Originally published in Below the Surface 9, Nov 1998
This story is the result of a review by Judy Mortimore of Submarine Sunk Here, one of the best of the first-season episodes. While typing the review for the second issue of Up Bubble, the Voyage letterzine I edited and published in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I began to wonder how it was Chip knew that Seaview’s bell was the only one on the East Coast that could reach the depth required to rescue the officers and crew trapped on Seaview. Granted, Chip is a highly-capable and efficient guy, but that’s not the kind of information he’d normally carry around in his head. But what if he knew because he’d made a few phone calls...and what if....
EARLY MAY 1976*
Lieutenant Commander Chip Morton sat in an empty office at Naval Submarine Base New London. He’d been ensconced at this unfamiliar desk for long hours, hours which seemed like days, desperately making phone call after phone call, all of which had ultimately proved fruitless.
Dropping his head into his hands, he stared at the last name on his list. Mystic Marinelife Aquarium. Located in nearby Mystic, Connecticut, it was a public aquarium with a small research department. It was a facility more oriented to dolphin shows, displays of marine life, and educating the public about ocean conservation rather than to pure research, though they had an experimental deep-submersible vehicle usable for research or, in a pinch, rescue work. But the latest information he’d been sent from NIMR indicated that, in addition to the submersible, they were in possession of an experimental diving bell similar to Seaview’s disabled bell, which they were field-testing for the Nelson Institute, evaluating several upgrades to her systems. Either one would be suitable for his purpose, provided they were available. But if they weren’t…if Mystic couldn’t help him....
He shook off the thought and dialed the phone.
"Mystic Marinelife Aquarium," came over the line after several rings.
His voice felt rusty and he cleared his throat. "I’d like to speak to someone in your research department, please."
"This is in reference to...?" the disembodied voice asked.
Chip took a deep, steadying breath. Over the last few hours, he’d grown to despise receptionists. They seemed to delight in losing his call, or transferring him to the wrong office. "I represent the Nelson Institute of Marine Research in Santa Barbara," he said firmly. "I’m calling in reference to your diving bell."
"Hold, please. I’ll connect you with someone who can help you."
Chip waited, not realizing he was holding his breath. If he was cut off again....
** *** **
"Doctor Murtagh, there’s a Commander Morton from the Nelson Institute of Marine Research in Santa Barbara on the line. I realize you’re not feeling too well, but can you speak to him? He says it’s urgent."
Doctor Lynn Murtagh, the Aquarium’s Director of Educational Programs, sniffled, then cleared her throat and looked at the secretary through bleary eyes. Filling in for the Aquarium Director when she was ready to keel over from the flu rampaging through the Aquarium was more trouble than it was worth, especially when he had taken his regular secretary along to his conference with him, and she had to muddle along with a replacement from the pool. Adeline was earnest and sweet, but she was unaware of many of the Aquarium’s established procedures. Every call she’d transferred to Lynn that day had been ‘urgent’, and the pointless discussion over the rising price of Icelandic herring she’d just finished with one of their vendors had used up Lynn’s last fragment of patience.
Then her brain kicked in and she wondered if something had happened to her graduate school advisor and mentor, Lucius Emery. But she fought down the fear that idea inspired. Lu had been fine the last time she’d talked to him, only a week earlier. No sense borrowing trouble, she told herself. "Did he happen to say what this ‘urgency’ is in reference to?" she croaked.
"Something about that diving bell we’re testing for them. He sounds very anxious, and I don’t really know what to tell him."
"Oh, hell," Lynn mumbled, then shrugged and reached for another Kleenex. "Okay, Adeline. Put him through." Lynn blew her nose, took a sip of coffee, and hoped her voice would hold up for the entire call. She pressed the button for the proper extension. "This is Doctor Murtagh. I’m filling in for Director Stevenson. Can I help you?"
"I certainly hope you can. You’re the sixth person I’ve spoken to at your facility so far." The voice on the other end was pleasant and deep, sounding tired and anxious at the same time, and Lynn played one of her favorite games, trying to conjure up a suitable face to go with such a marvelous voice; when she couldn’t, she chalked it up the lousy way she felt. She dragged her attention back to reality as he continued to speak. "Doctor, I’m Commander Morton, from the Nelson Institute. I’ll get right to the point. Our research submarine, Seaview, has been involved in an accident, and she’s on the bottom. We need to borrow your diving bell or your deep-submergence vehicle for a rescue."
"Hold on a second, Commander. Let me see what’s what," Lynn said, and consulted the project schedule under the blotter before replying. "I’m afraid both the bell and the submersible are out on projects right now. Is time a factor here?"
"It’s paramount, Doctor. They’re running out of air down there."
"Oh, damn," Lynn muttered. "Can you hold on a second? I’ll see if get some better news for you."
