Alienated

Part Two of The Alien Chronicles††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††

By

Falschian

 

"Looks like the boss is in early for a change," Angie grinned at the partially open door to Nelson's office. Accompanying her, Acting Captain Lt. Cmdr. Morton straightened his tie more out of habit than necessity as Angie settled herself at her desk, then announced him through the intercom.

No answer.

She tried again. And again there was no answer. Morton was in the office in seconds. Instead of finding an intruder or a victim of a heart attack, which was Morton's unvoiced fear, Nelson wassound asleep in the oversized leather chair, disheveled, unshaved, and dressed in a set of NIMR sweats. By his feet was Lee's dog, Sassy, who greeted both visitors affectionately.

"Hello sugarplum," Angie whispered, as almosttiptoeing, the intruders led the dog out, Morton closing the door behind him.

"What on earth?" Morton wondered. Neither had ever seen the Admiral in such a state, and while Lee's dog had in effect adopted Nelson as a member of the family, she was hardly ever seen without Lee at her side. And certainly not in the Admiral's inner sanctuary. Angie shrugged her shoulders and got on to a stack of paperwork.

"I'd better get Sassy home," Morton said.

***

Chipwalked the dogthe relatively short distance toNelson's bungalow, not really knowing if that was where Lee was keeping himself today. Crane had fluctuated from his lover's nest to his own guest cottage on the grounds, and sometimes even to a new apartment he'd leased in Santa Barbara. While located in a gated community, what most people didn't know was that the Crane's, son and mother, along with Nelson were making more than a few 'false trails' to avoid the lingering press.Mrs. Crane was already enjoying a pseudo identityand would be living nearby, to 'dog sit' while Seaview's Captain was at sea.

 

"Hey Mr. Morton! Hey Sas!" Kowalskiwaved as he and Patterson stopped to chat to their Executive Officer. "Did she get loose or something?"

"I wouldn't know," Morton rang the doorbell.

After a few more rings and knocks, he entered the security code on a panel to unlock the door, "Lee? Lee? Something's wrong," he muttered as the dog bounded in with the men.

Ever since Crane had returned from his imprisonment on the planet Centaur, he'd taken one of the previously immaculate and empty bachelor officer's quarters as his primary residence.It now had the distinct air of 'dogginess', from canine toys scattered around, large comfy canine beds in just about every room, and an automatic dispensing water bowl in the kitchenette.

What surprised the men was the trail ofof various articles of discarded clothingdown the hall to the lone bedroom. Sassy had immediately headed there and Morton followed.

 

A bit worried when Morton hadn't come back out in a few moments, both men peered in. The XO was staring at Crane's double bed leaning drunkenly to one side, collapsed and broken. It was hard for Ski and Pat not to smirk thinkingabout their commanding officer and his apparently heavy conjugal calisthenics with Nelson.

 

"I'll be up on the outcrop," Morton said as he headed out and down the hallway, "make sure Sassy has some water."

"I wonder what's for lunch later today?"Pat's stomach growled.

"Only you could think of your stomach this early in the morning...I don't know, I'm kinda in the mood for those great jumbo wieners..."

"Talk about the powers of suggestion!" Pat laughed as they left the dog now alseep on the broken bed, a multi colored ball close by, and a framed paw print clay tile displayed prominently on one of the end tables.

***

It wasn't all that necessary to check on him, Morton knew, but when Lee got into a huff or just needed to be alone, he frequented the lonely outcrop and watched the waves smash against the cliffside. Apparently, this was such a time. Lee was sitting onthe grass with his knees drawn up to his chin and his arms resting around them. Lee, as Nelson, was unshaven, and unkempt. Unlike Nelson, he was in wide striped pajama bottoms too short for his legs, and a plaid flannel robe. His hair was curling wildly from the dampness of the morning and Morton wondered just how long he'd been out here.

"Earth to Lee," Chip said coming up behind him.

No answer.

"Earth to Cranelee..." Chip sat down beside him; the hell with the dew.

"Mhh? What..?"

"Hey buddy, you were miles away..."

"I guess..." he yawned, but did not turn his head toward Morton.

"Did you spend the night out here?"

"Any port in a storm."

Then silence.

"You used to confide in me. If there's something wrong between you and Nelson, maybe I can help..."

"Chip, please...I...he..."

"So this does have something to do with him."

"It's nobody's business."

"No, I suppose it's not...but...you realize we found him sound asleep in his office? Looked like he spent the night there, or at least part of it. The dog was with him."

"She needed a walk...he took her out. I guess he decided to get some work done."

"Uh huh.What about you?"

"I couldnít sleep...thought some air would do me good. They were the first things I saw."

"Lee, look, " Chip said after a pause, "lover's quarrels happen all the time and..."

"Chip, enough," Lee said disagreeably, "It's too complicated andI don't want to talk about it," he got up, and headed away.

"Okay, boss" Chip said, following, while trying without much success to wipe the wet pieces of grass off his rear. "But," he grabbed Crane's arms gently, " but you might cause a few raised eyebrows if you show up at your office or on the boat wearing his pajamas. And," he turned Crane around in the opposite direction," your clothes live that way."

Lee cast him an irritated glance, then headed in the new direction, muttering. Chip followed at a polite distance just to make sure there weren't any detours. It was a pleasant enough stroll. But just as Crane reached the door, Morton noticed Nelson also arrived on one of the mobile carts. For a moment it looked like both weregoing to turn tail, but finally Crane opened the door with a nod to Nelson, who hopped off the cart and followed him into the bungalow.

At least they were still talking to each other, at least Chip hoped they would be,and gotback to work.

***

"I'm sorry Admiral," Doc put the report down later that morning and sneezed. "Excuse me. Wet paint all this wing of the Med Center. I have to keep my door open just to vent the fumes. Now, as I told you, there's really nothing else medical science can do in these circumstances. "

"There has to be something I can do for Lee!"

"Sometimes there's just no...wait...there is one more option," Jamie sighed and scribbled something on a piece of paper, "No guarantees, however...by the way, word's out you two had a fight. Care to fill in your doctor confessor?"

"The situation's worsened. We had words again. I actually slammed out of the door. I'm afraid he did too, come to find out."

The men on paint detail in the hallway were unable to listen in to the rest of the conversation as the Med Center Administrator came by and started to complain about how long it was taking them to finish painting just as Nelson left.

***

"He did what?" Ski asked at lunch almost choking. He had already delved into his grilled frankfurter in the cafeteria, practically daring Pat to say anything risquť.

"I'm telling you," Sharkey insisted, "The Skipper actually asked for some Jell-O to be sent over this morning. Real early it was. Actually last night.They didn't have any in Crane's bungalow... "

The men shuddered, knowing his previous dislike of the stuff and now, well, even just remembering the horrid green gelatinous slime that was characteristic ofCentaurian semen, made it seem highly unlikely Crane would actually ask for any. No one could forget the alien rape of their Captain, certainly he wouldn't have. Even if Crane had taken an alien lover later on,Centaurian sex was a very messy business and Jell-O was just too reminiscent.

 

"Okay Frank," Pat asked the corpsman eating at the table with them," What's wrong with him?"

"Nothing's wrong with him!"

"Sure, sure..."Ski mocked. "What's- wrong- with- the- Skipper?"

"Okay," Frank lowered his voice, furtive, "don't let this get out, but he's been sick to his stomach lately,a lot. Jell-O's easy on it that's all. We made sure it was yellow, like lemon. He may not like it, but he'll sure as hell eat it to keep Doc from decertifying him forthis cruise coming up. Important one too. You know all about those meteors hitting some of our satellites? Still rotten reception if you're on a dish and...."

"Who cares a shit about TV! Is it serious?"Pat yelled.

"Well, he say's it's from the Admiral feeding him allthat TexMex stuff, but if it keeps up, Doc's gonna' insist on a more invasiveexamination, you know, the kind where you have to drink that chalky stuff and they watch it all go down on the fluoroscope or a complete rectal...Hey, I wonder what's got Riley in a tither..."

The paint stained crewman was clearly agitated and headed ina beeline to fill in his pals on the latest, and worrisome news.

***

"Angie? Is the Admiral in?" Morton asked a few hours later, "I need to verify somethi..what is it?"

"Why didn't you tell me?" she dabbed a teary eye and looked up, "what's wrong with Lee? Will said there's nothing medical science can do...How long does he have?"

"What are you talking about?"

"And then the Admiral called to say he wouldn't be in this afternoon so he can spend some quality time with Lee and...."

"Slow down...start at the beginning."

***

Morton walked through the expanding group of crewmen and employees around Crane's bungalow. Until Lee returned to duty,the XOwas in effect 'loco managerious' after Nelson and felt he'd better get to the bottom of things if he'd get any peace. For himself and for all those concerned.

Ringing the bell, he heard Sassy bark.

There was no answer although the dog increased her volume.

He rang again, and followed it with a loud repetitive knock.

"Enough already!"Nelson's voice yelled, "Give me a chance! Cheech!"

The barefoot Nelson opened the door in a set of sweats that apparently had had a bad day in the laundry.

"Well?"

"Yes, sorry sir...it's just that...uh..."he turned, embarrassed that everyone was watching. "Can I come in?"

"Suit yourself..."

Morton sagged against the wall after the door was closed.

"Well?"

"Oh, uh.."

"Out with it man! What's so urgent?" Nelson demanded. "There is something urgent isn't there?"

"No sir, but..."

"Then what is so blasted important that you couldn't have phoned?"

Morton took a deep breath, "I think I have a right to be told before I have to learn it secondhand..."

"Tell you what?"

"That Lee's... terminal."

"That he's what?"

"Oh can it Admiral. Everyone knows."

"Well, apparently I don't," Nelson turned ashen, "Wait here. Let me get to the bottom of this. "

 

Morton petted Sassy, noticing the dregs of lunch still on the table. It was a curious cuisine of Chinese,( Lee's no doubt), Mexican, (Nelson's for sure), and 'Mother', the term used for whatever concoction Mrs. Crane had insisted on contributing when she had visited a few days ago. Yellow Jell-O still wiggled on the edges of a dessert cup.

 

He heard their voices from the bedroom. Thena "good grief," by Lee and few more mutterings. Nervous tension abating somewhat, Chip noticed a few new pictures on the wall, an old battered easy chair that Nelson hadn't been able to talk Lee out of, a small hand loom sporting a brightly colored pattern. Of course, now that Lee had instruction books and skeins of real worsted wool and other filaments, he might actually be using some of the skills learned on the far off planet to weave other things than the rough attire he'd made for himself up there.

 

Chip was surprised to see some ofNelson's books here, lined up with a military like precision. But they'd had to vie with Crane's rather haphazard additions stuffed inbetween the cracks or stacked vertically on the shelves oron the floor. Morton had heard of Lee's antique 'Submarine Boy'sand wondered what the author of more than a hundred years ago might have found himself writing today. There were alsosomefirst edition Alfred Hitchcock stories and videotapes.Suddenly Chip saw some well thumbed flyers tucked inside one of the master's mysteries. Unable to quell his curiosity he began to leaf through a few of the brochures, his eyes growing large as he discovered what they were. He almost gasped when Nelson startled him from behind,grateful he could stuff the incriminating flyers into a gap in the bookcase behind his back.

"Now, what's this terminal business all about Chip? There's nothing wrong with Lee."

Relieved but embarassed Morton explained what he'd heard.

***

"Well?" Sharkey broke the silence as Morton emerged from the bungalow into a sea of concerned faces.

"The Captain is not dying," Morton said ever so dangerously, "The Admiral is not dying. But I can think of one or two of you who might prefer it for yourselves to whatever punishment they might want to dish out if any such stupid, irresponsible and misinformed rumors ever happen again!"

"But I was there," Riley insisted, "I know what I heard!"

"You were on paint detail outside of the Doc's office. You don't even know what was in that report the Doc and Nelson were discussing!"

"Uh, do you sir?" Sharkey whispered.

"That is none of our business. Suffice it to say, both have assured me there is nothing wrong. Now, dismissed! All of you!" Morton grabbed a seat on the mobile cart and was whisked away from the assemblage.

 

"I'm glad I'm not on that side of his tongue today" the bath robed Crane said, as he peeked from the window.

"Actually I think he let them off pretty easy," Nelson said then, "Now, where were we?"

"Harry, I keep telling you...."

"I want to satisfy you, I need to satisfy you,the way you deserve."

"Harry, I'm perfectly happy with you just the way you are. Forget about all of these 'male enhancement' schemes."

"Don't deny it, Lee. I know I can't pleasure you as well as Tylol did. "

"Look, maybe that was due to the abscesses I had for awhile. More nerve receptors I guess. But now that they're healed doesn't mean I don't still enjoy every minute that we..."

"Will you just let me try?"

Instead of a verbal answer, Lee merely sighed, lettinghis robe drop from his naked form and led Nelson back to bed.

 

***

"Permission to come aboard?" Lee called down Seaview's hatchway a few days later.

"About time Captain!"

"Admiral Starke?" Crane said, surprised he was genuinely pleased to see the man. "What..."

"I'm your Official liaison for this meteor scouting."

"Of course we're delighted to have you sir," Lee lied graciously, "we'll get underway as soon as Admiral Nelson's aboard. He called earlier that he might be delayed. Personal business trip to Mexico."

"Mexico? The man has a fixation...but I do agree the food's better over the border. I understand it doesn't agree with you though."

"Admiral Nelson coming aboard!" the PA announced.

"Well, speak of the devil," Lee grinned, as Nelson climbed down the ladder, waving a couple ofplain paper bags.

"Harry, you old sea dog," Starke greeted his old friend warmly. "I hope you haven't become too lax with Naval protocol.Crane here called you a devil."

"If the shoe fits," he laughed. "Lee, after we've cleared the harbor, come on down to my cabin. I'd liketo show you something I couldn't resist buying. Jiggs, make yourself comfortable."

Nelson headed aft, hoping the grin on his face wouldn't give away his secret mission. While everyone knew of his relationship with Crane, both had agreed to keep it low key on the boat, even abstain as much as humanly possible. They didn't want the crew to think of them as sex crazed dogs in heat. Nelson was of course, just about all the time. New techniques and supplementshad had nothing to do with it either. Still, he was champing at the bit to try the latest formulation from the herbalist over the border.

***

"Captain Crane," Starke asked more than a half hour later as he relaxed in the Nose over a scotch, "I thought Harry wanted you to report to his cabin. We cleared the harbor some time ago. Can't have our Captain in the dark now can we?"

For a moment the only darkness Lee could think of was in Nelson's cabin, illuminated only with his lover's eyes...

"Captain?"

"Oh,uh, yes. You have the conn Chip," Crane hoped the flush on his face would be chalked up to forgetfulness instead of lust as he headed aft.

***

Dinner had turned into a mission briefing, and Nelson waxed glowing on the new data he hoped to find. It was believed this rock might be intact and not shattered into smithereens. The fact that the Doom and Gloom naysayers were almost disappointed by the lack of any natural disasters from the latest star to fall to earth made it all the more interesting.

Starke listened politely, noticing that he'd showered and changed. Well it must havebeen a dusty drive, he told himself.

"Dessert Skipper?" Cookie asked, as Starke noticed Crane had showered and changed too.

"What do you have?" Starke asked.

"Chocolate cake and cherry Jell-O."

"I think the Captain had his fill of Jell-O all the time he was at the Med Center," Starke laughed.

"Lee's had a little stomach irritation...the Jell-O's been helping," Doc explained.

In the end, Lee opted for no dessert at all. Except of course the dessert he and Harry had planned for later.

