Welcome Readers and Visitors

Welcome to my page and the stories that I have written.

Writing for me is an escape from the real world and where I get to decide what happens to the characters.

I hope that as readers make their way through each chapter, they are drawn in and feel a connection with each of them.

Whilst I try to keep true to the original character as they were portrayed, I do bring my own influences, experiences and imagination into every one of my stories.  Some may depict certain scenes, others may show only a portion and give a possible alternative or different ending.

Please use the menu to the side to navigate my pages.

I have split them up into main categories for each different fandom and then separately for each story.

For Bonanza and SeaQuest, Stargate SG-1 and Lord Of The Rings stories, the menu has been set in chronological order of stories according to age and events for the characters.  Some change to the order may still occur over time. 

Harry Potter will now be a series of stories, instead of one long one.  The other stories will be added as titles are planned out.  The first story “New Places And Faces” is now Story (1) in a much longer series.  Original Title was “Harry Potter – A Life Lived” 

Works In Progress will not be published in a specific order.  Stories will be numbered once the first chapter has been posted.

Chapters have been used to help, some are shorter, others longer and more involved, depending on the story.

Some stories are works in progress and will be updated as time allows.  There are many new stories that are planned out and have a synopsis.

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Chapter Six – Hammocks And Hotdogs

THE GREEN PEN

By Jules

Author Notes – thank you for everybody who is still reading.  It truly means a lot that people are reading after such a long time of being away.   I hope you enjoy this next instalment.

This is the second story in my new series, and it would be helpful for you to read Please Tell Someone as this story continues straight into a new page from the ending scenes of that story.

This particular chapter does not have a lot more action happening but is necessary to set up some of the key events yet to come later in this story and others into the future.  There is a lot to cover and introduce, so hopefully I will to it so you can follow easily enough.

The reason for this title will not become apparent until much later in the story but was thought of ten (10) years ago or more, when the original plot came to me long before I added in the new adoption arc.

Any legal references, laws, requirements for reporting abuse, the steps taken afterwards, court proceedings and outcomes and interview protocols are all fictional.  Some are based loosely on real laws and circumstances, but a lot are fabricated to suit my story only and have been changed to suit the plot I have derived.  The same with which authorities are involved and their individual roles and responsibilities.

With some of my medical procedures, I have used real techniques and treatments to a certain extent, but there are some that are completely invented for my stories as well and are totally fictional and should not be used for real people.  They are used to progress my stories and include for specific scenes as required.

Given that SeaQuest is set in the future, medical technology would have changed greatly, with new procedures and medications and medicines being discovered and put into practice.

Chapter Six – Hammocks And Hotdogs

at the end of the previous chapter:

“Two eyes, at all times,” she assured him with a warm smile, knowing how much Nathan cared.  Looking over at the peaceful sleeping face beside her, positive that he didn’t need to worry about anything else.  “Lucas and I will be just fine.”

And now the story continues:

Forty-five minutes after Lucas was moved from the co-pilot seat to the back of the launch with Kristin, the red-headed doctor was pleased to see him gaining a little extra sleep.

As they journeyed to Nathan’s secret island home, she pondered some of the challenges that Ben had brought up at the impromptu meeting in the Ward Room.  Several behaviours the Supply and Morale Officer had secretly observed, hinted at and reported on, were understandable given his current circumstances and recent revelations.  Common and simple coping mechanisms that the boy had employed were to be expected, but there was also a concerning pattern emerging of more secretive and harmful techniques too.

She had spent her time in the back of the launch trying to make a mental map of what help and guidance could be offered that he would be willing to accept.   The ‘wanting to do everything without help’ and the more worrisome ‘hiding my pain and feelings’ needed to be addressed with kindness, understanding and support at a level that Lucas would be comfortable with and in a time frame that wasn’t measured by days, weeks or even months.

The biggest hurdle facing them was somehow convincing Lucas himself to accept advice and friendship when it was sought or offered.   A new concept, a foreign one and a mixed bag of individuals no doubt, but all part of being a ‘family’ nonetheless, even an unconventional one.    Their combined efforts needed to be constant, co-ordinated and natural, but also unpredictable, united and spontaneous.

A number of the SeaQuest crew felt that they were unqualified when it came to knowing how to include him in day-to-day activities on-board and treat Lucas as they would with any other crew member.   The problems multiplied when they took note of his age rather than his brilliant intellect, seemingly only ending up alienating him further.   Unlike Doctor Westphalen, not everybody was confident about being able to cater to his growing thirst for knowledge.

Ben Krieg and herself were going to have to maintain a constant vigil aboard the vessel and become a larger part of his life, and perhaps the most important person of all in this equation;  Nathan.  She was determined that she wasn’t going to become a bystander or ignore the evidence she had witnessed first-hand.  The angry but unintentional allegations and claims of abuse had shocked them all.  Echoing in the back of her mind; the teenager’s heart-wrenching pleas begging to be left alone whilst he was scared and in pain.

The pressure inside the launch was at optimum efficiency and the temperature of the cabin was normal.   Kristen’s thoughts were interrupted, but she chose not to alert Nathan whilst he was piloting the vessel that anything of the ordinary was occurring.   He was there if she needed his assistance or Lucas could go sit beside him in the cockpit if he didn’t want her company for the remainder of the trip.

Until twenty minutes ago his slumber had been quiet and unremarkable, viewed as a small victory and a step in the right direction of what everybody was hoping would be achieved with this small break away for a few days.   Changes to his facial expression and sporadic, restless movements across the bench seat where he was laying were what drew her attention.  At first, she thought the teenager may be on the verge of waking up, but hitches in his breathing pattern suggested he could be caught in the middle of a dream.

The tone of the words escaping from the sleeping teenager’s lips suggested that he was experiencing distress and turmoil.

“No!  Don’t!”

This time there was no mistake that his slumber was troubled, but before she could react or decide whether to intervene, Lucas suddenly sat up, gasping and attempting to draw huge gulps of air into his lungs.  Unfortunately, changing positions so rapidly and trying to take large mouthfuls of oxygen and exhaling again with force, only caused a coughing fit.  The teenager was wide awake and looking around within the confined space, trying to regain his bearings.

“Lucas, are you alright?”  Kristin asked, putting a gentle hand on his forearm.  The small hairs on his arm were standing up and she mindful that his first reaction earlier to touch had been a defensive one.   Noting that he was still coughing, the only immediate response he gave was a nod of his head.    She didn’t want to startle him, instead wanting to help counteract any residual anxiety by giving concise instructions in a calm voice, “Take a few smaller breathes, nice and slow.”

A second or two passed before he composed himself enough to face her, his expression a brief one of mortification, until the mask of denial descended.   Lucas suspected by holding onto his arm, she would be able to tell that his heart rate had increased tenfold.   He didn’t want to admit to the naked fear that had taken hold of him or provide a plausible explanation.   Right this minute he felt like his heart was ready to burst out of his chest, but he doubted that the doctor would buy any simple, truncated answer.

“Sorry, I totally forgot where I was for a minute,” he offered with a sheepish grin.  “I barely even remember falling asleep.”   To the teenager his throat felt scratchy and dry from the bout of coughing.

To Kristin, his voice sounded hoarse and raspy.   She could hear his discomfort for herself and noted that the boy was adopting a number of precautions to avoid any scrutiny about his physical well-being or the reason behind him startling awake.

“Do you have any of that water left please?” Lucas asked expectantly, standing up from the long bench seat and stretching the muscles in his arms and back.  The rows of stitches on his back were still there and pulled mildly in protest when he lifted his arms above his head.   Movement proved to be a better method of preventing the doctor from conducting any definitive assessment.

Inwardly he was kicking himself for making the mistake of almost allowing a nightmare to surface.   The doctor was no fool and believed she had seen and heard ‘something’, but Lucas was hoping that he could downplay her assumptions without drawing more suspicion.

Kristin reached into the small cooler bag she had brought on-board, pulling out a cold bottle and handing it to him.  “There is still some juice if you would prefer?”

“No thank you, the water will suffice for now,” he replied, twisting off the cap and swallowing some of the contents.  Relief for his throat was evident on his face, and his voice sounded marginally better already.

“Everything alright back there?” came Bridger’s question from the cockpit.   Nathan had heard Kristin and Lucas talking, but only their voices, nothing specific about the nature of their conversation.

“Completely fine back here,” Captain,” Lucas called out, keeping his blue eyes fixed on Kristin, almost daring her to contradict his statement to Bridger.

The doctor was mildly surprised at such a brazen challenge, but she wasn’t about to underestimate him.  She had encountered the same streak of stubbornness in Med-bay back on-board SeaQuest.   The teenager had shown a steely inner strength when she attempted to uncover the truth about his injuries.

Knowing that privacy was paramount, was he embarrassed that he had awoken disorientated and confused in front of her?   No doubt he was still on edge in relation to his father, despite assurances made to the contrary that he would be kept safe.  His demeanour when they first departed would have been described as very different, one may have even chosen the words ‘happy’ or ‘excited’.

Finding himself in a completely new environment, was this short-lived display of attitude an additional coping technique to test the waters now that he was alone with two adults?  Did he still feel so out of place, even with her and Nathan that he needed to maintain the mask at all times, part of him still refusing to let his guard down?

Kristin found the heaping of feigned disinterest about himself a façade, bordering on deliberate evasion.  Whether his normal teenager characteristics were becoming more noticeable she wasn’t sure.   Lucas wanted to see how far she was willing to push back, but for now she would deny the battle, keeping her inner thoughts off her face.

This had all the hallmarks of the game they had played against each other down in her science department, naming living species and inanimate specimens.  Both of them carefully selecting the next card in the deck before it was played.    Marking out the boundaries but not wanting to create conflict by crossing them.

