A/N This is a story a wrote awhile back for a Halloween challenge on another website. I hope you enjoy it!
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters or anything else having to do with Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
Captain Lee Crane sat in the Officer's wardroom sipping coffee as he went over some reports. The Seaview was supposed to pick up four stranded scientists in the straits of the Northwest Passage. The ice pack where the scientists had established their research station had broken up and was floating free. Storm after bitter storm had been ravaging the region and no aerial rescue was possible. The scientists had lost many of their supplies and were in a serious way now and the submarine was their only hope. It had been a dangerous journey through the ice pack west of Baffin Island and it had taken almost two days to find an open lead of water near the coordinates of the lost scientists. Even now, he wasn't sure how close they really were.
Lee looked at his watch and cursed silently. Gulping down the last of his coffee, he swept up the reports and headed to Admiral Nelson's quarters. The admiral had asked Lee to come by after breakfast and Lee was running late. He hurried down the corridor nearly dropping the papers on the way. He sighed as he reached his destination and knocked on the admiral's door.
"Come in." came the curt reply. Lee entered, greeted the admiral and settled himself into a seat.
"Good morning, Lee," Nelson smiled. "Thanks for stopping by. What is the current status of our search?"
"We've reached the last known coordinates of the NOAA scientists," Lee began looking down at his papers. "So far, no sign of them and we can't move any further in this ice."
Nelson nodded. "I was afraid of that. I'd like to send out a search party as soon as this current storm abates some. I don't want to risk our own men unnecessarily and it would be foolish to send them out now."
Nelson opened his mouth to continue when Chip Morton's, the executive officer, voice came through on the intercom speaker. "Captain Crane, please report to the control room." Lee and the admiral exchanged glances and as one, rose to their feet and headed to the control room. They found Chip and several crewman crowded around the hatchway ladder watching someone descend.
"Mr. Morton," said Lee as they approached, "What's going on?
Chip turned. "It seems we've found one of the missing scientists. Or rather he found us!"
A few moments later, a man clad in arctic gear made his way clumsily down the ladder. He would have fallen had not several helpful hands reached out to steady him. Lee studied the man as he pushed back his hood and looked around, blinking in some confusion. He had a scraggly beard glistening with melting ice and patches of frostbite marred his haggard face. Dark circles gave his eyes a sunken appearance. The man was obviously near the end of his rope.
Lee stepped forward. "I am Captain Lee Crane, commander of the USNRS submarine, Seaview. May I ask who you are?"
The man continued to look around for another moment as if to get his bearings before turning his attention back to Captain Crane. "I, uh, am Dr. Blakely Collins. Meteorologist from NOAA research station #4. "
Lee smiled warmly. "Welcome aboard, doctor. We've been looking for you and your associates. Are they far from here?"
Collins blinked again and stared blankly for a few moments. "I'm the only one left," he whispered hoarsely. "The others…they…they …" He didn't seem to know how to go on and stood helplessly looking at the men surrounding him.
Lee and Nelson exchanged puzzled glances. "Are they," Nelson paused, "dead?"
Collins closed his eyes and slowly shook his head. "I…I don't know." He looked at Nelson now. "They just…left." He seemed reluctant to continue and looked away.
Lee studied the man for a moment longer than turned to Chip. "Mr. Morton, please escort Dr. Collins to sickbay. I think Dr. Jamieson needs to take a look at him." He then turned to the scientist. "Dr. Collins, we'll speak more when you've had a chance to recover."
Collins smiled weakly and turned to follow Chip when he hesitated. "Captain Crane," he said. "They really are gone." He stepped closer to Lee and whispered. "You'll be gone soon, too." With that, he leaned heavily on Chip's arm and allowed himself to be led away.
Lee watched Collins disappear through the hatchway. He felt uneasy. "What do you think he meant by that, Admiral?" Lee asked as he turned to move towards the plotting table. He wanted to double check the scientists' last known coordinates.
Nelson followed, frowning in thought. "I don't know. He implied that the others had just disappeared somehow; not that they were dead."
"He said they 'left'" Lee replied as he studied the chart. "As if they went on their own accord." He thought a moment. "Could they have tried to find help?"
