalski trudged off to locate a suitable vantage point, Lee contacted Chip for the latest reports and to update him on his recent finds. "The jar is empty, but there’s no mistaking it. It’s one of ours."
"Could the boy have found it?"
"It’s possible, but why would he hide it?"
"So you think some of the villagers were involved?"
"Had to be and at this point I wouldn’t eliminate Pedersen or any of the rescue team from the list. All the scare tactics and superstitions could easily have been an organized plot to delay us or send us on a wild goose chase."
"Do you want me to inform Admiral Breedlove?"
"No, not yet. He’ll just send in more men. Any more attention and those involved could scatter. I have Kowalski assigned to track the boy. Contact the search detail and have them put a loose net around the rest of the town. No one else comes or goes without a tail. In the meantime, find out anything you can about the local residents."
"Yes, sir. Where will you be?"
Lee knew his friend would read between the lines. "I’ll be off the radio for the near future. Crane out."
Lee sought out a rock near the cave mouth where he would have an unobstructed view of both the cave and the water. After dropping his pack he took a long look around then hunkered down. There was no activity for several hours, giving him ample time to review the past days events and to plan his next moves. Inevitably, his attention returned to the cave and his condition. He reached into the top compartment of his pack and pulled out a pamphlet that Chip had given him. It contained the latest medical advice for treating claustrophobia and though he had read it several times in the past twenty four hours, he had been unable to put any of it to the test. He had barely glanced at it when a small blond head suddenly popped out from behind the bush by the opening. The boy went directly to where his bicycle lay, picked it up and pushed it until he reached the road. As he peddled out of sight Lee crept over to the cave. With flashlight in one hand and pistol in the other he took several deep breaths and slid through the portal.
The cave was small; only about forty feet deep and thirty feet wide. While Lee could stand up straight there was precious little clearance. A layer of smoke hugged the ceiling and he could practically taste burned wax. It was no surprise, given that a quarter of the cave was taken up by a stone altar and a dozen still smoldering candles were lined up along the front. Lee put his gun away and panned his light over the rest of the cave. Like others he had seen in recent days, there were red stick figures painted on one wall. Unlike the others, this one appeared to be someone’s living quarters. There were three cot-size mattresses along the rear wall and it was decorated with a mixture of ancient artifacts and World War II era memorabilia. The most notable object in the cave was a large woven mat. It was in the design of the Norwegian flag and covered most of the floor.
Though initially Lee had no difficulty with the tight space, some five minutes into his exploration his pulse began to increase and his breathing became increasingly difficult. He was soon in the midst of a full blown panic attack. He pulled out his handkerchief and wiped the beads of sweat from his brow. When that didn’t help he reached for his canteen and took several swigs of the tepid water then poured some on the handkerchief and wiped it over his face and neck. The relief it brought was only temporary, and he knew he had to get out. He held onto the wall and inched his way towards the exit. As he reached the sill he stumbled and though he made it out of the cave, momentum carried him forward and he skidded across the scree. When his vital signs once again approached their normal range he rose to his feet.
While Lee could brush the dust from his clothes he couldn’t shed the reality of his situation. The life of his good friend was at stake yet their friendship was not powerful enough to allow him to search the very cave that might supply the clues to his whereabouts. Even the best science had to offer had not helped him deal with his weakness. The time had come to hand off the search and his captaincy of Seaview to someone else. He pulled out his radio and gripped it tightly, summoning the courage to make the call that would likely end his career.
"Crane to Seaview. Come in Seaview!"
Despite multiple attempts on several frequencies, Lee was unable to contact the boat. The radio failure was likely due to a bad battery but he had a fleeting thought that fate had played a role in its untimely demise. He felt like launching the offending equipment into space. Instead, he forcefully retracted the antenna and shoved the unit into his pack. Hoping to tamp down his escalating anger, he walked away from the cave and took up a position within clear view of the water. The brilliant oranges, reds and purples of the setting sun were reflected in the whitecaps and waves of the fjord, creating a soothing, almost surreal, landscape. Rather than dwell on his own shortcomings he turned his thoughts to the people who had settled the area. Without the benefits of science, modern medicine, or radios, men had eked out an existence in the poor soil or ventured out in tiny ships into treacherous waters. The women they left behind had kept homes, raised children and tended small farms. The settlers had also created an intricate mythology and while Lee had always dismissed their superstitions as foolish, he was finally beginning to realize they served a vital role in their everyday lives; they helped them cope with very real fears.
With his own irrational fears suddenly in perspective, Lee grabbed his pack and in less than a minute he reached the cave. He switched on his flashlight, took a quick look around then eased through the opening. This time it took only seconds for the walls to close in on him and he spun around and stared longingly at the exit. Despite his condition he realized that if he left he would never return. Instead of retreating he held onto the wall and moved further inside. Stopping in front of the altar he bent down and picked up one of the candles. When he reached into his pocket for a match he realized how little control he had over his fingers. After a monumental struggle he managed to strike the match but when he went to set down the candle he fumbled it and it slipped from his grasp. His second try was even less successful; he held onto the candle but dropped the match and it landed on his trouser leg, setting it on fire. With a sudden burst of adrenaline he grabbed a corner of the mat and wrapped it around his leg to extinguish the flames. Despite feeling lightheaded, he struggled back to the altar. He succeeded in lighting only three candles before collapsing on the cool stone shelf, exhausted.
If he was going to gain control he had to breathe slowly but more importantly he needed to crowd out his negative thoughts. For several minutes he sobbed quietly and stared at the matchstick men. Finally he closed his eyes and tried to imagine the ancients as they sat around their cook fires, contemplating the mysteries of nature. At first he merely visualized them. Eventually he added smells, and then sound. It was the steady, rhythmic drumbeats that finally allowed him to relax. With his breathing once again under control he drifted off to sleep.
Chip was not at all happy with Lee’s decision to go into the cave alone, and it was not the only thing about their brief conversation that concerned him. It was unlike his CO to abandon a shore detail and send a rating to follow a crucial lead, no matter how trusted that rating was. Lee was also not one to dismiss a superior officer, particularly one that was trying to assist, yet his order to keep the search details from the task force commander was blatantly insubordinate. As he hung over the plot table and considered how to deal with the situation, he received a call from none other than Admiral Breedlove. Chip’s explanation of the situation was both brief and carefully edited. When Breedlove ended the call without ordering Lee off the detail, he was relieved. Having the captain stand down would not stop him from searching for Nelson; it would only make it harder for his XO to keep track of him.
Chip took a broad stretch then wandered over to the nose. Since it was the first time in days he had been able to see something besides a gray wall he soaked up the light and the view. The sun was low on the horizon, and even in mid-afternoon it cast long shadows over the craggy mountains. While a few seabirds dotted the hillsides, most were making up for lost time by digging and diving for dinner. Though not a biologist, he appreciated how difficult it was for wildlife to survive in such an inhospitable place. As he stood admiring them it occurred to him that he had yet to respond to Dr. Solem’s request to speak to him from the previous day. After a quick scan of the control room he headed for the scientist’s quarters. His knock was quickly answered.
"Good afternoon, Commander. Thank you for coming."
"I’m sorry for the delay."
"I understand. Won’t you please come in?"
Chip shook his head. "No, ma’am, it’s against regulations."
Solem furrowed her brow.
"But it is okay for you to join me in the wardroom. If you don’t mind. I could sure use a fresh cup of coffee."
With a polite nod the woman joined him for the short trek to the wardroom. "I’m glad to hear your crewman is going to be all right."
"I appreciate the well wishes, and I’ll pass them along to Seaman Patterson."
"I can only hope that Admiral Nelson has the same good fortune."
"He’s been in tighter spots before."
"Yes, but a cat only has nine lives."
Chip waved Solem into the empty wardroom. Once she was seated he poured coffee for himself and ordered up a cup of custard for the scientist. As he slid into his own chair he got straight to the point. "What was it you wanted to see me about?"
Solem spooned out a dollop of custard and held it in the air. "I’m concerned that you are being a bit too hard on Dr. Knutsen."
"How do you mean?"
"Normally I am not one to discuss personal details but as I understand it he had a rather difficult childhood. He sometimes lashes out or blocks people out, even those who could help. He has done so to me on occasion."
Chip chose his words carefully. "Believe me I do have empathy for those who struggled. It may surprise you to know our crew is full of men who attended the same school of hard knocks. They rose to the challenge of a naval career and a new one here on Seaview. They don’t use their past as an excuse for bad behavior. Besides, Dr. Knutsen is an adult, and a professional."
