WHN- City Beneath the Sea
by Sue K.
Seaview bobbed thirty yards off shore from the island. Several crewmen were doing minor hull maintenance on deck while their CO, Commander Lee Crane watched from atop the sail. Fishermen were at the docks preparing for a new day of fishing, something they had not been able to do without fear for some months. The air felt clean and fresh, not only from the storm of the night before, but from the cleansing away of the secret city below the surface. That had been a foul place. It was too bad Zeraff hadnít gone about this openly and with good intentions. The idea of an undersea city was certainly a viable one.
"Penny for your thoughts, Captain?"
Lee Crane almost jumped. He had not heard his exec, Lt. Commander Chip Morton approach. "Just the two of us. You can skip the formalities, Chip."
"Youíve been kind of formal yourself, Lee."
"New guy," was all Crane said.
"Yeah, I know, but stillÖ." Chipís voice trailed off.
The clouds, which had been golden in the rising sun, began to fade into white puffs. They ambled across the blue sky like sleepy lambs.
"You feeling all right? You kind of got batted around down there," Chip ventured.
The concern in Chipís voice was genuine. Lee appreciated the sentiment, even as he felt embarrassed about it. "Iím okay," he replied. "Just a bit bruised."
"Helped that you had a great nurse," Chip added with a grin.
Lee sighed. He had not been able to spend enough time with Melina to do more than exchange addresses, much to his disappointment. There certainly hadnít been enough time for anything intimate. "Enough, already."
Lee looked back out to sea and saw several boats chugging their way. Both men watched quietly as one of the fishing boats continued toward them while others held back. When it was apparent its purpose was not for fishing, Crane said, "Go below and send Curley up here."
"Aye, sir." Morton was all business again.
By the time Curley joined him, the boat was within hailing distance. Lee noticed several large crates lashed to the deck. There were also four animals. They were the shaggy coated sheep farmers raised on the rugged slopes of the island. Lee had a funny feeling he knew what they were doing on a boat. A grizzled man stepped out of the small bridge and called out to him in a thick accent. His English was practically unrecognizable.
Crane responded in the manís language. Grinning, the fisherman stood at the bow and presented Seaview with four prime sheep as a token of the islandersí appreciation. The crates also contained gifts; olive oil, wine, a great quantity of fish and large wheels of the local cheese.
"You savvy their language, Skipper?" Curley asked.
Crane nodded absently. What in the world was he going to do with four fully grown sheep on Seaview? Lee stared at the four shaggy coated creatures tethered on the deck of the vessel. They bleated mournfully. Knowing the culture of this place, he couldnít refuse the offer. He turned to Curley. "Take them below and put them in the brig for now. Make sure they have water."
Jones gaped at him for a moment before ordering several of the men to prepare to take the animals onboard.
Crane began thanking the fishermen. He felt someone at his elbow and knew without looking it was the admiral.
"What the devil?"
"Canít refuse their gift, sir," Lee responded, "without causing great insult."
"But what the hell are we going to do with four big goatsÖ." He peered closer. "Ö.sheep like that?"
"Take them to one of the smaller islands, butcher them and have a party, I guess," Lee calmly answered.
Nelson harrumphed. "And whoís going to clean up after them?"
Crane considered while they watched the transfer of the thoroughly frightened animals. The first one was hoisted on a rickety rope and pulley contrivance into the waiting arms of several crewmen. Its legs thrashed and it was all the crewmen could do to keep away from the sharp hooves.
"Youíre in charge, Admiral. Thank them and Iíll translate."
With great dignity, which Crane knew he didnít feel, Nelson did so. Crane translated. He also wished good luck in the old manís fishing, prosperous marriages for his sons and calm seas throughout his life. He conveyed the same to the farmers for their offerings and the townspeople for their well wishes. It was long and complicated, but necessary. Grins split the faces of the beefy fisherman and his sons.
"That was a pretty long speech for such short thanks."
Lee was careful not to grin. The admiral was not in the mood. "You have to make sure all the bases are covered, including their descendants."
One of the crewmen got his hand caught in the flailing hooves and yowled in pain. Chief Jones dove in and grappled the beast with what could only be a classic wrestling move. The ewe bleated once and quit struggling.
"Get down to sick bay!" Curley ordered the injured man. The fishermanís sons had been chortling but at a barked command from the older man, they were silent. Curley lifted the second sheep off the deck and carried it to the cargo hatch. Other crewmen followed his example with the other sheep. The creatures uttered pitiful bleats all the way down.