Before they had left SeaQuest, she had made a promise to Nathan about not wanting to start their break away on the wrong foot.   For now, she refrained from pressing too hard for answers, but could see right through his avoidance tactics.   She would mention her concerns about the matter to Nathan later in the day.


Lucas moved from the back of the launch, re-entering the cockpit and claiming the co-pilot seat next to the Captain.  Kristin followed, sitting behind Nathan’s seat and watching out of the front of the vessel with genuine anticipation of her own building.

“You may not have time to fully buckle that back up,” Bridger advised the teenager, pointing out the front window to a parcel of land.   “Welcome to a small piece of paradise that I have come to call ‘home’,” his voice softer and full of memories.   This trek, no matter how it came about, was going to be quite the adventure for all those on-board the launch.

Kristin was hopeful that Nathan could gain a level of relaxation that would in turn help the teenager to do the same.  That was the main reason Ben Krieg had suggested this trip in the first place.  The man had a knack for putting others around him at ease, by using patience and genuinely being interested in what he was sharing.  A willingness to listen and answering questions when asked were integral parts of his caring nature, not just when he was Captain of the SeaQuest.

Lucas was the first to voice that observation, “Coming back here wasn’t what you had planned a couple of weeks ago when you accepted the Admiral’s offer to be Captain.”

Bridger turned and faced the teenager, mulling over what returning to his hideaway did mean to him.  There were many different ways he could have responded, but he kept to his promise of speaking honestly where possible.   “No, I guess not.   I wasn’t expecting to stay on-board SeaQuest after my first visit, Lucas.   The trick is not to dwell on why it happens, but what to do something with that opportunity when it does.  Like a lot of things that happen, positive and negative.  Our lives change daily for a variety of reasons and without us having control over the outcome.”

Lucas accepted the answer and could hear that he believed those sentiments, but he couldn’t ignore what else he heard.  Whilst Bridger may have given a reply, the teenager felt it didn’t fully answer his question.   Instead, the whole speech sounded like a ‘meaning of life’ commentary and he was sure that the message within was directed squarely at him.  No matter how good the Captain’s intentions were though, he didn’t want to talk about his life choices, past or present this early in the trip.

Changing the subject entirely, Lucas chose to ask questions about their immediate surroundings and focus on the visual splendour before them.  “Tell us all about it.  How big is this piece of sand?”

“Probably not very impressive on the numbers side of things,” Nathan responded with a smile of pride, pleased to see that the teenager was talking.  “In width, approximately four miles, and closer to thirteen miles long, though the whole island takes on an hourglass, curved shape near the centre.   Towards the southern end, waves crash upon rocky outcrops day and night especially when the tide is at its highest.    On the northern tip there are shallow sandbars under calmer waters.”

“In Spanish the name translates to Ensenada del Santuario or Sanctuary Cove.   The pirates who used to travel these same waters hundreds of years ago had a different name for it;  El Esilo which means refuge or haven.   To me this place is all of those things and none of them, I call her ‘my island’.

“You will have to tell me more those pirates when we have more time,” Lucas commented.  “Fascinating to think that these waters were in use that far back in time.”

Bridger smiled, happy to hear his keen interest on such a topic.  Growing up, most boys played games with their friends or tried to imagine themselves being a raider on the high seas and having adventures.  During his short time aboard SeaQuest, there were moments where the inner child peaked through the more guarded adult-minded exterior.   Hopefully over the next couple of days he and Kristin could provide a carefree environment and coax out more of that personality.

“I was fortunate enough to learn much of the history covering a large section of these waters, including this patch I selected and a few neighbouring islands.  I will share what I know with both of you, but I would rather wait to give the whole story once when Ben and the other crew members arrive in a few days.  Any objections?”

“No that’s fine, I can wait, but I am going to hold you to your word,” Lucas said resolutely.

He would have enjoyed any tales the Captain was willing to tell but saw common-sense in wanting to tell the other men at the same time.  By willing to wait, maybe that version wouldn’t be censored nor run the risk of having material left out due to his age.  That had certainly happened before from other adults when they underestimated his intelligence or didn’t respect that he was old enough to hear the truth.

The boy’s attention was drawn away from promised tales of sea-faring crusaders and scallywags, to the small inlet they were approaching.

“The colours of these shallower waters are truly a pleasing spectacle and very enticing, Nathan,” Kristin observed, enjoying the changes across the blue colour spectrum.   There were a few small waves with crests of sea-foam, but her delight came because the surface of the water was mostly crystal clear.   The coastline where she grew up in England was very different.  Beautiful and breathtaking in their own way yes, and at times commanding, but also treacherous.   The temperature of the air and the water would also be a major difference.

“Yes, I am very fortunate most of the year, but don’t be fooled into thinking that it is always like this either.  The weather patterns and tidal currents in this tropical archipelago can be very unpredictable and the tranquillity and serenity you are witnessing now won’t be on display,” Bridger remarked.   “There will be days when the sun is bright and high in the sky, with no sign of impending trouble on the horizon.    In a few short hours those conditions would see a dramatic shift from a southerly or westerly direction.   Gusty, driving winds would arrive with dark stormy clouds, mutating into storm cells or squalls.”

“Those are quite different climatic patterns than I have experienced during my working life and younger days in England.   A large part of my time as a doctor was spent in London, but I have had the fortune of travelling to a number of other places.   In the south of the country it rarely snows before January, but in the north and mountainous regions it can arrive much earlier.  Sometimes it can get very windy and the wind chill definitely become a factor,” she recounted.

“The English coastline can often be dangerous and erratic depending on the season.   Storms are generally not stronger in any one particular part of the country.   The temperature in the north tends to be colder than southern counties, and I have lived in several.  Coastal areas are typically wetter and windier during February and March.    An inference that could be drawn between our two places, Nathan, is how quickly the conditions can change, particularly in remote areas,” Kristin went onto explain further.  “A beautiful sunny day will turn to thick fog and rain in a matter of minutes.”

“A small admission on my part, but I don’t like the strong winds that come with a storm.   I have been fortunate enough not to have been caught up in a wild weather.  Those occur more in the Scottish Highlands and Welsh Mountains.   However, I have known some days where the bitter cold has crippled cities with power outages and brought vital transport networks to a standstill because of freezing weather.    The sound of howling winds against the roof of a house or hospital building are not my favourite memories.”

Lucas and Bridger were both intrigued by the snippets of nostalgia that Kristin gave in relation to the years she spent in various locations across the United Kingdom.  All three of them had deliberately been evasive or reluctant to reveal too much about themselves.  Apart from the tragedy of her daughter’s death and the admission of her failed marriage, the red-haired doctor had not been very forthcoming of her time before SeaQuest.

Kristin smiled when she saw that her companions had been listening, “I apologize to the both of you, I did not intend to get so carried away and side-tracked when I started talking about the elements where I come from.”

“You don’t have to be sorry, Kristin,” Nathan stated.  “I think it’s great that we are both comfortable enough to share a little more about the places that have coloured our past.  I have only been to England on two separate occasions but cannot vouch for spending my time in any crazy weather.   The only season I got to see was rain;  coming down in endless sheets day and night.  When I came back to sunshine, I was most grateful to be wearing dry clothes and for the warmth.”

The teenager had been following the conversation but before adding anything about himself, directed a question back to the Captain about what he had mentioned before Kristin’s story.

“Can the skies turn bad that quick around here too?” Lucas questioned, glancing back at Bridger with an odd expression briefly visible on his face.

“Yes, it can, and a number of powerful hurricanes have battered these trees and the surrounding beaches before.   Thankfully, this time of year the weather is mild and picturesque, so you have nothing to worry about,” the Captain replied.   Wanting to explore the real reason behind the boy’s interest, he made a short, speculative statement, “I take it you don’t like storms?”

Lucas deliberately turned his face away, fighting with himself and looking back out the front window rather than answering.   From that one harmless query, the Captain and Kristin both probably assumed that he was afraid of storms.  He wasn’t about to correct them or openly disprove their unspoken theory.   There had been times when a thunderstorm was nothing more than a curse;  causing chaos and damage with destructive winds and the lightning they produced with torrential rain.

By the same token, those same elemental forces, allowed a sense of order and a level of clarity on other occasions that he didn’t think they would fully understand.  Better to allow them to draw their own conclusion with silence rather than be forced to mislead with a lie.


Bridger turned his full attention back to piloting the launch, pleased to see Lucas and Kristin enjoying the surrounding water and landscape.  “The mouth of this lagoon is much larger than some other islands, making entry a lot easier.   The water is tidal, but the waves are much calmer in this little inlet for most of the year.   Darwin is able to swim here without the threat from large predators.”

Lucas didn’t relish the idea of a shark coming too close to his aquatic friend, “A very good thing that he doesn’t,” he agreed whole-heartedly.

“In a minute or so I will come alongside the jetty.  When the launch comes to a full stop, the first job will be to secure it so that it cannot drift away.  I don’t want to have to explain to Admiral Noyce and the U.E.O. how I allowed their launch to escape on my watch,” Nathan joked.

Kristin gave a bright laugh at his comment, adding a playful taunt in return, “A good captain should be able to successfully manoeuvre their vessel in any manner as the situation arises.  Another desirable and worthy quality would be to keep track of their last known position.”

Nathan accepted her critique good-naturedly, quickly returning fire back at her, “They should to be able to bark orders at salty shipmates too like ‘scrub the deck lest ye walk the plank!

Lucas smirked at the antics between the pair of them, amused to see that two people spending a lot of time together who could tease and have fun without being straight-laced all of the time.   The teenager had seen too many heated exchanges between two individuals over trivial matters that were not based on a shred of mutual respect and often ended with violence.   When he was younger, his own parents were the prime example of such toxic behaviour and marriage merely based on convenience.   A small bubble of excitement started to rise at the prospect of what may happen over the coming days.