"I am not asking you to forgive his behavior, just to understand it. He really is a good man, and as long as he is involved in scientific inquiry he is very easy to get along with. He only becomes defensive when someone brings up his personal life."
"From what I’ve heard he’s not too keen on mythology, either."
Solem conceded the point.
"Why is he so defensive about his early life? His story can’t be any worse than some I’ve heard."
"It’s…just…" Solem became quiet. It was obvious that she was trying to protect her friend.
"If you tell me, I promise it will not be spread around."
After some thought she set down her spoon. "As I told you, I don’t know all the details but I do know he grew up in Sørvågen but became estranged from his family. When he left he changed his name and made a great effort to wipe out all traces of his past. Despite that, he volunteered to help search for Admiral Nelson, even if it meant revealing his identity or returning to Sørvågen. That was a huge step for him. Working with the admiral is just about the most important thing he has ever done."
Solem’s last statement caught Chip by surprise but he maintained his famous stoic mask. "I understand, but until he comes forward and explains a few things, he will never be allowed to work with Admiral Nelson again. The admiral will also see to it that he never works on another major project. Maybe you can impress that on him."
The woman looked at him quizzically.
"I’m going to let all three of you return to your work in the lab but I’m going to assign a petty officer to oversee your activities. Just be warned, all your communications will be closely monitored."
It was Solem’s turn to be surprised. "That is kind of you, but I am not sure how much we will be able to do. We have been unable to collect any new samples for days."
Chip grinned. "That’s not quite true. Admiral Nelson is always steps ahead of everyone. Before he left he had several plankton nets deployed and we’ve been pulling water samples pretty regularly. You’ll find all of them in the lab refrigerators."
Solem’s pleased expression made Chip grin, though only briefly. "Do you happen to know Dr. Knutsen’s birth name?"
"Please tell me you are not going to pry. He will be mortified."
The XO raised his hands. "It’s all part of the deal."
Solem let out a sigh. "He never said, but he mentioned that his grandfather was a fisherman during World War II and was killed by the Germans while aiding the Shetland Bus. All he would say about his father was that he lost his way a long time ago. That was the phrase he used; lost his way. That is all I know."
Chip finished off his coffee and glanced at his watch. It had been hours since he had heard from Lee. "I’m sorry; I have a few duties to attend to. I’ll arrange for your immediate release. Let the petty officer know if you need anything."
"Thank you, Commander."
After escorting Solem to the lab, Chip hustled to the control room. Once he had entered the latest intel into the computer he stepped over to the radio shack. "Sparks, get me Kowalski. I have a special detail for him."
When Lee awoke the candles he had worked so hard to light were nothing but mounds of melted wax, yet the group of red stick figures was bathed in light. Thinking that it was morning he quickly sat up and checked his watch. To his relief it read just 2336 hours, or just shy of midnight. He rose to his feet and stood in front of the altar and faced away. As he suspected, there was a hole in the ceiling and light was leaking in from outside. Since the midnight sun was too low on the horizon to provide any real light he surmised that the moon was the source. But I can’t leave to find out. With that one errant thought Lee returned to his reality. While he was not sweating, shaking or struggling to breathe, he knew it wouldn’t be long before more negative thoughts crept in. Rather than allow them to gain a foothold he quickly lit several candles and launched into a systematic search of the cave.
Unsure of exactly what he was looking for, Lee studied the displays of artifacts and mementos. The large number of artifacts indicated the occupants were likely natives of the area and fiercely loyal to their heritage, but it struck him that the collection appeared to be a mish-mash of items from several different eras. With everything from sharpened sticks used by ancient hunters to corner deer, to handmade silver jewelry, coins, soapstone lamps and wood carvings crafted by the Vikings, it was as if they had thrown in everything but the kitchen sink to prove their ties to the past.
The original newspaper articles on the Second World War appeared to be a more cohesive collection. Their presence seemed to indicate the residents had significant firsthand knowledge of the war making them middle aged or older. While most of the stories were written in Norwegian there was no mistaking one source of the collectors’ anger. Every time the word"U-båt" or "Kriegsmarine" appeared it had been underlined, sometimes more than once.
After finding nothing he could use to confront the boy or his family Lee lost focus and began to feel uneasy. Recognizing he was on the verge of another attack, he picked up his pack and prepared to head out. When he reached down to douse the candles a strong wave of dizziness forced him to grab for the wall. As he looked down he caught a glimpse of something white sticking out from beneath the floor covering. His own issues suddenly forgottten, he pulled back the corner of the mat, revealing not only a dog-eared set of papers but another object that would give him all the ammunition he needed to bring down Nelson’s captors. He snatched up both items and his pack and quickly retreated through the opening. He was leaning on the rock where the boy had left his bike when he had a sudden feeling he was being watched. And he was right.
Lee’s head snapped left. "Kowalski! I thought I sent you to follow that boy!"
"Yes, sir, but I…sir, is that the admiral’s?"
Lee raised the silver colored object in his hand. "Yes. So where is the boy now?"
"Sir, Mr. Morton sent Chief Sharkey to take over that detail. And he sent me back here. By the looks of it you didn’t need my help."
Lee rolled up the papers and stuffed them into his jacket then automatically reached for his handheld before remembering it no longer worked. "Give me your radio, mine’s dead."
The men exchanged units and the rating walked away. For good reason. Though Lee was fired up about the countermanded order, it was nothing compared to the fireworks that erupted when Seaview’s XO informed him that Admiral Breedlove had ordered every last crewman out ofSørvågen. "For how long? Until they sneak the admiral out? Or sell him to the highest bidder?!"
"He didn’t have much choice, Lee. Word came down just as Sharkey arrived that the residents had complained to someone high up in the government. I have the men stationed in various locations outside of town. And what do you mean sneak him out? Do you know where he is?"
"No, not exactly." Lee then related some of what he had uncovered in the cave, including the dive bootie. "Everything points to involvement by the villagers."
"In that case I have some new information that might connect a few more dots. It’s taken awhile but I found out some things about Dr. Knutsen that may be of interest. Did you know he’s originally fromSørvågen?"
"Are you kidding?"
"Nope, and there’s more, a lot more. Why don’t you return to the boat so we can go over them? Then you can ask him a few questions."
"Can’t you talk to him?"
"Tried. Twice. As of now he merely detests me. I think a new face might be in order."
Lee grinned then looked down at his clothes. Even in the moonlight he was a mess. He was also tired, hungry and in need of a shower. Not to mention the search was going nowhere. Finally he relented. "Very well. I’ll check in with Sharkey and bring FS-1 back in."
When Lee signed off he found Kowalski once again standing nearby. "Let’s go!"
"I checked your radio. It seems to be working okay now."
Lee said nothing but looked up at the full moon. For a brief moment he thought he heard drumbeats.
Harriman Nelson’s existence had become nothing but a series of vignettes. The periodic injection of drugs had ensured that he did not know where he was or who his captors were. He also lost all track of time. What he did know was that he was back in the cramped little cage possibly awaiting execution for someone else’s crime and so far he had been unable to do a thing about it.
Trying to override the pain in his extremities he replayed the so-called trial in his head. It had been obvious from the start that his captors were obsessed with revenge for Norway’s treatment during the German occupation. The location of the trial, the lack of real judges or defense counsel and their unwillingness to allow him to prove his identity or contact Seaview also made it perfectly clear that there could be only one outcome. He found it intriguing that none of the officials or many witnesses had ever called him by name or spelled out something specific that he had done. It was as if any mariner who happened along would have sufficed in their plans. He hoped that none of the rest of his crew had fallen into their trap.
The sound of footsteps brought an abrupt halt to his review. Though the dark tarp over his crate prevented him from seeing who was approaching he assumed he was in line for another painful injection. In an attempt to protect himself he tucked his knees and arms close to his body and put his head down. He remained in that position of several minutes listening for the telltale heavy breathing of his nursemaid. When nothing happened he took a chance and once again pled his case. "You must listen to me. I am the American scientist Harriman Nelson. I built the submarine Seaview for peaceful purposes. You must have heard of the Seaview? Give me a chance to prove to you that I am who I say. It’s the right thing to do. If you don’t you are as guilty as they were!"
Several tense minutes later an unfamiliar voice broke the silence. This one was female. "There is nothing you can do that will change what has been done. Just as there is nothing you can say that will soothe the pain of those who lost their loved ones. Those chapters have been written."
Without warning, a long needle poked through the tarp. Though it missed its mark a second, longer needle hit home, imbedding in Nelson’s upper arm. As he toyed with the blackness he could hear the rustling of the tarp as it was peeled away. Though he was unable to focus on the speakers, their words permeated his muddled mind.