Nelson shook his head. "That doesn't make sense. They knew we were coming. Why would they leave? And why would Collins stay behind? He seems very disoriented."
It was then that Chip returned to the control room and joined Lee and the Admiral. "Doc says Collins is dehydrated and suffering from severe exposure and some frostbite. He gave him a sedative. He's sleeping now."
Lee nodded. He tapped the chart. "We're right where we should be so unless the research station drifted a lot farther than we calculated, it can't be too far away. How is the weather situation?"
Chip checked the latest report. "Well, it's looking better at the moment. The winds are decreasing and although it's still well below zero, the visibility should be improving soon. We should be able to start sending out search parties within the hour. Of course, it's pitch dark out there. This time of year the sun doesn't even make it over the horizon."
"Make sure all of the men are equipped with appropriate lighting," replied Lee. " I'm going to sickbay to talk to Doc. Maybe Collins had something on him that might explain what has happened."
"Aye, aye sir," replied Chip and turned to start organizing the search parties.
"I'll be in my lab," said Nelson. "Let me know if you find anything of interest, Lee."
A short time later, Lee entered sickbay. Dr. Jamieson was busy at his desk writing in his patient's chart. "So Doc," said Lee, " how is he?"
Jamieson finished what he was doing and stood, joining the Captain beside Collins' bunk. "Well, he's suffering from exposure and he may lose a finger or two but he should recover in time."
"Did he seem confused?"
Dr. Jamieson thought a moment. "He seemed rational enough but was obviously upset about something. I asked him what was wrong and he didn't want to talk about it. However, he did ask that I give you this." He moved to his desk and returned with a small package wrapped in oilskin. He handed it to the captain. Lee hesitated, oddly reluctant to handle the object, but finally took it. He shuddered slightly. Jamieson looked at him. "Are you all right, Captain?"
Lee blinked and shook his head. "Uh, yeah, fine, just felt a little chill there for a minute." He smiled. "It is minus 45 degrees out there! Well, thanks Doc. I'll just take this with me. Let me know when he wakes up. He claims his associates just left and we're trying to figure out what he meant by that."
Jamieson nodded. "I'll let you know as soon as he's conscious."
"Thanks, Doc." Lee gripped the package more tightly and hurried from the room. Thoughtfully, Jamieson watched him go then with a soft sigh returned to his paperwork.
Lee went directly to his cabin and closed the door firmly behind him. He sat at his desk and laid the parcel on his desk and stared at it. He wasn't sure what it was about the packet that unnerved him, but there was definitely something unsettling about it. Finally, he reached out and began to carefully remove the outer wrapping. The oilskin was obviously old, its surface cracked and stiff and felt icy cold despite the warmth of the room. It took only a moment or two to peel back the layers and reveal the object inside. Lee frowned thoughtfully and moved his desk lamp so that he could study it more closely.
It was a portrait no larger than six inches to a side, of a man dressed in the uniform of a 19th century British naval officer. Except for the bushy sideburns, the man was clean shaven with deep set eyes and a thin hard mouth. The man's steely gaze peered out at Lee as if he could see directly into Lee's heart. Lee felt deathly cold and his breath constricted yet he couldn't look away. The temperature in the cabin plummeted and Lee shivered violently. An odd rushing sound filled his ears. In his mind's eye, he suddenly found himself not safe within the confines of the Seaview, but alone on the frozen wasteland of the Arctic ice pack. He was surrounded by towering pressure ridges and the fierce wind cut right through him. Lee experienced a surge of panic as he whirled about trying to get his bearings. He froze in shock as he came face to face with the man from the portrait. Now, the man was heavily clad in arctic gear with a full beard caked in ice. He glared at Lee who took a step backward, almost tripping on the uneven ice. The man reached forward and grabbed the front of Lee's shirt pulling him close. "You must come to me!" hissed the man in a harsh whisper tightening his grip further."Your time has come."
Lee tried to move; pull himself away from the fierce figure before him, but he was frozen. His heart was pounding and his limbs felt heavy and weak. "I…" he couldn't seem to get any words out and the world began to spin. The world began to fade around him and he felt as if he were floating away.