The speed of the launch had been decreased substantially as Bridger used precision and skill to carefully navigate coming alongside a wooden structure on the right-hand side.

“Lucas do you remember where to find the large coils of nylon rope that were loaded?” Nathan asked, wanting to get the teenager involved with all activities.  “The first task you and I will need to work on together in a few minutes is securing the launch to the jetty.”

“Ben did show me and I am fairly sure I can find it,” Lucas replied, getting out of the co-pilot seat and moving towards the rear cabin of the launch.

Kristin and Nathan could hear the teenager commenting to himself as he searched through the compartments.   He was eager to want to help.

“Ah! I found them Captain,” Lucas declared, holding up what he had been searching for.  “Boy these coils are heavier than I expected.  There are two here, do we need both?”

“No, one is carried as a spare, just in case,” Bridger answered.  “Well done on finding them so quickly.”   The reward for his praise was a genuine half-smile.  A few words were all that were needed to bolster his low self-esteem.

“Be careful on how you lift any heavy objects that you don’t aggravate your hip or pull the stitches on your back, Lucas,” Kristin advised, watching Nathan open up the launch doors.  “You don’t want to undo all that good healing.”

“Thank you for the concern, I will be fine.  Ben purposefully packed a mobile trolley onboard to use for unloading the larger boxes and bulkier storage containers.”

“Have you ever done any kind of boating or sailing before, Lucas?” Bridger asked, but instantly regretted bringing up the conversation at seeing the reaction he invoked.  A small part inside the man sank when a simple topic immediately set the boy on the defensive.

The self-reproach on the teenager’s face couldn’t be missed, shaking his head negatively, seemingly startled to be asked about any previous participation in water activities.  Carrying the coil of rope he refused to give any further verbal rebuttal by exiting the launch.

Walking over to him, Bridger wasn’t about to let those darker thoughts threaten the good that had been achieved, “It doesn’t matter if you haven’t before.  There is nothing for you to be ashamed about, Lucas.  The plan is to spend a few days here relaxing together as friends.  Kristin and I are not here to judge you on what you have or haven’t done before.”

Kristin couldn’t be happier with Nathan’s encouragement and commitment to helping Lucas.   In the back of her mind she recalled the boy mentioning about suffering from nausea when travelling back to SeaQuest.   That day three of them had been filling out forms down in med-bay, she and the teenager had spoken briefly about which methods of transport  plagued them with motion sickness.

“Boats and I don’t get along,” Lucas confessed to him in a soft voice, giving a tight smile, feeling decidedly unprepared at the Captain’s efforts of inclusion and casual conversation.   There were so many times where his opinion had not mattered, choices had been ignored or taken away, suggestions ridiculed and dismissed.   He wasn’t used to anyone taking the time to learn about what he wanted by listening.

The cool breeze that blew into their faces was pleasant and balanced out the heat of the sun shining down from its current high position in the sky.    The scent of the sea wafted across the surface of the water and seabirds called out a garbled welcome in the distance.   Entering the mouth of the lagoon their glimpse of the area as a whole had been limited.   Standing here, looking across the water to the grassy bank on other side, one could not be more impressed at its substantial size.

The land behind those trees was bordered by an imposing chain of mountains with sheer cliff faces, rising to dizzying heights above sea level.   A smaller species of seabird could be seen gliding on thermal updrafts.   They were too far away to see the nests that Nathan stated they were known for building on the narrow shelves of rock.   Such vastly different habitats and ecosystems encompassing one body of water.   Simultaneously they created a pristine wilderness and offered unsurpassed natural scenery.

Trees covered a large area and were clumped together quite densely.  From where the three of them were standing it was possible to view some species submerging their roots along the water’s edge.  That passage of land had no visible beach front and the water appeared to be a much darker shade of blue, signifying a greater depth.   On the right, a section of the bank narrowed and formed into a rocky outcrop, devoid of any vegetation.  A few seabirds were perched on larger boulders, diving off and hunting for unsuspecting fish with their sharp beaks.

“I take it you both approve?” Bridger probed with a small amount of pride, both of them scanning their new surroundings in silent amazement.   There was so much more for them to see yet, but these first positive reactions were certainly gratifying.

“I don’t know what I was expecting, Nathan, but your hideaway is breathtaking, and I can understand your desire to keep its location a closely guarded secret,” Kristin praised.  “I am very much looking forward to seeing what else you have to show us if these panoramic vistas are but a mere taste.”

With Lucas, Bridger was prepared to give him as much time as he needed to let everything soak in and enjoy the breeze and landscape.  He wasn’t expecting flowery words or a vocal appraisal.  The teenager’s applause would probably come in a much more subtle format and any disapproval may remain unspoken.

Letting people into your own protected world was not easy and the risk of revealing too much was ever present.   Although the circumstances and the reasons may be different, the Captain had been keeping others at arm’s length for a long time too.  Lucas was beginning to understand the opportunity that had been afforded to him by being invited.   “Thank you for letting me come here,” he whispered shyly.

Those few words reinforced to Bridger that his choice of destination of where to bring Lucas, had been the right one and not a mistake.   He made a mental note to thank Ben Krieg in a few days for one of his more brilliant ideas.  Nathan gave a light squeeze to his left shoulder, noting the apprehension about being away from the safety of SeaQuest, “You are very welcome.”

Lucas took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, silently enjoying the simple gift of freedom.  Fresh air, and standing where he was right now, not something to be taken for granted.   “Looking out there, I can see why you were drawn here,” the teenager remarked.  “Exploring it all could take some time.”

Bridger lowered his voice, was aware that Kristin could still hear the conversation he was about to have with the teenager.   “Well, I don’t think you or I are ready for abseiling or mountain climbing on this trip, but there will be plenty of time for us to traverse over the different parts of the island.   Keeping your bruised hip in mind though, it may be too far to try going all the way over there.”

The teenager rolled his eyes at the mention of his recent injury, knowing that Kristin would have the Captain watching him like a hawk to make sure that he wasn’t doing anything too strenuous.  He was about to make a strong statement in his own defence, but Bridger made an intriguing suggestion first.

“What we could do is some walking through the trees for a closer look at some of the unique flora and fauna and maybe take a photograph or two?”

“Could we do that?” Lucas asked, “Would Kristin come with us?”  He quickly forgot about his objection and was quite eager to talk about the proposed hiking trip, even if he had to agree to a compromised course.

“I had some other ideas for this afternoon, but there would be ample time tomorrow or the next day.  Why don’t we secure the launch, unload the supplies and belongings, then after some lunch you can ask her?”

Out of the corner of his eye, Bridger could see that Kristin had a small smile on her face but turned away at the last minute to keep up the façade.  Curious to do some scouting on this remote little piece of paradise, she would enjoy having Lucas ask her to go on an impromptu excursion.

Lucas nodded his head affirmatively but turned his attention to the coil of rope that he was holding onto.  “Can you please show me what to do?  I have never even seen this done before.”

“No judgment, remember,” Bridger repeated patiently, satisfied that the teenager was listening to his words, even if he wasn’t ready to believe them.

“You are about to receive a first-hand lesson on ‘Boating Safety 101’ and a crash course in knot tying.   Some of crew members onboard SeaQuest would tell you that they have never put much merit into that type of skill.   Submariners use the long-held excuse that being under the water means they don’t need to know how to use rope to tie a knot.”

“I will remember that next time Ben tells me that he doesn’t know how,” Lucas commented with a grin.  “Living on this island on your own, they could become a fairly critical thing for survival.”

Kristin waited to see if she was going to be asked about her own knot tying ability.   During her youth she had enjoyed many nights camping under the stars, pitching tents with poles, ropes and pegs.  A Pioneering badge had been earned with distinction when she a was a member of the Girl Guide movement.   Several family members have served with the British Merchant Navy.  A demonstration may be in order at some other time where a woman could show that she was just as capable as any man with a rope.

“During my naval career, I have spent half of those years serving on different types of vessels and have been fortunate to have some great instructors who readily passed on their expertise.  “My own father came from a military background, so when I was younger, he taught the advantages of being able to use ropes and knots to accomplish a whole range of tasks.”

Lucas wasn’t sure how to respond when hearing Bridger talk about his own father.   He would  have liked to hear more about the Captain’s own service and experiences before SeaQuest, but felt it wasn’t his place to ask.

Kristin agreed with Nathan’s correct assessment concerning the lack of competency being passed down through families, social activities and more regimented militant services like the navy.  Today’s younger generations were not taught, nor did the vast majority seek out or strive to learn such valuable techniques for themselves anymore.

Nodology is the ancient Latin term used for knot tying.  The Greeks referred to it as ‘kompology’” Nathan cited, always keen to share pieces of history and civilisations.

Paying attention, Lucas was mildly surprised at the range of Bridger’s insight about languages and ancient cultures and wondered about the depth of the man’s comprehension about such topics.  The hand-picked collection of artefacts in the Captain’s quarters back on SeaQuest appeared to be only a hint of his knowledge.   It was both refreshing and stimulating at the same time to have two adults who weren’t his college professors, but who were willing to share their wisdom without there being an alternative reason.

Kristin was following the conversation between Nathan and the teenager with great interest;  ready to add anything meaningful, but mostly to observe the small increments of connection that were taking place.  Nathan was stepping into the role of educator and teacher without even being aware of it, and Lucas was already soaking everything up like a sponge.

Walking towards the end of the jetty, Lucas was drawn to the weathered and worn wooden boards beneath his feet.  The landing measured two feet above the water line and was a rudimentary and simple structure.

Bridger could see the wheels turning and that sharp mind at work.   “Something the matter?”

At first, Lucas was lost in his own thoughts and hadn’t heard the question.  When he glanced back at the Captain, the man appeared to be waiting for him to provide an answer.