"It is time to prepare him. Soon the saga will be complete."
"Yes, mor," answered the child, referring to his mother. "It will be complete."
~*~ Day 6
Hoping to draw Knutsen out, Lee set up their meeting in his cabin. He also began his conversation with the chemist by discussing some of his past research. It was obvious that the man enjoyed his work and was proud of what he had accomplished. When Lee questioned why he had pushed so hard to work on the current project, Knutsen stood up and began to pace in front of the desk. "Who would not want to work with a scientist of Nelson’s caliber? His work was considered some of the most important in oceanography."
Lee winced. "You said ‘was’."
Knutsen raised his arms. "Though I had nothing to do with it, something has happened to him. Why could it not have been an accident? He would not be the first to underestimate that current!"
Lee leaned back in his chair. The angry man before him was nothing like the one he had met several weeks prior; one who was respectful, cooperative and practically in awe of the admiral. Why he had suddenly developed such a poor opinion of his idol was a mystery. "I understand you made several disparaging remarks about Admiral Nelson. What was that about?"
The scientist turned his back and shoved his hands into his pockets.
"He was a fool on a fool’s journey." The scientist’s words were barely audible.
"What did you say?"
Knutsen turned back around and raised his voice. "For a smart man he made a number of foolish decisions. He never should have gone with Dr. Melton. He never should have gone on shore at all. His curiosity has ruined everything."
Lee leaned forward. "I think you need to explain yourself. And what do you know about Dr. Melton?"
"We all know why Melton is here."
"He gives the same reason you do, to do research."
"How do you know he didn’t do something to Nelson?"
"Let’s stick with you, what you know, and why you’re here."
"I know I want off this submarine. Now!"
"You won’t be going anywhere until you answer my questions. So sit down!" Eventually the sullen blond did as ordered but not without knocking the pen holder from the desk. Lee reached down and picked it up. He then removed a piece of paper from his "in" box and slid it under Knutsen’s nose. "Commander Morton tracked you to Murmansk. There you met with Gregori Natalya and Igor Stanis and the three of you took a trip to a highly secure lake. You know as well as I do that those men are GRU. Why were you there?"
The chemist glared across the desk.
Lee removed a second piece of paper. This time he was more forceful and the paper flew into the air and fluttered to the deck. "How about your visit to the People’s Republic just six months ago? Seems your government had banned travel there but there you were, crossing the border at Buon Nua. No stamps on the passport for that little adventure. We have you making two other suspicious trips last year. I don’t need to tell you what they were."
Knutsen crossed his arms and sat back in his chair.
"Any intelligence officer would assume you were selling something. Maybe it was the admiral, Dr. Knutsen…or whatever your name is!" Lee didn’t wait for a comment. "Let’s clear up your name change. What was your birth name?"
"That is none of your business!"
Lee picked up a file folder and held it up. "This includes copies of the vital records for Sørvågen. As of ten years ago there were five main families living there: the Pedersens, Bergans, Iversens, Antonsens, and Clausens. Based on your age and sex you are likely an Iversen or a Clausen. It’s only a matter of time before we find out which one of the people listed here is you, so why not just tell us?"
When Knutsen chose not to answer Lee walked around behind him, leaned down and spoke in his ear. "You can sit there and stall all you want. Just keep this in mind. Even if we never find Admiral Nelson we will dig into your background and expose every last buried skeleton to the rest of the world!"
Knutsen grabbed for the glass of water he’d been given earlier and took a shaky sip. At the same time Lee slipped back into his chair. Reaching into his lower desk drawer he pulled out the dive bootie he had found in the cave and tossed it onto the desk. "We know Admiral Nelson made it to the outskirts of Tind, and this," he added as he pulled out the jar from the boat, "was in Sørvågen. Do you have anything to say now?"
Knutsen appeared confused. "Why are you asking me?"
"You were one of only three people who knew the admiral’s plans! Who did you tip off that he was going ashore?" Lee lifted up the bootie and shook it. "And tell me how this piece of the admiral’s drysuit and his specimen jar ended up in the possession of a small boy from your village!"
Knutsen’s eyes grew wide.
"Just eight or nine, slight… sarcastic like you. The jar was in the cabin of a pale blue trawler where he was hiding. We also followed him south to a cave. It was all decked out in war souvenirs, news articles and…"
"Relics. It’s full of old relics."
"You know the place?"
The blond nodded. "Yes," he said quietly as he put his head in his hands. When he finally looked up tears were welling in his eyes. "They always involve the children. Why must they always be the ones to suffer?"
"So far he hasn’t been harmed."
Knutsen slowly shook his head. "That boy has been harmed since the day he was born; sentenced to life in a world that isn’t real."
Lee’s look was quizzical.
"Every child that has ever grown up in the Lofotens has been indoctrinated into its myths and legends. That cave you saw serves as a museum of the ancient history and the mythology of the area. Beginning at four years of age every young man from the village is taken there…for what are called the lessons."
"Who teaches these lessons?"
"Usually the child’s father, sometimes the grandfather."
"And who taught you?"
Refusing to answer, Knutsen slowly shook his head.
Though Lee needed more personal information he didn’t want to press his luck. "What about the articles on the war that I saw inside?"
"Those are also part of the lessons. Many of the villagers lost members of their families in the invasion and most of those were from U-boat attacks. No one wants the next generations to forget those atrocities, even me."
"If the villagers are so fixated on the past why would any of them have it in for the admiral? Or even know who he is?"
"I don’t know. I haven’t lived there for years."
A loud rap on the door interrupted the interrogation. When Lee rose and snatched it open he found Chip standing in the corridor, holding the papers from the cave. "Pardon me, Captain, I need to speak with you."
Lee stepped out and pulled the door closed. Once the two had walked down the corridor Chip revealed what he had learned and it had nothing to do with the papers. "Knutsen was born Lars Iversen. His father was Einar Iversen. Recognize the name?"
"Yes, he’s a scientist. I’ve heard the admiral speak about him."
Chip nodded. "He started out as a well-known marine biologist which was a pretty good climb for a man from a small fishing village. It seems he left Norway several years ago, supposedly on a hunt for another Nessie. Cryptobiology isn’t his only interest. He is also heavily involved in mysticism and mythology. I think that might explain why Knutsen got so ticked off at the admiral. His positive attitude sure did a one-eighty when Nelson brought up the subject of myths."
"It might also explain his trips to the U.S.S.R and the People’s Republic. He could have been visiting his father."
"Are you going to ask him and clear all this up?"
"Not just yet. I need him to do something else first. Give me those." Lee took the papers and immediately returned to his cabin and handed them to Knutsen. "Have you seen this before?"
As the scientist flipped through the pages, a scowl appeared on his face. "It is a story of a young boy. It relates his experiences during the invasion and occupation. It also has him falling back on some of the ancient rituals. No, I have never seen it but it could be a text for teaching the lessons."
Lee took and set the manuscript aside. "There’s something I need to know. We found out who your father is. Is it possible that he had some reason to take the admiral?"
Knutsen was floored by the question. "That is not even a remote possibility!"
"I need you to convince me that neither of you were involved."
Knutsen jumped up and pounded on the desk. "What is it you want to hear? That I changed my name out of embarrassment when the famous Einar Iversen gave up a real career as a real scientist to chase what amounts to ghosts? That I had to take a position in the United States because he was too interested in chasing his myths to support his family? That I made visits to his last reported locations to beg him to visit my mother when she was taken ill and again when she was on her deathbed? Is that enough of a confession for you, Captain? And how is any of it going to save your precious admiral?"
Knutsen’s disclosures appeared to clear him but Lee was peeved that all his stonewalling had diverted his attention away from where it belonged; searching for he admiral. He was also angry that after covering their territory multiple times the sea-based search had been called off and his only remaining leads were still bound in bureaucratic red tape. Both exhausted and frustrated, he stood in the nose and looked out over the water for some type of inspiration. In minutes he was joined by his XO. "I thought I told you to get some sleep."
"I thought it would help me nod off so I started to read over the translation of that manuscript. There are a few things I think you should see." Chip handed Lee the first three pages. "That first chapter was just as Knutsen told you. A little boy watches over the water for U-boats and spends time in that Kollhellaren cave. The second has the boy’s father leaving to join the Shetland Bus and he ends up getting killed. The third one has the boy’s extended family assisting some British airmen."
Lee scanned the pages. "So far it could be Knutsen’s, or the Iversen’s family’s story. What else is there?"
"The rest is pretty dark. The Germans find out about the collusion from a snitch."
