Chapter 3

 

 

Two crewmen walked out of the whiteness, looking for all the world like some kind of oasis.  The headache had not gotten any worse, nor had the rest of his pain, but Crane was abominably tired.  He knew that Doc was tired, too, so there had been no protests when Lee had slowed down.   They had walked pretty much the entire way in silence, each deep in his own thoughts, as well as conserving energy. The wind was picking up, blowing from the sea, making it that much worse.  Krilore had been quiet, and for whatever reason, he was glad to have not had any distractions.  Not that it ….   Lee paused in thought.  Didn’t Dr. Crawford call her a she?   She had, indeed, he remembered.  Lee mentally groaned.  He didn’t know what determined gender for her people, but that he had a female entity reading his thoughts, messing around in his mind and body…. 

<Pretty much the same thing that determines it in your species, Lee>  The tone was decidedly sardonic, like a college professor speaking to a particularly stupid student.   <After stimulation from the males, we grow, our genetic material doubles and a separate member splits off from the female.  The new member is paired with a host>  There was a pause.  <Perhaps before this is all over, you can tell me what you do to stimulate the females of your species>  Lee detected humor in the last and he stopped short, embarrassed.

“Are you all right, Skipper?” Doc asked. 

“I’m all right, Doc.  Krilore just, uh, made an unrepeatable comment.”  That was aimed at the alien as much as for the CMO.  Then he shut up as the men came closer.   

“I’ll take her, Doc,” Riley suggested.  He motioned Porter to help the captain. 

“Just let me catch my breath a minute, then I’ll be good to go.  Getting old is hell,” Crane said to the seaman, trying to lighten the somber atmosphere. 

“Old?” Doc snorted as he handed the body over to Riley.  “Give me a break, Skipper.  You’re related to Peter Pan and you get into about as much trouble.”

Lee grinned and shot the CMO a grateful look.  “Well, okay, tired then.”

“Not really time for a break, sir,” Porter said, interrupting the exchange between the two officers.  “We just got notification that a storm is coming in.  Mainly wind, but it’ll knock the temperature down, as well as kick up ice pellets.  If it gets too hard, you can just lean on me.”

Crane shivered.  He was already cold, hadn’t felt warm since he had reached the rendezvous site.  With a nod, he started walking after Riley.  Doc and Porter took up their positions on either side of him.   It made him feel like he was being escorted to his own execution.  Why in the world was he so tired?  Krilore couldn’t be taking that much from him, could she?

<Perhaps I am.  I, myself have felt lethargic since I lost my original host and if Dr. Crawford’s disease was taking so much from her….>

Making up for lost time, since I am relatively healthy, Lee thought.  Or was, he added. 

<It might be.  I have felt much more alert since you became my host>

Crane chose not to argue about the wording of that statement.  Hopefully, I will too, after some serious sack time and a hot meal. 

<Sack time?>  There was a pause and then, <Oh, I understand.  You humans require much sleep>

Some more than others.  Don’t your people sleep or have down time at all?

<Yes, periodically we enter into a kind of stasis, usually while our hosts are doing mundane tasks>

Lee stumbled on the icy ground and Porter and Doc both caught him.   Krilore, I do need to focus my attention on getting back to Seaview in one piece. 

She was quiet and Lee watched the ground ahead of him more carefully.  Soon they reached the zodiacs that had brought both teams to the island.  He, Porter and Doc got into one, while Riley laid Dr. Crawford’s body into the other and manned the outboard.  Within minutes, the large shape of the sub loomed invitingly ahead.  Lee was gratified to feel an undercurrent of awe from Krilore.

<I can see why you are proud of Admiral Nelson’s creation>

Lee said nothing, only smiled softly. 

“Captain, I want you in sick bay immediately so I can check you out,” Doc said as they approached the submarine.  Then he turned his attention to Porter.  “When we get back, you and Riley take Dr. Crawford’s body to the morgue.  I will check her out after I examine the skipper.”  Porter looked at both of them strangely, but only answered in the affirmative. 

Lee could only think that they wondered if his condition had anything to do with Crawford’s death and figured that Riley would be passing scuttlebutt around the wardroom before the night was out. 

<Scuttlebutt?  Is that anything like unfounded rumors?> Krilore asked.  <Sometimes your language is confusing>

Lee almost answered aloud, but stopped himself just in time.  Men from the Seaview were on deck waiting for them and he recognized Chip’s tall form among them.  Yes, scuttlebutt is speculation, gossip and/or theory that is inevitable among such tightly knit organizations as what you find on a Naval vessel. 

<How would they react to me?>   The question didn’t contain any overtones of fear or any other emotion for that matter.

One of the rates was halfway down the side of the boat, holding his hand out to him.  Lee gratefully accepted and was soon on deck.  Let me answer that one when I am somewhere quiet.

“Lee, you all right?” Chip asked, gazing at him curiously. 