“This is much shorter and lower than what I was picturing in my head.”

“This little inlet is secluded and has been kept hidden, for both me and Darwin.  I must admit that it does need some maintenance work done to the surface, including resealing too of the wood to protect and prevent it from becoming rotten.   A larger vessel could enter here if they wished, but on the beach front there is a much larger pier built in deeper water for them to berth.” Bridger explained.  “All part of the afternoon tour, I promise.”

Lucas’s grin got a whole lot bigger at hearing that news.   They had barely stepped out of the launch and witnessed some fabulous scenery;  only to be told that there were more surprises instore.

Set back a few feet from end of the jetty, there were two metal t-shaped bars.  One bolted on the top and a second one mounted along the side.  Lucas theorized that this was where the rope was to be tied, but he wasn’t sure on how to loop the rope.

Bridger pointed to the coil in the teenager’s hand, explaining its make-up and characteristics, “That rope that you are holding in your hand is made from nylon and is best used for docking and mooring because of its strength and ability to stretch.  Nylon rope comes in double-braid or triple-strand and is generally easier to splice than other fibres.”

Trying to work out the logical sequence, he watched Bridger secure one end to the launch, only to have the rest of the remaining bundle handed back to him.   The man was entrusting way too much on him, but the teenager wanted to make himself useful.   Instead of backing away, he approached the opportunity as a challenge, waiting for the next set of instructions.

There was a little frustration and confusion mixed in on the teenager’s face at coming across something he was unfamiliar with.  “The official name for them is a ‘cleat’, Bridger informed him in an amused tone.  “The simplest, but most effective knot to use is called a cleat hitch and the act is referred to as cleating.”

Nathan could see that the boy’s burning ambition to learn new things was not limited to technology or computers.   Physical demands to any situation didn’t seem to be a deterrent.   Lucas had an untapped appetite to succeed that easily encompassed matters that piqued his creativity or ingenuity.

“Crouch down here, you can follow how I wrap the rope around, then I will take it off again and you can try to replicate,” Bridger suggested.  “I don’t expect you to grasp everything on the first attempt.  Practice and regular handling of the rope to get a feel for the correct tension is the way to get better.”

Lucas nodded his head, concentrating on how much rope the Captain was holding between his hands.

“Today we will use this one mounted on top of the jetty.  I can teach you how to change the angle for the cleat mounted on the side another time.”

For the next five minutes, Nathan patiently described the position of his hands and what he wanted the rope to do.   “Place it around the base of the cleat like this to start off with……….  Wrap the line back under the arm of the cleat opposite the first turn………. Then back over the top.   After that, use the rope in this hand and proceed to wrap the rope under the first arm a second time……….  Figure eight pattern…..   Form and under-hand loop and slip that loop over the arm of the cleat.  That now pins the free end under…”

“Now when you pull the free end you have a nice, neat and tidy but secure Cleat Hitch,” Bridger finished.   He wondered if he had been going too fast for the boy to follow his hands.  “Ready to give it a try?”

“I was doing fine until you started mentioning too many loops in a row,” Lucas reluctantly admitted.  “Can I please request the printed English language version.”

Kristin gave a snicker of laughter at Lucas’ response.  To be honest she had been trying to follow Nathan’s instructions at the same time and got lost somewhere around ‘figure of eight’.

“I am sorry, Nathan,” she offered in apology.  “I know you did your best to explain, but perhaps a picture or diagram would be better to understand.”

Lucas couldn’t hold back his own burst of laughter at the doctor’s suggestion.

“Hey!” Bridger directed at them with mock indignation, still kneeling on the wooden boards.   “Extra lessons for the both of you,” he added, joining in the laughter.   “Lucas, I didn’t expect miracles on the first try.”

“I was getting all twisted just watching you,” Lucas replied.  “I guess I will have to be confined to the land until further notice.”

Bridger stood up, giving a last minute inspection of his own work to ensure that the launch was properly tethered.   The self-reproachful expression he saw told him that the teenager had wanted to make a better impression in front of him.

Despite the casual banter, a small amount of disappointment crept in that he hadn’t understood more.  In the back of his mind there was another deeper voice yelling that he was trying to block out.   The name-calling and insults stung like a slap to the face and he was struggling to keep the emotion off his face.

“A few days here and some more tutelage, you will be able to tie knots of all kinds in no time.   Let’s start unloading those supplies and take them as far as the research shack and go from there.”

Lucas gave him a false smile and started walking back to the launch with the Captain, ready to help.


The sun overhead was at its highest point and the breeze they had felt on their faces when they first stepped out of the launch had diminished.   The leaves on the nearby trees were barely rustling.   The temperature for the day was increasing.

Following the two adults back inside the launch, the teenager noted that his throat was getting dry.  “Kristin, do you have any of those water bottles left please?”

“Yes, of course there is,” the doctor answered, reaching for the smaller cold bag she had brought with the food and drinks.  “There is some juice remaining too,” she offered, holding up the small bottle.

“I would prefer water this time, I had some juice earlier,” Lucas replied.  “Thank you,” he said, accepting the bottle before slowly taking a drink.    His choice was the right one, with the contents being refreshing and thirst quenching.

“Nathan, would you want a drink too?” Kristin queried before rezipping the bag.

“Yes, thank you, I would.  I think I will join Lucas in choosing the water.”

Kristin handed him the water, but then selected the juice for herself that they had both passed up.

“That was great,” Bridger commented as he finished the water but glanced down at his watch, another niggling awareness.   “I am getting hungry and would enjoy grabbing some food soon, even if we missed the lunchtime hour.”

“How about you, Lucas, are you ready to eat?” Nathan casually asked.

The teenager failed to answer, choosing instead to unstrap the mobile trolley and setting it up near the large yellow boxes.  “Probably better to only take one of these at a time on the bottom and load some lighter stuff on top.”

Kristin observed his deliberate action to ignore the question and his avoidance of anything even remotely related to food.   Over the next few days, she wanted to make a determined effort to get him eating healthily and on a more reliable schedule.    She was planning to use a combination of great aromas and flavours as the enticement, backed up with positive reinforcement strategies.   Subsequent to that she was preparing herself for the battle that lay ahead.

Bridger had noted the teenager’s distraction ploy and appreciated Kristin’s stance on the whole matter, knowing she trying to solve it as both a doctor and someone who cared about Lucas.  He agreed with her that he needed to eat regularly, but in his opinion, the best way of achieving that needed Lucas’ co-operation and willingness to change.

Before allowing Lucas to continue, the Captain went about checking that the trolley’s overall weight wasn’t too uneven.  “That should be enough for this first trip, Lucas.  Everything looks secure enough but speak up if you need help.   I estimate two trips should be sufficient.”

Lucas nodded his head, almost getting unstuck when the wheels got caught behind the lip of the launch doors.  With a second forceful shove, the trolley jumped up and rolled out onto the wooden jetty.   He was very grateful that Ben Krieg had the forethought to include the trolley.  Lugging all of these stores between the three of them without it would have taken a lot more time.

Kristin had collected the cold bag, her own personal luggage and the small bag that Lucas had brought along containing his clothes.   Wanting to lead by good example and demonstrate the recommended lifting technique, Nathan collected a couple of larger pieces that were not overly heavy.

By the time they had walked the length of the jetty, Lucas was making his way up the steeper incline.   The teenager found he had to bend deeply with his knees and push harder to maintain traction.  Quite the workout for the short distance but causing his hip to twinge in protest.  He wasn’t about to openly admit to the mild discomfort or quit after one trip; he would manage just fine.

“Great job, Lucas, place those stores over there,” Bridger called out, pointing to a large flat, grassy area;  preoccupied to notice the grimace of pain on the boy’s face.

Preparing to head back down to the launch to complete a second load, Lucas was startled when the Captain appeared from behind and took control of the trolley.  “You wait here with Kristin and I will grab what is left.”

Nathan returned but left the stores he had hauled back on the trolley, knowing they would need to be moved again.   He was about to say something but grinned at the silence of his audience experiencing their new surroundings for the first time.   He couldn’t blame them, remembering a rush of butterflies that struck on his introductory visit to the island.  In his case, that strong sense of belonging to one particular place found him and never left.

Any words of objection the teenager wanted to say, fell away as his train of thought was interrupted.   The landscape before him had changed from mountains, trees and water.

The backdrop was now a rainforest of palms and lush tropical flowering plants growing together, a mixture of different textures and shades of green that were a visual treat.   The words overgrown and crowded could have been applied, but Lucas preferred wild or untamed.

By examining each plant species closely, maybe he would be able to identify some of them individually, like he had done in Kristin’s science department back on SeaQuest.  Lucas wasn’t around living plants often enough and by being so objective, he may miss the chance to appreciate a whole new natural world.

“Nathan, even within this immediate area, the abundance of flora diversity is quite commendable and something to treasure,” Kristin praised.  “Can I assume that is the case across your whole island?”  Although his passion was focused on dolphins, she wouldn’t be surprised if there was a rare plant or two waiting to be discovered.   The man was known for having strong conservation values for living things and their ensuring the survival of threatened habitats.

“You would be correct, Kristin, and thank you, but I don’t think I can take much of the credit,” Nathan replied.  “Weather and climate, erosion of sand, a mix of the right nutrients and minerals in the soil;  all factors that have played a part in carving out the right balance for life.   This island has thrived in its own unique way and I am fortunate enough to live here and watch while mother-nature paints her masterpiece.”

Turning his head to the left, Lucas found his attention being drawn away to a more simplistic feature.  Set up on a higher piece of ground, enabling a complete picturesque survey of the bay and the escarpment on the opposite side.   Open to the elements, seemingly out of place or an afterthought;  until he considered the prominent position of where it was standing.  Walking over closer to it, he decided that it wasn’t done by mistake.