** *** **
Chip let his head sag back against the high back of the chair. Not another delay! "Sure," he said. "But please, don’t put me on hold. I’ve heard enough dead air today to last me the rest of my life, and I’ve lost track of the times I’ve been disconnected."
"No problem. This phone system is a piece of garbage, anyway. I’d probably only lose you if I tried. Hang on, Commander – I’ll be right back."
He heard her place the phone down on the desktop. In the background, he could hear her calling for someone named Adeline. After a moment of silence, she started asking questions, rejecting the answers and snapping out orders in her husky voice with all the authority of a master chief petty officer. A short while later, she returned to the phone.
"Commander, I’m sorry I took so long, but we’re pretty short-handed here. There’s some kind of a flu making the rounds, and those of us who aren’t out on projects are coming down with it. But that’s not something for you to worry about. You said they’re nearly out of air -- what kind of timeframe are we talking about?"
"Less than five hours."
** *** **
Lynn held her breath, wondering how she could tell the man on the other end that there was no way she could help him. "Five hours?" she asked in a weak voice.
"I’m sorry, Commander," she said softly. "We can’t get either the bell or the submersible to you in anything less than ten."
There was silence on the other end, then she heard a tired sigh. "I’m sorry, too, Doctor. But thank you for your help."
"I’m afraid I wasn’t very much of that," Lynn said. "Have you tried Woods Hole? Or even the New England Aquarium? They might--"
"I’ve already called them. Nothing that can reach that depth is available on the East Coast at all. But thank you for your time, Doctor."
"I’m so sorry, Commander," Lynn said. "I wish we could do more."
"Good luck, Commander," Lynn said softly.
"We’ll need it. Thank you again," he said in a low voice, and broke the connection.
Lynn hung up the phone. She’d felt bad enough before, but after that phone call, she felt a thousand times worse. She couldn’t stay in the office one minute longer. "Adeline! I’m going home."
** *** **
Chip dropped his pen on the now-depleted list and slumped in his chair, a dejected expression on his face. That’s it, he thought. Their bell, with its defective guidance system, could never make it down through that derelict minefield. Well, they still had five hours--maybe the problem with the bell would be rectified before time ran out. He left the office and made his way back to his borrowed Jeep. Something would turn up--something had to turn up.
** ** **
EARLY MAY 1982
Her infant daughter Shawn cradled in her arms, Lynn Murtagh Morton strolled into the living room of the Morton townhouse. "Hey, guys, I called for dinner – and look who woke up and wanted to visit with Daddy and Uncle Lee," she said to the two men seated there, watching TV. She stopped short as she caught sight of the program that held their attention. " Whoa. Grey Lady Down? You’re kidding me, right? Why are you two watching this? Maybe you guys have some latent masochistic tendencies you’ve been hiding from me?"
"Masochistic tendencies?" Chip Morton asked and patted the couch next to him in invitation. "Is that why you watch the Jaws movies?" he asked archly.
"Very funny," Lynn said sourly as she sat on the couch, settling Shawn comfortably in her lap before leaning over to kiss Chip on the cheek. "They’re good, fun escapism. Besides, Bruce is a rubber shark."
"And these are plastic submarines," Chip commented pleasantly, putting his arm around Lynn and pulling her close.
"Shawn, your daddy is incorrigible," Lynn told the infant girl, who gurgled in agreement. "Yes, he is. He’s just so bad."
"This movie should be subtitled ‘How Not To Rescue A Submarine In Ten Easy Lessons’," Lee Crane said from the brand-new easy chair by the picture window.
"‘Subtitled’?" Lynn asked, groaning. "Oh, Lee, that was just awful."
Lee beamed at her. "Thank you."
"Yeah," Chip put in. "It was even worse than his usual bad puns."
Looking totally unabashed, Seaview’s captain just shrugged apologetically. "It is what it is."
Lynn waggled a finger at him. "No, Lee—the right quote is, ‘The air is the air. What can be done?’ "
Lee rolled his eyes. "I was waiting for you to say that. You know, Lynn, I’m surprised that baby doesn’t have green blood and pointed ears, with all the Star Trek episodes you subjected her to while you were pregnant," he said pleasantly.
"And your Uncle Lee is no better," Lynn told her daughter as she played with the baby’s tiny fingers. "No, he isn’t. He just doesn’t appreciate good TV."
"I appreciate good movies – but this doesn’t qualify," Lee said flatly. "I think they needed better technical advisors."
"There are easier ways to do it," Chip said.
"And harder," Lee replied. "Frankly, I don’t know why we’re watching this, after what we went through a few years ago."
"You mean the minefield?" Chip asked absently, his attention on his daughter. She’d been born four weeks earlier, but awake or asleep, she still fascinated him. He looked down at her, her blue eyes blinking at him owlishly in return.
