A Matter of Time

 

 

 

 

Admiral Harriman Nelson

Alejandro de la Vega

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

 

Lieutenant Frank O’Brien yawned and looked at his watch.  It was five minutes past time for Captain Crane to take over the watch.  That in and of itself was unusual, on top of the fact that the skipper hadn’t been seen since his last watch.  What was it Mr. Morton had said?   Don’t bother the captain.  If he was going to actually rest during his off hours, then let him.   And it had been so quiet since Pem’s death that they had all sort of shut down.   However, now it was time for the captain to take the con and frankly, O’Brien felt a bit of alarm at Crane’s absence.  The lieutenant reached for the mike.  “Captain Crane to the Control Room,” he called. 

Several minutes later, the lieutenant really began to worry.  He called down to the captain’s cabin.  There was no answer so he did another general call.  “Captain Crane, please report.”  Again, there was no answer.   O’Brien called the admiral’s cabin. 

“Yes, Mr. O’Brien?” came the sleepy response. 

“Sorry to wake you, sir, but I can’t seem to raise the skipper.  Do you know where he is?”

“No.  Have you tried his cabin?”

“Yes, sir.”

“A general call?”

“I have done that, too, sir.  Twice.  There is no response at all.”

The voice on the other end was very awake now.  “I’ll be right there, Lieutenant.”

But Nelson didn’t go directly to the control room.   In the four minutes that it had taken him to wash up and dress, he had decided to check Lee’s cabin himself.  Worry knotted itself inside his stomach and he felt the beginnings of a headache.  This whole business with Mr. Pem was like some hell-conceived nightmare and this just felt like an extension of the same.  He had spent all of almost eight hours examining and taking that timepiece apart and he had only gotten to bed a couple of hours ago.  He had ordered Lee out of the lab near the beginning.  The man had been dead on his feet.  

When he knocked at Lee’s cabin, there was no response, but somehow he didn’t expect any.  Pulling out his key, the boat’s master key, which he had only previously had to use on the event of the previous captain’s death, he slipped it in the lock and then turned the handle.  Inside it was quiet and orderly.  Lee’s shoes were on the floor next to the bunk and his tie lay benignly on the only slightly rumpled covers.  There was no other evidence that his captain had even been in the cabin for the past ten hours.  Harriman began to check the desk, opening drawers and glancing inside.  He didn’t have far to go.  Sitting on the left side of the top drawer was an envelope addressed to him.  It wasn’t in Lee’s handwriting.  A chill shot up and down his spine as he opened it. 

“Dear Admiral Nelson, If you are reading this, it will be because your captain has disappeared.  It will also be partial evidence that you have beaten me once again.  Bravo!  But a hollow victory at best, my dear adversary.   Whether my defeat is a mortal one or not, I can at least take pleasure in knowing that my revenge will be beyond anything you could have imagined.  Oh, and my dear Admiral, I knew just what that revenge would be when you so quickly agreed to my terms after I had destroyed your submarine and its crewmen.  You would do anything to save your friends.  Now be assured that your closest ally, the closest thing you have to a son—and yes, that was quite apparent to me, Admiral.  Nevertheless, Captain Crane is now somewhere in time; in peril, alone and without any hope of succor.  By now I am sure you have also destroyed my timepiece and with it any chance you might have of saving Lee Crane.  Understand that it is because of your actions that you have doomed him to a most tenuous and uncertain past and future….   Pem.” 

Nelson stared at the letter in horror, then crumpled it in his fist as he felt the fire of rage and frustration settle into his heart.  He felt his face flush and he blinked away the hot tears that threatened to flow down his weathered cheeks.  Damn him.  Damn him to hell! Harriman thought.  He heard a sharp, deep cry of anguish and realized that it had come from him.  His fist banged on the desk, but he ignored the subsequent pain.  He had sent Lee somewhere in time.  He had dismantled the timepiece.  Lee was gone.  Where?  Where could he be?  How far in the past?  What difference did it make, he had sentenced Lee to a hell worse than anything Satan could come up with.  Damn Pem!! 

Nelson heard someone’s footsteps clattering down the corridor and stop at the doorway.  With a quick swipe of his hand across his face, Nelson brought his emotions under control. 

“Admiral, Lt. O’Brien told me….”   It was Chip Morton.