"From his bedroom window the boy could see the approaching sailors so he did as his mother instructed and slipped into the empty potato barrel in the pantry and pulled the lid over his head. He had been warned that several of the village children had been taken away and word had spread that they had been interned. He made a vow to his mother that he would not end up like them, no matter what happened to her.
Many of the sailors’ words were foreign, but the meaning behind them was clear; they wanted to know about the collaborators. His mother refused to answer and they slapped her repeatedly. Though he was not touched, the boy felt the pain of each strike and tears rolled down his cheeks. The slaps finally stopped and he heard laughter and then, nothing. He lifted the lid of the barrel, and seeing no one he slipped from it and out of the pantry. He peered around the corner and what he saw sent chills up his spine. His mother was on the floor and one of the sailors was straddling her, while another had his hand inside her shirt. His mother’s vacant stare told him what he needed to do. He quietly turned and left through the back door. He then headed for his place of refuge in the cave with the matchstick men."
Lee looked up and slowly shook his head. "The Norwegians had plenty of reason to hate the U-boat crews. But this could be just a fictional account to teach the lessons Knutsen talked about."
"Maybe," said Chip as he handed over the last page. "Read the last paragraph."
"He finally returned to Refsvika but he had yet to develop the deep voice and hair growth that would identify him as a man. Yet inside he felt very much a man. He had survived several years of scrounging for food and dodging the occupiers. He had even helped kill a couple of Germans. Now he was determined to set things right. After he helped return the village to its pre-war condition he would enlist the help of the rest of the villagers and together they would make sure that those who destroyed their village and their innocence would pay with their lives. No matter how long it took, every last one would be fed to the whirlpool to satisfy the appetites of the underworld."
"In my opinion those last chapters are not something you would teach a little kid. It’s intended for adults."
Lee nodded. "Knutsen implied it was an evil plot to brainwash all the kids but it does sound more like someone’s plan for revenge. The question is whose."
"Considering their treatment, the people here had plenty of motive. I did ask Dr. Jorstad about the effects of the war on the fishing villages. He said the people of Refsvika and Hell never recovered financially, mostly because too few men survived to sustain the fisheries. Sometime in the early fifties the residents picked up and moved. Unfortunately for us, no one tracked them."
"They moved and their anger moved with them. But why would they focus in on the admiral? There was no symbolic reason. He was in an unmarked vessel and out of uniform. By himself he wouldn’t be much of a threat."
Chip shrugged. "Maybe he invaded their hideout. You know, wrong place, wrong time."
"I thought of that, but there were no real signs the cave was being used by anyone. I also considered that the Seaview’s being in close proximity triggered something. I still think that boy has answers, but right now we can’t go in after him." Lee turned away to again face the water. Snapping his fingers he turned back. "But I know someone who can!"
Lee’s mind was racing nearly as fast as the rotors of the Sikorsky Sea King in which he was riding. When Knutsen and Jorstad had agreed to go into Sørvågen to speak with the villagers he never expected them to return with news that Sven Bergan, the boy they had been watching, had disappeared right under their noses and taken a motorized dory out into the treacherous Vestfjord. He was even more surprised to learn that the villagers had requested the Navy’s help in locating him. Fortunately, Admiral Breedlove had ordered two rescue copters to aid in the search for Nelson and they arrived just in time to divert one to search for Bergan. Based on a hunch that the boy would head south and to make the best use of the copter’s limited fuel supply, Lee directed the pilot to head that direction.
From his vantage point on the flight deck Lee scanned the area below. What he saw made it difficult to imagine a positive outcome. Even if Bergan had developed considerable boating skills at an early age, the fast current of the fjord would show him and his tiny boat no mercy. There were also the erratic winds and the rocks to consider and if he reached it, the whirlpool. Bergan would have to pass by it at exactly the right time to avoid being capsized and sucked down into its mouth. Though Lee hoped the boy was smart enough to avoid the area altogether, he assumed that emotion had driven him to take the boat out alone and was likely still driving him.
When the searchers reached the northern edge of the Moskstraumen without any sign of Bergan, Lee checked his watch against the tidal chart. He grimaced when he realized the vortex would soon reach its peak speed. At that moment he received a tap on the shoulder. The airman standing behind him pointed out what appeared to be a small boat on the eastern edge of the vortex. When the pilot turned his craft to gain a better view, Lee caught sight of the apparently empty dory and his heart sank. A flash of blue then caught his eye. "No, wait a minute. There he is!" he shouted and pointed to the soggy figure barely clinging to the side.
As Lee sat on the edge of his seat the crew sprang into action. To avoid swamping the dory or exposing the boy to the downdrafts from the rotors, the pilot positioned the aircraft some two hundred feet from the boat before releasing a cable and rescue harness. A frogman was then lowered into the frigid water. With great difficulty he managed to swim over to his target and lift the boy into the boat. Unfortunately, he was unable to maintain his position and began to drift away before attaching the harness.
"We’re losing contact," announced the airman manning the winch.
The pilot deftly adjusted his collective pitch control and the copter rose just enough to allow the frogman to clear the water. A minor forward adjustment to the cyclic and a tap on the pedal positioned the craft directly over the dory. A running conversation with his crew allowed him to maintain his position long enough for the frogman to be lowered into the boat. In less than a minute the boy had been secured, and the frogman and the boy were winched up.
Lee looked on as the boy was stripped of his soaked clothes and wrapped in blankets. Pale and unconscious, Bergan was badly in need of more advanced medical care than could be found in the village. With the nearest treatment facility over an hour away Lee made a split-second decision to transport the boy to the Seaview. In less than ten minutes the rescue copter was lowering both him and Bergan to the deck. Jamison and the corpsman met them at the sail hatch.
"Does his father know he’s here?" asked the doctor as he checked for a pulse.
"Not yet. Just take care of him."
With the patient on his way to sick bay, Lee headed straight to the radio shack. After leaving Sparks with instructions to contact the father by radio he joined Chip at the radar station.
"How is he?" inquired the blond.
Chip winced. "So what do we do now?"
"Unfortunately we’ll have to wait to see how this turns out. If that boy dies, we can count the admiral out, too."
Melton shrugged on his robe and shuffled over to the bunk where the young boy lay. After staring at the pale figure for several moments he leaned in and reached for the pillow that was at the foot of the bed. He was holding it above the boy’s head when from out of nowhere an arm appeared around his neck. As he was jerked backwards, the pillow was snatched from his grasp.
"What were you doing?" asked the furious CMO as he tightened his grip.
"I was just trying to help."
"By killing him?"
"Nooooo. You have it all wrong. He’s been calling for someone. I was trying …"
"What’s going on here?" demanded Lee as he marched up to the pair.
"I caught him trying to smother my patient."
Melton shook loose from Jamison’s hold. "That’s not true!" he declared indignantly. "He’s been crying for someone. I wanted to make him more comfortable and see if I could find out for whom."
Lee looked to the doctor. Jamison dropped his shoulders. "I suppose it’s possible. He was stabilized so I went into the other room to fill out his chart."
Lee turned towards Melton. "So what did he say?"
"I don’t speak Norwegian but he used the words ‘best’ and ‘far’ over and over. He also said ‘men’ or ‘mennen’ or something similar."
"His father will be here soon. If it’s all right with Dr. Jamison, I think it would be best if you returned to your cabin."
Jamison nodded his consent.
"As you wish, Captain." Melton tightened the sash of his robe and walked towards the door, but before exiting he turned back. "No matter what you may think, I was not going to hurt him."
Lee crossed his arms and turned back towards the boy. In his mind he drifted back to an incident from his childhood where one of his friends on the naval base had fallen into a polluted drainage canal and developed pneumonia. Though he had been told not to go there, Lee snuck into the infirmary and caught a glimpse of his very sick friend. Before he knew it he was grabbed by the scruff of the neck and escorted out by one of the nurses. Due to his father’s imminent transfer Lee never saw his friend again and was never able to find out what had happened to him. His recollections were interrupted by Chip’s baritone.
"Mr. Sverre Bergan, this is Captain Crane."
Lee turned and held out his hand but the Norwegian’s eyes were fixed on his son. "He is doing very well, considering what he’s been through."
For several minutes the senior Bergan remained frozen in place. It took a moan from the boy to bring him out of his stupor. He stepped closer and grabbed one of the boy’s small, pale hands. "Sven, det er din far. Jeg er her for å ta deg med hjem," he said quietly.
Lee motioned for Chip to follow and the two stopped just short of the door. "I sent Melton back to his cabin. I don’t want him anywhere near that boy."
Chip cocked his head.