***

If Starke had thought Nelson and Crane would spend every waking hour in each other's company he was pleasantly surprised that they hadn't. They'd been the epitome of discretion for the past few days. Or maybe Harry had had the sleeping quarters soundproofed, he chuckled to himself. Even if Starke had to admit he felt uncomfortablewhen they sometimes finished each other's sentences and occasionally cast glances each other's way; glances that probably capped pretty explosive sentiments; as long as their relationship didn't interfere with the strict naval discipline he expected of a Reserve craft he wasn't going to make waves. Speaking of which...

"Any word on that front topside?" he asked O'Brian at the chart table in the Control Room.

"Just a non tropical low, shouldn't bother us down here."

"I still think it's a little too close for comfort. Maybe the Captain should change course."

"Maybe the Captain should do what he damn well pleases," Sharkey said under his breath.

"What was that sailor?"

"Uh, I said maybe the Captain's already planning on it, maybe not...he was going over all the meteorological data when I saw him last."

"Hmpf," Starke muttered and returned to the nose.

"Good save, Chief," O'Brian whispered. "Was he?"

Sharkey just gave the officer a shrug of 'I don't know' and a grin, and headed aft.

***

"I'm not sure anymore, "Doc said, perplexed, as Crane retched in his cabin's head. "Has he shown any other symptoms? Anything out of the ordinary?"

"No, except he..."Nelson flushed.

"Except?"

"Well," he hesitated, "oh what the hell," Nelson said. "Last night Lee complained I was hurting him. You know, in bed. Those new Mexican herbs were working a little too well and..."

"Herbs? What kind of herbs?"

"I don't know. I can't pronounce it, " he handed Doc the small package, "Miguelina said they'd make me larger, last longer. I guess things got a bit rough. I...I made him bleed, but he said it was nothing...then this..."

"Any additional sexual augmentation from this is of your own making. But they can cause gastrointestinal distress."

"Lee didn't have any.You sent me all the way to Mexico..."

"I sent you to a herbologist who has had some moderate success customizing blends for her customers depending on their wants and needs. I didn't know you'd come back with this. It's a simple spice from cactus flowers. It actually reduces inflamation in some individuals. It should have hindered your performance, not increased it. I'll give him a preliminary exam to rule out any internal tearing, then set up a GI test for him."

"Have you tried chicken soup and green tea?" a new voice asked, " When I..."

"Sharkey!" Jamison complained, "How long have you been eavesdropping?"

"Well, uh, the door was open and..."

"Sorry," Lee finally emerged wiping his face with a wet towel. "I'm okay now. Don't tell Cookie I lost his meatloaf. Well, if you'll excuse me, I have some course changes to make..."

"I'm notsure you should be on duty..." Nelson said.

"Am I going to drop down dead, Will?" Lee asked, exasperated.

"No, but.."

"I'll be in the Control Room," he picked up charts from his desk.

"Out of the question. I need to examine you. Now."

***

"It must have exploded into a thousand pieces," Starke said from the Observation Nose. I find it hard to believe something so small could be this much trouble. It'll take months to repair some of those satellites as well."

"And just where do you think you're going?" Nelson asked asLee approached, his flight jacket draped over his shoulder.

"I'm fine."

"I don't know Lee..."

"Doc says I'm fine," Crane took him aside and whispered, "it was just a little tear in the sphincter ring. My stomach's fine now. But he plans on aGI tomorrow. We'll discuss it later... Admiral Starke, I'm taking the Flying Sub with divers to investigate and you some samples. "

"Very well," Nelson said, "but Chief Sharkey will pilot."

"What?" Crane asked incredulous.

"Chief Sharkey will pilot. I just don't want to put you at risk."

"It was just an upset stomach, that's all!"

"We don't know that..."

"Maybe you won't believe anything until I'm lying in the morgue with my insides turned inside out so you can see for yourself! Come along Chief, bring some pabulum. Seems your status has changed to chief babysitter," he said bitterly, undogging the hatch.

"I never said..." Nelson argued but Crane was already down the ladder.

"Chief, Ski!" Crane shouted from below, "What's taking you both so long?"

Nelson gave Sharkey an encouraging pat on the shoulders, shaking his head in frustration.

Kowalski was right behind him as they boarded the vehicle. Within minutes the flying sub was underway.

 

"What was that all about," Morton asked Nelson as the flying sub began her maneuvers.

"Sorry Chip. He's been a bit moody lately. "

"I've noticed. One minute cool and collected, the next, ready to bite your head off. If he wasn't a man, I'd think he was going through the 'change'."

 

..."to Seaview..." Crane's voice patched into Seaview's PA,"Preliminary sweep shows non descript rimming of the perimeter.... hardly any debris in or outside of the crater. A bit smaller than I thought. Some weird life forms like the ones in the Marianna's. I'm, no, sorry Admiral Nelson sir, Sharkey is setting us down to claw up some dirt and shard samples. Turning on forward cameras.."

"Brrr," Starke said, as he fine tuned the monitor, "He's mad."

..." Taking a water sample now....we're getting some radioac...sig...."

"You're breaking up Lee...."Nelson spoke into the mike.

"....it's get...orse...some of...roc......I'm going out to check it closer..."

"Oh no you're not," Nelson said. "Let Ski and Sharkey handle the dive...you monitor."

"....what wa...tha...you're breaking up...."

"....The hell you are...you heard me well enough."

"....You sure....getting bossy in ...old age....that's it Ski...."

"You will not make a dive Captain and that's an order. Lee? Lee!"

"They've turned us off," Sparks said.

"Well, now he's being downright insubordinate," Starke said.

"Divers in the water," Patterson said from his console before the monitor showed the flying subs spot lit view of the forms through the black water...only their neon stripes visible.

"Try the night vision cams...."

"....We did but..th...don't.. rk."

"Sharkey? I told Crane...."

"...Will you just qui...harping on it...cheech...anyone would think you're my mother..."Crane's voice came over.

"I told you to..."

...."Ski...er?"Ski's voice came over urgently, "Wha...comi..in.."Ski gasped for air, "he...that's it Skipper...breathe through your nose," Another gasp, nothing, then another gasp, and the sound of gurgles...

 

"Sharkey?"Nelson demanded, "Can you see what's going on? Sharkey?"

Nothing.

"Sharkey, Report! Chip! Move us closer in."

"Belay that!" Morton said, "Look!"

On the monitor they could now see from the flying sub's view ports Sharkey, minus wetsuit but with a diving lamp on his spare scuba tank swimming toward the returning team.

The questioning glances of the men aboard Seaview were answered when they saw the disabled diver was in the throes of a vomiting fit...unable to breathe through his mouthpiece as normal, as Ski shared his regulator, holding it tightly over Crane's nose in between taking the occasional gulp of air from it himself.

"Damn," Nelson said under his breath.

After about a year, the divers returned to the flying sub.

"Get Will up here," Nelson ordered

Finally the men aboard Seaview heard spluttery coughing, and more retching as the divers boarded the flying sub.

"Flying sub returning," Patterson called out from sonar.

Sharkey was too busy looking back at Ski helping Crane and flying at the same time to report, though communications were still on.

The Captain had finally stopped vomiting, and Ski, calling on his moderate level of medical skills, soon had Crane's wetsuit unzipped to his waist, the man wrapped in a blanket, and cleaned up somewhat. He also remembered in spite of the panic of the moment, to scrape up some of the greenish looking vomit into a plastic bag for Doc to check. Whatever had made the Skipper ill, it certainly wasn't from the last mealtime. Crane extended an arm and looked at the man dripping on him.

"....Thanks Ski. I'm sorry," Crane said contrite, "I didn't mean to put you at risk..."

"...You woulda' done the same for me, sir."

"... I can't believe I was so irresponsible..."

"...Hey, you didn't know you were gonna'be sick," Sharkey piped up.

"...I knew I'd been just minutes before. A blatant disregard for the safety and welfare of my crew...I donít know what got into me..."

"..Skipper, hey,"Ski said, "It's okay."

"...No, it's not okay," Crane said bitterly, then a little lighter, "and the Admiral's going to kill me, followed by Doc, and then... Morton."

The sound of exaggerated groans met Seaview's ears.

"Hey, I'm not that bad," Chip chuckled.

The flying sub thunked in her berth.

"...Chief? Good job handling my baby."

"...Ah shucks, thanks Skipper."

"...Ski, I won't put you in danger again...any of you. No, I'll change later. I'd rather face the music now and get it over with...wish me luck."

In moments the hatch wheel turned in the Observation Nose and the dripping Crane emerged wearily holding his flippers.

"Mr. Morton?" Crane said defeated, "as of now,you're back to being Acting Captain. I'm sorry, for everything. C'mon Will, maybe you can do that upper GI sooner than you planned," he led the way aft, not looking at Nelson, not looking back.

***

"Psychosomatic? You've got to be kidding!" Morton paced in his cabin as Jamison reported his diagnosis.

"There is no physical reason for his distress..."

"I refuse to believe that he's suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome."

"So, what happens now? More tests with the shrinks? Resigned to sailing a desk ashore? He's been through enough!"

"Yes, he has. But if he wants to live a moderately normal life, he'll go through the tests again, and more. At least we'll be able to narrow down whatever's triggering the nausea. Then maybe therapy can help him to learn to combat it, but...I'm worried about this. If it is, there's a possibility he may never be able to command Seaview again."

"That'd kill him! Where is he now?"

"His quarters. No. Wait. Nelson's with him right now. They have a lot of talking to do. They'd both had such hopes you see. Everything to be normal again....and now...well....they'll probably just have to make a new life for themselves...."

^***^

Starke looked up as Nelson joined him later for a snack in the Wardroom. "Anything to report on the meteor, correction, what's left of it?"

"I haven't correlated all the data yet," Nelson said without emotion, drained. "I've sent out more divers. We need more rock samples. Reads like radioactive but isn't. Weird."

"Harry, it's not the end of the world, " Starke added after a moment.

"He won't even..."he lowered his voice, even though no one else was there, "he won't even let me touch him...he's holed up in his cabin now. With his door locked. He's never done that unless we're together..."

"Give him some time Harriman. PTS must have come as bit of a shock to him as well you know, realizing he really isn't invincible."

"I know that, but he shouldn't be licking his wounds like a wounded animal..."

"Just be there for him. He'll come around. If he can't have Seaview, at least hehas you. Now, tell me what you have...."

***

Patterson and Kowalski were passing the small gym early the next morning when they saw, unseen themselves, bare chested and in gym shorts, Crane knocking the hell out of the oblong punching bag with his boxer's mitts.

"Any more rounds like that and we'll have to order new equipment," Nelson told him, leaning on the vaulting horse.

No answer.

"Lee."

No answer.

"Lee, will you please talk to me?"

"There's nothing more to say."

"Damn it man, it's not your fault you're ill!"

"You heard him. I'm not ill, I'm mental," he hit the bag with another punch.

"All right, for the sake of argument, let's say he's right. But it's not the end of the world."

"Who are you to tell me it's not! It is!" Another punch." It is to me!" he yelled. Another punch, and another, In fact he hit the bag so hard the seams broke. And he kept hitting it, over and over, the fluff falling out to the floor.

Nelson grabbed and held the bag still, "Stop it! You're not the only man to loose his command, ordered or by his own choice. It was your decision first, remember. Don't you think I know how much Seaview means to you? To us? But things change. And sometimes there's not a blasted thing anyone can do about it! Now stop it and come here," he took Crane into his arms.

"Harry..it's no damn fair!" Lee shouted, but allowed the strong embrace, "it's just not fair,"he whispered, single tear running down his face.

"I know, beloved, I know. Enough now. I'm here."

Ski and Pat backed out and silently closed the door.

***

"Oh c'mon! I ain't buying that, no way," Sharkey said as the gossip made it's rounds.

"Not that sobby kind of crying," Pat said, " but I saw tears in his eyes..."

"Doesn't surprise me," Cookie said, "He's been kinda' emotional lately, mood swings they call it."

"Well, I donít care what anyone calls it, the Skipper's not a cryin' man! "Sharkey said.

"Actually," Frankintervened, "It's healthier for a man to cry than to hold everything in; getsthe stress out..."

"I only said his eyes were teary," Pat corrected, "it wasn't any boo hooing or...."

"I still think you got it wrong," Sharkey interrupted, "You werenít close enough to actually see him well enough, coulda' been a reflection from some of the equipment in his eyes..."

"Well, I don't care if he cried or not, he's no less a man either way," Ski insisted.

"We know that!" Cookie said.

"Sickbay!" Nelson's panic stricken voice called over the PA. "Doc, my quarters, hurry!"

***

"Lee, Lee...oh god, I didn't mean to hurt you..." he rambled as Crane groaned in agony on the bunk.

"What happened?" Doc and Frank reached the cabin in record time, a crowd of men gathering in the corridor just outside.

"I didnít mean to thrust that hard..I didn't..." Nelson said, incoherently, his mind not quite taking in the fact that hewas just as naked as Crane.

"You're in the way Admiral....turn him Frank...that's right...well, there's no blood, thank god," he muttered relieved.

"He.. he just suddenly said it hurt again, like last time, only," Nelson said, as Frank grabbed the discarded clothes from the floor and handed them to Nelson, who only half noticed, "only this time the pain didn't stop...it got worse...nothing like this before..."

"Skipper? Lee, do you hear me?" Will demanded, " I need you to uncurl uncurl yourself."

"Can't. Hurts too much," he gasped.

"Frank," Doc ordered and both men began to stretch Lee out on the bunk against his groans of pain. Will prodded methodically over his abdomen, ignoring the splattered remnants of the couple's lovemaking on his skin. Suddenly Lee's groans turned into a horrible scream.

"I think it's peritonitis. A burst intestine."

"Oh god, Oh god," Nelson groaned, "I didn't mean to hurt him...I didn't...."

"You didn't," Jamison said firmly, just as Starke entered the cabin, "this is far too high in the colon...perhaps one of those old abscess reformed and broke through the lining...Frank, well need a stretcher. "

"My fault...my fault..."

***

Men at their duty stations cast nervous glances at one another as they awaited word. Nobody gave a damn if Crane and Nelson had been having sex at the time.All that mattered was that the Captain didn't die.

"Mr. Morton?" Will's voice came over the PA. It was hesitant, trying very hard to be emotionless, "Would you please come to sickbay." It was not a request.

Shivers went up every spine. They all knew the drill. It was always to a boat's master, even an acting one, whena CMO had to report a death aboard.

***

Men parted to let Morton through the crowded corridor. Taking a deep breath, he entered sickbay, closing the door behind him.

"Will you let me out of here?" a familiar voice pleaded, exasperated from behind the privacy screens.

"Lee??" Chip called. Once again the man had managed to escape the Angel of Death.

"Oh, there you Mr. Morton," Ski squeezed through the screens followed by Jamison.

"I'll be right outside if you need me," Ski said.

"Fine...fine...thanks for your help," Will closed the door.

"What's going on?" Morton asked, confused.

"Take it easy Frank!" Lee's voice complained.

"Chip?" Will said, washing his hands, "Would you, in your capacity as Acting Captain, please order Lee to shut up? He's giving me a headache."

"I heard that!" Lee's voice came through, "Chip, make him let me get out of here! He said it wasn't busted! It doesn't hurt now. Ow! Careful with that thing, Frank!"

Morton was about to go through the screens but Doc shook his head.

"Not yet Chip. I misdiagnosed him," Will said, "There is no perforation. Look here," he indicated the x-rays.

