A Matter of Time
Admiral Harriman Nelson
Alejandro de la Vega
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
“Sorry to wake you, sir, but I can’t seem to
raise the skipper. Do you
know where he is?”
you tried his cabin?”
“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….
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?
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
“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
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?”
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
“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
“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
“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
“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.”
“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.
perhaps a half mile.”
“And if I recall, the depth could be about a
hundred feet that far out.”
“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.”
“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
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?”
“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.
|A Matter of Time One|