"I’m not sure of what to think. He claims…"
"Hvor er bestefar? Jeg må finne ham," wailed the boy. "Mennene. Dumå spørre mennene!" Though his father attempted to soothe him, the younger Bergan appeared unaware of his father’s presence. As he thrashed around he uttered the same phrases over and over.
As Jamison moved in to check the boy’s vital signs, Lee walked over and stood next to the bunk. "Who is he calling for?" he asked, almost in a whisper.
"His bestefar…grandfather. My father," replied the fisherman without taking his eyes off his son. "He was very close to him."
"He left six weeks ago and never returned. I believe he went away to die. We wanted to keep searching but did not know where else to look. Then you arrived and interrupted our period of mourning and Tor Pedersen’s death brought us new sorrow. My son was very angry. We were all very angry, and it was easy to blame you." He turned to face the captain. "But now you have made amends and returned my Sven to me."
Lee felt a twinge of regret for the intrusion, but continued with his questions. "I understand your concern for your son. Dr. Jamison is very good at treating this type of condition and will take good care of him. I’m concerned as well but I also have a responsibility to Admiral Nelson. How about answering a few questions?"
Bergan nodded and Lee proceeded to quiz him about the jar, the bootie and the history cave as well as his son’s activities. The fisherman denied any knowledge of the admiral’s equipment but admitted that in recent months his son had spent a lot of time in the cave with some of the elders from the village, studying the old ways. When asked who else spent time in the cave he named a number of others, including his own father.
"It’s obvious that some of your neighbors know what happened to the admiral. Some may have been involved in his disappearance. I understand your desire to protect them but we won’t leave here without him. Are there any in your village who would have a reason to kidnap a U.S. naval officer?"
"Not an American."
"What do you mean by that?"
"You saw all the notices in the cave. Many people of the Lofotens still hold the Germans responsible for the loss of their families and their way of life. They have said they will never forgive."
"Would any of them seek revenge?"
"I have heard many talk of it over the years."
"Which ones were the most vocal?" Bergan’s silence all but named his father as the prime suspect. "Have there been any strangers around, anyone trying to stir up trouble?"
"None that I have seen."
"Then that only leaves…"
"Mennene. Dumå spørre mennene!" The boy’s sudden outburst surprised both men.
"What’s he saying?"
"He is talking about men, the men. And they know where his bestefar is."
"Who are the men he is talking about?"
"I am not sure."
"De eldgamle som. Dumå spore!"
Lee furrowed his brow.
"Nothing of much help. Just something about the ancestors."
"Do you believe any of that?"
"I respect my ancestors, but I am not as you would say ‘invested’ in myth as my son. Most of Sven’s knowledge was passed on by my father. Up until my father left I did not see their closeness as a problem."
Lee excused himself then walked over to his XO. "See if Knutsen or Jorstad heard anything about the grandfather’s disappearance. And check if any of the authorities knew about it."
When Chip stepped out into the corridor, he practically ran into Melton. "What are you doing here?" he asked loudly.
Overhearing the question, Lee joined his exec. "I thought you were going to your cabin."
"I must show you something," he said as he held out a photograph.
Lee snatched it from his hand. "What’s this?"
"One of the photos I took while Admiral Nelson was on shore."
"Where was the film?" he asked suspiciously.
"In what was left of my pants. While he was here I spoke to your crewman Patterson. He found it for me and developed it. When I saw this one I knew it could be important so I brought it right here."
After showing the photo to Chip, Lee quickly reentered sickbay and handed it over to Bergan. Lee pointed to the man dressed in an oversized coat and an odd yellow hat stepping down from a rock some fifty yards from a cave opening. "You recognize him?"
"Yes, I believe so."
Lee’s frustration reached an all time high. "Well, who is it?" he snapped then immediately apologized.
"It looks like Harald’s father, Einar Iversen."
An incredulous Lee waved Chip over. "Get Knutsen and bring him here on the double."
~*~ Day 7
After identifying the subject as his father and verifying the location of the photo, Knutsen provided a long list of places in the Lofotens where Iversen had shown special interest over the years. Sverre Bergan dropped two bombshells of his own when he revealed that his father had once been very close to Iverson and in recent years the two had explored many of those places together. The new information had Seaview’s officers scrambling to follow two possibly converging trails. Leaving Chip to trace the senior Bergan’s last known movements Lee took Knutsen and a large detail and headed back to the caves and the abandoned fishing villages. Their third stop had them in what remained of Hell, overlooking the maelstrom.
Lee pointed towards the northwest. "The collapse was up there against the base of that mountain," he informed the scientist. "There were tunnels, electronic equipment…even speakers hidden in the rocks."
The news didn’t faze Knutsen. "It may be news to you that Sørvågen was the site of the world’s first fisheries telegraph system and our country’s first wireless telegraph system. Hell had the first wireless radiophone. The masts were destroyed during the early part of the war by the British to keep the Germans from using it against them. The last manned radio station was abandoned just a few years ago. It would not be surprised if some of the technology remains and has been co-opted for other uses."
"Everyone would know about the electronics?"
"Of course, even the children. Let me show you something."
Knutsen led Lee up the hill some one-hundred yards. After getting his bearings he walked another fifty feet west. There he bent down and with his glove he brushed away a small pile of rocks and soil, revealing a rusty metal door. When he lifted it he exposed a set of stone steps leading down into a darkened space. There was a hitch in Lee’s breath as he poked his head inside. "What’s down there?" he choked out.
"See for yourself. It becomes wider."
Lee tried to hide his unease. "Why don’t you just tell me?" he chuckled.
Knutsen cocked his head. "Another radio station. At one time it was used by the resistance." Without another word he disappeared. When he popped back up his mood had changed. "Someone has been here. There is food down there."
Setting his own nagging fears aside, Lee waved Knutsen out and stepped down through the opening. The area did indeed open up, though not as much as he would have liked; he was forced to stoop to keep from hitting his head. A quick scan with his flashlight revealed an antiquated short wave radio resting atop a small table. A small oil lamp, a rickety old chair and a metal storage box completed the furnishings. Lee lifted the lid of the box, exposing a food basket stuffed with cheeses, relishes and several large pieces of the Norwegian flatbread known as lefse. When he picked up the bread he found it tore easily. That and the absence of mold on the lefse was clear evidence that the food had not been there long. Lee tossed the bread back into the basket and stepped over to the radio. With the flip of a few switches the set came to life.
Though he listened for a number of minutes, the absence of incoming traffic made it difficult for Lee to stay focused. He soon found himself staring at the walls as if they were an enemy. Fighting the urge to flee he squatted down, closed his eyes and summoned images of ancient people sitting around a fire. Before long he had joined them.
By the time Lee was once again aware of where he was over ten minutes had passed. He quickly rejoined Knutsen and the detail on the surface. "How many of these stations are there?"
"I am not certain. I knew of this one because he brought me here several times. Obviously there were at least two."
Lee turned to his men. "Gartern, man that radio until I tell you otherwise. Let me know at once if you hear anything. The rest of you fan out. Search every square inch of this place for hidey holes. We don’t know who’s here or if they’re armed…so use caution. And no more accidents!" he added.
The detail’s progress was excruciatingly slow. No one wanted to miss anything this time but after covering the same ground over and over Lee was ready to call it quits and move on. A shout from Gartern changed his mind and he raced to reach the radio site. "What do you have?"
"Sir, there were a couple of people trying to reach Dr. Iversen. One is Norwegian, but one spoke very clear English."
"Are they still transmitting?"
"No, sir. When no one answered they stopped. I waited for them to finish their call before I called you."
"Did they say anything else?"
"No, sir, not a word."
"Very well, get back to it."
Lee snatched his handheld from his coat and contacted Seaview. Sparks answered. "Go ahead, Skipper."
Lee explained the situation and provided the officer with the frequency setting of the hidden radio. "They are operating near the top band. Do you think you could narrow down our search area?"
"It would be more feasible after dark, Skipper, but I’ll give it a try."
Gambling that the radio’s mysterious operator would soon return, Lee called in his detail to inform them they were moving south. To ensure that anyone nearby could also hear his plans he announced them both over the radio and aloud. The group then set out in a fairly tight formation. Once they reached the area where the village of Refsvika once stood, Lee, Knutsen and Kowalski doubled back and took up positions among some large rocks on the outskirts of Hell.
Though the twilight provided sufficient illumination to detect motion it was too dark to distinguish facial features so when a black shadow was observed moving down the hill towards the radio station, the men had to move closer. They were within fifty feet when without warning Knutsen took off and tackled the much larger subject. As the two rolled around on the ground, Lee and Kowalski tried to pull them apart. By the time they were finally separated all four men had earned bruises, welts and lacerations on their faces and hands.