"I'm sorry. I don't see..."

"It's a growth, not a perforation."

"So it is one of those alien induced abscesses..."

"I'm not sure what it is. I don't think I have to tell you that any growth in the gastrointestinal track can be serious."

"Ready for you Doc," Frank's voice came from behind the screens.

"It'll take about an hour for a more conclusive exam. I'll be using fiber optic imaging and take a biopsy of the tissue..."

"All right, but, next time, will you just tell me he's alive instead of making me think I'll have to perform a burial at sea?"

"I..guess I hadn't thought what it sounded like," he prepared the syringe of anesthetic," Sorry, " he said, leaving Morton and returned to the patient.

***
"What if it's cancer, Jiggs?"
Nelson asked, less than an hour later, still shaking with nerves and smoking incessantly in the Observation Nose.

"Fresh coffee sirs?" Sharkey asked.

"I think I'm too jittery as it is."

"Yeah, we all are.."

"Mr. Morton? Admiral Nelson? " Frank's voice came over the PA. " Doc says come on down now...there's something he wants you to see."

***

Sharkey turned, embarrassed after he'd helped Starke escort the almost trembling Nelson to sickbay's inner sanctum. The unconscious Crane was lying on his side, draped in sterile white sheets. But the polished clamp that held his well lubricated anus wide open for the flexible tubing was all too exposed.

"That's no ordinary growth, gentlemen," Doc indicated the medical video-monitor, as he adjusted the probe for different camera angles. "There's been an unheard ofchange in the gastrointestinal lining, as you can see. It has a thicker density and has expanded beyond well beyond it's normal limitations for the growth to expand, in fact, further into the abdominal cavity than anything I've heard of."

The CPO's curiosity got the better of him and he too looked at the screen, his stomach turning at the sight of the oblong growth as well as the internal human anatomy.

"Now, I'm going to take a small biopsy," the flex tool headed closer to the growth.

"I uh, donít feel so good, "Sharkey said.

"Seems to be encapsulated by some kind of fluid...that's it Frank," he said as the cutting tweezers did their job. "Catch him!" Doc said as Sharkey fainted.

"I'll take care of him," Starke pulled the Chief out of sickbay.

 

"What happened?" Ski, still waiting in the corridor asked, bending down.

"He fainted. I'm a bit queasy myself," Starke sat down on the deck.

"My God!" Doc's voice exclaimed from SickBay.

Ski bolted into the room and found everyone gaping at the image on the monitor. The growth was pulsating. And it looked somewhat familiar. And alive.

^***^

"Pregnant?" Sharkey asked as Ski told him what he'd seen and heard, helping him up, the equally stunned Starke at his side, "Those blasted Centaurs got him pregnant?"

"Well, Idonít know what else to call something that looks like a fetus with a couple of eyeballs on the top of it's head.." Ski said.

"Now listen to me," Starke said firmly, "You're jumping to conclusions. No man on earth has ever been or will ever be in the 'family way'."

"I'm not so sure," Ski said, "Those frog creepscould have implanted the thing when they had their way with him..."

"It's still impossible."

"But what if he is?" Sharkey groaned, "Oh man...oh man...this'll be worse for the Skip than loosing command."

"C'mon, Chief, Admiral, " Ski said, " you're both a little green, I think you both need a little juice or something."

***

"I can remove it right away, Admiral," Doc said over the anestetized patient, "or we can schedule full abdominal surgery if you want to keep the fetus for study."

"The sooner the better," Nelson said. "I think I'd..."

"Now, wait a minute," Chip intervened, " Don't you think that's a bit premature?That should be Lee's decision."

"You don't think he can possibly carry the thing?" Jamison asked, incredulous, "Or that he'd want to? The psychological trauma itself will be even greater than the physiological."

"It's conceivable though, isn't it?"Morton asked, "Theoretically? If it's pushed itselfoutside the alimentary canal? I remember seeing a show about a pregnant guy...."

"Well, there have been a few male pregnancies in primate experiments. But all of them failed miserably and all, all I repeat, of the hosts died. I know the movie you remember. Sheer fantasy though some scientific theorists said it's possible. Now I don't know why Lee's abdominal tissues are thickening and elasticizing or how long that will last. If it were to continue, I suppose it's feasable he could carry it to a viable weight ,whatever that is for aliens, and give birth through caesarean section. But, it could also burst right through the abdominal cavityand Lee woulddie from internal hemoraging. Now, do you really want Lee to risk his life forsomethingGod did not design men to do? My gut instinct tells me to quit while we're ahead and abort this anomoly, and right now, before it can develop further, body or soul."

"Who are you to speak for God?" Chip argued, "Lee's pregnant. That's life. Isn't that what Lee's risked his life for so many times we can't even remember them all? Well, this child's a part of him too, isn't it? You owe it a little consideration too, you know, even if it'sa long shot...and this is one decision I can't allow either of you to make for Lee. And as Acting Captain, that's final."

"Gentlemen, enough," Nelson said, "Will, is there any kind of DNA test you can do, to find out if it's really Lee's and not a Centaurian conceived by a Centaurianand implanted when he was raped?"

"Yes. I can have the results as early as tomorrow."

"At least he can make an informed decision. Will that satisfy the Acting Captain?"

"I just want it to beLee's choice," Chip said. "And it could be the result of the union between Lee and Tylol. They were partners don't forget."

"You don't have to remind me," Nelson said, angered.

"We're wasting time, " Jamison said. "Lee's life is at stake. It would be easier better to present him with a 'fait accompli' than put him through the hell you seem to endorse,Captain Morton."

"My decision's final. Lee will be concious soon enough.Then we can get his point of view."

"Admiral, say something."

"Chip's within his rights, Will. If it were me I'd rip the thing out with my bare hands if knew how. But, considering Lee will be able to speak with us shortly, we can't force an abortion on him."

"Very well.I'll let you know the moment he wakes. "

***

"Well, at least it's beginning to make sense," Nelson puffed nervously on a cigar as he paced in his cabin. Usually a cigarette man, he felt he needed something a bit stronger. "I don't know why I didn't put all two and two together. Any woman could have told us what all those symptoms together meant! Pregnant! It boggles the mind. And by those cretins!"

"Sir, please sit down,"Sharkey said, "you're makin' me dizzy and I still don't feel so well."

"Sorry."

"Do you think he's gonna' keep it?"

"And you Francis? What do you think he should do?"

"I ain't go no idea. I mean, it is a baby, after all, even if it is a monster. I just want the Skipper to know that whatever he decides, I'll stand by him. "

"I'm sure he'll appreciate that, Francis. It won't be too much longer before we know."

"Gonna' come as a shock to him, that's for sure..Sir? It's gonna' be okay. It'll all work out in the end, you'll see."

'"I wish I had your faith."

"I'll have enough for both of us..."Sharkey grinned, and left Nelson to brood alone.

***

It had been over an hour since Lee had awoken and Doc had told him the 'awful truth', and Nelson was increasingly concerned Lee hadn't sought him out.

"The Captain topside?" Nelson asked quietly as he entered the Control Room.

"Yes sir," Morton replied. "Did he say anything to you?"

"I haven't even seen him. Chip, Doc told me when he filled Lee in, he didn't say a word. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Is he alone up there?"

"Yes. About a half hour now."

Nelson gripped the ladder, "Thanks Chip."

Taking a breath he climbed up and out of sight.

***

Lee was leaning over the coaming as the sea gently lapped against Seaview's hull.

"How are you feeling?" Nelson asked.

"I'm okay," Crane said without turning, "I guess it was kicking or something."

"That's not what I meant."

"I know. I'm just having a hard time accepting the facts, Harry. I know what Doc thinks I should do. He told me how you feel as well. I'm just not sure how I feel. Can you face the fact that I might keep it?"

" As much as I don't like the idea, I'd like to think I'd accept whatever you decide. Lee," Nelson ran a hand through his hair, a nervous habit more his companion's than his, "When I think of what those bastards did to you...we'd be reminded every daywe look at it, even if you could carry it to term."

"Which of course Will thinks I'd die trying...it could be Ty's and mine, you know."

"I realize any offspring formed between you and he would have been conceived in affection, even love,but...I honestly don't think that would make that much of a difference to me. I'd help you with it of course, provide for it, but I doubt I could actually love it. "

"I don't even know if I can," Lee said deathly quiet.

"The whole thing is unconscionable. An alien/human chimera..."

"Chim..what?"

"A chimera, a genetic merging of two different species. That's bad enough, but borne by a man? It's unnerving, twisted, unnatural..."

"Unnatural? Look at us," Lee almost laughed sourly, "a good sized world population thinks a union like ours is unnatural and yet we have a love that's deeper than any ten oceans. I know what you mean though. The poor kid would be just as alien here as I was up there..." he sighed. " I keep asking myself if I have the right to put it through that kind of life. Constant examination and evaluation, even ridicule and abhorrence. And then the government would probably get itself involved, and the'scientific community', the press. It's hostage in by body just as much asI was hostage on Centaur. But then," Lee added softly," I remember the laughter of the Centaurian kids,just like the kids here. Harry?Children areinnocent of all our philosophical differences of opinion. Please, Harry, tell me what to do."

"I can't Lee," Nelson shook his head, "Chip's right. This is your decision. No one else's."

"But you're my partner, my lover, my all, my everything...you have as much right to share in the choice..."

Nelson touched Lee's lips with his fingertips. "No, Lee, not in this...." he looked up at the stars, "Don't stay up too late, you look worn out."

Nelson went below but not before he heard Lee say, "Damn, I wish I had my Mom. Tell me what to do, God,because I just don't know."

^***^

"Expecting company Doc?" Starke asked the next day as he saw Jamison anxiously awaiting the flying sub.

"Admiral Nelson told me he'd called in some specialists to help Lee make his decision."

The hatch opened, and Sharkey emerged, then bent down and extended a hand to his first passenger.

"Mrs. Crane?"

"Hello Admiral Starke. It's good to see you Commander Jamison."

Just then Ski emerged, helping to put Sassy on deck.

"And you too, girl," Will petted the dog and smiled.

"Welcome aboard Mrs. Crane," Morton came forward, "You're just in time for breakfast."

***

"More juice Skipper?" Cookie practically hovered.

"No thanks, but I sure could use some coffee...when's it going to be ready anyway?"

"Uh, working on it, sir, working on it...you know the breakfast rush."

"Do I smell something a little musty?"

"Well, her fur is a little damp, " Mrs. Crane said grinningat the doorway as Sassy bounded in, practically smothering Lee.

"Mom! Sassy! What....this was your idea Jamie, wasn't it, and here I was thinking you were tough as nails... does the Admiral know?"

"Was his idea," he laughed. "He thought you could use some special friends just now. Help you think things through. And I wholeheartedly agree."

"Are you okay Lee, really?"she asked.

"I'm fine. I think, anyway..."

"Then prove it by having more than a few bites of those scrambled eggs on your plate."

"I think I'm beginning to see an ulterior motive here..."

"No, just a motherly suggestion dear," she grinned.

***

"So, Mom," Lee asked as he helped her unpack a little later, "how do you feel about maybe becoming a grandmother of a half breed alien?"

"I'd be delighted to spoil any grandchild. That goes without saying, honey, even it's green."

"And if it's not mine, really? If I'm just a surrogate host? Harry said then I wouldn't owe it anything but..."

"But?"

Lee began to pace around, the dog taking step beside him. "I'd almost agree with him, except that it..." he paused, "Mother, I've never been so confused in my life. I've had myfill of all the pros and cons, whatever it's genetics turn out to be, from Will, Chip, even some of the crew. The situation's opened up a can of worms. Is it right to carry it to term? Is it wrong? What of it's rights? What of mine? The debate's endless. And now the SecNav and President have gotten involved. Doc had no choice to appraise them of the situation. They haven't ordered me outright to get rid of it, I donít think they can unless it's a threat to national security,but it could cause a real panic. But it's not as if we're being invaded by pillaging raping barbarians from outer space."

"And the Admiral...Harry? What does he think?"

"Well, he's not thrilled with the idea of a step-alien,that's for sure," Lee tired to make light of it, but the pain of Lee's tortured mind was all too apparent.

"Then knowing all you do," she said gently, "without having to consider anything else, how Harry or Chip, or Jamie, or me, or the entire world, or even God feels, what would you like to do about this child?" she smoothed a stray curl from his forehead.

"I think you already know."

"Well, if I don't know how my son's heart works by now, I've been living on the moon, or maybe Centaur..."

"Skipper?" Jamison spoke over the PA. "I have the DNA report. Admiral Nelson and Mr. Morton are waiting with me Sick Bay."

Crane picked up the mike, "Have you told them the results yet?"

"No, I felt..."

"Good. Don't. Shred it. I've made my decision."

"But," Nelson's voice came over.
"Mr. Morton?" Lee continued, "Start start processing the paperwork for my... maternity leave."

^***^

"Will!" Nelson complained, as Jamison stood in front ofthe Admiral's desk. "I demand..."

"I'm sorry sir. The information is privileged. Unless the boat's threatened, I can't divulge if the fetus is actually the Captain's or not.I still think he's making the biggest mistake of his life, what's left of it, if he goes through with trying to have the damn thing..."

"All right, all right," Nelson said, exasperated, "I know the problems involved. We've all gone over them enough times but maybe... maybe you can tell me if it might grow up to look a little like Lee?"

"Centaurs all look alike to me."

"Damn it Jamie!" Nelson shouted.

"You'd better make that leave with an open ended date. Unless either of you can tell me just how the gestation period is...god, I can't believe I'm saying that."

"You will help Lee through it though, won't you Admiral?" Morton asked," protecthim and junior?"

"Junior?" both men said simultaneously, increasingly unerved.

"Well, we've got to give it a name eventually..."

"I've spent most of my time aboard Seaview trying to keep Lee Crane alive," Jamison said, "I'm not going to stop now...and for his sake, I'll include the anomaly."

"Just a while ago you wanted to cut it out of him," Morton sniped.

"Enough," Nelson ordered wearily, "We'll never come to an agreement asto the right and wrong of this whole thing. Lets just try to support Lee the best we can."

***

"Tommy?" Sharkey read from a printout of baby names.

"Nope," Lee said, as he puffed on the treadmill in his NIMR sweats, Sassy on her own treadmill next to his.

"Edward?" Lee's mother said.

"Hmm. Maybe."

"Lyle?" Morton offered.

"I kind of like that one..."

"You know," Sharkey said, "some of the guys think Kal-el would be good."

"As in Superman?" Crane chortled, "The kid's going to have enough grief. Let's not make it worse for him."

"Okay, you can stop now Skipper," Jamison said and checked his pulse and heart then his abdomen as Sassy hopped off her tread and met Crane.

"Skipper?"Sharkey asked as the dog tilted he head in front of Crane's tummy, "is she listening to the baby?"

"I don't know..."

Suddenly Sassy wagged her tail, gave a little woof of satisfaction.

"How odd, how very very odd," Mrs. Crane said offering Lee a small orange juice as Doc logged a few notes on his clipboard.

"I'd rather have coffee."

"Out of the question. Doc doesn't want you to add any more risk factors."

"That's it. I'm going to die," Lee said.

"Oh, stop acting like a big baby," Mrs. Crane said, "And you just stop where you're going Chief, don't think I didnít see that little signal. No more coffee. He's allowed one cup a day to avoid decafinating headaches and that will keep getting reduced too."

"Chief?" Patterson entered the gym, "the Admiral's been waiting for you for ten minutes."

"Cripes, I forgot all about it."