“Yes, he told you he couldn’t raise the captain….   Lee is gone, Chip.”   He handed Chip the wrinkled note and then waited.  The sudden slamming of a fist against the bulkhead told him that Morton understood the full import of Pem’s words just as he had.

“Can’t we get him back?  The timepiece….?”

“He’s right.  I took it apart.  Lee apparently was sent back when I started.  I don’t know, Chip.  I really don’t know if I can do it.  I don’t know if I can get it back together.  Or even use it if I do.  Or where to go if I do use it.”   He felt something squeezing his heart, blackening his vision, turning his guts inside out.  Harriman took a deep breath, still trying to get control.  He felt his fists opening and closing on empty air.  He wished Pem had not died.  Oh, how he wished he had that leering devil’s neck in his hands right now.

“But you catalogued, took notes and have pictures, don’t you, Admiral?  You remember, don’t you?"

“Yes, but I don’t know….”

“You owe it to him to try, Admiral!” Chip’s voice rose with his anxiety and worry.  “You owe him that much!  And you can do it.  You can do it!”

“Yes, I do owe him that much, Chip.  I know that.  Oh, how much I do know that,” Nelson replied fervently.  “I just hope that trying is good enough.”  He turned and gazed intently into Chip’s anguished blue eyes.  They were also filled with belief in his abilities.

“Admiral, you won’t just try, you will succeed.  I know you will find him.”

Harriman felt the emotion of the exec’s hope filtering into his own heart.  This was not the time to give in to despair.  “Chip, we will find Lee.  All of us.  He is part of this boat and all of us will find him. I will work on the timepiece and continue to work on it.  I want you to help me.  You are meticulous and will keep me from making any mistakes.  I want everyone else to think about where Pem might have sent Lee.  That bastard had to have let something slip, said something offhanded that would be a clue.  And there had to have been another, some linking timepiece, something that would have drawn from or used the main watch.  If Lee keeps that with him….  Wherever he is, if he keeps the other apparatus, maybe we can use it like a homing device.”

“Of course, Lee would consider that.  He would have to,” Chip said, excited.  “Do you want me to tell the men?”

“No, Chip.  I think I should.”  He took a deep breath.  “I will tell them now.”  He gazed again into the intense blue eyes of Seaview’s executive officer.  They were now lit with the fire of hope.  Harriman fed on that hope.  It and luck were all they had right now.  “Thank you, Chip.  Thank you for your confidence.” 

“We’ll get him back, sir.”

 

 

                      ===============================

 

 

Two weeks after his rescue by Zorro, Crane sat quietly in front of the fire in the de la Vega library, nursing a glass of wine and watching the flames.   Nearby sat Don Alejandro de la Vega, a very uncomplicated but conservative man, who very much backed his son, even as he worried about his offspring’s future.  Even now, Lee could see the lines of tension in the old man’s face.  Diego was in the pueblo as Zorro, trying to find a way to get Lee’s belongings back.  It chafed the young captain that he was sitting here instead of helping his new friend in his dangerous endeavor. 

“It is hard to believe that such a thing could even exist,” Alejandro said, holding the crude sketch of the Seaview that Lee had drawn earlier in the day for Diego. 

Crane had included the Flying Sub and as much background as he could to give an indication of size of the giant submarine.  Problem was, Lee wasn’t an artist and he had not done justice to the Gray Lady.   “Thing is, Don Alejandro, it doesn’t. At least not for another hundred and fifty years.  The designer hasn’t even been born yet.”  Again Crane thought about his boss and mentor and sighed softly. 

“How long did you say this underwater ship was, Captain?” Alejandro asked, picking up on the young man’s melancholy.

“More than five hundred feet.  She really is spacious compared to any other submarine ever built,” Lee said with a slight chuckle.  “I remember my first duty on a sub.  I was at a bit of disadvantage, being a little bit on the tall side.  But you only had to bang your head a couple of times to know instinctively when to duck.  But on the Gray Lady….”

“Interesting nickname,” the old man mused, taking a swallow of his wine after studying it carefully by the light of the flames.

“She’s smoky gray and quite a lady.  Elegant, smooth as silk, but still capricious at times.  Steady and strong and plenty tough in a skirmish.”  Here Lee paused and when he continued, his voice was deep in its melancholy.  “I had hoped to serve her and her crew as long as I was physically able.”