There was no way he could know; no way at all, Crane thought.  “Just tired, Chip, that’s all,” he told the exec.  “We will need to get underway.”

“You have coordinates?”

“Yes, the admiral and his group are near Vinson Massif.”

“How the hell did he get there so quickly and why the mysterious directions?” Chip asked tersely.  

Crane shrugged and shook his head.  “Ask him when we get there,” Lee replied as he headed for the hatch.  The wonderful wafting of heat met him as he climbed down and he sighed in relief to be out of the biting cold.   Even though Doc had ordered him to sickbay, Crane instead headed for the charting table, jerking off his mittens and parka.  A rate took them from him and he hunkered over the maps of the area.  It would take them a full thirty-six hours to get there, maybe more, and they needed to get underway as soon as possible.  Despite assurances, he was still worried about the admiral; he wanted to see Nelson for himself.  Crane was concentrating on the route, but knew that Chip was by his elbow.  The ever-present discomfort was still there.  Unconsciously, he rubbed his temple with his left hand while he wrote down figures with his right. 

Finally he straightened and handed the figures to Chip.  “As soon as everything is secured, head toward these coordinates at full speed.”

“Aye, sir.”  Chip took the paper but studied the skipper for a moment.  “I know about the alien, Lee,” he added softly so no one else could hear.

There was a quick flash of anger in his head and with it a shooting of pain behind his eyes.   Crane bent back over the charting table with a moan, his fingers massaging both temples, even though he knew it wouldn’t help.  Darkness danced at the fringes but didn’t overtake him.  Calm down, Krilore!  Please!    He felt, rather than heard someone next to him.   The pain subsided as Krilore evidently reined in her anger. 

“Lee,” Chip called anxiously to him, bent over the table next to him.  Then he called over his shoulder.  “Mr. Rojas, take the conn.  I’m escorting the skipper to sickbay.”

“The coordinates,” Lee began, not moving, even though Chip had him by one arm.  

“….will be followed, Lee,” Chip finished.  “Miguel is very capable.”

“I know,” Crane said weakly and allowed the doctor, who had evidently been waiting for him, and the XO to help him out of the control room.   By the time they arrived in sickbay, Lee was feeling better.  Doc pointed to one of the exam tables and he climbed on with only nominal protest.  "Doc, you and I, and apparently, Chip know what's wrong.  So if you would let me just go to my cabin and rest, I would appreciate it.  After I ask a very obvious question."  He looked pointedly at his XO.  "How did you know?"

"Sparks heard the conversation between you and Doc," Chip explained simply.  "And he told me."  He sighed.  "I thought, at first, he might have been hearing things, but Sparks is pretty level headed.  Even so, I had a listen.  You two were pretty quiet on the trip back, but I heard just enough to know that Sparks was right on target."

Lee felt another flash of irritation from the alien, but she reined it in quickly.  Lee had turned off his communicator, but apparently Doc had neglected to do the same with his and their conversations were there to be heard by the radioman.  He sighed and rubbed his forehead again.  "Did you ask Sparks to keep it to himself?"  

"Of course, Lee.  I told him to keep a lid on it until I was able to determine how much of a danger this alien posed to the boat," Chip replied.  He continued to study Lee.   "How much of what I am seeing and hearing is Lee Crane and how much is the alien?"

“I’m me, Chip.  Only difference is that I have a passenger for a while.”  

"What happened in the control room then?"   

Lee gazed deeply into Chip’s scrutinizing blue eyes. "Chip, you know I wouldn't bring anything aboard that would threaten the crew or the boat," Lee told him.   While they talked, Doc took blood pressure, temperature and the other minor tests with which he always he began. 

"That you thought would threaten the boat.  Lee, can you be sure this alien isn't a threat?  We've dealt with aliens before; some really nasty characters.  And some of them exerted pretty harsh control.  You remember that one time; the one that hitched a ride on the space capsule.  If it hadn’t been for the admiral’s resourcefulness, there’s no telling how far that thing would have gone."  

Lee remembered vividly and shuddered.  It had almost killed him when it had taken control of him.  "This isn’t the same thing, Chip.  Krilore only wants to get back to . . . um, its people and I only want to get the admiral and his colleagues back onboard." 

“Okay, Skipper, but don’t you think, after all that we’ve been through, that the men deserve to know the nature of the mission?” Morton asked bluntly.  “At least some of it.”  

You asked me what the men would think of you, Krilore.   I believe you’re going to find out.  I would appreciate it if you would hold your anger until I have made my announcement to the crew.   “You’re right, Chip and though I think any fears are unfounded and that Krilore means us no harm, the men should know what happened out there and what’s in store.”

Doc had temporarily paused in his endless poking, prodding and testing, so Lee slid off the exam table and made his way over to the mike.  “This is the captain speaking….”  