"What's this all about Chief?" Crane asked.

"Oh," Pat petted Sassy, "he's taking the flying sub out again, wants to gather up some more rock samples."

"I don't suppose he'd care for a passenger this time?"

"That'd be great Skipper! Uh, if it's okay with the Doc..."

"As long as you're only a passenger, I have no objection."

"Give me a few minutes to change and I'll be right there."

***

Crane had just entered the Control Room with Morton when Nelson, scooping up some charts on the Nose table, climbed down into the craft, and dogged the hatch.

"Prepare to launch FS-1," Nelson's voice commanded.

Morton was about to say something, but Crane waylaid him with an arm on his.

Wooden, he listened and watched as the craft departed.

"Maybe the Chief forgot to tell him you were going along..." Chip said.

"He didn't forget," Lee said without emotion and slowly climbed up the spiral steps.

***

"How about Asdvadzadour?" Mrs. Cranesaid late that night, the printouts having grown to every conceivable name known. "This says it means 'God Given' in some ancient language...says here it's something called Armenian...."

"I know you're only trying to take my mind off Harry," Lee said, dressed for bed, and lounging on top of his bunk, Sassy at his side, "but I really am getting tired of going over all these names..."

"I can't think what got into him baby, the very idea...and back all afternoon and evening, with not a word to you. And I thought he told everyone to support you..."

"He did. He will, Mom. But I guess he's still angry that I made a decision without finding out what he and everyone else thinks is important."

"Well, I think it shouldn't make any difference if he really loves you as he and you keep on touting."

"Thanks, Mom. Please...look, if you don't mind, I'll go to bed now.I'm really tired."

"Of course dear," she gave him a sweet hug and peck on the cheek, " sweet dreams. Look after him Sass."

***

He awoke only once in the night. At first thinking it was Sassy's tummy rumbling. Or maybe it was his...a rythmic almost purring type of sound. Wondering what new exam Doc would want to make of that he drifted back to sleep determined not to say anything of what was probably the norm for Centaur babies.

***

"I'd hoped the samples would have told us more," Nelson picked at his breakfast in the Wardroom.

"Harry," Starke ignored the topic, "it's all over the boat you haven't even seen him since yesterday..."

"I had a lot to do."

"Boy, when you hold a grudge you hold a grudge. Have you any idea how your behavior must be affecting him?"

"I have a right to know if it's his!"

"Perhaps. Perhaps not. I don't know the legality stuff about your relationship, but Harry, he chooses not to know. He said he didnít want that knowledge to influence him."

"Influence him! Damn it Jiggs, we could beraising something that has no claim to him at all!"

"You know, you sound almost jealous. Even a little xenophobic."

"How the hell do you expect me to sound? It's an alien! Look, I'm prepared to tolerate this...thischild, albeit begrudginglyif it's..."

"If it's mine?" Lee said from the door.

"Lee, I already explained..."

"I know what you told me before I made my decision, that you might have difficulties. I can accept that. But the kind of support you'd promised, isn't exactly forthcoming," he sat down. "You haven't even spoken to me since."

"We still have a mission to conduct...I was busy with it. "

"And," Lee continued coolly, "you didn't wait or even acknowledge my presence when you took off in the flying sub. Are you that disgusted with me?"

"You should have allowed me to know the results," Nelson said just as cold, looking into his coffee.

"I didn't want my decision to be based on mere genetics."

"Well, it damn well should have been," Nelson said, without looking up once.

For a moment you could hear a pin drop.

"I seem to be ruining your breakfast Admiral," Lee quietly stood, "Good day gentlemen," and left.

"Well?" Jiggs asked.

"Well what?"

"Aren't you going to appologise? Go after him!"

"I am not in the habit of caving in to a little temper tantrum."

"No, Harriman," Jiggs stood, "You're just having a hard time accepting the truth."

"What truth is that, Jiggs."

"That Lee's doing what he thinks is the right thing. Now, maybe in the grand scheme of things, it may not be the right thing, only the future can say, only God can say, but Lee thinks it is, at least for him. And that is what should be enough for you."

***

"What gives? More rock samples?" Patterson asked as he took his seat in the flying sub.

"More like he probably justwants to get away from the Skipper," Ski said unenthusiastically.

"This kid's causing more trouble than it's worth and..."

"Shhh," Ski warned as short khaki clad legs began their descent into the craft.

"Let's get underway as soon as possible."

***

"Maybe I should put myself on report," Chip said as he placed another cup of coffee in Lee's hands and sat on Crane's desk. "For some strange reason, I can't help myself contributing to the delinquency of my Captain."

"Chip," Crane looked up from his chair, "I think I've lost him."

"Nonsense. He just needs time ... "

"Do you agree with me? About the test?"

"I understand your reasons, but I'll admit I would have liked to have known too. And he has some rights of his own, being, well..."

"But it's not that big a deal to you," Lee interupted.

"Ahh, but I haven't been sharingmy heart with you as he has. Lee, maybe you should let him know. Trust him to keep on loving you. And maybe even Junior, in spite of how he thinks he might feel right now. Things have a way of not always being what they seem."

"I don't know if I can now...." Lee rubbed the itchy areas between his fingers.

"Have you been handling the Admirals' rocks lately?"

"If I didn't know you meant the kind from the crater, I'd say you have a wicked sense of humor," Crane laughed then looked at his hands a little bit more closely. "Chip? Is there anyone aboard that knows a lot about frogs?"

"I don't think so. Why?"

"I think we might have a problem," Lee showed off the beginnings of some webbing growing in between his fingers.

^***^

"He's turning into one of 'em,"McGillis was saying in the crew's mess, "I swear.Webbed fingers and toes today, bulging eyeballs tomorrow."

"Actually," Ski said, "My aunt Abigail had webbed feet. She said they came in handy for her university's swim meets until they disqualified her for having an unfair advantage...so she got 'em cut out. But only when her mom told her no man would want to marry a woman who looked like a reptile. "

"So, this might not be connected to some weird Centaur hormones floating around in the Skip's body right now?"Pat asked.

"Hell, I donít know. Aunt Abby was born with them, the skipper wasn't."

***

"Okay Lee," Jamison was saying as he extracted a miniscule sample of the webbing from Crane's hand," that should do it. I'll have the results shortly. Frank'll bandage that up."

When Nelson hadbeen notified Lee was in Sickbay, he'd rushed to be at Crane's side. "As soon as possible Will. I'd really like to get to the bottom of things..." he began to say, but then he remembered images of Lee's well formed derriere ashe and his partner had shared many anintimate time together came to his mind unbidden...along with a hard on.

"Excuse me, I just remembered something urgent," Nelson fled, grabbing the closest object he could find to cover himself.

"You'd think he could have waited five minutes," a disgusted Frank said sitting down at Crane's side with idoine and cotton.

"You know the Admiral," Crane said, "Something always coming up," he said with a slight smirk, glad only he'd had a glimpse of Nelson's emergency.

"I'd never have thought the Admiral was into animal husbandry," Frank said of the farming magazine the man had absconded with.

It was all Lee could do to keep from laughing out loud.

***

Nelson managed, barely, to make it to his cabin without embarrassing himself in front of anyone. A cold shower would do the trick. But as he lingered under the spray, he remembered some of the bath times he'd had with Lee... First shampooing each other's hair, then their chests, armpits, their...but suddenly in his daydream he saw Lee bend over to retrieve a washcloth, soapy bubbles on his glistening skin, then turn toward to face him, his fingers webbed, and Centaurian eyeballs on the top of his head....

 

"Admiral Nelson? Admiral Nelson sir? Are you okay?" Sharkey's voice ebbed in the mists of his mind.

Warmth surrounded him as a face came into view.

"Wha..."

"Easy sir. Don't try to get up," Ski said, wrapping another towel around him, "Doc's on his way," Ski said.

 

***

"He's fine..." Jamison assured Crane.

"But why..."

"Leave it alone Lee," Nelson said as he buttoned a freshly pressed uniform.

"I think I have a right to know..."

"Like I had about," he pointed to Lee's belly, "it?"

"This is different! You could have died, fainting in the shower, and hitting your head on the tiles."

"And you could die carrying....'Junior'! If it's even yours."

"You just can't accept it not knowing if I'm a surrogate or not can you?"

"Did you stop to think I might? You didn't even give me a chance!"

"You said all along that..."

"Lee honey?" his mother's voice came over the intercom, "Can you come down to my cabin? Your dog is acting weird."

"Be right there," he clicked the mike.

"Tell her I'll come too," Nelson said pulling on his shoes but Lee had already rushed out.

***

"I doubt it was a snub Harry," Starke tried to sooth Nelson's ruffled feathers in the Control Room. "Lee was just concerned about the mutt...she was whining for no apparent reason."

"Well he could have waited for me before he dashed out."

"Oh sure, like you two are really understanding of each other's feelings lately. You know, speaking of feelings, there's an unconfirmed rumor that you passed out because you were jerking yourself off to fiercely."

"I passed out because I envisioned Lee turning into a Centaur. Scared the shit out of me. My beautiful boy clothed only in soapsuds, then turning into that hideous monster. And I was not jerking off. Well, not much anyway."

"Mr. Morton?" Sparks called out, "We're getting some radioactive type interference, but it doesn't register as radioactive...like the rocks."

"Get the Captain up here, and tell him to bring the dog; maybe she's sensing something."

***

Just as Lee and Sassy ran into the Control Room, there were three booms and a burst of light.

"Look!" O'Brian pointed toward the Nose.

"You," the Centaur pointed his orb at Crane, "Cranelee. We return to Centaur."

"I'm not going anywhere! Who are you and what's this all about?"

"The child calls...the Centauryou bear."

"Excuse me," Nelson intervened, placing himself protectively in front of Lee, "But just whom is this unborn child calling?"

"It's other parent. "

"Ohmygod," Sharkey said.

"No. Herzog."

In a flash of light the Centaur and Crane had vanished.

 

^***^

"Well, well, well," Herzog said, as Crane stood before him in a bare white room so bright no walls were visible, "I knew I was virile but..."

"What do you want?" Lee asked defiantly.

"That is yet to be determined," a disembodied voice said.

Lee suddenly found himself naked and sprawled spread-eagled on an examination table, unable to move or speak. Blinded, head splitting, he heard different voices ...

"It is an abomination..."

"I did not hear you complain quite so much when it was Tylol who bore his child."

"Enough! Begin the examination...."

Darkness took hold.

***

"Hasn't budged," Sharkey said of the dog, who had not left her 'post' near the periscope island, "It's like she's waiting for him to come back."

"Get her out of here, she's in the way,"Morton said. God he didn't want to sound so harsh but...

Three booms and a flash of light later, the naked Crane materialized smack against the Periscope Island. "Ow. I sure wish they'd find another way to do this."

"Skipper!" O'Brian exclaimed, amid the surprized vocalizations of all the crew on watch.

"What happened up there?" Morton asked.

"I'm not sure....I don't seem to remember that much...wait, it's coming back...they...I think they did something to me..."

***

"Well, Jamie?" the pajama clad Lee asked groggily as he woke in the sickbay bunk, Nelson at his side.

"Apparently, the decision's been made for you. The fetus has been completely removed. Not so much as a scar. It's as if you never had it at all."

"You donít have to sound so pleased about it."

"Lee," Nelson said, "a lot of people were unnerved by the idea. You know I was. There's no problem anymore," he slapped Lee on the shoulder, "It's for the best."

"Who's best? Yours?" Lee sat up and Nelson was going to give him a little assist when Lee shook him off, pulling on his robe, "I can make it without your help."

"Apparently," Nelson walked out in a huff.

"Wait," Jamison followed," I've seen this kind of reaction before," he whispered, "from miscarriages, even willing abortee's. He'll get over it. Call it a kind of post partum depression or separation anxiety. Oh, there's no sign of the webbing on his hands anymore either so you don't have to worry about him turning into one of them either. Just...go easy on him."

***

"May I come in?" Nelson asked from the semi open doorwayto Crane's cabin. He was lying down, Sassy draped over his legs, his arm under his pillowed head.

"Suit yourself."

"Still love me even though I'm glad it's all over?"

For a moment there was silence. Nelson was about to leave when Lee finally said, "Of course I do," and patted the bunk. Moving over for Nelson to sit on the edge."It's just...even the Centaurs called it an abomination. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised," he sighed, "Doc thought it was...but I can't help feeling we were both.. cheated. The baby and I. I felt it was part of me Harry," he lamented.

"We don't know for sure that it was. We'll never know, unless you ask Will."

"It wouldn't make any difference. You don't understand.."

"Of course I can't, Lee. I've never been pregnant...but I know even surrogate mothers feel some pretty strong ties. Doc explained it to me. You need to let it go, Lee.It's over. Done with."

"I donít have much of a choice....I'd even thought of a name, did you know that?"

"What was it love," he ran a hand over Lee's curls.

"Artos."

"Artos...nice ring to it...where'd you hear of it?"

"I don't know. In some book of Moms' I think. Something to do with King Arthur or Merlin, 'of the immortals, divine', I think it meant, maybe 'bear', I don't remember."

"You look exhausted. Rest awhile. I'll wake you when it's time for dinner."

"I think I could use a nap. Harry? Iím sorry I let myself become mean spirited toward you, especially when you've been honest with me during this whole thing. I just...felt so isolated and alone, so alienated."

"That's an understatement."

Lee gave a quiet chuckle at that as Nelson kissed him on the forehead and let him drift off.

***

Lee drifted in and out of sleep, finding the familiar hum of Seaview's engines soothing, but he woke, startled to their suddenly pitiful squealing.

"Control Room," heclicked the mike above his head, "what was that?"

"Morton here, what do you mean Lee?"

"That squeal just now."

"Everything nominal on the boards...."

"Can you describe it?" Nelson asked.

"Sounded like a cat fighting a blackboard."

"Direction?"

"Iím not sure. I was asleep at the time."

"Are you sure it wasn't a dream Captain?"Jiggs asked.

Silence.

"Captain? Lee?" Nelson demanded.

No answer.

"Chip, get down there. You too Ski."

***

"He's not here," Morton's voice came through the PA. "Sassy's not either."

"Begin a boat wide search," Nelson ordered, "Sparks? Contact the S-E-A and the SECNAV. They may have taken him again."

"Found him sir," Sharkey's voice came over.

"Belay that. Where, Chief?"

"In the Reactor Room. He seems to be okay except he's talking to himself. Like he's not there, only half heard me..."

"Keep an eye on him. Don't do anything until I get there," Nelson replied," get Jaimie."

***

"Lee?" Nelson took Lee's arm gently, "Lee?"

"He's alive," Crane whispered, "Artos...he's hurting. I have to go back...Vlado will help, I'm sure of it..."

"I think you've been under a little too much stress lately," Nelson said as he nodded to Doc, panting from his race from Sickbay, already prepping a hypodermic.

"No!" Lee shouted as Will administered the sedative.

***

"Mnnff? Mom? " Lee asked drowsily from his drugged slumber in sickbay.

"And about time. You've been asleep two days."

"They didn't believe me about Artos," he said, sitting up disgustedly, "He called me,Mom. I'm sure of it. He's scared. He's so scared."

"Lee, honey, donít you remember? He never came to term, was never born.."

"He was aborted, yes,but...what if they've kept him alive somehow, trapped..."

"Oh my poor baby..." she turned afraid to show her tears.

"I'm not crazy. I know what I heard...what I sensed..."

"I don't doubt that you believe what you feel, Lee, but..."

"But you think I'm a nut case too?"he asked, his voice trembling.