Kristin stayed with the luggage and stores, using one of the large yellow boxes as a seat.   After working most of her adult career at hospitals in the city, she wouldn’t normally refer to herself as a person who enjoyed the outdoors lifestyle.   That didn’t mean she couldn’t get used to gazing out at this uninterrupted view over the lagoon.

Bridger followed the teenager, watching him, and like the wooden jetty could see him taking a vested interest.   “Not much to look at I know, but it has played a vital role from the very beginning.”

“Yeah?” Lucas questioned with a hint of incredulity.  “A communication station, or a primitive version, but it looks like it was assembled by Dr Jekyll himself,” hazarding his own guess at its purpose”

“Thanks a lot, but not quite,” Bridger replied, chuckling a little and defending his carpentry know-how.   “I made it myself.  It was one of my first projects when we arrived, and I recycled a piece of furniture that was surplus to our needs.  Out here there are no large department stores to buy from or who will deliver for a reasonable price.”

Lucas smirked at that remark but continued to listen to the story about the station’s humble origins.

“As you can see, it was once a tall wooden chest of drawers with a mirror in the centre, but the framing around had a crack that was getting bigger.   I used some other smaller pieces of wood to create that shelf that has a few compartments.  The original varnish on the wood is almost completely gone, but it not meant to win any beauty contests.”

“Well, what I meant to say was like what you said, it has seen better days.  I am sure you could make it better,” Lucas countered.   The Captain would have to know a whole host of basic handyman and maintenance skills living in a remote location.

“Believe it or not, there are plans drawn up to do that, but the rainy season came a little early before I could get started,” Bridger informed him.  “My research took up a lot of my spare time; and then someone called Noyce shows up unannounced and badgers me into going to look at the U.E.O.’s new shiny toy.”

“It would be neat to see what you had in mind about improving it,” Lucas hinted.  The radio transmitting and receiving equipment was on a smaller scale, but older than what Miguel Ortiz or Tim O’Neill operated on a daily basis.   He wasn’t sure how much he wanted to reveal about his own knowledge and usage, so decided to omit those details until another time.

Bridger bent down and opened up the bottom set of cabinet doors.   “I would like to install a reliable power source, because at the moment, everything is run on this small battery unit.  It works adequately if I need to contact the mainland and provides a good tracking system for the portable receiver for Darwin’s harness.  In addition to those points, I want to make the workspace on top there larger and protect the whole structure from the weather.”

Lucas returned to where Kristin was sitting, but rather than strike up a fresh conversation with her, he looked across the water.   Bridger was standing with them, but both adults knew what he was looking for something specific;  a friend called Darwin.

The first signs of worry began to show that his dolphin friend was taking longer than anticipated,  “I thought he would have been here by now.  I hope he is okay out there all by himself.”

A supportive hand came to rest gently on his left shoulder, “Don’t worry, he will be along when he is ready,” Bridger soothed.  “Darwin likes to take stop by his dolphin friends and take the scenic route home.  He may not arrive until later tonight.  You and I can come down here in the morning and check together.”

Lucas turned at the Captain’s words and gave a small smile of appreciation at understanding that a special bond was growing.  By all rights, the dolphin belonged to him, but the teenager couldn’t deny that since coming onboard SeaQuest, he too had strong feelings developing towards the aquatic creature.

“Come on, let me play tour guide for a little longer,” Bridger encouraged.  “There are some other neat things that I would like to show off to you and Kristin.”


Walking away from the grassy lawn, curiosity was refreshed when Lucas spotted a large object parked alongside the research shack.  Shrouded in a heavy, weatherproof tarpaulin,  “Is this what I think it is?” Running his hand along the length of fabric.  The shape underneath was very telling.

“Why don’t you pull back the cover at the back there and take a look for yourself,” Bridger invited.  “You don’t have to take it all the way off.”

“It makes sense that you would own a boat of some kind,” Kristin whispered to Nathan as they watched the teenager make his own confirmation.

Lucas dared to peel back a section of the polyethylene to take a peek at what it was hiding.

The Captain decided to give an oral commentary of the craft, “A white fibreglass boat, suitable for my daily fishing trips out into the deeper waters of the lagoon.   The bottom is self-draining and it’s fairly easy to keep afloat beside the jetty.    The two compartments can be used to transport fishing gear and a bench seat that can be detached and swapped around.  Down the centre there, you should spot a pair of varnished wooden oars which can be fitted anytime.”

“Your arms and upper body must get a great workout by lifting them into these brackets and then rowing manually,” Lucas commented.  “Can an engine be mounted on the back?”

“On days when I choose not to paddle, I make use of a 9,9 horse power Suzuki short-shafted boat motor,” Bridger confirmed.  “Allows a nice steady pace of about twelve knots with one person, less than that with additional passengers.  The seating capacity allows for a maximum of four people.   Measuring fourteen and a half feet long and sixty inches in width, it is surprisingly versatile; weighing a fraction over three hundred pounds.”

“I think my stomach would protest no matter the speed,” the teenager surmised, swallowing nervously.  “Climbing into it would be a challenge because my balance would be thrown off by the rocking motion in the water.   Recommended or not, four people plus tackle would be too cramped, even with storage capability and the padded cushions.”

Nathan wanted to be upfront abouts it’s usage during this short trip.    “The boat was only taken out of the water and covered over before I came to SeaQuest.  There are a whole host of features and accessories that we could spend all day talking about, but I am not sure that we will need to use it during the next few days.  That decision can be made as we need to.”

Lucas started thinking logically about the weight of the boat that Bridger had quoted, then turned and looked down towards the jetty.  Walking a few steps, he changed the angle of his line of sight and then retraced them.   He did this three times, trying to come up with a plausible explanation.

“What is the matter?” Kristin inquired, not understanding what was puzzling him.

Lucas took a few moments to respond, “Oh nothing really, maybe it’s me over-thinking, but something is not gelling.”

‘Gelling?’  Kristin assumed that was a colloquial term for ‘not adding up’.  Despite possessing and demonstrating a high level of intelligence, she was still adjusting to his vocabulary as a teenage boy.

He was trying to figure out the distance versus one person.  Instead of answering her, he directed his next remark squarely at the Captain.  “A long way to haul a boat up here on your own, even with the total masse being inconsequential.”

‘Trust Lucas to pick up on a small detail like that’

Looking down at his feet with a smirk, Bridger couldn’t help but feel caught red-handed with his hand in the cookie jar.  “There isn’t any choice but to learn how to do everything here.”

The teenager was satisfied enough with his explanation.  Maybe he was being overly suspicious for no reason, shrugging his shoulders and going back to examine more of the boat.

Kristin noted the expression on Nathan’s face, also listening to his bland reply.   She suspected that the man was holding something back from the both of them.  A trait that was out of character for him, especially with Lucas.  He had impressed on more than one occasion that he wanted to be as honest as he could with the teenager.

“Does your boat have a name?” Lucas asked, casually changing the topic.   Larger vessels usually had a name, but he didn’t know it that rule of thumb carried over to smaller craft.

“Painted in blue lettering below where your left hand is,” Bridger answered.

The teenager lifted the canvas away from that spot to read the cursive script,  ‘Adrift’  

Bridger’s voice took on a melancholy tone, “Aptly describes the owner rather accurately I think, but the name also hints at the time in my life after Carol died;  desolate with no sense of direction or who I wanted to be anymore.”

The Captain’s words indicated that the boat was acquired after the death of his wife.  Lucas remembered seeing the woman’s photograph loaded into the holographic program.

“Time doesn’t stop us forgetting about our loved ones, but after enough has past, it does help us move forward,” Kristin offered, knowing he still felt the pain of her absence.

“Bill wouldn’t leave it alone that day he came here.  I got angry with him and yelled that I had made a promise to her when our son passed away,” Nathan whispered, knowing she had experienced great personal loss too.   They could have spent all day here talking about his wife and son, but the words began to get stuck in his throat, “I hope she understands why I changed my mind.”

“The people we cherish who have gone before us, let us know that a part of their spirit stays behind.   Maybe not in a way that we can understand, or want to see, but they keep watch,” Kristin confided.  “The scientist in me scoffs at such idealistic notions, but my own heart needs to believe that they do.   My grandmother taught me faith and hope, and I dare not argue with her.”

“Thank you for the great advice from your grandmother,” Bridger returned, giving her hand a light squeeze in kindness.  When it came to Carol and Robert, he silently wished her words were true.

The Captain and Kristin had finished sharing a very poignant moment, and he hadn’t wanted to interrupt.  Knowing what to say to comfort someone about the death of a family member was way out of his forte.   Lucas replaced the tarpaulin cover, making sure that it wouldn’t get blown off and carted away by the wind.


Lucas moved away from the trolley and stores, focusing solely on the research shack.   There was enough to see on the outside before even bothering to climb the steps;  his eyes being drawn everywhere.

Curiosity was definitely being created at the striking composition of structure and architecture staring back at him.   A number of intriguing exterior chattels glared back at him, seemingly mismatched and unorganised at the first glance.  Taking a closer look and recognising each thing and its purpose, then a whole picture began to emerge.   This place wasn’t meant to be pretty and had a unique presence.

The building was constructed entirely out of wood, with a verandah wrapping around the front and both sides.   Instead of wooden boards like those of the jetty, the outer walls were constructed from vertical galvanized aluminium panelling.    A simplistic design, with the pitch of the roof sloping downwards, ending with a wide, flattened eave supported by evenly spaced square posts.

Flexible bamboo matchstick blinds were rolled up and tied beneath the front rafters, but their poor condition suggested that they had seen better days and may not have been used recently.

Along the side of the building, a number of empty wooden crates were stacked on top of each other in sets of two and three.   There was a single chair leaning against the wall and two more down the other end, all of them a different style and one with noticeable damage to the legs.   There were fishing rods laying horizontal up on mounted brackets.   Cast nets with handles and knotted fishing nets were hanging on metal hooks.   Imbedded into one of the front central posts was a large carving knife.