<I can see that I will have to trust you on this, Lee, seeing some of the memories you have of other alien visitations>  

Crane just nodded and continued, “I want to give you a few details of our mission as it stands now.  We are headed toward the area closest to Vinson Massif where the admiral and his colleagues are waiting to be picked up.   The campsite where I found Dr. Crawford, and where the admiral and the rest of the scientists were supposed to be, was near the site of a crashed alien spacecraft.  Everyone except Dr. Crawford had already been transported away by means of some kind of teleportation device from the alien campsite before Doc and I arrived.  She was stranded due to a malfunction in the device, which is why we were called down here ahead of schedule.  I am sure by now that many of you are wondering what killed Dr. Crawford and if she had something contagious.  She was dying of a terminal illness and was not contagious.”  Lee stopped a moment, wondering how to best finish.  He just bulled on ahead.  “Also stranded was one of the extraterrestrial life forms.  This life form….”

<I am a member of the **vreestrich--> Krilore said, somewhat haughtily.

Crane paused a moment, trying to figure out how to make his tongue go around the word, finally just said, “called a Vreestrich, is part of a symbiotic relationship organization.  The host member was killed in the ship’s crash and Dr. Crawford offered to be a temporary host until they could be taken to the other site.  When Dr. Crawford died, the Vreestrich needed another host.”  He noticed Chip and Doc’s eyes on him.  Doc’s assistant was staring at him wide-eyed in shock.  “I am the new temporary host for the Vreestrich emissary.  Let me assure you that the alien is in no way controlling me, but that our respective bio-chemistries do not totally agree with each other.”  He paused a brief moment and then continued, “I would like to meet all available officers and petty officers in the wardroom immediately.”

As he hung up the mike, one of galley mates brought in a carafe of coffee and several mugs.  He scrutinized the captain for a quick few seconds and then said, “Cookie thought you and Doc would like something hot to drink after hiking out there on the ice, Skipper.”

“Thanks, Dave,” Crane told him, eyeballing the drink with something akin to ambivalence.  While he had professed to only want to sleep and have a hot meal, he realized now that he was aboard and warm, that he wasn’t really hungry, nor did a cup of coffee appeal to him.  That last fact alone caused a moment of surprise, but he could only attribute it to the adjustment of having Krilore ‘on board.’   

<You drink that noxious liquid?> Krilore asked in amazement.

It’s called coffee, and yes, I usually enjoy a good cup or two during the day, Lee added sardonically and left it on the table.  He started out the door with Chip.   

“Are you forgetting someone?” Doc asked. 

“Well, you got the invite, Doc,” Lee said with a smile.  “You were an officer last time I looked at the insignia.”

“Very funny.  I guess Krilore is getting quite an education from you on human humor.”  

<I am getting an education, but not necessarily in humor> Krilore said sardonically.   

What’s that supposed to mean? Lee asked testily.   

<I have several questions I would like to ask when you have finished talking to your subordinates, mainly on the division of roles and duties between males and females of your species> 

Lee had been afraid of that, but he continued toward the wardroom without missing a beat.  Everyone he met in the corridor stared at and studied him for a few seconds before letting regular Seaview decorum take over.  

Sharkey was already in the room, a large mug of coffee in hand.  He jumped to his feet so fast when Lee arrived that he almost spilled the coffee.  “You okay, Skipper?  I mean….”

Crane just smiled and waved his hand dismissively.  Sharkey could almost always be counted on to overreact.   “I’m fine, Chief.  As you were before you’re wearing that coffee instead of drinking it.”

“Yes, sir.  You want a cup?”

Lee’s stomach gave a lurch, but he just shook his head.  More men arrived and everyone not on a duty watch arrived within five minutes.  Not sure how to begin, Lee just jumped in with both feet.  “I want to reiterate that I am in full reign of my faculties, and command abilities.  I do have continual telepathic contact with Krilore and so I may seem distracted at times.  As some of you can testify, I am subject to fallout from Krilore’s emotions.  Be aware, though, that you are still following command protocols.  In the event that any of you feel I am under the control of an enemy agent, you are to act with regard to the rest of the men as well as the security of this vessel.”

<An enemy agent?  You are equating me with an enemy agent?> Krilore asked testily. 

This is an unusual circumstance and I am reminding my men of the procedures they have to follow—just in case.  Krilore, this is a very important vessel and these are very important men.  There is something I have read in different places that says that even kings are and should be the servants of those over whom they rule.  I serve my men, and will give them due consideration to act as they have been taught to act—in the best interests of all the others. 

<I think I understand, Lee.  I only hope you don’t have any overly paranoid men>    

For the most part, and under most circumstances, even very stressful ones, they aren’t.  Crane saw that the men had waited patiently for him to continue.  “With current situation in mind, I will not man the conn without another command officer present to assist if need be.”  He gazed thoughtfully at each man.  “Any questions?” 

“Sir?”  It was Sharkey.  Leave it to Sharkey, he thought with amusement.  “Is it hurting you?”

 

 

 

Chapter 4
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