"Lee, dear. It's probably just separation anxiety, or an attack of PTS..."

"It's not PTS or separation anxiety! "Lee rose, but held the bunk's strut to steady himself.

"Lee, honey....we think it's best for now that you go to Hollowdale for some tests."

"You're committing me to an insane asylum?"

The sound of something shattering on the deck, was followed by muttering and a hushed 'shhshh'from inside sickbay's supply room.

"Out, now," Crane ordered.

"Uh, I'm sorry sir," Riley said shamefaced, "I was doing inventory for Doc and I dropped something."

"That's right sir," Sharkey added, "pink stuff all over the place."

"Well, clean it up before he gets back and lays into you, but report it just the same."

"Aye sir." Riley said and turned tail back into supply, followed by Sharkey who closed the door behind them. While listening to the Captain's conversation had been unintended, at least he could give the mansome privacy regarding what had to be a rather touchy subject.

"It's not an insane asylum. It's a sanitarium, has thebest psychiatrists, the most up to date specialists, treatments..."

"I know you think you're doing what's best for me, but you're wrong."

"Then give us one shred of evidence Lee. Something to convince me, and Doc and Nelson and..."

"Harry thinks I'm crazy?"

"Well what do you expect? You were talking to yourself in the Reactor Room; there's no telling what you might have done."

"I'd never put Seaview or my men in danger!"

"They told me you'd thought that before and you did. "

"This is... different."

***

"Hollowdale? Are you sure she said that?" the Corpsman asked as Riley sat down to lunch gratefully.

"Yeah...what's wrong Frank?" Ski asked.

"Nobody ever comes out of that place. Nobody."

^***^

"What is it Chief?" Nelson asked stitting at his cabin's desk.

"Is it true sir? About the Skipper getting sent to an insane asylum?"

"Wha...oh," Nelson looked up, "Hollowdale is not an asylum. It's a sanitarium, and a research institute."

"Yeah well, there's just one thing you and Doc ought to consider, whatever they call it."

"And that is?"

"That the Skipper might just be right."

"You can't believe an aborted fetus in outer space is contacting Captain Crane?"

"Well sir, as I see it, weird things have always happened to him, and well, he's had pretty good instincts before, and he's had some psychic ability before too you know. He might not have tested positive for em', but he has sensed danger before it's happened and..."

"Coincidences, Chief. Finely tuned command abilities."

"You didn't think so when..."

"Chief. Settle. Granted, Captain Crane has a good head on his shoulders, but...Cigarette?"

"Uh, no thanks sir."

"But," Nelson continued, "I'm afraid this time I have to agree with Commander Jamison. Lee's delusional and could be a danger to himself and to others. Anything else?"

"Permission to say something else sir?"

"You seem determined to."

"It woulda' been your kid too, sir, in a manner of speaking. Don't you got any feelings for it?"

"Blast it Chief!" Nelson smashed his cigarette into the overflowing ash tray. "You think I don't know that? I want to believe Lee, if only for his sake, you can't even comprehend how much, but..I'm afraid he's rather gone off the deep end this time."

"Did you tell him sir? About wanting to believe him? You know sir, I remember something my grandmother always said. She said love's unconditional, but sometimes you just gotta' remind each other of it."

"So even if I have to turn him over to the men in white, if I tell him I want to believe him, he'll understand? I'm sorry Francis, I'm afraid your granny waswrong on that count."

"Beggin' your pardon sir, but if you don't mind my saying so, I don't think you know the Skipper as much as you think you do."

"That'll be all Chief, close the door on your way out."

"Aye sir."'

 

For a moment all Nelson could do was imagine Lee in a straight jacket screaming athim as the door to the padded cell was locked. Holding his head in his hands, he began to weep.

***

"You're sure Sparks?" Crane asked of the senior communications officer the next day.

"I checked and double checked all audio signals we got both times sir."

"Very well, thanks," he carried out the printouts.

"Skipper? Wait a minute?" he handed over to Ensign Vincentia and headed out of the Control Room with the Captain, "It's a good theory, especially the way Sassy was acting but..."

"I know, I know," Lee tried a grin, "Improbable and impossible, especially as sound waves don't travel the speed of light."

"Too bad the laser trackers didn't pick anything up like last time..almost as if they had some kind of cloaking device. Maybe I've been watching too much sci fi, huh sir."

"Well, don't we already have some of that technology?" Crane tried a grin then suddenly, pondering. "Wait...that radioactive like interference...radioactivity, isn't that a kind of light energy? Maybe that meteor's field masked, even bent their signals...rendered our normal reception blind....correlate all the data we have on our instruments again, but have the computer add those readings we picked up in the flying sub.

"You think maybe they're planning to come back?"

"Me, think? I leave that sort of thing to others."

Sparks was uncertain if that was intended as a joke and watched Crane head toward one of the labs.

***

"That's the fifth person Lee's spoken to today," Nelson frowned after Sparks had reported the Skipper's interest. "Did they hear anything, see anything, did their hair stand on end, any momentary glitch in equipment, etcetera..and now, the entire audio visual spectrum around the crater...It's one thing to unravel the mystery of how the Centaurs got through to us undetected, through our polorized net, but this is more...personal ."

"So, what do you expect him to do?"Jiggs asked, "Build his own transporter and beam himselfback to the planet to rescue a phantom fetus?"

"Maybe,"Nelson found himself pondering.

"You can't be serious! If even you weren't able to figure out their transporter orbs, why on earth would Crane think he could?"

"He can't. But that doesn't mean he won't try, and probably kill himself in the proces." He turned on the intercom,"Chip? I want a guard posted inside and outside of both the lab and the machine shop, right away."

"Sir?"

"Right away."

"Aye sir."

***

Lee was finding it harder to concentrate. Thecries of distress flooding his mind were weaker, but more incessant. He'd have to hurry before Nelson figured out what he was doing. Good thing he'd already done some preliminary work before the damn guards were posted. He was certain Nelson wouldn't even miss the old notes he'd made for the SEA from last time. And while nobody had managed to get the transporter orbs to work, they had made some headway on how they 'might' work.

***

"You notice anything...different about the Skipper?" Ski asked as he played cards with Riley in the crew's lounge.

"What do you mean?"

"He was hounding Sharkey about all those rock readings. Wanted details down to the last microsecond of their radioactive wave patterns"

"I got a bad feeling about this."

"What do you mean?"

"I'm not sure...C'mon. We gotta' see the Chief."

***

'I didn't want to end it this way,' Lee mused in his cabin as he finished soldering the plate in place, checking his calculations. He'd have rather had Nelson's input. But itall seemed so simple to him now. Maybe he was way off base, but Harry would place him under lock and key if he knew . Maybe the kid was telling him what to do. All he knew was that it made sense, a braided matrix, using sound,light, and radioactive frequencies. Nelson might forgive him whenthey were all in their graves and everything was just a memory. At least then he'd understand. At least then Harry would love him again. He checked his watch. Connors would be the Officer of the Deck right now. Reasonably bright, but a little slower on the uptake than O'Brien. Which suited Lee just fine right now. Sassy, poor baby, was understandably upset having been locked in the brig but there really hadn't been any other way. She'd have given the alarm. 'Harry...Harry, if you could only understand'.

***

"Checkmate!" Jiggs said proudly to Nelson in the relaxed atmosphere of the Wardroom.

"Sir?"Sharkey rushed in followed by Ski and Riley, "Sir, sorry, but I think maybe we got ourselves a situation. You know the Skipper's been askin' a lot of questions? Well, me and the guys were wondering, well, you think maybe he could figure out a gizmo to work like that Centaur orb thingy?"

"Figure it out no, make something to get him blown to kingdom come yes...that's why I put a guard on both the lab and the machine shop, why?"

"Well, maybe he ain't working on it in there..."

"Admiral?" Mortons voice interupted over the PA, urgently, "We have another...situation."

"Be right there."

***

"I'm sorry, sir," Connors explained, "I was busy with the charts and didn't give much thought to the Captain checking out the flying sub. None of the launch signals were active in here..."

"He must have over-ridden them. You have a fix?"Nelson asked.

"That we can track, but he's turned off the GPS as well. I've already laid in the course," Morton said, "he's taking her back to the center of the crater."

"Give it all you've got...or we may loose him forever."

***

"What aren't you telling me?" Mrs. Crane asked Nelson as Starke poured her a drink in the Observation Nose.

"Iím not sure, but it has something to do with the alien transporter device."

"Sir, "Sharkey approached, "he's got the dog with him or he's hid her someplace."

"Contact!" Patterson yelled from his station as Morton rushed to see the sonar screen then made a few alterations in Seaview's course and speed. In moments there was visual contact.

"What's he circling for?"Starke mused.

Suddenly the craft dissapeared in a flash of light.

^***^

"Well this is just dandy, Nelson!" The President yelled during the conference call on the Observation Nose monitor."Where the hell was your security! It was bad enough that Centaur got past our net. The polorization would work you said."

"We didn't expect.."

"And your CMO said he was certifiably nuts, so why wasn't he under guard? Why was he allowed the freedom of the boat? And now you say he 'heard' it, crying for him all the way from Centaur! A dead fetus for crying out loud. He should have been restrained!"

"Begging your pardon sir," Sharkey said defensive, "but if it was calling the Skipper, it wasn't dead."

"Maybe they put into some kind of nest oryolk sac or something," O'Brian added.

"Oh for Pete's sake!"Starke yelled.

"Enough!" Nelson said. "Chip, have someone check his cabin for any notes he may have made. If he used an orb to transport himself to Centaur, we have to make one exactly like it."

"To do what?" the President said, "Go after him? Sorry,Nelson. I can't risk you on some hair brained experiment. And that's an order. If he's dead he's dead. If he's disintegrated himself or gone and made himself a slave to the bastards let him. Starke? Seaview's reactivated to the regular Navy under your command as of now to insureNelson and his crew don't do anything foolish."

"We didn't pick up any signal, Mr. President, " the S-E-A head informed them.

"Doesn't mean it didnít work," Sharkey muttered.

"Oh shut up," Starke said, "Did anyone ask you?"

***

"The SecNav's called twice," Starke told Nelson, handing him a cup of coffee in the lab," Unless you answer, you and your crew will be charged with outright Mutiny. That's not all. Apparently S-E-A couldnít keep their traps shut. The press is having another field day....you think you got it to work right?"

"I'm not sure at all...I just have to go after him."

"Let me go instead."

"You?" Nelson was flummoxed.

"'m really just a desk jockey now...We need you here Harriman. I'm expendable. You're not."

"Jiggs, all these years and I've totally misjudged you...dear friend, I can't allow it."

"Excuse me," Frank interrupted from the door, "Mrs. Crane's just found a letter from the Skipper, she says there's one for you too..."

***

"Well?" Lee's mother asked as her own letter shook in her trembling hand, "what does yours say?"

Nelson simply handed it over, a lump in his throat....

 

Dear Harry,

 

Please understand I have no choice in this. It's not all in my head as my mother and Willand you and everybody think.Artos is weakening and my heart is bleeding for him. I don't know if he was taken by Herzog or by the council or what, but I have to rescue him!

 

I'm not exactly partial to Centaur, but I may have to stay there. It might even be for the best as our son can only expect a life of ridicule and examination on Earth.Notice I said 'our' son.Wishful thinking on my part. I'd hoped you would have come to accept him, not just as mine, but as ours. I've come torealize that's asking too much of you.Especially since the scientist in you demands to know that it has some blood claim on me .

 

I can't expect you to understand how I feel, noteven wanting to know. But I feel†† a kinship to this unborn soul like no other person I've ever known, not even to you.

 

I only wish you'd tried to believe me about him calling me. Even my mother thought I'd be better off in that damn asylum so how can I hold any ill will toward you for not even trying to trust me about this.

 

I can't explain it, but I knowhe's hurting!

 

Should I be unable to return to Earth, no doubt you'll have made a new defense net to circle the Earth again, be assured I will teach him all that is good abouthome, and you, and Seaview, and ...my heart's just too full of what I really want to say, suffice it here, that as you look up into the night sky and all the stars, know that I am doing the same, wishingour two worlds could be one.

 

I have to tell you I'm a little concerned about the device, hopingI got it right. I have uncomfortable visions of materializing insidesome creature's stomach or arrivinginside out, or maybe not even on Centaur. But this is something I have to do and there's no time for a test run and you'd never allow it anyway.

 

Mom is sure to be upset. She'll need your strength to get through this. I wish it didn't have to be this way. But I have no choice. Take care of her, and Seaview, and my crew and Chip and everyone.

 

I will be thinking of you all with every breath I take, for the rest of my life.I will love you Harry with every fiber of my being, for all time.

 

Lee

PS. Sorry about swiping the Flying Sub, but I really need a shelter of some sort if I find myself in hostile territory like the Forbidden Zone.

 

"Oh Lord," Nelson simply sat, still stunned, then, "May I see your letter?" Nelson asked of Mrs. Crane.

 

Dear Mom,

 

This is the hardest letter I've ever written, the hardest thing I've ever done. Part of me wants to agree with you and Will that it's all some horrible delusion, but I know in my heart that it's not. The simple fact is that I know the truth, but nobody elseis willing to believe me.

 

By the time you read this, I'll be far away, hopefully having rescued my son. But I don't know if I'll be able to return to Earth or if I'll want to. I told Harry ĖI wrote him a letter too- that I would teach Artos all that is good about it. But I can't help feeling a little betrayed by the way everyone's been treating me, andArtos.

 

Tosome, like the SecNav, this child was a 'thing', something to be wary of, just because he's an alien.As for Harry, torn up about thisfor my sake I know, but while he didn't actually say it, I know he didn'treally want it, and believed it's death wasthe best for me. But what's best for me is that you and he and everybodybelieve me when I tell you that this child is alive and screaming in fear. Of what I'm unsure of except that as he was torn physically from meand he'sprobably just as confused and frightened asme. It could also be that Herzog has some kind of evil intent. If it were honorable, I'm sure the child would sense it and he never would have cried out to me.

 

Take care of Harry for me? Oh, he'll be strong in public, but behind closed doors, he can be rather tender hearted, which is why his attitude toward this has been a bit confusing to me. I thought he loved me utterly but now...well, not as much as I have and will always love him.

 

Sassy will probably mourn for a while, so it might be a good idea to get her involved with some kids to play with now and then.I'm afraid we parted on bad terms as I locked her in the brig for my getaway.

 

As I wroteHarry, when you and Sassy look up into the night sky, I'll be looking at it too...even ifwe donít see the same stars, we're still part of the same tapestry of life.

 

Please don't hate me for abandoning you to a life of uncertainty regarding me. I donít know what the future holds. I may be dead when you read this and nothing more than dust in the cold blackness of outer space. But I may also be on Centaur, holding my son, and beginninga new life.

 

I love you Mom. Pray for me? I need all the help I can get.

Lee

 

"We'll bring him back," Nelson said, "God as my witness, we'll bring him back," he rose, "Chip, I want to go on TV."

"Sir?"

"What are you planning to do Harry?"Jiggs asked.

"Clear the air...and purge my soul."

***

".....And so," Nelson's explanation of events was re-broadcast nationwide, " it is with hope mixed with yes,a fair amount of trepidation, that we will attempt to travel to the planet Centaur , retrieve Captain Crane and Artos, and bring them back to Earth.I can only hope that you, as I , will welcome them home with open arms and kind hearts. Regardless of how youperceive the many conflicting issues in this most unusual situation, it behooves us on an interstellar andintergalactic scale to justify his faith in what Lee or Cranelee to many of you, used to call the 'good Earth' and her citizens. Command of both Seaview and the Nelson Institute has been given over into the charge of Commander Chip Morton whose ability is undisputed.I would like to add, now that my heart has been bared, that true love anddevotion, by whatever name you may call it,is unconditional, something I of all people,needed brought back to my attention, but somethingthatLee Crane never forgot. Thank you."