"There are a few similarities," Lee said.
Lynn looked up from her perusal of Shawn’s fingers. "What minefield?" she asked her husband.
"You never heard this story?" Lee asked.
"No, she hasn’t," Chip groaned in protest and reached for Shawn.
"Do either of you ever put that baby down?" Lee asked.
"Not if we can help it," Chip said as Lynn shifted Shawn into his arms.
"Babies are for holding," Lynn said, bending to press a kiss onto Shawn’s forehead. "What’s this story about a minefield? I definitely would have remembered that," she said, looking at Chip quizzically. "What minefield is he talking about?"
"Don’t tell me you’re getting modest in your old age," Lee chided.
Chip reluctantly looked away from his daughter. "It never came up--until now," he said, spearing Lee with a ‘shut up now’ glare. "I had hoped to keep it from her."
"What minefield?" Lynn asked again.
"The one that put Seaview on the bottom," Lee said, cheerfully ignoring Chip. "She’s been on the bottom a couple of times since then--"
"Don’t remind me," Lynn said firmly. "The nightmares stopped after Shawn was born, and I don’t need any more, thank you very much."
"--but that was the first time. It was pretty serious--we all had to be taken off in a diving bell, piloted by your unusually modest husband here," Lee finished.
"I don’t really want to get into this right now," Chip grumbled, with another glare at Lee.
"Sure you do," Lee said. "It’s a good story."
"Would somebody please tell me what minefield?" Lynn repeated.
"One I had hoped to avoid ever telling her," Chip said, ignoring Lynn.
"Fat chance now, pal," Lynn said firmly. "What’s the rest of it?" she asked Lee.
Lee looked at Chip, then shrugged. "Lynn, your very humble husband got to be the hero. Remember that, Chip?"
"Going down through a minefield in a diving bell with no guidance system isn’t something I’m likely to forget," Chip said, resigned to telling the entire incident.
"Kind of dumb thing to do, wasn’t it?" Lynn asked. "And completely unlike you."
"I didn’t have any choice," Chip protested. "Their time was running out—Seaview’s air purification system was damaged in the explosion. I was in New London with Chief Jones--you never met him--while our bell was being repaired."
"What was wrong with Seaview’s bell?"
"The guidance system malfunctioned, which made the bell unusable. So we used it anyway," Chip said casually.
"That sounds like a bright thing to do. You couldn’t have found another bell or submersible in time?" Lynn asked with a thoughtful frown.
"No. I tried—and boy, did I try. Both of the Navy’s rescue vehicles were deployed and were too far away to get back in time. So I called every oceanographic and marine life research center I could think of and I still didn’t have any luck. Most of their bells couldn’t go deep enough and those that could were out on projects and couldn’t be called back in time."
"Must have been a busy time of year. Where’d she go down, anyway?"
"Southeast of Long Island. Right in the middle of a derelict minefield left over from World War Two," Chip said, shifting the baby slightly. "Better, huh?" he asked her. Shawn stretched and gurgled.
"When was this, anyway?" Lynn asked.
"Early 1976. I even called Mystic. Their bell was out, and so was their submersible."
"You called Mystic?" Lynn asked in a whisper. "As in Mystic, Connecticut?"
Chip nodded. "They were testing a bell for us."
"In 1976?" she persisted.
Chip nodded, perplexed by Lynn’s intensity. He looked across the room at Lee, who was leaning forward in the big easy chair, avidly watching, clearly amused. Then a piece of the puzzle dropped into place. "You were working there then, weren’t you?"
Lynn ignored his question. "Who did you talk to?" she demanded.
Chip shook his head. "I don’t remember. I was transferred from one department to another so many times, that by the time I finally got to talk to someone in authority, I wasn’t listening to names. I only remember talking to a woman who was filling in for the director."
"Oh, my God!" Lynn’s eyes widened and she sat bolt upright, turning to face him. "Oh, my God! That was you! Chip, that was me you talked to!"
"I talked to you about the bell?" Chip asked, shocked.
"Yes! Remember? I said our bell, the one we were testing for the Institute, was out on a project?"
His eyes changed as he remembered. "Wait…. Your voice--you had a cold or something."
"I had the flu! I was only in work that day because the director had asked me to field his important calls while he was at some nonsensical conference. The next day I was home in bed with a fever of one-hundred-and-three, and I stayed there for a week."
"That was you," Chip said, then broke into a grin. "That was some voice."
Lynn’s eyes gleamed with mischief. "Hey! Maybe this was preordained! You heard my voice and you were instantly smitten, and then you kept looking until you found me!" She sighed theatrically. "That’s so romantic."
Chip regarded her with one raised eyebrow. "Lynn, you sounded like George Burns."