A cream canvas hammock was suspended from the ceiling and strung across the right-hand side of the verandah, ready to sway gently in a breeze.  The fabric draped with the right amount of tension into deep folds.  Strong cords entwined on each end and then secured with metal fastenings.    Lucas hadn’t used one before, but it looked comfortable and inviting to occupy on a lazy afternoon.

Kristin was standing close by, taking note of a number of features of the building, but coming short on positive things to say without offending Nathan.   Fishing had been a favourite pass time of her ex-husband Nelson, but not an activity that she wanted to do for fun.

“There is something to be said about your place, but I find myself struggling to do so nicely,” she admitted.  “Forgive me please, it was not my intention to insult your home,” she stated, unable to mask her skepticism well enough.  To use an old adage, she had arrived with misconceptions and was unfairly judging the place before giving it a chance.

Nathan appreciated her honesty and candidness but by the same token wasn’t offended by her lack of positivity, knowing both of them were about to be surprised.

Lucas hadn’t realised how much time had lapsed by observing without talking.  The next thing he knew, Bridger was standing beside him with an expectant grin of his first impression of the old place.

The teenager decided to indulge his cheekier side when giving his answer.

“This place screams ‘you’ with the whole deserted island, Robinson Crusoe existence,” he needled.  “I am disappointed not to see ropes and swinging vines strung up in the surrounding trees.”

“Hey!”  What do you mean by that wisecrack?” Bridger challenged with mock indignation.

Silently he knew that the teenager’s appraisal was all in good fun.   Lucas must have been feeling relaxed enough for that part of his personality to emerge.  Bridger certainly hoped it was an upward trend that continued for the duration of their stay.

“Oh come on, Captain.   The spiel from the real estate agent who sold you this place would have sounded like;  “A unique opportunity not to be missed, that comes with loads of potential.  The place could use a little tender loving care, but nothing that would be too difficult for the right person who is handy with a hammer and a paint brush.   The building exudes character and enjoys the cost effective benefits of natural light and air-conditioning.”

“I was planning to repaint at some point, and he was motivated to get his commission, Bridger gave in rebuttal.   “Maybe instead of computers you could learn to sell property.  You already have the knack for turning any negative into a sales pitch.”

Kristin laughed at their impromptu ribbing of each other.  Today they had witnessed a few sparks of unbridled wonderment coming from someone who had missed out during their childhood.   Like Nathan, she too wanted Lucas’ adolescent nature to show through a little more often.

“Time to see if the inside lives up to your expectations,” Bridger announced, reaching inside his pocket and bringing out a set of keys.    He walked up the staircase ahead of his guests, getting ready to unlock the front door.   Kristin followed him, keen to see what had consumed the man’s time while he had been living here away from civilisation.

Lucas stopped at the bottom of the stairs, but before climbing, his attention was drawn skyward to the roof.  “Solar panels as your source of power,” he remarked.   Four large rectangular panels were mounted side-by-side, taking full advantage of the sun’s position.

Bridger could see Lucas already doing some calculations in his head, basing the output of energy that they would create over a period of time.   “They have proved very reliable and a good source of power.  There is a converter and battery storage system on the other side of the back door.”

The Captain had been trying to provide more educational stimulation for his bright young scholar, but his next comment was not received well.   “Did you ever get to conduct science projects at school or college based on renewable or clean energy, Lucas?”

For a moment, the teenager seemed completely taken aback by the casual question, but the disapproval he wore spoke volumes.  “Not by choice!  Everything about ‘making energy’ in all possible formats and configurations became ‘his’ working obsession for as long as I can remember.  That compulsion soon devolved further into delusion and came to dominate every facet of his life and my own pathetic existence.”

The boy had pushed aside the looming threat for a few hours by coming here.   Bridger didn’t need to guess very hard who the unnamed ‘he’ was and prayed that any positive efforts made by him and Kristin did not dampen his mood.

Lucas walked briskly up the steps.   This trip that had started out with a healthy amount of optimism and he wanted to suppress any encroaching dark thoughts.  “Please, can we go inside and take a look?”

The Captain noted the pleading tone of voice and without another word, inserted the key, unlocked the door and pushed it open, inviting both guests to enter.


Kristin was delighted by the display of good manners by being allowed to enter first, followed by both companions.

Thankfully, Lucas was holding onto a strong appetite for exploring the inside of the shack.  This temporarily overshadowed any negative emotions threatening to surface.

In complete contrast, if the outside was archaic and simplistic;  then the inside exhibited scientific and technological capability.  At least one half of the space anyway.   Three quarters of the back wall was lined with analysing and data storing equipment.   On the left-hand side of the room there scanning microscopes and other laboratory paraphernalia.

The teenager walked closer to the equipment, a little disappointed that he couldn’t see them recording or working because of currently being switched off.   To say that he was truly fascinated with what he could see was a complete understatement.   He hadn’t suspected anything like this set up at all.

“I don’t see a rope or vine anywhere,” Bridger quipped, thrilled that he had invoked an honest reaction.  “Unfortunately I made sure that everything was fully shut down on my last visit before going back to the SeaQuest.  I hadn’t planned on returning here this soon.  The isn’t much benefit to be gained by turning them back on for a few days, only to have to do the reverse again before we leave.”

Lucas turned, nodding his head, wanting to ditch any preconceived notions.  “I understand, it would have been neat to see everything in operation.  I am sorry I doubted what you were trying to do here.  This is extremely cool.”

‘Extremely cool’   Bridger recognizing that he was on the receiving end of high applause indeed.

The cost of some individual apparatus and instruments could easily reach thousands of dollars.   Collectively, some serious money had been spent, and that expenditure wouldn’t have allowed for incidentals, accessories, parts or the regularly required upkeep.

Kristin couldn’t deny that she was impressed by what Nathan had been concealing behind the outer walls.   A remarkable achievement to be able to maintain such a condensed research facility in a completely secluded environment, but still be able to provide reliable and accurate information.

The doctor had been thinking along the same lines as Lucas about the large outlay it would have taken to establish such an array of technology.  When Bill Noyce had asked her to head the Science and Medical Departments onboard SeaQuest, she had negotiated and been afforded a healthy budget.   Yearly increases had also been drawn up in the contract but would be dependent on Kristin’s ability to convince the U.E.O. that more money was needed and justified by tangible results and the odd startling breakthrough.

The kind of enterprise that lay in front her would have required a larger bankroll than a military career nest-egg or the monthly salary of a Captain.  Perhaps Nathan had approached the military for funding or procured investment from private companies and environmental advocates.   She didn’t want to speculate about Carol’s financial background but perhaps together, both of them had amassed significant assets to carve out this endeavour.

Glancing over at the right-hand side of the room, Lucas noted there was a double-bed butted into the corner, underneath a small window.   Towards the front of the room, a wooden bench with a sink.   There were open shelves mounted onto the wall that held glass jars and air-tight containers with unknown contents.  There wasn’t an inch of the cabin that wasn’t being used.  A strange combination of laboratory, basic living quarters and workshop.

“Guilty of spending too many nights here, accidentally falling asleep when I was supposed to be evaluating statistics or garnishing current weather patterns from temperature readings,” Bridger professed.

“That is something I can definitely attest to doing far too often,” the teenager concurred.  “After spending long hours on countless projects, losing track of time becomes inescapable.”  Lucas flashed a sharp look back at the Captain in alarm as soon as the words left his mouth.   They could be construed as a confession about recent nocturnal activity aboard SeaQuest.

Bridger didn’t know what he had been doing did he?

Suspicion began to grow that the man was aware about the odd hours that he had been keeping.  Carrying out the repairs on the digital door locks had been easier during early morning hours because he could move about the corridors freely.  When they returned to SeaQuest, he would need to be more careful about his night-time routine.

 Nathan noted the ‘caught-in-the-headlights’ guise before it was hidden away beneath a thin mask of deflection.  He exchanged knowing glances with Kristin, but neither of them wanted to disclose what Ben had observed.  Lucas was avoiding eye contact with both adults by walking on the opposite side the room, focusing his intrigue elsewhere as a distraction.

 “Where does this door lead to?” Lucas queried, ratting the handle but finding it locked.

“Nowhere really, it’s only the back door” Bridger answered, producing the set of keys, skimming through them until he found the correct one.  “There it is, that one has a              misshaped head from getting crushed at some point.  There, that should do the trick,” he proclaimed, pushing the solid wooden door outwards, allowing the inquisitive teenager to step through first.

Whilst they were outside together, Kristin remained inside, taking a closer look at each individual apparatus, but then assessing how they performed together.  That kind of attention to detail took months, if not years to achieve on any correlative scale.   Nathan had gone to great lengths of setting up each piece of equipment in a specific sequence that allowed for maximum efficiency and optimum productivity.

Being at the rear, there whole area was much darker due to the thicker canopy and shrubbery.  This back verandah was narrower than it was at the front and it wasn’t cluttered with crates and fishing nets.

“A recent model and not a bad size for a single unit,” Lucas remarked, walking up to the generator that was butted against the wall.   He followed the lines and circuitry running down from the solar panels on the roof into the reservoir capacitor and converter.   “Did you set this up all by yourself?”  His respect for the Captain’s application and practical knowledge on the subject had increased substantially.   Compared to designing a high-tech vessel like SeaQuest, he shouldn’t be so surprised at the man’s fortitude and aptness.

“I cannot accept much credit for the installation or even drawing up the blueprints.  However, I don’t mind bearing their label of ambitious scheme.  The system will allow for adjustments during extended periods of adverse weather conditions on the island and the solar panels are not able to absorb enough sunlight.   It also provides the capacity for an increased power supply when the demand calls for it,” the Captain explained, confident that his young audience understood the terminology.   “A few trusted people told me what I would need to buy and then taught me how to operate everything without assistance.”