 

"...That broadcast from the submarine earlier todayhas resulted ina deluge of conflicting opinions from both civilian and government circles," one of the TV reporters continued, "regarding boththe Admiral's plans, and Captain Crane's sanity, as well Crane's devotion to a possibleoffspring most likely conceived by rape!The American Medical Association with the cooperation of the Secretary of the Navy has issued an ultimatum to Commander Jamison, Seaview's doctor, to reveal the results of a DNA test that determined parenthood or surrogacy of Crane. There has been no response from the Chief Medical Officer. Hardly surprising asto a man, the crew of the Submarine Seaview have rallied behind their Captain's wishes.. Do you have anything new as to a possible court martial Andrew?"

 

"...Just hearsay at present. However, Congress has met in aspecial session to determine what if any rights the alien hybrid might have should Captain Crane be able to bring it back to Earth.....what?" he listened to his earphones, " Oh, I apologize, I've been informed a hybrid is a mutation of one species, this creature, if it has survived outside of Crane's body,is technically a... I'm not sure if I'm pronouncing it correctly, a chimera, an offspring from two separate species. The word I'm told actually has its origins meaningmonster. I think I'd prefer to call it a half breed."

 

"...Wouldn't any result of such union result in the offspring's sterility? I seem to remember that Mules are the offspring between a horse and a donkey, none are able to reproduce. Wasn't therealso an incident of what was termed a 'humanzee', believed but never proven genetically of a union between a chimpanzee and a human? It was reported to be a genetic nightmare withinconclusive testing for it's parentage. While it had some human type characteristics, including quite a sex drive, it never developed the ability to communicate, and was shunned by Chimpanzees as an outsider...would this Artos also find itself outcast by both the Centaurs and us humans?"

 

"...That mystery may never be solved should even if Crane and Nelsonfind the aborted fetus on the far off planet, if these transport devices even work. We will continue to bring you the latest in the weird but true saga of Captain Crane, aka Cranelee.. Good Night."

 

"Any idea how they're coming along?" Ski asked as he turned off the TV in the crew's lounge.

"Not well, that's for sure," Pat said, "I could hear them cussing in the lab and..." he let it go.

"And?" Ski asked.

"The Admiral was telling Starke he still thought the Skipper was delusional but he'd be damned if he'd let him rot on Centaur without him."

***

The first thing Lee had seen when the lights quit flashing in front of his eyeballswas a landscape all too familiar.

 

The first thing Seaview and the world saw some time later was...

 

"...Venus! That's right ladies and gentlemen, the SEA has verified that the makeshift transporter has not taken Crane to Centaur as he planned, but to Venus. As you remember the Centaurs used the planet as a scouting outpost but later abandoned it..."

"...Do we have communication with him yet?" another asked.

"...SEA says they and theSeaview have been working on it...they only just managed the visual transmission from the Flying Sub's nose camerasand...."

"...Shit! Shit! Shit!" Crane's voice came over loud and clear via the open radio still tuned to Seaview's frequency as he apparently had re-entered the vehicle slamming the hatch..

"...He sounds berather...irritated," the reporter said.

"...Should've trickedHarry into making the damn thing ...ow!" Crane yelped. "You're a real jerk Crane, can't even get yourselfto the right planet!"

The sound of something sizzling was augmented by another 'ow!' and a louder 'omph!' and a sour 'That went well..."

"...It doesn't seem as if the Seaview is getting through..."one of the reporters said.

Suddenly the flying sub was tossed and the image of the Venutian landscapeflickered and failed.

 

"Get it back! Get it back!" Morton ordered Sparks.

"I'm trying sir! The transponder indicates it's still transmitting, we just can't see or hear anything."

"That doesn't make any sense. Use the infrared, ultraviolet, anything!" Nelson ordered.

 

"...We've lost the sign...wait...something's coming in..looks a little weird, distorted, and the color is odd."

The forward cameras were tilted as two centaurs zapped into view.

"...I thought you said they would not be able to figure out the braided matrix!"

"...He landed here because of pattern signature you left last time! "...Do not blame me for your ineptitude! At least I was able to erase it should they try again. It will destroy any of them attempting it again.."

"...Ineptitude? You are the one who..."

"...Enough!" another Centaur walked toward them. "Scour the area. We cannot have Cranelee snooping."

"..You should talk...are you certain the bastard was destroyed?"

"...Do not be stupid. Cranelee only heard what he wanted to hear. The truth is all the more elusive."

"...Well, I think he should have been allowed to bear the child."

"...And I think you are an imbecile if you think any life form conceived between Cranelee and one of us could possibly be worth saving. Now, check the vehicle for anything that might be of value."

Another tremor jiggled the image..

"...Perhaps later?" one of them asked.

"...Cowards," the leader said.

Another tremor, harder, longer.

"...Or perhaps not," he said and the three vanished in a flash of light.

Now the quake turnedviolent. The dust it brought with it also brought the soud of coughing, as Crane came into view, wiping the trail of blood from his forehead.

"...Magnetic, I need something magnetic...if I can even fix this damn thing..." he turned sharply as if hearing something.

"...view, Seaview to Crane...come in Skipper, come in...."

"...Shit, they're talking to me!" he hurried to what was left of FS1. It took a few moments for everyone to hear, "Crane to Seaview, can you read?"

"...Lee?" Nelson's voice asked, " We had you on the nose cameras; are you badly hurt?"

For a moment all anyone on Earth or Seaview saw was 'snow'. After a few heartbeats they were treated to a rather lopsided view of Crane on the TV monitor viewer from inside the craft, now a tangled mess, half buried in rock and debris.

"...Crane to Seaview... do you read? I can't see anything but a blank cracked screen."

"... We have audio and visual outside and inside the flying sub, Skipper," Sparks said.

"...Are you okay?" Nelson's voice asked.

"...Oh, this?" he indicated his forehead, "Just a bump. The only things really damaged are the flying sub and my ego."

".... Lee, be careful. There are three Centaurs after you."

"...Any idea what they want? Where am I? I think it's Venus."

"...SEA confirms Venus. No, we don't know what they want, butI have a feeling it's more a case of not wanting you to find them than having you find out something... I'm sorry Lee, they all but admitted to the child's destruction. Hold tight and don't try anything stupid. They've done something to that beam, a braided matrix they called it, that will kill anyone using it. In the meantime, how are you set up for life support?"

"...Minimal. First Aid kit, some glucose tablets, a littlebottled water, a couple of candy bars... I don't suppose either you or Chip remembers seeing the Centaurs eat any of the local vegetation here from last time?"

"...Afraid not Lee," Morton said.

"...Are there any life forms you can observe?"Doc asked.

"... Just me and really poisonous looking plants, don't know if they are, they just look creepy....Harry? Are you sure about Artos? Maybe you misunderstood. I can't believe what I've been feeling and hearing is some kind of separation anxiety like Mom says."

"....I...I hope you're right Lee.Do what you can to conserve power. The transponder's shows it's on battery. We'll contact you every 4 hours. You put some iodine on that cut. Hold on Lee, just hold on...I'll thinkof something, I promise."

".. I know you will Harry. Is my mother there?"

"...I'm here baby."

"...I love you Mom."

"...Oh Lee..."

"...Chip? Take good care of both my best girls, Sas too... Harry? I meant what I said in the letter. 'For all time',remember that if, well, if things don't work out here..."

"..They will. I know it. And remember, if I haven't said it before,I am and shall ever be, yours, Lee. Nelson out."

***

"No sign of him," Morton entered the Wardroom. "Missed the last check in we tried and now this one."

"He may be out taking a pee for all we know," Starke said hopefully.

"You don't believe that," Nelson said, "I keep having visions of him being torn apart by some Venutian plant monster....not that there are such things, but..."

"Getting a signal sir!" Sparks came over the PA and turned on all monitors on the boat.

 

"...What does this do?" the Centaur looked into the flying sub's TV monitor as he turned more dials.

"...Apparently nothing...Did you see the look on Cranelee's face?" he laughed.

"...Priceless."
"...I am finding myself uncomfortable with this change of plan."

"...Ours is not to reason why."

Tremor.

"...The stabilizers are about to loose all functioning. Soon the planet will revert to it's normal atmosphere before it was a scouting outpost."

"..Burn or freeze to death. The Council should never have abandoned it."

"...Better than spend the rest of our lives in the Forbidden Zone. Still, we will find another planet for our hideout soon.."

"...As long as it is not Earth!" he laughed heartily as he turned another knob and effectively turned off the viewer.

^***^

"I'm not sure if that's what it means, " Jiggs said in the Control Room.

"He's alive at least, or was....I just with I knew what they did...or are doing to him," he fought the bile in his throat remembering the past torments.

"Let's not go imagining things, Harriman..."

"That's all we can do!"

***

"Okay, okay!" Lee yelled groveling in the dirt of the cave, "Turn it off!"the sound of 'Artos's'; wails was pounding in his head, " You win, so I'm stupid to have believed it was real.Turn it off already!"

The Centaur clicked the oblong unit off. The 'cries' ceased.

"So, Herzog," Crane gasped, getting his breath back, "Why the harassment? What are you really up to? And Artos was no abomination!"

"The offspring you and Tylol concieved cannot be called anything else! As for letting the Council believeI was the other parent, let us say it I knew it would merely add fire to your torment. I had no idea they would actually transport you to Centaur to destroy the thing."

"Then you had nothing to do with it?"

" I was still under guard, and brought out of the Forbidden Zoneto witness it."

"I don't believe you."

"Of course, I did mention to the Council that it would be advantageous to add an implant into your brain. To study humans on a more intimate level.Is it my fault it malfunctioned from the beginning, and that you equated it's signal of such to us with your poor dead child?" he laughed. "Such a delightful diversion it was too. Enough so that I was able to elude my jailers and join some of my fellow expatriates on the lam, I believe you call it. This place had some residual power and a few supplies, an ideal hideout while we stockpiled more from various sources,including your sun's.

 

"That you would actually build a transporter in an attempt to rescue your child you believed to be in some sort of exoplacentia, well, you exceeded any of our expectations regarding your intelligence or lack of it. At least on Centaur you would have had some friends," he laughed. "As for now, I believe we have some unfinished business."

***

The sound of static filled Seaview, then before Sparks could announce it the image formed on all the monitors....

 

"...These look familiar," the Centaur poked the other with a spear gun, who wasfiddling with the unfathomable control knobs.

"...Cranelee used something like them to 'fish' on Centaur."

Suddenly Herzog appeared, Crane fighting the invisible wrist restraints.

"...Have you engendered another bastard on him?" the first snickered.

"...Time is too short. We will not be long on this planet."

"...So you think this new plan of yours will actually work? We were simply supposed to be hiding out here awhile, not destroying Earth."

"...What do you mean?" Lee gasped.

"...It was not my originalplan when I joined you," Herzog told the Centaurs, " But since Cranelee's arrival, it was opportune and is now accomplished. You see, my dear Captain, you have just been exposed to the Rychelian Flu my companion picked up enroute here. Mildly unpleasant in Centaurs but deadly to the earth primates our labs experimented on some years ago. I can see it now, all your fellow earthlings dying horrific deaths, and you, immune due to some lingering Centaurian hormones in your body, blaming yourself for your poor dead world. And all because of a malfunctioning chip in your brain sounding like your poor dead child!"

"...You had better hurry and send him home," one of Herzog's companions said, "Or we will not have enough power leftfor ourselves to flee this sector. And there certainly is no compatible power source from thisvechicle..in fact, my gauge saysit is loosing power rapidly."

"...Wait!" Lee said urgently, "In the locker, over there; If you're condemning Earth to disaster and me to a life of hell, at least allow me religious ritual."

"...Do not be so absurd," Herzog said.

"...Even your enemies are entitled to such things by law," Crane said.

"...That is true. Let him have his last rites," one of the Centaurs said, " He is not going anywhere."

Lee's restraints were zapped free and under the watchful eye of all and Lee opened the arms locker, took out a grenade, held it, closed his eyes, then looked at Herzog. " No, I'm not. But neither are you," he pulled the pin just as the signal to Earthfailed.

^***^

"The fact remains we don't know if he...if he...if he blew himself up," Nelson said, eyes haunted, in Morton's cabin, the sound of Lee's mother crying next door.

"Admiral," Chip said gently but as firmly as he could, "There's really no doubt of it, is there? You have to let him go."

"NEVER! And until I have proof, I will NEVER....never," he suddenly changed his tone to a bare whisper, "never give up hoping...somehow..." he lost it completely then and collapsed, his head buried in his hands, in tears.

Morton had a lump in his own throat as well, but he had to be strong, for Nelson, for the crew, for Lee's mother, and for everyone but himself.Gently closing the door behind him, Morton faced a gaggle of equally upset crewmen in the corridor.

"Whadda' we do now?"Sharkey pleaded.

"Our jobs...just as the Skipper would want," Morton said softly, "Ski? Give Will a hand with Lee's mother will you?" and headed back to the Control Room.

***

"Harry?" Jiggs finally disturbed him, finding him just sitting, staring at a photo. "Want to talk about it?"

"There's nothing to say. Lee's dead. Jiggs, I know you're only trying to help, but I'd rather be alone just now."

"The President's holding a news conference in about a half hour..."

Nelson looked up, "Why Jiggs? Why did this whole damn thing have to happen?"'

"I don't know old friend. Sometimes there just aren't any answers...when was that taken?"

"Aboard Nautilus. Lee had just been welcomed into Neptune's kingdom..."

"He seems to have enjoyed the crossing the equator ceremony."

"Yes, he said being a pollywog for a few hours did wonders for the over inflated ego of a rather newly commissioned officer," he laughed softly, "But you know, his wasn't over inflated by much. It was right where it should have been, andhe had more confidence in me as his Captain than I had in myself. It was a little...intimidating...but I knew, even then that boy was going places. I just didn't know then how far he'd travel.....how far..." he saidthen flung his over full ash tray across the room, "all the way to Centaur and Venus and....oh god, Jiggs, why?

"Excuse me sir?" Sharkey knocked on the door.

"In," both Admiral's said in unison.

"Well, uh, me and the guys have been wondering...sir...and we gotta' know. Was it...was it painful for him?"

"Instantaneous," Jiggs said.

"I...I'm not sure Francis," Nelson said, "but he knew it would be worth it to save us."

"No greater love...that's what it says in the Bible don't it sir? What he did."

"That's right..."

"Well, I gotta' run..I just wanted to know."

"Thank you Chief."

"Huh?"

"For putting it into perspective," Nelson said and clicked the intercom. "Chip? Surface."

"Harry?"Jiggs asked, confused.

"I just want to look...up"

***

"The President's coming on sir," Morton said as he joined Starke and Nelson in the conning tower.

"Lee always liked rainbows..." Nelson only half heard as one was partially hidden by the clouds.

"A fitting tribute," Jiggs said. "Come along Harry."

***

"...Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States...."

"...Thank you. I'm sure I don't have to inform you of the events which have unfolded recently. I am here as Captain Crane's Commander in Chief to publicly inform his family, his shipmates, and his countrymen that his sacrifice will be remembered. It was with deep humility that I've authorized a secondMedal of Honorbe awarded him.