"Thanks a bunch," she said dryly, and leaned toward her daughter. "Shawn, your daddy isn’t always this insulting. He’s usually a pretty likeable guy. I think he’s showing off for our company over there."
"Company? What company?" Chip asked. "All I see is Lee. He’s not company. He just turns up when he wants a free meal – which is almost every day."
"He knows a good thing when he sees it," Lynn said pleasantly.
"He sure does. And he sees a lot of it, too."
"Are you two through?" Lee asked. They ignored him.
"George Burns?" Lynn asked. "I didn’t sound that bad, did I?"
"Well, maybe it wasn’t George Burns," Chip conceded.
"You’d better reconsider," Lynn warned.
"Maybe it was Neville Brand," he said thoughtfully.
"Chip!" she protested, aiming a punch at his upper arm.
"Or Andy Devine?"
Their good-natured argument was interrupted by the arrival of a large pizza, two large orders of mussels marinara and a deluxe antipasto from Ciasulli’s. Lynn put the now-sleeping Shawn into her crib in the master bedroom while Chip and Lee saw to setting out the food on the dining room table.
By the time they had finished eating, all discussion of the minefield had been forgotten. The three of them were just chatting aimlessly over coffee and Lynn’s homemade cheesecake when the demanding cry of a hungry baby reached them from the bedroom.
Lynn stood. "And that summons, gentlemen, means I am needed. Hang on, Shawn, your next meal is on its way."
"She’ll be gone a while," Chip said as he watched Lynn walk to the bedroom.
Lee stood. "That’s my cue to leave."
"No, it’s not."
"She needs her rest – she looks tired."
Chip nodded. "She’s up every couple of hours to feed the baby," he admitted. "That’s one hungry kid."
"She got Lynn’s looks and your appetite," Lee gibed good naturedly.
"I won’t argue with you there."
"So give Lynn a break once in a while."
"I can’t give her a break – I don’t have the necessary equipment." Lee blushed as Chip’s words sunk in, and Chip grinned broadly. "But I do get up and sit with her while she takes care of Shawn."
"Big of you." Lee gestured toward the table. "Come on -- I’ll help you clean up."
"And that’s big of you."
Lee shrugged. "I have to earn my keep some way."
"It’s better than asking you to cook."
The table cleared off and the dishwasher loaded and running, Chip walked Lee to the front door – where they sat on the wooden swing on the porch of the townhouse, chatting for another twenty minutes.
Finally, Lee took his leave. Chip stood watching the taillights of Lee’s new MG convertible disappear down the drive of their townhouse development, then locked up and went to find Lynn. She was exactly where he’d expected her to be, standing by the side of the crib that took up one corner of the master bedroom, looking down at Shawn.
"Sorry I took so long, but we got talking."
Lynn smiled up at him. "That’s okay. I know how you two get."
"Is she asleep already?" he asked in a low voice.
"Like a rock," Lynn whispered back, learning over the crib to make sure. "At least until she’s hungry again, which gives us maybe three hours of peace, four if we’re lucky. Demanding little minx – and she got your appetite," she said affectionately.
"She’s so beautiful," Chip said softly, his eyes drinking in his infant daughter as she slept so peacefully.
"She is." Lynn shook her head, looking at the baby in awe. "I still can’t believe we made something as amazing as she is."
Chip raised an eyebrow. "Lynn. You grew up on a farm. You have a doctorate in biology. I don’t really have to tell you where babies come from, do I?"
"Funny man." Lynn punched his upper arm in mock annoyance, then looked up, meeting his eyes. "Think it was really a coincidence? Or was it something more?"
He draped his arms around her and pulled her back securely against his chest. "It’s hard to say. Who knows what might have happened if your bell had been available."
"Maybe...." she said, raising one eyebrow in question.
"Or maybe you would have run like hell in the other direction and we wouldn’t be standing here right now having this silly conversation about fate and where babies come from," Lynn said dryly.
"It’s getting too deep in here." He kissed the top of her head. "Want to finish watching the end of the movie?"
Lynn grimaced. "Can we watch Jaws, instead?
*The date of this story is completely arbitrary. Since dates shown on the individual episodes often contradicted each other (second season episodes occurring before first season episodes, dates on Seaview’s commissioning plaque contradicting dates seen on plans on the bulkhead, episodes occurring before the commissioning date shown on the plaque ) I’ve thrown out most of the episode dates for fanfic purposes. If Irwin Allen didn’t care about continuity, I’ll use my own.
I always thought that Submarine Sunk Here should have been the last episode of Season One, since it would have allowed for a logical reason for Seaview’s new configuration, which we saw at the beginning of the second season (all right – I know you can’t ask for logic from Irwin Allen). So I’ve assigned the episode a date that makes internal sense for the purposes of my own fanfic universe.