"What have you done? You have ruined things for me…again!" screeched Knutsen as he stared into a set of familiar blue eyes. The older man did not reply.
"Seaview to Captain Crane. Come in, Skipper."
As he pulled his radio Lee kept his eyes on the stranger. "Go ahead, Sparks."
"Sir, I have that information for you."
"I’ll get it later. Inform Mr. Morton that we have located the mysterious Dr. Iversen."
Though not exactly as Seaview’s officers had expected, the pieces of the puzzle were coming together. After grilling Iversen, Lee contacted Chip to exchange intelligence. "Iversen says he heard through a friend about Bergan’s disappearance and returned here to see if he could help find him. They’ve been in contact but he has not actually laid eyes on him in several years. In their last communication Bergan mentioned something about a plan to obtain justice for Norway. He said he had a network of people who were taking action, and soon. Iversen has no idea what the plan is or who Bergan’s associates are. Gartern overheard some of their traffic on the radio. One of them is American"
"Sparks heard bits and pieces of that. All that meshes with what the other Bergans revealed to Dr. Solem."
"She agreed to go into sickbay dressed in a corpsman’s uniform. She overheard them talking about the grandfather. It seems he had been declining both physically and mentally. The family was concerned enough to try and get him help. He didn’t much like it and he took off with one of the old trawlers. If I had to guess, that was the boat that almost collided with us."
"And the one used to take the admiral away to who knows where. Iversen says he has no clue to where he would go but it’s a sure bet that he is somewhere in the vicinity."
"Did Iversen know anything about the admiral?"
"He says he had no clue he was here or that he was missing."
"And he never questioned why all these strangers were hanging around?" Chip asked sarcastically.
"I guess not. Any idea of what Bergan’s mental issues were?"
"No, but now that the boy is in better condition I plan to confront the both of them about a lot of things. I’ll let you know what I find out."
Chip wasted no time in returning to sickbay but this time he brought ammunition. He dropped the manuscript from the cave into the man’s lap. "Mr. Bergan, have you or your son ever seen that?"
Bergan took the document and scanned it. Showing no signs of recognition he handed it to his son but the boy refused to look at it.
"I take it that you have. I need to know what that is. It might help us locate your grandfather. We have it on good authority that he is alive."
Sverre Bergan jumped up. "Where?"
"I think we need to hear from your son first."
When Sven rolled his eyes and crossed his arms his father chastised him. The lecture did nothing to shake the boy’s resolve.
"As of now he’s alive but that’s no guarantee he’ll stay that way."
"Someone that means a great deal to me has disappeared and I will do anything to find him. I thought you would do the same." When a long period of silence followed Chip snatched up the paper. "Maybe I was wrong and you really don’t care about him. It seems you are more interested in protecting yourself."
"What do you know?! Bestefar is everything to me!"
"Then why won’t you help us find him?"
The boy relented. "It is bestefar’s story!"
"Is it about him or did he write it?"
"Which is it?!"
"He wrote it! It is his story."
Chip ushered Sverre Bergan aside and held up the manuscript. "This story has an ending, one where the subject of the story takes revenge for war atrocities. Is your father seeking revenge on someone?"
"I don’t know that for certain."
"I know for a fact your father has been talking about getting even for many years. I also know he is mentally unstable. Do you think he is capable of hurting anyone?"
"How did you? I…I… do not know."
"You know what he’s been saying and you know his condition and what he is capable of. Would he kill?" Chip asked icily.
Bergan avoided the question and turned to his son. "Sven hvor ville du bestefar gå? Hvor han har tenkt å fullføre sin historie og ta sin hevn?"
"Spør de gamle seg. De vet hvor han er og hva han planlegger å gjøre. De hjelper ham."
"He says the ancient ones are helping him. They know where he is."
"The cave paintings… the red stick men," explained Sverre Bergan. "It is said our ancestors speak to us through them."
"You mean your father hangs out in caves with these matchstick men?"
Bergan nodded. "In answer to your other question…you should not waste any more time."
"I’m not through with either of you!" With that comment Chip spun on his heels to go. As he marched out of sickbay the boy shouted behind him.
"We all want justice for Norway and its people! The ancient ones will guide us! You will never find my bestefar and his friends unless they want you to!"
"You have nothing to say?" asked the Norwegian from the boat as he patted the top of Nelson’s crate.
"Thirsty," Nelson eked out. A straw was shoved through a small hole in the tarp and he sipped greedily.
"That’s enough," announced the American. "He’s not going to be around long enough to die of thirst."
Hoping to draw out his captors, the admiral made another attempt at conversation. This time he focused on current events. His comments about the Americans’ plans to launch the first reusable spacecraft and questions about the expansion of oil drilling in the Norwegian Sea were met with skeptical laughter; however, when he asked about about the woman and child that had been their earlier, the response was immediate and direct. "They have done their duties and are no longer needed. They have prepared you well. Look at yourself in all your glory." The last statement was dripping in sarcasm.
When the corner of the tarp was peeled back Nelson realized that he was no longer wearing his drysuit, but some type of uniform. In the flickering light he studied the cut and the insignia. He finally concluded he was attired in the undress uniform of a command lieutenant in the Kriegsmarine, the World War II German submarine corps. The connection was the sub! "What the devil do…?"
"Will you wear that uniform as proudly at the moment of your death?"
"Or will you squirm and cry or beg for your life?" asked the Norwegian with a laugh.
"You are all cowards. You won’t show your faces, and you don’t want to hear the truth." He then kicked the side of the crate with both feet.
"You may insult us all you like but I suggest you spend your final hours making peace with your god."
In his haste to lower the tarp the Norwegian left a slight gap near the bottom. Nelson leaned down and peered through the slit. Pacing back and forth some ten feet from the cage was a man dressed in oilskins and heavy leather boots. When the fisherman turned towards him, every muscle in his body tensed. Only when the subject stopped several feet away, turned on his heels and moved out of sight did he breathe a sigh of relief.
As an eerie quiet settled over the cave, Nelson sat up and soon became lost in his thoughts. Regret was not a word he used easily, perhaps because he never really experienced the emotion. He had always stoically played the hand he had been dealt. The loss of his parent’s in an air crash, the financial windfall that followed and his appointment as guardian of his very young sister had all been nothing more than fate. He also could not force himself to second-guess his career path. Attending the Academy, rising to the rank of full admiral and designing and building the Seaview were his destiny. Besides, if he had taken another road he would have missed out on the friendships of his pal Jiggs Starke and the two men he relied on even more for support, Lee Crane and Chip Morton. If he regretted anything it would be that he did not marry his high school sweetheart. She was beautiful inside and out and supportive of his ambitions; however, the thing he admired most was her brilliance. She could go toe to toe with him on practically any topic. Unfortunately the Academy, the war, and a couple of covert assignments had kept them apart and by the time he had the time she had made plans to marry someone else. He had been hurt, and married another woman on the rebound. That relationship lasted less than one deployment. He never again became romantically involved, choosing to throw himself into his work rather than be hurt again.
Back in his reality, Nelson caught snatches of what appeared to be an argument. He again put his head down near the opening and listened.
"We will not leave. It’s not our time to go!" whined the American.
"You are not needed. I can handle the rest," the fisherman declared confidently.
"You need us." It was a totally new voice. "You will fail. You always fail. You did not handle the last one as you said."
"Du er for svak til å gjøre det som er nødvendig."
"Det er ikke sant! I will show you all!"
When Nelson caught sight of the fisherman approaching he steeled himself for whatever was to come. When minutes passed without any activity he again leaned down. The fisherman was standing directly over him.
"Go on, do it! You owe it to our people and to her."
With a loud whoosh the tarp was snatched from the crate and the fisherman bent down and placed a key in the padlock. In full defensive mode, Nelson scooted around and pointed his feet towards the door. He planned to kick and kick hard. As the fisherman struggled with the rusty lock Nelson took a quick look around to assess the rest of his captors. What he saw, or rather didn’t see, made him take a second look.
"See, I told you! You can’t do it!"
"You are a failure. You are weak."
"You left her with them."
As if he had been struck by lightning Nelson realized what was happening. While he had suspected his captors were angry and possibly unstable, he had no inkling that all the voices, the trial and the visions had all been figments of a fragile mind and that he and the fisherman had actually been alone all along.