In spite of whatever your personal feelings regarding his personal life, I would hope even those will recognize that their lives too are owed him. There are no words I can offer to lessen his loss to those closest to him, I can only say that I, all of us, are again eternally grateful to him and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and shipmates now."

***

"I thinkhaving a drink with Starke is doing him some good," Jamison said, joining Morton in the Wardroom for an overdue meal. "Not that he wouldn't rather talk to you Chip. He probably will later. If he keeps it up, he's going to havea hell of a hangover tomorrow."

"The Admiral can handle his whiskey, Will."

"Not this time...you okay?"

"Not particularly. I been feeling a little left out of things actually. Why didn't Lee tell me what he was planning to do? I wouldn't have ratted on him going after his child, even if it turned out to be a phantom of his mind."

"How could he? As Acting Captain it would have been your duty to stop him...you know that...and you would have...wouldn't you?"

"I suppose. Doesn't make me feel any better though."

***

"Damn it all Jiggs," Nelson scuffled Sassy's fur gently at odds with his frustration, "What if...what if some horrible Venusians eat him?"

"I think that's the whisky talking. Perhaps you should go to bed for a while."

"Lee's good in bed, it's all be cold and empty now..."

"Excuse me sirs," Sharkey approached, "S-E-A wants your notes on the Skipper's transporter..."

"I can't even go up there and get him back!Damn Centaurs, messing up it's operation, messing everything up...messing up our lives...killing Lee..."

"Chief," Starke whispered, "Tell the S-E-A we'llbe in touch."

"He deserves a decent burial!" Nelson yelled. "And a proper funeral! One with Presidents and Kings and Queens, and Popes and things...and a military fly by, and a memorial in the Capital Rotunda, and..."

"Sharkey, wait a moment, help me get him to his cabin."

"If I could figure out their braided matrix, I could go get him..."Nelson was becoming a little incoherent.

"Harry, you're not thinking straight," he said as Sharkey held Nelson's other arm, "Bring him back and we're all dead too."

"That's right...some kind of primate flu...primate...pri...Chief! Get me Professor Gates...I know I'm drunk, but this is too important..."

"Yes Harry, we will, " Starke said, "but not until after you've had some rest in your quarters."

"No...Lee's cabin...I want to go to Lee's...feel him there, his scent, sense him..."

"All right Harry, all right...that's it, lean on us..."

***

Jamie had probably put him into the pajamas he'd found himself in this morning, and Sassy had been sleeping beside him on top of the blanket. Thepillow did indeed have Lee's scent on it. Nelson often kidded him about he hair taming gel. The cabin looked so...deserted. It wasn't of course. Personal possessions lay about, as Nelson ran his hand over some of them. His comb in the head, musty laundry in the hamper, a dress white uniformin a plastic bag in the closet, waiting for him to wear or...or to be buried in.It was all Nelson could do to pull himself together, shower, and change into the set of clothes somebody had placed over Crane's chair for him to find. He hadn't noticed the empty photo frame on the desk...Lee must have taken the particularly nice picture of them together on the bridge...there was a note under it...

 

Sorry, Harry, I had to do this.

 

It was then that his drunken comment of last night took on a tangible plan.

***

"Admiral?" Sharkey knocked on Nelson's door.

"In."

"Here's that info you wanted about the time and positioning of Earth and Venus when we lost the signal."

"Good, good," Nelson said, hardly looking up from all his calculations.

"Uh, you helping SEA with fixing the net?" he asked hopefully.

"Not exactly.I'm trying to calculate how the Centaurs altered it. Sit down Chief. I need you to promise me you won't interfere and that you won't tell until I've left, but...I'm going to Venus, to bury the Captain. Professor Gates confirmed that yes, several viruses can affect humans like primates so there's really no doubt thatI'll be as contagious as Lee even after a grenade blast, so I can't return to Earth.I'll need a few supplies for the duration. The Centaurian technology that's keptVenusinhabitable won't last long. No way to tell which will be quicker for me ,the disease or the climate. I realize it's a kind of suicide, and burying Lee isn't much of an excuse to give at the Pearly Gates, but I can't argue the point with myself anymore...are you with me Francis? Will you help me? Will you let me do this?"

"I..."

"It's not an order. But I am asking you as a friend...."

"What do you need me to do?"

^***^

"Heya, Sas," Morton greeted the watchdog outside of the lab. "Admiral?" he knocked

"Uh, Not right now Chip," Nelson's voice carried, " I'm in the middle of something rather important."

"Sorry sir."

"Problems Commander?" Starke asked meeting him halfway down the corridor.

"No sir, it's just..."

"He's been avoiding you too has he?" he indicated the lab.

"Like he's obsessed helping SEA."

"SEA? They told me he only confirmed a few theories with them, hasn't spoken to them since...."

Both men quickly retraced their steps.

"Harry? Open up, it's Jiggs!"

"Go away. I'm busy."

"That's an order!"

"Captain Morton?"Starke raised an eyebrow.

Chip reluctantly pulled a master key from the dog tags he wore with the Captain's keys on it an turned the lock.

"What the..." Jiggs exploded seeing the lab filled to capacity with wilderness supplies, a desalinization unit, masses of scribbled notes and erasures on stacks of printouts. But most damming of all was a chalk sketch on the blackboard of a transporter unit and it's inner workings and a model on a workbench.

" Looks like you're planning a long trip Admiral," Morton said, "Dehydrated food, camping equipment..."

"Chip please."

"I'm sorry sir," he picked up the unit,"Admial Starke, would you please escort Admiral Nelson to his quarters. This is going in the safe."

"Probably wouldn't have worked anyway," Nelson muttered.

"No hard feelings sir?"

"No, I understand," he headed out the door, the men following him, but as soon as they had walked a few paces, Nelson shoved the men aside, and dashed back into the lab, slamming the door behind him.

Suddenly there was the sound of three large booms, as Seaview curtsied.

"But..."Starke said confused, looking at Chip's box.

"This must be a decoy!"

"S-E-A has a wave pattern coming in," Sparks said on the PA, "heading, Venus."

***

The first thing Nelson realized was that it had worked and worked well. He was at the flying sub's scattered remains.And he had a stowaway who had either dashed in behind him, or was in the lab at the time he zapped himself. Sassy was taking an active interest in the bits and pieces around her. There was no trace of any Centaur or human remains. Apparently any remaining scrap of man or metal had been consumed in fire. Then Sassy began to nose at something...something glittering in the light. It was a melted golden ring with a black onyx stone. "Lee..." he whispered. Nelson reverently scooped it up, with the few ashes beneath it. It was ghoulish, holding what was left of his lover like this. Perhaps it had all been a bad idea to come here. Perhaps it would have been better to let the planet take him, ashes and all. Sassy suddenly perked up her ears.

"You, human," the Centaur said, "Wait. I mean you no harm...Sassy?"

"Who are you?" Nelson asked as Sassy ran around the alien, delighted with him.

"My name is Vlado and..."

"Vlado? Vlado as in Tylol's Vlado?"

"You have heard of me?"

"I'm Harry Nelson. Admiral Nelson. Lee Crane's...Cranelee's special friend from Earth."

"Nel-son? He is not going to believe this. In fact, he may be angry."

"He's alive? He didn't die in this...conflagration?"

"Our systems received your flying submersible's transmissions. The council transported Cranelee to safety on Centaur just microseconds before the weapon was discharged...he is quite undamaged. His enemies however...well, Herzog will not be troubling us anymore. I came to check when it was learned the pattern from your transporter came from the submarine. Stand near," he checked his orb to make sure everything was in range, and clicked it.

***

Nelson was getting antsy. Vlado had tried to make him comfortable in Tylol's former home, now his, but part of Nelson's mind wondered if it was some kind of cruel trick of the virus, and if he was hallucinating. It was taking forever for Lee to get here, if here was really 'here'.

"Harry? Harry?" Lee's voice preceded him as he ran down the corridor to the living area but stopped short. "Wait! Stay there," he ordered Nelson and Sassy. "Isit true? Did you pick up my ring? Anything close to it?"

"Yes Lee."

"Oh god, what have you done... I'm contagious. Deadly to humans. I'm not sure about dogs."

"I knew that when I made this trip," Nelson approached, Sassy plunking her paws on Lee's shoulders," We saw the transmissions too."

For a moment they simply stared at each other, then melted into each other's arms.

"Why Harry?" Why did you do it. Why condemn yourself todeath and exile just for..a bit of dust?"

"You deserved a decent burial... Lee, I'd rather spend what's left of my days with you than without you. Bittersweet though they may be."

**

"These primates?" Nelson asked the curator of the science archives, incredulous, of the creatures encased in preserving fluid. "And these are the slides of the virus?" he continued.

"Yes Nel-Son. The trapper had the flu and the monkey's died...we examined them and discovered it killed them."

"No, no it didn't. They were already sick. It's a form of HIV, a deadly disease, but only transmitted via body fluid...an airborne flu had nothing to do with it."

"You are certain?"

"Give me some time, some equipment, and I'll prove it to you scientifically, for both our worlds."

***

"I'm not sure I can Lee," Nelson said as he pulled he spongy comforter over them that night, "Not here. Vlado's right next door."

"Yeah, these stone walls aren't as sound proof as Seaview's."

"Hah!" Nelson laughed, "Seaview's cabins aren't sound proof at all!"

"Harry, I'm sorry I got you all into this..."

"And I'm sorry about our son."

"Just saying that 'our' to make me feel better or do you really mean it?"

"A bit of both. None of us knows how we really feel about something until we face it. I learned that when I thought I'd lost you...then all you believed, all you loved, I believed and loved, even when I knew I didn't really.Kind of crazy I guess..."

"Not to me," Lee held him close and soon it didn't matter to either of them if the whole town could hear them as their bodies merged into one heart and soul again.

***

"Mr. Morton!" Sparks call woke him up. "We got something. A really really weird something. It's forming in the Nose."

"Be right there."

***

"Looks like a kind of movie hologram...seems to be in a loop," Morton said of the bluish image with light streaks in it.

 

"Recording ready to transmit...key Chip....recording ready to transmit...key Chip..."

"It sounds like Nelson! Er...Admiral? "

"Recording ready to transmit...key Chip..."

"Admiral! Can't you see me? Can't you hear me? It's Chip!"

 

Nelson came into view "Lee's alive. Chip, first let me say I'm sorry I had to trick you. But I was a bit desperate. Oh, I'm not on Venus anymore. I'm on Centaur. Sassy's here too. We're being very well treated. And I'm not contagious, neither is Lee.

Turns out they misdiagnosed the monkeys. I'll be sending the World Health Organization all the proof they'll wanteven though they may want us to be quarantined for a while when we come back , but I honestly think that would be a complete waste of time.

Speaking of time, I'm using most of mine to study what I can of the place, the technology, and Lee's using his helping Vlado with his popcorn orders and discussing possible trade relations with the Council. Set up a meeting with the UN will you? We'll have a better hologram by then. Nelson out."

"Recording completed, key Chip to replay..."

 

"Uh, later..."

 

The hologram dissolved.

It didn't take long for the stunned silence to erupt into celebratory noise.

"Pipe down, pipe down," Chip ordered, "We still have to get Seaview home. Home for her Admiral and Captain."

"Amen to that Mr. Morton!" Ski grinned amid even more applause.

***

"Shit! Shit, shit, shit!" The Centaur stomped into the kitchen.

"Vlado, what is it?" Nelson asked, perplexed as the Centaur hardly ever used what he knew to be profanity, even human.

"I'll go bankrupt! No one to take care of my business..."

"What are you talking about?"

"I have been..."he searched for the word, "drafted! I am to be Centaurs' official representative to your world. An 'Ambassador'.I have to go to the...United Nations, which makes no sense because these same countries are continually battling each other with words and weapons.And when they take one look at me....they will want to eat me! I know they eat frog legs on Earth."

"No, No...."Nelson soothed him, "They know you're no frog. Centaurs are not on the menu. And," he added, "Lee's seen to it that they never will be. On pain of exile to Venus! It's law now. You and your fellow planetarians will be quite safe. As for your business, let me give you a hand. I come from money. I'll show you how to delegate more...hire the best employees and managers to cover for you. Why, you'll come back as if you'd never been away."

"You are sure Nel-son?"

"My word on it."

"Then I will be satisfied."

"You trust me that much?"

"Cranelee does. That is enough for me. Where is he by the way?"

Nelson hesitated, "The Head Councilor is going to show us Lee's fetus. I'm on my way to join him there now."

"It will be...difficult for him, but I am glad he is allowing himself to find...closure. Nel-son?I do not believe the child would have been a monster as they all feel. I think it would have been...a miracle."

"Lee's right about you. I'm honored to call you friend, Vlado."

***

"I can't help feeling so foolish...letting a malfunctioning implant sway me, "Lee said as he saw the fetus floating in the large vial. There was no doubt it was not on any kind of life support, and it was quite dead, with signs of decay already having taken place.

"There was no implant," the Councilor said after a pause, "Herzog deceived you. I am sorry I delayed telling you but we were unsure how you would take it and...sometimes there are no explanations.Perhaps...you simply wanted to believe it so your mind deceived you as well."

"I suppose."

"What do you want us to do with it? There are bids from various collectors and scientists."

"No. No, don't give him to anyone. In fact, with your permission, I'd like to perform a small ceremony."

"As you wish."

***

Big doings were going on below on Earth as communications between worlds had increased in number and quality. Some humans were mortified that soon there would be Centaurs immigrating to Earth as new residents, mostly scientists but that was even worse. What if they were simply candy coating their quest for knowledge and only really wanted to enslave humans? Contingency plans for such a possibility had already been developed and just about all world leaders were optimistic about the new age that had been thrust upon them.

 

Morton had little time to join in any debates. He was being deluged with the business at hand after having secured Seaview in port, running the Institute in Nelson's stead, and unhappy about Starke offering assistance when assistance was not asked for, nor required, well, not much anyway. Again he wearily headed out of Nelson's office and into a pile of visitors strategically spaced in the waiting area by Angie to await their turn requesting interviews and introductions when the new Ambassador arrived. Chip was more than a little upset with himself that he'd been having resentful thoughts that he was stuck doing all the work while Nelson and Crane played Flash Gordon, or was that 'Flesh Gordon'. His good humor restored, he greeted another visitor.

 

The delivery of furniture to Crane's on base bungalow wouldn't ordinarily raise eyebrows. But when the broken bed that had had no time to be replaced before their adventure was removed from the premises, it did raise a few libido's. Even Sharkey, supervising the workmen, had to keep a straight face. And it didn't help that the new bed being delivered was a king sized monster in ultra chrome boasting multi level angles and remote control vibrators.

 

Mrs. Crane was grateful to be at Lee's town apartment and away from reporters hovering at the Institute. She knew full well he had hardly spent any time there. But still she had dutifully stocked the pantry, checked for cobwebs (and found none), baked cookies (peanut butter chocolate chip, especially popular with Morton who helped 'test' them out) for her son's imminent return.

***

"I'd like to thank you all for coming," Lee said to the small assemblage in the dark of a starlit sky, "back home a lot of people would probably call this crazy, some might not, and most wouldn't know what to think. But I'd like to say that for the brief time I bore Artos, I felt a kinship I still can't explain. A unity I think you might call it...a unity within this whole galaxy...and so, I send the mortal remains of Artos to be scattered into the stardust that we all share," he nodded to Nelson who pressed an orb, zapping the small urn out into space which then exploded into brilliant bits of light in the night sky.

"That was very moving Cranelee," Vlado said somberly.