"Lee? Lee!" Lee could hear a voice calling him from far away. Gradually, the grip on his shirt weakened and he noticed a definite rise in temperature. Again, the voice called to him, tense with worry. "Lee! Come on, Lee, wake up!"
Lee blinked. He was no longer in the frigid wasteland nor was he sitting in his desk chair. He lay sprawled on his cabin floor with Chip, his face full of concern, kneeling over him. "Chip?" Lee asked in confusion.
Chip sighed in relief. "Yeah, it's me, buddy." He helped Lee sit up. "Take it easy now. What happened?"
Lee still felt dizzy and cold. Although it was warm in the room, he was shivering. Chip frowned as Lee slowly climbed to his feet and grabbed onto his chair to steady himself. Chip moved to help him sit down. Lee rubbed his eyes as his friend wrapped a blanket around him. "I...I'm not really sure," Lee replied. He was about to mention the picture when he stopped. He felt that the portrait was something he should keep to himself. "Maybe I'm coming down with something."
Chip nodded. That seemed to make sense. "I suggest you let the Doc take a look at you. You're looking kind of peaked."
"Yeah…yeah, I will," smiled Lee weakly. He pulled the blanket closer. He was finally beginning to thaw out. "Uh, is there any news?"
Chip considered his commanding officer for a few more moments before replying. "Yes, sir. I just sent out four search teams. Kowalski reports they've found the trail made by Dr. Collins and they're following it in hopes of locating the others or at least the research station."
Lee frowned. "Didn't the wind erase his tracks?"
"Well, it wasn't exactly his tracks that that they followed." He picked up a small box sitting on Lee's desk. They were following these." Lee looked into the box with surprise. There were numerous small, green ceramic frogs, each about an inch tall with a hole through it.
Lee picked one up and studied it curiously. "What are these?"
"As far as I can figure out, they're some kind of decorative bead. I checked Collins' pockets and he had a bunch of them. I think he was using them to leave a trail in case he got lost. He could at least find his way back to the research station."
Lee raised an eyebrow. "I wonder where they came from. They certainly don't seem like the sort of thing they'd have at the research station." He looked at it more closely. It looked old, not something made by modern technology. Looking carefully, he noted 'F. Crozier' etched into the bottom."Hmm." He shrugged and was about to place the little frog into the box with the others but instead, surreptitiously slipped it into his own pocket. "Another thing to ask Collins about when we get the chance." He shrugged off the blanket and stood. "Well, let's go and see if Kowalski has found anything."
"But…" Chip began, peering apprehensively at Crane.
Lee smiled and held up a hand. "I'm fine now, Chip. Honestly!" Chip looked skeptical but said nothing more as he followed Lee out of his cabin.
As they reached the control room, Lee turned to Sparks, the radio operator. "Any word from the search parties?"
"No sir," Sparks replied fiddling with the dials on his control panel. He paused. "Wait…something is coming through now. I'll put it on speaker."
"Kowalski, this is Captain Crane. What is your report?"
Kowalski's voice came through riddled with static. "Captain, we've found the research station, but it's abandoned. Dr. Collins was right about that. There's no one here. It looks like they just walked out. No sign of any violence or disturbance of any kind." He paused. "Captain, the wind is starting pick up again and visibility is getting worse. Do you want us to search the area?"
Crane turned to Morton. "What is the weather report? I thought the storm had passed."
Morton studied the report just handed to him and frowned. "Well, it seems it was just a temporary break in the weather. The barometer is dropping again and winds increasing."
Lee sighed and returned to the radio. "Negative, Kowalski. The weather is deteriorating again. I want you to return to the Seaview immediately."
"What is the status of the other search parties?" Lee asked.
"They were recalled after Kowalski and Patterson reported finding the research station," Lt. O'Brien reported. "The last just boarded."
Sparks spoke up. "The latest reports suggest the weather should clear in twelve to fourteen hours."
Lee nodded. "We'll send out the search parties again in the morning assuming the weather has improved." He replaced the mike. "I'm going to inform the Admiral of the current situation. Mr. Morton, you have the con."