Originally published in The Nexus Chronicles, Volume 1, April 1992

Chance Encounter


October 1980

Spread out along the sparkling blue Pacific, the Nelson Institute of Marine Research basked in the rays of a golden autumn sun. Whistling brightly, Commander Lee Crane made his way to Admiral Nelson’s office, where he was scheduled to meet with a guest researcher whom they would be hosting on board Seaview within the next couple of weeks.

Lee took the steps of the Administration Building two at a time. Reaching the landing before the large glass entry doors, he stopped short as the main door flew open and a tall young woman hurried out, barreling into him and nearly knocking them both over in the process.

He reached out to steady her, smiling broadly as he recognized his assailant. "Whoa, Lynn! Do you ever go anywhere at less than flank speed?"

His assailant looked up and grinned impudently. "Hey, why walk when you can run?" Doctor Lynn Murtagh countered, laughing. "Hello, Lee. I’m sorry about the crash," she offered, spreading her hands in apology.

"Apology accepted, and hello yourself. I almost didn’t recognize you. That’s not your usual style," Lee said, indicating her businesslike white crepe blouse and grey tweed slacks.

Lynn smiled and looked down at her attire ruefully. "Yeah, well, these are some of my ‘going to see the Admiral’ clothes. I have to get dressed up once in a while. Good thing these have pockets -- I’d be lost without them," she said, sliding her hands into the seam pockets of her slacks.

"Yes, I’ve noticed," Lee said with a grin.

She ducked her head and smiled in rueful acknowledgment. "You’ll be relieved to know that I’ll change into jeans and a tee shirt when I get back to my office, however."

"And the world will once again be restored to normalcy." Lee grinned. "How’s our dolphin?"

Lynn’s eyes lit up. "Oh, she’s doin’ just fine. The veterinary team from the Palmer Institute was able to develop a protocol to treat that mutated bacteria I found when we had her on Seaview, and Polly responded almost immediately, thank heavens."

"Polly?" Lee asked. "You finally named her?"

Lynn nodded. Yeah – once I knew she was on the way to recovery, I gave her a name."

"Polly?" Lee asked in surprise.

Lynn shrugged. "I named her after a silver and white cat we had when I was a kid. We found her near one of the barns, mauled half to death by God-knows-what, and nursed her back to health. My baby brother named her – and we still have no clue where the name came from. They share the same survival instinct, so I thought it was appropriate," Lynn said, looking past Lee to the concrete walkway that led past the grassy quadrangle beyond the Administration Building. "Polly’s still over at Palmer, and they think she’ll deliver a bouncing baby dolphin in a couple of months -- a healthy baby dolphin, or so their test results say. They’ll transfer her back here when she’s finished treatment for the bacterial infection, and she should be here in time to deliver the baby here. It shouldn’t be too much longer – Polly will be here around the middle of December, and the baby should arrive in late January. And then the Nelson Institute will have its first infant dolphin. I can’t wait."

Her green eyes glowed with an eagerness which was so infectious, Lee couldn’t help smiling back. "That’s good -- I’ll pass the news on to the crew. Kowalski and Riley keep asking me if I’ve heard anything about her, and I’ve had to disappoint them."

"I’m sorry I couldn’t get the news to you earlier," Lynn apologized, again looking past Lee, "but by the time I heard anything encouraging from Doctor Czachur, Seaview had left again. You know, Lee, Ski and Riley were really a big help to me with that dolphin. I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done without them – they did almost all of the donkey work so I could concentrate on my work in the lab. They deserve a lot of the credit for her recovery."

"I’ll tell them that. I think they’ll be glad to hear that they’re appreciated."

"Maybe I can send you something you can slip into their personnel jackets?" Lynn asked. "Make it an official attaboy?"

Lee nodded. "That’s a very good idea. Thank you."

"Good – I’ll interoffice it to you by tomorrow morning."

Lee noticed how Lynn continued to glance behind him as they spoke; it seemed almost as if she were looking for something…or someone. "Are you waiting for anyone?" he asked casually.

Lynn jumped and seemed startled by his question, her green eyes momentarily flashing with something he thought was guilt, but she recovered quickly. "Oh, no, nobody," she hastened to say. "So, what have all you guys been up to lately?" she asked innocently. "Anything interesting? Or maybe I should say anything you can talk about?"

Nice change of subject, Lee thought, not fooled at all by her maneuver. He decided to play along, though, and see in which direction Lynn attempted to steer the conversation. He already had a good idea that her eventual destination was tall, blond, and blue-eyed, but he had every intention of allowing Lynn to do all of the necessary navigation. It would be a great deal more entertaining that way.

"Oceanographic research," Lee replied, hiding a smile. "Mapping the ocean floor, tracking currents, planting instruments. Pretty much run-of-the-mill stuff, I’m afraid, and boring. But we’re going orca-hunting in two weeks. One of your colleagues will be with us. I’m on my way to meet him now."

"I’ve already had the honor," Lynn said dryly, with an expression of disgust.

"Is that who you were running from?"

"Is it that obvious?"

"Judging from the expression on your face? Yes – more than obvious, in fact."