“Ready to go back inside?”

“Sure.  Your ‘shack’ is much more than anything I could have imagined,” Lucas commended.

“Well I am glad you are enjoying what I have shown, but don’t throw away your ticket stub yet,” Bridger foreshadowed, relocking the door.  “This is merely the beginning of the excursion,” he added, giving a grin at the stunned expression he earned in return.

“All this may look somewhat splendid now, but when Carol and I first came to live here, there was only the bare basics.   No computers or electronic equipment, no running water or even electricity.   We ate by candlelight outside for the first three months and had to bucket fresh water in every day for drinking and to use in cooking.”

“Carol must have been a strong person and possessed a great deal of patience,” Kristin commented.  “Part of being a scientist is learning how to adapt to different circumstances and changing environments.  I am not sure that I could have agreed to live in cramped lodgings alongside my work for all that time.”

Lucas made the casual remark, “People learn to do the best they can with what they have at the time.”   Fortunately on this occasion, both adults were not listening closely enough to note the small window of inference about his own home life.

Kristin was slowly beginning to build a mental picture of this woman that Nathan had loved for so long.   There was an undeniable mark of sadness across his heart from her loss.

Speaking of married couples, Lucas glanced towards the other side of the room that was furnished with the double bed.   The Captain had stated that he didn’t have enough room for all invited crew members to sleep inside when they arrived in a few days.   Ben had been instructed to issue tents for that final night.   But thinking about the stores and suppliers that were sitting outside with the mobile trolleys, the teenager couldn’t recall seeing them.

What were he and Kristin going to do until then?  There was the hammock outside, and he could use that.   So far as he knew, the two adults had only known each other for a relatively short period time.   Surely they wouldn’t…………..

With the doctor standing nearby, he didn’t dare think about that kind of sleeping arrangement.

“Lucas, are you feeling alright?” Kristin questioned.  “A moment ago your face was turning an interesting shade of red.”

“I am fine, thank you,” he said succinctly, digging his hands deeper into the pockets of his jeans.  “Sorry, I was thinking of something completely different,” he added, feeling guilty for the abrupt way he had spoken.

Lucas was completely mortified with embarrassment.   ‘Did she have to be that observant all of the time?’

Kristin accepted his explanation without further comment, but she suspected that his answer was only partly true.  There was still quite a lot of ground work to do in getting him accustomed to people wanting to check up on him.

Lucas deflected focus away from himself by changing the topic of discussion.   “Captain, did you want me to start bringing the storage containers in here?  Eyeballing the available floor space, he wasn’t sure where everything was going to fit.

On the day Nathan had met in her office, Kristin remembered him talking about staying at a house.  The research shack they were standing in now didn’t fit that description.

“No, none of that is staying here,” Bridger replied.   “There isn’t enough room for all of that and the three of us to stay here comfortably, even for a few days.”

“But where……?” the teenager started to say, but then stopped.    ‘Why did it sound like ……’, but Kristin spoke first before he could finish the thought.

“When you spoke to me back on SeaQuest, you indicated there was a house?”

“There is another house……?” the boy blurted out, trying to get his head around that new piece of information that had been left out of any prior discussion.

‘A little too convenient’ he wanted to say but stayed silent.  As a rule, he didn’t like it when critical facts were left out where he was involved.   Past experience had been a cruel teacher and he baulked at surprises because they were rarely the good kind.

“I was hoping to keep that secret a little longer, but I suppose there isn’t much to be gained by doing so,” Nathan conceded, walking over and pulling open a drawer.  “Let me grab the next set of keys.  These are usually kept safe in here when I am away.  Time is beginning to get away from us today and we should start heading there now.”

Bridger was clearly pleased with about the mystery surrounding some aspects of their trip.  Lucas didn’t want to spoil his fun or ruin anything the Captain may have planned for him or Kristin.


The three of them walked out of the research shack and down the front stairs, with Bridger closing the door behind them.    The Captain then made sure that the strap was tight and secured around his load and would prevent anything falling off.

Kristin picked up her own personal luggage, the cooler bag and one other smaller box.   Between them, the burden was fairly evenly distributed, and everything could be moved in the one trip.

Lucas took control of the trolley he had brought up from the launch but spoke up after glancing over to right.  “Kristin, please don’t take this the wrong way, but do you want any help with some of that?”

Nathan was pleased to hear the teenager use good manners a second time, about to make the same gentlemanly offer.   He didn’t know who taught or instilled in Lucas that they were important, but the lessons had stuck well and were respected.   Younger generations were often lacking these days in those basic social skills, so it was nice to see them being applied without having to be prompted.

“Thank you for caring, Lucas, but I will manage just fine,” the doctor replied.  “I will let you know if I need further assistance but appreciate your gallantry.”

The teenager shrugged his shoulders, giving a cautious gesture to her compliment.   Sometimes you just never knew how some ladies were going to react to the offer to help them.  Most were accepting and receptive to being asked.  They usually acted all pretentious and would screech loudly about not wanting to be patronized.   On a few occasions, some had been snobbish and rudely claimed that they were perfectly capable of taking care of themselves without help.

Casual conversation was in short supply as Kristin and Lucas were guided along a simple, gravel pathway, walking at an even pace in a south-westerly direction from behind the research shack.   Trees and heavy rainforest growth accumulated on both sides of the road.  Shards of sunlight pierced through the canopy at random points, highlighting the same diversity of plant species that had been noted earlier.   There was so much to look at and take in, without needing to talk.

At this time in the early afternoon, the amount of sunlight making it through the leaves was enough to prevent the trail becoming too dark.    Night-time may bring a totally different perspective though and be a little spookier.

They had travelled only fifty metres when the path split into two distinct opposite directions.   Lucas couldn’t help but ask the question, “Where does that way lead?”

“To the northern side of the island,” Bridger answered.  “I have plans to take you that way tomorrow morning after breakfast.  Be mindful though, as the rainforest and trees grow  thicker and can be tricky to navigate.  Further along, towards the coastline, there are sand-bars and shallow rock pools to explore.”

Lucas’ blue eyes lit up with enthusiasm, “I can’t wait, everything sounds so great already,”   The mysteries surrounding this island were continuing to grow by the minute.

Kristin smiled at the spark of adventure she could hear and see coming from the teenager.  “Nathan how far is it to this main house from your research shack?” she interjected.

“Two hundred and fifty metres, or thereabouts,” Nathan replied.  “I will admit there is a blind spot after leaving the shack where you cannot see either building.   Once the main house was constructed and habitable, I wanted to be able to keep the working and living spaces separate.  That definition was somewhat deliberate on my part, and something that Carol came to enjoy.   There is a distinct bend in the road not far ahead, but after that, you should be able to get your first glimpse.”

Kristin was making a mental note for herself to set aside some time during these few days to walk this track again.   With Nathan’s consent and plenty of photographs, she could take the time to examine the flora closely.   Maybe even take a sample or two back to SeaQuest to preserve and include in her specimen collection.

“This is that bend.  A natural feature of the landscape that I enhanced without taking anything away,” Nathan explained to Lucas.  “From here, you will notice that the path takes a more westerly route.”

“Did you make this entire distance of road all on your own?” Lucas questioned.  “It looks fairly rough and primitive, but it blends in with the trees without standing out.”  The segment of track wasn’t that long in terms of metres but digging and laying it from scratch would have been an enormous undertaking for any one person.    The wheels on his trolley had caught and snagged on a few of the larger stones.

“Mostly by myself,” Nathan commented, not wanting to reveal who had pitched in and helped.  “Initially there were some unforeseen delays and minor set-backs from weather and transporting materials to such a remote location.   I originally anticipated twelve weeks, but in reality, I should have allowed many months to finish.  My back definitely suffered from the hard work, but I did have some help.”

Rounding the bend, Kristin and Lucas stopped walking, scarcely able to string a word or coherent thought together that would adequately describe the setting before them.   Arriving at the research shack had been interesting and gave insight into Nathan’s lifestyle before SeaQuest.    Their first reaction to this place and the surrounding grounds was startling and profound.

Bridger stood back without speaking, knowing that he had been keeping a very large secret.   This place had not been built for him, but his visitors were in for a real treat.   ‘Stunned silence’ was the best phrase for the expression on Kristin’s face.   The teenager’s thoughts were a lot harder to decipher.

“Oh, Nathan!” Kristin exclaimed softly as she stood in total surprise.   Whatever she had pictured in her mind concerning ‘another house’, this certainly wasn’t even close.   She had been expecting small, quaint and homely.  Something more befitting for a well-educated woman like Carol, but this residence was grand and stately.

“Je ne sais quoi,” Lucas whispered, the first words out of his mouth not in English.   A second occurrence where they had overheard him speaking in a foreign tongue.

Kristin laughed at Nathan’s own puzzled face, “Something distinctive or special in some way, but he is finding it difficult to put into words,” she loosely translated.   “I cannot deny that describes my own sentiments fairly accurately.”

Despite the minor language barrier and the half-truth about where they would be staying, Nathan wanted to believe the initial reaction coming from the boy was genuine and his opinion, a positive one.

The Captain was prepared to give Lucas as much time as he needed to survey everything, address any concerns and answer any questions.  It was clear that he had not heard the brief conversation he shared with Kristin.

The teenager continued to marvel at how large it was and thinking back to the expensive equipment that he had already seen back at the research shack.   Not wanting to hazard a guess about the Captain’s financial assets.  The Navy must be paying a lot more these days for their staff.    Ben Krieg would mount a strong argument to the contrary about that assumption.