After ordering Chip to prepare two separate search details, Lee and Knutsen joined Iversen in the radio shack as he tried to make contact his old friend, Nils Bergan. An uneasy truce had brought Iversen and his son to the same wardroom table to make a list of the places in the region known to have pictographs. For nearly a half-hour the two had made progress, identifying caves on the nearby islands of Væroya and Røst as the most suitable of the places for a hideout. Due to an unfortunate slip of the tongue the older man had sent things spiraling out of control and the two had argued about mythology, career choices, and family matters before nearly coming to blows. Fate had intervened in the form of a call on the monitored frequency and the bickering pair agreed to a temporary cease-fire.
"Sparks, put it on speaker."
Quiet settled over the control room as every last man strained to listen. Waiting increased the tension; a simple cough caused everyone to jump.
"Nils. Nils, er det deg?" There was no response.
"Nils, dette er Einar. Jeg vet at du har vært på jakt etter meg. Kan du fortelle meg hva du trenger meg til å gjøre. Jeg ønsker å hjelpe deg."
"Nils is… busy. I will pass the message along." The American accent surprised the listeners.
"Let me speak with him. Please."
"He has an assignment. What is it you want?"
Iversen frowned. "He tried to call me earlier. This is Einar. I am waiting at the radio station as he asked. I came to help him."
"We don’t believe you came to help. We know you don’t share our beliefs."
"Nils is my friend. He is like a brother. I may not agree with him always, but I traveled many miles to meet him, to talk."
"It’s past time for talk. You are too late."
Iversen cringed then held out the mic for Lee.
"Keep him talking," mouthed the captain.
"Why will you not let me speak to Nils? Nils, if you hear me, do you remember the story you used to tell me about a little boy who lost his father to a German submarine? The boy who used to sit up on the rocks and watch for the U-boats and who patrolled the caves for the occupiers? That same boy helped his mother rescue some airmen who had crashed into the sea. And he helped keep them safely hidden. That boy never said a word to anyone. He kept their secrets. He was brave, very brave."
"Why are you speaking to me about some boy?"
"Nils knows him. Nils I never told you, but I was always envious of that boy. You know that my own father was killed in the Shetland Bus. But I have said little more about that part of my life. Nils, unlike that boy I was a coward. I never did anything to help our people. I wanted to be a scientist. I hid in my books. One day I was reading and the Germans appeared behind me and snatched the book from my hands. They laughed at me and ordered me to tell them where the British soldiers were. When they kicked me I cried as a baby would. Eventually, I told them what they wanted to know."
Iversen paused just long enough to glance at his son and take a deep breath. "I was never as brave as that boy in the story. I was such a coward that I could never tell anyone what I had done. But my dear wife discovered the truth and she sent me away in shame. She never wanted to see me again. In return for my traitorous act I lost my family. I have spent all these years trying to make amends to my country but I could never repair my own family."
"Nils doesn’t need to hear all this. Some story about an imaginary boy will not change anything!"
"He needs to know that boy did everything right. He did everything brave. And he needs to forgive himself. That is how the story should end."
A long period of silence followed and everyone became concerned that the connection had been lost. A sigh and a few muttered words spoken in Norwegian briefly reassured him.
"Jeg forlot min mor. Jeg hjalp ikke. Jeg kan aldri bli tilgitt."
Iversen jumped. " Nils? Nils. Er det deg? Nils, bør ingen å oppleve det du gikk gjennom. Men du må tilgi deg selv og alle andre. Anger og hevn vil ødelegge deg og familien som fortsatt elsker deg veldig mye. Du ikke wantto ende opp uten en familie som jeg gjorde."
Without being asked, Knutsen proceeded to translate. "Nils said he left his mother with them and cannot be forgiven. Father said no one deserved to go through what he went through. And he asked him to forgive himself and everyone else. Anger and revenge is destroying him and the family that loves him. And…"
Lee grabbed Iversen’s arm. "We have no time. Ask him where he is."
"Nils, Nils, du vet jeg forstår. Jeg vil se deg, snakke med deg. Er du med de røde menn?"
"Ja. De er mine guider. De fortalte meg å søke rettferdighet fremfor alt."
"He is with the red men. He says they are his guides and they have told him to seek justice above all."
"We’ve lost them." announced Sparks.
Lee grimaced. "Dr. Iversen, keep trying to contact him. Mr. Morton!" he shouted across the control room. "We’re taking a shot in the dark. Take her down and head for Væroya."
Nelson’s multiple last-ditch attempts to reach the conscience of his captor had been failures. After once again fumbling in vain with the lock, the burly fisherman threw down the key and dragged the crate across the floor. Brute strength from years of heavy lifting allowed him to heft the crate and its occupant over the sill. He then rolled the crate end-over-end across the slippery rocks until he was within twenty feet of his boat. A battered Nelson could only watch as the fisherman attached the hook and rope from his fishing rig to the crate, winched it up and dropped it and him onto the top of the hold hatch. "Where are you taking me?" he asked dizzily.
From the lips of the old man came the voice of a young boy. "To the place where life meets death."
Nelson’s mind raced. Where life meets death…where life meets death…that’s what they call the maelstrom! "Young man, why the whirlpool? What are you trying to prove?"
The man/boy let out an exaggerated sigh. "You were there. You heard them. That is what I was told to do."
So it wasn’t all in my imagination. There were others. "Who were they? Who are you talking about?"
"The ones who sat in judgment; my ancestors, in the cave."
"The wall paintings? Those were your ancestors?"
"No, you fool! My ancestors were there. You saw them and spoke to them."
"Who were all the others? The ones you were arguing with?"
"There were no others. I am brave. I can handle this alone. No more talking!"
"What is your name, lad? Don’t I deserve to know that at least?"
"After what you did to my mother you deserve nothing short of death."
With those words the fisherman walked away.
When Lee and his detail reached the cave on the island of Væroya they met no opposition. Drag marks across the floor, candles on the altar, food scraps and the admiral’s other diving glove were all that remained in the kidnappers’ nest. Lee ordered an immediate search of the vicinity for a body. When that turned up nothing, he and his men returned to their zodiacs and to Seaview. He arrived in the control room just in time to hear Sparks announce that the Navy copter had spotted the trawler that Bergan had taken when he disappeared and it was heading northeast towards the mouth of the Vestfjord. Lee sprang into action, ordering FS-1 prepared for immediate launch.
"Do you want a copilot?" inquired Chip.
Lee looked directly into his XO’s blue eyes and shook his head. "I’ll take Sharkey and Kowalski. I need you here to be my eyes and ears. I’m going to stay submerged as long as possible to keep from spooking them. Keep Seaview at periscope depth and let me know what’s going on."
Once FS-1 had cleared her bow the Seaview raced towards the trawler. As Chip worked to maintain a minimum following distance of two hundred yards he provided Lee with a play-by-play of the trawler’s movements. When the fishing boat reached the outer edges of the maelstrom it stopped suddenly then reversed direction. Though Chip ordered a full stop, momentum brought the Seaview dangerously close to both the trawler and the whirlpool. Fortunately Chip could now lay eyes on the boat. What he saw had him immediately concerned. "Seaview to FS-1. I have a visual on the target. I can see only one occupant. Repeat, only one occupant…in the pilot house."
Lee’s concern matched his XO’s. "I copy, one occupant. Keep her in sight."
FS-1 was quickly approaching the trawler but was at least another five minutes out when in a surprise move Lee handed the controls over to the COB and ordered Kowalski to man the fathometer. Out of sight of both men Lee pulled a drysuit, weight belt and a pair of booties from the locker and shrugged them on. With air tanks checked and in place he pulled on his hood and slipped his mask on his head. Like a dark cloud descending he found himself in the throes of another panic attack. After a quick glance forward he snatched the offending items from his head and ran a hand through his damp hair. Kowalski chose that moment to look back. "Skipper? Do you need anything?"
"Keep your eyes on that instrument! I’ll let you know."
"Seaview to FS-1. The target has stopped again but it’s been picked up by the current. I’ve sent you the last coordinates."
"Roger, Seaview, responded Sharkey. "We should be comin’ up below her in a minute."
"Where’s the captain?"
Sharkey glanced back. "He’s gettin’ ready for a… rescue, sir."
With a shake of his head Lee reached down and lifted the inner door to the bottom hatch. He smiled briefly when he realized Chip had removed the bulky ADCP that had blocked the opening. Reaching into the storage locker he removed two ropes with snap hooks on each end. After latching one hook to the anchor bar inside the hatch he snapped the other end to his belt. He also attached the hook to the second rope to the bar but rather than hook it to himself he wrapped it around his arm.
"FS-1, I see a crate on top of the target’s hatch but I can’t make out if anything’s in it."
"Skipper!" shouted a panicked Sharkey. "I’m…I’m… losin’ her!"