"Indeed, though I still do not understand it," the Councilor said.

"It is enough that Cranelee did," Vlado said, finally leaving Crane and Nelson alone.

"Well, that's it then," Lee said.

"I think Artos would be pleased Lee."

For a moment both just looked up into the sky, pondering again as they had on Earth, the universe and their small part in it.

***

"...We are in the General Assembly building of the United Nations in New York City," the TV reporter said, " where the moods have beenrangingbetween excitement and caution. This is a red letter day for the history books."

The sound of three loud booms, then a flash of light interrupted.

"...Ambassador Vlado?" the speaker asked, and received an affirmative nod from Nelson, "Welcome to Earth. Admiral Nelson, Captain Crane, Sassy? Welcome home."

 

After the applause settled down Vlado took his place at the podium, "I was supposed to give a speech about the good will we seek between our worlds, but I do not think that is necessary. I have seen it myself from your welcome here and from three who have been ambassadors themselves on my world. I had my doubts at first. I thought of Cranelee, correction Captain Crane, little more than a pet of my master Tylol. But he soon showed us that our worlds were not all that different in that both have their share of the good and the bad, theignorant and intelligent. I thought of Nel-son a man of incredible foolishness to risk everything for the one he loved and thought dead. But I understand now that it is neverfoolishness to love. I thought of Sassy as a nuisance, but now I see her as man's best friend, and hopefully a Centaur's too. What I am trying to say, is that as long as we can remember kindness, compassion, and justice, our worlds will continue to live together in peace."

 

"Damn good speech, for a Centaur," Jiggs said from his office at ComSubPac.

"Admiral Nelson looks remarkably fit, "Lt. Cmdr Jackson said, "but Lee looks haggard. Look at those dark circles under his eyes..."

"He's had a lot of work thrust upon him," Jiggs said, suddenly stifling his vision of just what kind of work Nelson might have inflicted.

 

"...We will now accept questions from the press," the Speaker continued after the applause calmed.

"...Ambassador?" the first asked, " Is there anything in particular you'd like to see on Earth before you begin your duties here?"

"...Well, I have heard a lot about your popcorn, salted and buttered."

"...Will you be living in New York?" another asked.

"...I will be maintained at the Nelson Institute and commute here until I wear out my welcome."

"...By beaming yourself over the continent?"

"...It will be faster than rush hour here, I am told."

Laughter

"...But," Vlado continued, "When it is inconvenient, I will maintain myself at..."he looked at Crane, who mouthed something, then continued, "at the multiple dwelling place called The Plaza."

"...What is your opinion of the half breed mutant scum that will result from Centaurs and humans of either sex?"

That reporter was booed and hissed at by many, applauded by a few.

"...You do not have to answer that Ambassador," the Speaker said.

"...No, it is good to have..discussion...how I feel? I feel the child the Creator made between Cranelee and Tylol was a miracle, like all children everywhere. If you have difficulty with the concept perhaps you yourself would rather not have been conceived as no parent will ever be good enough for you."

 

"That's tellin' him!" Lt. Cmdr. Jackson said.

"Shhh."

 

"...Will your beaming technology become available to the masses?"

"...That is yet to be determined, but I believe it will become a better mode of transportation than what you have now, but itshould it be..."he searched for the word, "licensed. It would not do to materialize someplace unintended like at the bottom of the sea, without a submarine to support you."

Laughter

"... What do you think of the excavations in the caverns of the Forbidden Zone. Do you think Humanoids made first contact or was it the other way around?"

"...I do not know, I was not there. I think knowledge is important. I welcome learning more of these from ancient legend.."

"...Will you do any dating here?"

"...I do not understand..."he turned to the Speaker who whispered an explanation, then, "Ah, companionship selection. I do not know, perhaps it will be best to wait and see."

"...Ladies, Gentlemen," the Speaker said, indicating the clock, "Thank you for your attention. Ambassador Vlado has an appointment at the White House and we should not keep him from it."

"...I look forward to my duties Mr. Speaker," Vlado said nodded acknowledgement for the applause then returned to his companions.

"...Sorry about that one question Mr. Ambassador," Nelson said.

"...Vlado to you Nel-son, and to you too Cranelee. I do not deserve that title of respect from those I respect more. And it was a valid question if uninformed."

"...You go ahead, I'd like to visit someone," Lee said as the secret service guards gathered around the Ambassador.

".. Don't be late..."Nelson said.

"...I won't."

***

Thewoman watched as Lee leaned over the ferry's railing, waiting in greeting, as she'd done for so many before him. An ordinary man doing extraordinary things, helping her hold her lamp just that bit higher, a symbol of all that was best of her land, and now by sheer chance, her planet.

"You seen her before?" the old man next to Lee asked as he joined the tour group.

"A few times. Can't help but be impressed by her every time though."

"Yeah, kinda puts a lump in your throat right there...gonna' climb up?"

"Not today, I just want to look at her..."

And he did. Soaking in all the ambience that was Lady Liberty. It was all too soon that he had to go join Nelson and Vlado at the President's party. With one phone call he could have had a Navy helicopterpick him up. But there was a quicker way and not at taxpayer's expense. He took the small mini 'beta' version orb the Centaurs had redeveloped for earth, made the location adjustment and vanished just as the school kids were pointing and yelling 'Cranlee!'

***

"...Apparently," the reporter chuckled on the evening news, " Captain Crane isalready using the reconfigured Centaurian beaming technology, but not with complete success. When he finished touring the Statue of Liberty hetransported himself to the White House. But,he landed smack in the middle of the busy kitchen, startling one of the servers and bumping the platter of appetizers out of his hands onto the floor. The Captain was effuse in his apologies ,and was about to help up the mess when Chef Henry arrived. Aghast at his culinary creations splattered all over, he was quick to alert security not recognising him. Suffice it to say the Captain was late to the meeting with the President."

"...How embarrassing. Good thing hedidn't materialize in the bathroom when the First Lady was visiting it!"

"...No doubt when these transporters become readily available, there will have to be more refined Global Positioning safeguards installed. Well, that was the day that was. Good night."

***

"Everything ready?" Angie whispered to Sharkey in the crowded Crane bungalow. Most of Seaview's crew were in attendance, spilling out onto the patio and the grounds, and of course, Vlado was most interested in this latest ceremony.

Suddenly the lights went out and Mrs. Crane emerged from the kitchen carrying a round cake, lit with a mass of candles. After everyone sang 'Happy Birthday' to Lee, he managed to blow out the candles in only two puffs.

"What'd you wish for Skipper?" Ski asked.

"I didn't. I already have everything I could possibly hope for," he said simply.
"Amen's" and "you can say that again's" reverberated through the house.

Lee gave Nelson an undisguised look of adoration, his mother a big hug, Sassy a scruffle of her fur and Vlado first dibs on a finger tip of thick butter cream frosting before it was cut for the guests of honor and an additional industrial sized cake Cookie contributed came out from the kitchen for everyone to dig into.

 

It had been a very pleasant evening and soon Crane sat, legs outstretched, the picture of contentment and a happy tummy, as the last of the guests had departed.

"There's just one more ceremony Lee," Mrs. Crane said, "Admiral? Chip? Vlado?"

As they gathered around Lee who sat up, alert now as to what could possibly be next, his mother retrieved the only unopened present, a small box with a little bow on it, and opened it. "The President wanted to do this properly, with a full honor guard, but knowing how you feel about such things, I managed to convince them this would be better," she pulled out the medal and placed it in his hand.

It was the new Medal of Honor. There was anetching of a sun rising over the curve of he earth, and a few stars just above a rainbow.

"Yes, they thought a change of the face of it would be betterin your case. And to top it off, Kowalski designed it. He didn't want anyone to know, but...I thought you should."

"He's got a real artistic talent, that boy," Nelson said. "Lee?" he noticed Crane's eyes watering.

"It..its all a bit overwhelming, more than last time...everything..."

It was Sassy who broke the silence while everyone pondered the gravity of the past weeks, by bringing Lee her leash.

"Looks like somebody needs a walk," Nelson said, "I'll take her Lee."

"No, I'll do it, besides, I'd like to go visit the boat awhile..."he placed the medal gently on the coffee table.

"Of course."

"I do not understand..." Vlado said, "he has already checked onit's seaworthiness after we returned..."

"It's an earth thing, dear," Mrs. Crane said.

"Ahh," the Centaur said, not enlightened at all.

"Well, I think it's time for bed," she continued, "Will you be staying the night Harry?"

"Not tonight. Wonderful party my dear."

"Thank you."

"Good night Vlado, sleep well."

"I will refresh well."

"Nite buddy," Chip added to the Centaur who would be staying with the Crane's.

Nelson grinned and departed with Morton, then as they parted, retrieved something from his own bungalow then headed to Seaview's berth.

***

He didn't hurry, allowing Lee some time to be with himself, and Sassy her...uh...needs. Finally Lee had strode up the gangplank, been recognized and permitted to board his beloved Seaview, the guard helping Lee bring Sassy down the ladder.

Lee meandered down the Control Room, slowly, gently running his hand along her familiar bulkheads and equipment as he headed aft.

"You know," Nelson said from behind him, "I've said it before, but that could be considered somewhat erotic."

"I thought you might follow me...I just needed some time alone."

"I know Lee. So, how about some Jell-O and whipped cream?"

"On top of birthday cake and ice cream?"

"That's not exactly what I had in mind."

It took a moment for Nelson's comment to sink in.

"I think," Lee poked a finger into Nelson's chest, "you've been looking at too much Centaurian pornography and that quack sex doctor on TV."

"Call it...scientific curiosity?" he pulled out a small tube of flavored edible gel from his pocket and winked.

Lee laughed, then sultry, "Come on then, let's get Sas settled first,then we can experiment in peace."

***

"I'm sorry I'm late," Nelson strode into his office the next day.

"I'm sure you had some things to attend to," Angie said.

Indeed, Nelson hid the vision of he and Lee attending to certain, uh, things last night and this morning aboard Seaview.

The glowing warmth of Lee beside him, convincing him in no uncertain terms that he preferred the plain unadulterated Nelson to any 'special' enhancements, except maybe the snackable lube.

"Are you okay sir? You look a bit flushed."

"Oh? I'm fine. Just gotin a little more exercise than I'mused to today, that's all, now what's on the schedule for today..."

***

"Oh, my aching back," Ski complained as they finished the scrub and polish detail on Seaview, "glad we only have one more cabin." He opened the door and sucked in his breath at the sight. "Not again."

Thebunk was tilted at an odd angle, hell, the entire unit had broken away from the wall, cracked and broken plastic and metal bits scattered on the deck.

"The skipper keeps telling the boss not to go with army surplus," Pat said in spite of the fushia smear on the messed sheets, the tube of edible gel in the wastebasket.

"What's takin' you bozos so long..." Sharkey was saying before he too took in the situation. "Uh, you guys go get your lunch...this can wait."

Squeezing out the door before their commanding officers should appear, they ran smack into Crane. Bearing a screwdriver and a box of nuts and bolts in hand, he'd showered, shaved, and appeared to be the epitome of military discipline. None of the men could bear the thought of embarrassing their beloved Captain and one could almost see the wheels turning in their heads trying to figure out something to say to defuse the situation. In the end, it was Sassy who came to the rescue, as she ran into the cabin and jumped onto the lopsided bunk, breaking it further.

"Maybe we oughta' make stuff on the boat more dog proof, sir," Sharkey said, relieved.

***

"Aren't you guys hungry?" Riley asked Ski and Pat.

He was waiting for the food service worker in the prep-area insert a nozzle of pressurized filling into an ťclair until it dripped out of the other end.

"You don't look so good Pat," he added, as two 'snowballs' were topped withmaraschino cherries. "Man this is a tough choice," he said as he picked up one of the corndogs on it's stick and held it next to the curved jumbo bratwurst on his fork.

"Gee I donít know," Ski broke down," I've never had wiener envy!"

***

"Commander Jamison to see you Admiral," Angie said on the intercom.

"Will?" Nelson greeted him at the door, and ushered him into the sanctuary of his inner office."You're not due back yet. What gives?"

"When I found these at the symposium, I just I had to let you know about these new supplements. I can't vouch for how effective...what...?"

"I've come around to Lee's way of thinking. No extras. Except maybe the flavored gel."

"You can't believe that crap on the Dr. Whoopdeedo show?"

"Donít knock it till you try it," Nelson smirked.

"Well, I'll be..."

"Give me a few minutes to finish up in here, and I'll tell you all the ...scientific observations."

***

If Lee's mother was upset by her son's absence the previous night, she gave no indication of it as she finished feeding him,Vlado, and Nelson a wonderful supper of fried grasshoppers (similar to glipeds on Centaur), vegetable medley (for all) and hamburger casserole (for Harry and Lee).

"And now for dessert. I fixed your favorite Lee. Chocolate cream pie heaped with whipped cream and..."

Lee couldn't stop the chuckles.

"We, uh, had something that tasted like whipped cream earlier," Nelson said.

"Yeah, we really licked and filled up on it," Lee said and broke up.

"I do not understand the humor," Vlado said, as confused as Mrs. Crane.

"Private joke," Nelson's own chuckles were turning into heavier laughter.

"Private joke?"Valdo questioned.

"It's anotherearth thing dear, I'm afraid we have rather a lot of them," Mrs. Crane said to Vlado. "Perhaps you'd care to eat your dessert with me on the porch."

"I would be delighted."

The two left Crane and Nelson behind to laugh it off and it was a full half hour before the two finally managed some decorum and joined them in the twilight.

"There," Lee pointed, "the first star of the evening, Venus actually."

"For real?" Vlado asked.

"For real."

"Is it true about wishing on a star?"

"No, but it couldn't hurt," Lee said. "What would you wish for Vlado?" he softly stroked Sassy.

"That I would have met you, all of you, long ago."

 

For awhile the small family group simply enjoyed the early evening but soon the bugs came out and while Nelson and Mrs. Crane retired to the relative safety inside, Lee and Vlado enjoyed a makeshift snack of catching the flying insects with their tongues and comparing notes so to speak.

"Yeech," Lee's mother said watching them from the kitchen window.

"An acquired taste Lee tells me," Nelson said as he took over washing the dishes,

"I suppose I'll have to learn. Will you and Lee be staying here tonight? I don't mind either way, except I'd rather you don't sneak off like a couple of teenagers. And I now how it must be, wanting a little time to yourselves."

"Very kind of you Mrs. Crane. We've decided to bunk here tonight."

"It's 'mom' to you now, now and forever."

***

"I'm not sure I can, Harry, her being right next door."

"It's not that she hasn't been close by before..."

"I know, but..."

"You know I built this bungalow with soundproofing."

"Yes, but.."

"What is the problem?"

"We're out of whipped cream lube, " he winked.

***

Soundproofed or not, even Sassy could sense the laughter coming from inside her master's room as she curled up in the special bed at the side of his mother's, sound asleep. The joy from within Crane's room gave off a tangible presence, Vlado knew as well. He looked up at the night sky from the big window in the living room, and while the Centaur knew he could not see any familiar star, he knew that thanks to Cranelee, it didn't really matter, for in effect now,they were no longer worlds apart, but right next door.

 

Hours later, sated from the comforting passion with Harry,Lee pulled a corner of the curtains above the bed open and looked out at the night sky having heard what soundeda little bit likepurring. He knew there weren't usually any stray cats about...perhaps...well,maybe in the grand scheme of things..."goodnight Artos," he whispered and went back to bed, finally, and utterly content.

 

The End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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