The fishermen waved a farewell and ordered his boat about. With a bang, the engine coughed into life and the boat pulled away from the sub, chugging loudly.
"Lee, do you have any idea how to butcher a sheep? I have been to my share of pig roasts and luauís, but Iím not sure Iím up to all that right now. Why canít we just let them go on a nearby island?"
"As soon as someone saw the sheep it would get back to these people and insult them."
"Wouldnít be an international incident though."
"Pretty darned close." They dutifully waved at the departing men. "It needs to get back that we accepted their gifts with great rejoicing."
Nelson said, "By the way, you havenít answered my previous questions."
"Clean up is a perfect job for Ganly, sir," Crane answered. "Heís been making Ski look like a choir boy lately. And Thomas can help."
Nelson chuckled. "And the butchering?"
Lee had been thinking. "Maybe there is a way around that, sir. Let me talk to Cookie and Iíll get back to you."
Seaview sailed about twenty miles to the south and docked near a small, uninhabited island with a fair-sized beach. Surprisingly, Ski had helped prepare a luau once, so he and Cookie were put in charge. A detail cleaned the fish and prepared them to be cooked. Cookie pulled out a dozen large pork roasts from the boatís freezer and they were cooked in a separate pit. It was no surprise to Crane when someone brought out a stash of beer. The admiral donated a bottle of Scotch, allotting only a finger to those who swore they were not on duty. Someone else had a tape player, probably Patterson, and 60ís and 70ís tunes echoed against the cliffs behind them. Lee and Chip judged the limbo contest, while another group of men played tag football. Doc stood by with his medical kit, hoping he wouldnít have to use it.
When the meal was ready, Chief Garrison, lay religious leader offered grace.
The admiral followed. As far as he was concerned, Lee had come up with the perfect solution. Luckily Seaview had a superior ventilation system. "By the power vested in me, I do hereby grant full pardon to our newest seamen, David Baa-ragut, John Wool Jones, Stephen Sheepcatur, and Oliver Hazard Hairy." It was easy to tell Nelson was enjoying this. "They are awarded temporary status as morale specialists until the end of this mission, at which time they will be granted an honorable discharge to the Santa Barbara Zoo." There was cheering at the announcement.
The party continued until shortly after sunset, when Crane ordered the clean-up detail to get rid of their mess. There had been plenty of pork, fish and cheese for everyone. All the elicit beer and most of the wine was gone. The beer had disappeared first.
As they put out to sea, Crane had to admit the party had loosened everyone up. He was certainly less tense. From his vantage point on the sail, he watched the waves slapping against the hull. He looked up and observed the stars appearing in the darkening sky. The breeze ruffled his hair as he picked out several constellations. He heard the slight noise of someone approaching behind him.
"Skipper, I thought you were ordered to get some meaningful sleep tonight."
"I wonít tell if you wonít. I just wanted to watch the stars, Chip. And let that Scotch take effect."
"What Scotch? And I saw you refuse the beer and wine twice. You didnít have to, you werenít on duty."
"Didnít think it was conduct becoming the captain to imbibe."
"Oh, hell, Lee, you needed to unwind, too. And I repeat, what Scotch?"
Lee grinned but it was lost in the darkness. "He didnít think I noticed, but I saw the admiral put a finger of Scotch in my cup of coffee."
Chip snorted. "Heís just looking after you." He paused. "Someoneís got to."
Lee sent a glare toward his exec. "And to answer your previous question, Chip, I am unwound. At least a little. That was a fun party."
"Good. Youíve been too tense the past couple missions." He paused. "By the way, the men are totally behind you."
"Like they were John Phillips?"
"Phillips is gone, Lee, but yes, they are. The men know you care about them. Loyalty engenders loyalty. Thatís always been one of your strong points. They know youíd go to hell and back for them. Thatís why the admiral picked you to replace Phillips."
They stood side by side in companionable silence.
"I love this," Lee finally murmured as he watched Seaview slide through the waves. "I have always dreamed of having a boat like this. Of having a crew like this."
"Couldnít happen to a better guy," Chip said seriously. "Letís face it, Lee, youíre home."
Again, they watched the ocean and the stars in silence. A meteor streaked across the sky, then another.
"Skipper, are you planning on spending the night up there?" Docís voice on the intercom broke the stillness.
Chip chuckled. "Busted, Lee."
"Mr. Morton, I sent you on a missionÖ."
"Aye, aye, Doc!" Chip responded into the mic.
Lee laughed. "Thanks, Chip."
"Youíre welcome. Letís go below."
Lee nodded and followed Chip down the ladder . . . home.