"Calling him my ‘colleague’ is giving him entirely too much credit. He’s here on a grant from some foundation or another. Personally, I think they’re just wasting their money," Lynn said dismissively. "You know, he’s only been here for three days and he’s already managed to alienate the entire Cetacean Department staff and most of the rest of the Marine Biology Department. He’s rude, and he’s condescending – a real sweetheart. And, to top it off, we’ve all been invited to a reception for him tomorrow night. Nobody wants to go, but they can’t have an empty hall, so Commander Emery has been personally asking each one of us to go, sort of as a favor to him." Lynn smiled wryly. "That Lucius, he’s such a sweetie. How can you say no to somebody like that? So we’re all going."

"It’s not easy," Lee said, wondering how Lucius Emery would feel if he knew that his staff thought of him as a ‘sweetie’. He didn’t think the feisty little man would be too pleased. "So you’re going to the reception?" Lee asked.

Lynn nodded. "Everyone from the Cetacean Department, for Lucius, if for no other reason. Not that there is another reason, the way everyone detests Losero. I hope the food and music are good – they’ll be the night’s only saving graces."

"And if they’re not?"

"We’ll show our faces, then cut out and head for a bar that has great food and an even better house and make our own good time."

Lee laughed outright at her honesty. "That sounds like an even better plan."

"That’s why we’re keeping it in reserve. So, Lee, tell me -- how’re the rest of the crew? You know, Sparks, Cookie, O’Brien, um, Commander Morton?"

There it was, that final name, said so formally and tacked on almost as an afterthought, though Lee knew better. I knew you wouldn’t let me down, Lynn, Lee thought. "Everyone’s fine," he replied. "Cookie’s menus haven’t been quite as inventive since you left, O’Brien can’t find anyone willing to play Name That Tune with him anymore, and I don’t think Chip quite knows what to do with himself, now that you’re gone. He got pretty used to looking after you."

Lee saw the light in Lynn’s green eyes change, and heard the forced lightness in her voice as she answered. "Oh, I don’t know -- he’s probably more relieved than anything to see the back of me. My dolphins and I made an awful lot of extra work for him. He doesn’t need that kind of aggravation. Being XO gives him more than enough to do."

"For some reason, I don’t think he really minded," Lee said gently, noticing a brief spark of acknowledgement flash in Lynn’s eyes before disappearing as quickly as it had come. She knows I know, he thought, and he realized that meager sign was all he’d get from her. Knowing her habit of hiding her deeper emotions – much like a certain executive officer of his acquaintance, he reflected – he considered himself lucky to have gotten that much of a response. He certainly hadn’t had any more luck with Chip, and God knew, he’d tried.

"Well, say hello for me, okay?" Lynn asked in a low voice.

"I will," Lee agreed. "I think he’ll be very glad to get the message."

"Maybe," Lynn said, then looked at her watch. "Gotta go -- I have a cetacean veterinarian coming in to examine my dolphins, and I have to change into something more appropriate for the exam. This outfit won’t stand up to salt water for long. Take care of yourself on your next cruise, okay?"

"I will. You take care too, Lynn."

"Thanks – I will. And hey -- good luck with Losero."

Wearing a perplexed frown, Lee stood on the landing and watched Lynn until she disappeared from sight around the corner of the Administration Building. She and Chip confused him no end, and had right from the very beginning. Whenever Lynn needed to be on board Seaview, Chip happily spent most of his free time with her. They ate virtually all of their meals together, and Lee knew Chip was a frequent visitor to the lab Lynn used on Seaview and to the tank compartment where Lynn’s three dolphins were kept when they were on board. In fact, they were practically inseparable during Chip’s off-duty hours. They obviously enjoyed each other’s company a great deal.

And that was the end of it. Lee was amazed that the relationship hadn’t progressed beyond that point. They were, he thought, two people who were obviously crazy about each other, but for some reason hadn’t pursued the strong attraction that existed between them. A blind man could see there was something between them, but they both seemed to be doing their damndest to ignore it.

The last time Lynn had been aboard Seaview, a cruise that had lasted three weeks, they had seemed to be growing even closer, but then something had happened. Lee still didn’t know exactly what had transpired, but Lynn had all but disappeared into her lab for the last few days of the cruise, and Chip had turned into a grouchy, silent caricature of his usual cheerful self. And he’d been moody ever since, for six interminable weeks. His moodiness and the rampant speculation as to its cause had been the main topic of conversation for officers and crew alike. Not that anyone said a word where Chip could hear it – but it was a measure of his preoccupation that he was completely ignorant of the speculation swirling around Seaview and the Institute.

No one knew precisely what had happened – and the two principals hadn’t exactly been forthcoming with the details – but whatever it was, it had sent the two of them in two completely opposite directions. If they would only admit to themselves what the rest of the world already knew, Lee was sure things would be fine. And maybe his best friend would start acting like himself again.

Something had to be done to get Chip to tomorrow night’s reception, too. He was on the guest list, of course, as he was for every official NIMR function, but if given the chance, Lee knew he’d pass it up -- official receptions had never been very high on Chip’s list of exciting events.

But Lynn had said that her whole department was going. Now he could easily use that as bait to get Chip there. Knowing Chip, he’d find it impossible to stay away once he knew. After that, though, Chip would be on his own. If he was too stubborn to see the evidence staring him in the face, well, that was his problem.

No, Lee realized, it was his problem, too. He and Chip had been friends too long, had been through too much together for him to leave this unresolved. Well, he’d get Chip to that reception somehow, if it was that last thing he did.

Busily plotting, he went off to his meeting.


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