A sudden dip by FS-1 sent Lee sprawling on the deck. He held onto the pilot’s chair and pulled himself up. "Full thrusters, Chief! Skip the rest; keep your eyes on the artificial horizon! Kowalski, we have to stay above twenty feet!"
"FS-1, the boat’s pilot has left the cabin. He’s walking towards the crate."
Lee grabbed the microphone. "Is he armed?"
"No rifle in sight."
"Sharkey, keep her as steady as you can! And stay with that boat!"
"He’s pulling the crate down. Now he’s rolling it. It…it looks like there’s someone inside!" Chip practically screamed. "He dumped it overboard!"
Without hesitation, Lee pulled on his hood and mask and opened the hatch. "Chief, give me two minutes then take her up!"
The admiral was cold, almost numb, when he caught sight of a periscope a short distance away. At least he thought it was a periscope. So many images had passed through his head in recent days that he wondered which ones were real and which were borne out of hope for a rescue. Any last glimmer of hope vanished when he caught sight of his captor headed his way. Without a word the fisherman grabbed the crate and dumped it over onto the deck. Nelson’s head and the crate smacked the hard surface and he came within a hare’s breath of losing consciousness. It would have been an easier way to go, he thought. As he was rolled over and lay upside down on the gunnel he muttered what he knew would be his last words; "You have not won because I welcome whatever is to come."
There was no sound when the crate hit the water. Though Nelson tried to recall details of his survival training the cold overrode his senses and dulled his memory. Before sinking below the surface he managed to suck in a deep breath. As the light from the surface faded he slowly expelled it. Soon the blackness consumed him and he lost the fight of his life.
Lee stuck the regulator into his mouth and slipped through the opening. With one powerful kick he cleared the hull but the vicious current grabbed him and twisted him around, disorienting him. Though he avoided hitting FS-1 or being strangled by his own rope, he was forced to let go of the rescue line. With every ounce of strength he had he pulled on his lifeline until he could reach out and grasp the other rope. With it once again secured to his arm he slipped further down his rope and waited.
As Lee fought against the cold and the physical forces that wanted to tear him apart, another force was at work. Whether fate or a higher power was responsible he would debate later but the appearance of the crate directly in front of him was definitely a miracle. With only seconds to react he reached out and snapped the hook around one of the bars and tugged on it to lock it. He had just slipped his arm out of the loop when he felt a sudden powerful jerk. As he was dragged towards the surface the water stripped off his mask and pulled his regulator from his mouth. Though he had possibly saved his best friend he was now in the fight of his life.
Chip stood over the corpsman as he pumped air into his captain’s lungs. The medic was eventually rewarded with a sputter, then a series of violent coughs as Lee expelled seawater all over the missile room deck. When Lee’s eyes fluttered open Chip let out a deep breath of his own. "You sure don’t make it easy for me, Lee," he said with a grin.
"Ad…m’ral?" Lee asked hoarsely.
Chip’s smile disappeared. "Jamie’s working on him in sickbay."
"I need to see him." Lee sat up and tried to rise to his feet but the corpsman held him down.
"There’s nothing you can do for him, Lee. And the doc needs room to work. And you need to give yourself some time to clear your lungs and get warmed up."
"You remember he was in the crate, right?"
"You managed to hook the crate and Sharkey and Ski pulled the two of you up to the surface. We were right there and scooped you up. We got Bergan, too. Right now he’s in the brig"
"How long?" Lee said then started to cough.
"How long was he down there? At most a couple of minutes."
Lee put his head in his hands. "That’s too long," he moaned.
"Sickbay to the exec," blared the intercom.
Chip marched grimly over to the mic. "Morton to sickbay, go ahead."
"Good news, Mr. Morton. The admiral is breathing on his own."
"That is good news! I’ll be there in a few minutes." Chip hung up the mic then turned to check on Lee. He was not at all surprised to find his friend was ten steps in front of him.
Chip stood in the doorway to sickbay and rubbed his tired eyes. It had been a tense twelve hours but the admiral had finally turned the corner. Jamison had attributed Nelson’s survival and lack of brain damage to the conditions, citing recent research that had shown that supercooled water could effectively reduce the body’s need for oxygen. Chip wasn’t sure of the science; he only knew that the stubbornness of a certain captain had once again been a deciding factor in a successful rescue.
With a slow shake of his head Chip glanced over at Lee, who was sleeping soundly in one of the bunks. The exec had been grateful that his friend had agreed to remain in sickbay without a word of argument. While Chip was certain the presence of the admiral had played a large part in his decision, he had to wonder whether Lee’s aversion to small spaces had contributed. While now was not the time to broach the subject, it would definitely need to be addressed. As he always did, Chip would have to play it by ear.
As the blond turned to go he caught sight of a trio of scientists moving down the corridor. Unlike his previous encounters he could offer Melton, Jorstad and Solem a genuine smile. All three returned the gesture. Solem spoke for the group. "We came to check on Admiral Nelson and Captain Crane if that is all right."
"Of course. They’re both sleeping but you can stick your head in."
When Melton had completed his visit he walked towards the door. Chip followed him into the corridor and pulled him aside. "Dr. Melton, I want to offer my personal apology for the way you were treated. I’m sure I can speak for Captain Crane as well. We are very sorry."
"Thank you, Commander. I would like to think that I have made some progress in making up for my past mistakes, though that may be an unreachable goal."
Chip nodded. "I hope someday you change your opinion on that."
"I must say that I have gained a new perspective on what you all have to deal with on these missions. I truly admire the way all of you work together. Your close friendships are obvious. Sort of changing the subject, I saw that Dr. Knutsen and Dr. Iversen are making an attempt to understand each other. They’ve been locked away in his cabin for hours."
Chip grinned. "It was noisy at first. I suppose the noise has to die down before people really to listen to each other."
Melton offered a grin of his own. "I didn’t know you were such a student of psychology, Commander."
Chip put a finger to his lips and looked around. "Please don’t let the crew in on my little secret."
At that moment Solem and Jorstad caught up and Chip turned to face them. "We’ve been slacking off. Let’s see what we can do to jumpstart your research."
~*~Three days later
When Lee joined Admiral Nelson on the sail, the flag officer appeared oblivious to the ice pellets bouncing off the cold metal or the brisk winds buffeting his auburn hair.
"Admiral, you shouldn’t be up here."
Nelson waved off the sentiment and continued to stare out over the waters of the Vestifjord. "You know, Lee, you don’t appreciate your freedom until you lose it. I’m enjoying this."
Lee nodded to himself and for the next several minutes the two stood in companionable silence. After a bout of coughing Nelson finally eked out a few words. "So how are things on the boat?"
"While the two of us were lounging around in sick bay Chip arranged for the Bergans to get home, put Dr. Knutsen and his father on the ferry to work things out, apologized to Dr. Melton and talked the other scientists into resuming their research. He thought that’s what you would want.
"He’s a good man."
"The best." After a pause the subject turned to Nelson’s captivity. "What do you think will happen to Nils Bergan?"
"I will testify at his hearing. Ironically, Norway is not much for punishment so given the circumstances he’s probably in for some long overdue treatment rather than prison."
"What do you think caused his condition?"
"There’s a great deal of research going on right now on that topic. Most instances of this seem to arise from some type of childhood trauma."
"He definitely had his share. If even half of what’s in that manuscript is true…he was lucky to function at all."
Nelson nodded. "I’m only guessing but he probably relied on mythology for comfort. With loss piled upon loss and violence everywhere around him he eventually became lost in his own imagination and it became his reality."
Lee turned away and pretended to study the weather, though in reality he was formulating his next question. "Admiral, you don’t really believe that everyone who uses their imagination for comfort is at risk for developing an illness?"
"Of course not. If that were the case all children would develop issues. The science says it is a starting point for some illnesses, though." Nelson turned and looked the captain in the eye. "How are you doing?"
"Much better now that we have you back."
"You know what I mean."
Lee didn’t want to reveal how difficult things had been. He also didn’t want to lie to his CO and friend. "It’s been tough, sir. I’ve been working on some coping mechanisms. They have helped a lot."
Nelson was skeptical but remained supportive. "I don’t want to see a stellar career go down the tubes. And I don’t want to lose a friend. If you need time off, take it."
Lee hung his head. "Yes, sir."
"Well, Lee," he said as he patted the captain’s arm. "I think I’ve had enough of all this for now. Let’s go inside."
The officers had barely stepped onto the deck when applause erupted in the control room. When Nelson looked into the faces of Melton, Solem, Jorstad and much of the crew he had to grin. "Thank you all for your diligence while I was...er…away. Now, let’s get back to work!"
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A Lofotens map:
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