“You have talked of the genius of your commanding officer.  Have faith, Lee, in your Admiral Nelson.”  There was silence for several minutes.  The only sound was that of the crackling fire.  “And have faith in my son, who has vowed to get your belongings and that thing which will help your people find you.”

“Yes, you are right, Don Alejandro.  It’s just hard at times.  And it is most difficult to sit aside and let Diego do all of the dangerous work.”

“I can imagine,” he said and finished his glass of wine.  “Would you like some more wine?”

“A little, sir.  It’s very good, by the way.”

Alejandro poured each of them a small amount from the decanter on the ornate table near his elbow.  “Thank you.  I consider the de la Vega vintage to be the best in California, but I may be biased,” he replied with a chuckle.   Bernardo entered the room and placed another log on the fire.  “Your talk about your ship reminds me of one that visited this area about fifteen years ago.  She was extremely elegant, a queen among sailing vessels—a treasure galleon.  They had even painted detailed pictures and symbols on her sails.” 

“A treasure galleon in Spanish California?”

“Yes, sent from Mexico City to deliver treasure for the Spanish missions in San Diego and Monterey.”  He smiled.  “I suspect it was to also impress us poor colonials as to the might and prosperity of the Spanish motherland.”

“What was her name?” Crane asked, curious.

Orbe de Oro.”

The Sphere of Gold, Lee translated mentally.  He felt a cold shiver run down his spine.  There were those who said Orbe de Oro was a ghost ship.  Some claimed it was just something made up to entice impressionable young divers, kind of like snipe hunting was the joke in other parts of the country.  “You mean it was real?”

“Indeed it was, Captain.  I saw her with my own eyes.  Diego was only a young lad at the time, but he remembers, too.”

“What happened to her?”

“There was a terrible storm.  I had never seen one like it before, nor have I seen one since.  It was more like the hurricanes they have in the tropics,” Alejandro began.  Orbe de Oro was simply unable to withstand such a storm.  I heard from one of the few who survived her destruction that the capitán tried to shelter on the lee side of a cove north of here, but he was unable to reach his destination.  I doubt that even that would have helped.  I heard rumors that she was blown out toward Santa Rosa Island, but that is all that it is—a rumor. Wherever she ended up, she foundered under the fierce waves, broke up, and was lost.  I went out in a rescue and salvage boat after the storm and saw, in the distance, what was left of her mast floating on the waves.  Everything soon disappeared.  Many men went to try and salvage her treasures, but there was never anything found.  It was rumored that the captain, realizing that the storm was more dangerous than anyone could imagine had loaded the most valuable of the treasures into his personal metal trunk at the last minute in hopes of its eventual recovery.” 

“Really?”

Alejandro shrugged.  “That is only rumor.  The captain died and most of the crew died with him.  Only a few sailors were able to survive the tempest and get to shore.  None of them lived more than a few years after the event.”

“So how far off shore did this occur?” Lee asked, his curiosity piqued. 

 “Hmm, perhaps a half mile.”

“And if I recall, the depth could be about a hundred feet that far out.”

Alejandro laughed.  “It might as well be a hundred miles, my young captain.  Several fool-hearty young men have tried all kinds of things to go down that far.”

“Getting there isn’t that difficult.  It’s the staying there for any length of time that is the problem.  Especially without the right gear.” 

“Gear?”

“Diving equipment, Don Alejandro.  The devices that make it easier to swim for extended periods of time under the ocean.   But it’s still possible to dive that deep and stay down for a couple of minutes.”   Crane pondered what Don Alejandro had told him.  “Do you think when Capitán Ruiz gets tired of looking for me, we could go out there and check it out?”

“Are you serious, Capitán Crane?”

Lee shrugged.  “I would like to do something useful while I’m here.  Speaking Spanish and fencing do not pay the . . . uh, taxes,” he improvised. 

“If you are thinking of finding treasure to earn a living in this place, reconsider.  The Mexican government might give a small reward, but most likely you would get a thank you from the governor and that would be it.  Or perhaps be imprisoned for stealing government property,” he added with a snort of derision.

But Lee wasn’t paying close attention.  The lure of the ocean, his need for adventure, along with his own boredom were combining in such a way to help him focus on something other than his seemingly hopeless situation.  

 

 

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