For a few moments the teenager was reluctant to say anything.   That changed when he decided that he needed to give an oral critique.  “That house doesn’t reflect what I have learned about you at all.”

‘Perhaps I assumed too much’ Bridger thought silently, continuing to listen.

“Please don’t take this the wrong way, from the outside it is certainly massive and probably very luxurious inside.  I assume that this house didn’t come with the island.  For you, the shack fits and makes sense, this place does not.”   Lucas glanced over at the man, wary that the Captain may take offense at any adverse remarks.

Nathan could see that the boy was cautiously watching his gestures and body language.  For someone who was used to intimidation and received constant threats, it probably became an involuntary response to almost anyone.    He wished there was a better way to convince the teenager that he was safe here on the island from any of that behaviour.    Time and patience were going to be the best tools he was determined to use an endless supply of both.

Bridger cautiously stepped closer, “I do appreciate your honesty, Lucas.   You and Kristin are the first visitors to my island in a long time.  I am happy to have both of you here to share in Carol’s vision.   When we first met, I had barely been given my first deployment orders.   Our first home together as a married couple was one bedroom on a naval base.   There were times where she was raising Robert all by herself without any news about where I was or when I was coming home.   Thankfully, she wasn’t a woman who focused on how society judged her or wanted to accumulate material things that held no real meaning.

“Without any promises about how life was going to be once I started following dolphins, Carol lived in that research shack with me whilst this main house was being constructed.   Fourteen long, unpredictable months.  She changed my life for the better and enriched it in so many ways over many years.   When this unique opportunity presented itself to us, I decided then that she deserved to have nothing but the best.”

Lucas couldn’t stop the emotion swelling up from within for Bridger, “You must have loved her very much.”

“I still do very much, Lucas,” the Captain admitted, having no qualms of speaking about his wife in the present tense.   “This time let’s do this the other way around.  I want to show you and Kristin the inside, once we make our way there.   Then I can show you the back gardens, the other external buildings and a special place along the side I think you might like.”

“There is so much to take in,” Lucas remarked, finding it difficult to focus on the main features as the three restarted walking slowly towards the house.  Like the track itself, the teenager couldn’t help but wonder how much of the house Bridger had built himself.

Nathan gave an answer to the boy’s unspoken question, “Not entirely built by me. I did help, but I was able to call in a few favours from people who were vastly more experienced about construction than me.  I won’t lie that it took time and of course there were delays.    With a lot of hard work and collaboration, it was done with only love in mind.  Carol would have been content to continue living in the shack; well maybe not ‘happy’ per sé, but she would have accepted the cards of fate without complaint.  This house has everything that Carol could have wished for or dreamed about.  Although she may be gone, it brings me a great deal of comfort living here because I can see a part of her in almost every corner of the house or garden.”

Kristin’s eyes softened as she listened to the effort that Nathan was prepared to put into keeping Carol Bridger’s memory alive.   The house and garden were an extension of her personality and a physical culmination of his devotion.

Comparing their surroundings to their first introduction to the research shack to now was like night and day.  The plant species in that immediate vicinity could easily be described as chaotic and at worst, overgrown.   The gardens at the front of this large double-storey structure had been carefully planned out and tended.  A painter’s palette of colour and textures and a sweet fragrance that floated on the air with the breeze.

“Carol must have had a very green thumb, Nathan,” Kristin commented, appreciating the scent of lavender.   One of her favourite flowers to dry, keep and store in drawers in the form of potpourri bags.

The trail they had just traipsed down, stopped abruptly at the tree-line, giving way to white gravel stone paths set amongst an expanse of manicured gardens.  Nathan shared with his guests the wealth of homework that Carol did into carefully choosing and selecting each plants species.   The lawn was a broad leaf variety of grass, selected to tolerant sandy, free-draining soil, the high salt content of the water and the harsh effects of erosion from the wind.

Set back on the right were two rows of planter boxes, raised, evenly spaced and constructed out of dark brown bricks.   Growing inside the boxes were tall stems of lavender were mixed together with flowering leafy, variegated tropical ginger plants.   Smaller hardy and salt loving trailed over the edge with new buds ready to emerge in full colour.

“Gardening was one of her personal favourite pass-times after dolphins and cooking,” Nathan answered proudly.  “She did all of this.  I helped with the gravel and the planter boxes.   When we first came here there were no paths or plants.  Thankfully through her hard work and determination, they take care of themselves in propagating and self-seeding.  Rainfall throughout the year is enough that they need very little extra water to sustain themselves.   The sun gets awfully hot during some months and the wind is harsh enough to strip away valuable nutrients from the leaves.  In the beginning she had trouble with a few choices as some plants didn’t co-exist together well.   She persevered for five years and succeeded in not only giving us the wonderful outside space, but having some plants thrive.”

Bridger pulled out the set of keys that he had acquired from the drawer a short time ago, “We are approaching the back of the house as you have probably noticed.   There is quite a lot more to see outside yet but please follow me inside so that we can set down all these stores.   That way we will be able to move around without carrying or hauling them any further.”

From this angle, the house was a double storey concrete structure with a rough textured beige render spread over the outer walls.  The ground floor had been extended out further on both ends.   Kristin was having trouble narrowing down one specific style for the house with some elements being easily identifiable as colonial, but that narrative was thrown into doubt by other contemporary characteristics.

A contrasting colour had been used for the trims, external windows, guttering and downpipes.  Exposure to sunlight and reflection from the surface during the day, the roof and eaves had been painted in the same matching cream tone to mute the glare.

Approaching from the eastern side of the house, a small portion of the beach could be seen from the end of the building.   On the left, there was a large double garage built close to the main house.   The purpose of an older, and different style timber building set back further was yet to be revealed.

Planter boxes and large ceramic pots with many different varieties of plants scattered and spaced along the exterior wall.   Fan-palms, cycads and leafy variegated gingers were scattered amongst a number of gardens along the back wall with brick edgings.  Overhanging fronds from taller palm trees shaded trailing ground-cover plants created a low-growing border.

Appreciating all the greenery and foliage, Lucas couldn’t help but compare these to the surroundings of his father’s house.   Lawrence Wolenczak didn’t care a bag of beans for the humans within his domain, so living plants would hold absolutely no value or interest.   A tall hedge of woody shrubs was used to screen off a lower set of windows along one side of his concrete domain.  On nights when business dinner meetings were hosted, a number of fake plastic pots were brought in by the company hired to host the event.

Bridger was ready to insert the key into lock when he noticed the teenager was lost in thought.  “Everything alright?”

“Ah, yeah, thanks,” Lucas answered.  “Mrs Bridger must really have loved plants.  Apart from Kristin’s laboratory that houses the live specimens back on SeaQuest, I usually don’t get to see this much vegetation in the one place.”

Kristin remembered Lucas telling her that he didn’t have as much experience with plants when she was conducting her tour of her department.   In the back of his mind, the Captain suspected that the teenager may have been making a comparison between this place to his own home.  Not wanting to voice any inference out loud, he couldn’t help but think a few questions that could be drawn from the open-ended statement.

“Carol had endless patience and kindness when it came to caring for living things,” Nathan stated.  “She rarely liked anybody referring to her as Mrs Bridger, so please call her Carol.  That is what she would have told you to do.”

Lucas gave a small smile, “Thank you, I would like that.”  There was so much to learn about her personality, empathy and compassion and the impact Carol had on her husband’s life couldn’t be ignored.  This world that the Captain and his wife had dreamt, built and shared together was definitely unique.

“Be careful when Tim O’Neill comes here in a few days.  With all of these plants, he may never want to leave,” Lucas joked.

“You have only seen half of them yet,” Nathan indicated, grinning at the astonished expression he induced.    Whether as a direct from the teenager’s own observations or due to something he pointed out, it was amusing to see honest and unguarded responses.

“This is the back entrance as you probably worked out.   There is a barbeque area and entertainment area out the front that you will not be able to see from where you are standing here.  There is a larger covered pergola and seating area that can be reached through a sliding door at the other end of this building.

Kristin and Lucas glanced to the right and got a glimpse of the back entertainment and could partially see the corner of a large sloping roof.   Both had questions and wanted to search the whole area, but they would wait for Nathan to choose the order of his tour.

There were a few major differences that Lucas noted straight away without having to look beyond the back of the house.   Directly above the door and evenly spaced along the wall there was a row of antique coach outdoor lighting fixtures.   During the day there were turned off so he couldn’t tell how much light they provided or if they attracted moths and other nocturnal flying insects.   Without a closer inspection he wasn’t able to see if they were hardwired or operated by solar energy.

Bridger noted his quiet study of the eternal wall.  “Those lights were supposed to be set to timers and come on at a predesignated time in the evening, but that was one project that has not been crossed off my to-do list yet.”

There were no visible security lights like the ones that were on the outside of his father’s fortress.  A sophisticated security alarm with weather-proof panel, monitoring externally and internally was something else that he was used to being present.  Thinking about it more Lucas guessed that the lack of such automated schemes was largely due to the house being on a remote island and its location kept secret.

Lucas nodded his head in acknowledgement, continuing to look around and take notes without openly commenting.    This house wasn’t anything like the formidable, dark, cold overbearing modern piece of concrete that he was familiar with.   The warm colour and softer textures of the Captain’s home invited him inside, encouraging him to look around and want to stay.   The gardens outside completed a picturesque setting.

Balancing all of the elements and equating them to where he was used to living, this place was remarkable, diverse, very different and unconventional.


Nathan pushed open the door, allowing his guests to enter first.   “Welcome to your lodgings for the next few days.   This single door is what I use most of the time because there is only me staying here.”  Extending his right arm and pointing, “There is a large double sliding door further down on this side of the house.   Originally it was created to allow an easier access point from the kitchen to the pergola area when entertaining or celebrating events with friends and family.”

“Ladies first,” Lucas gestured with a wave of his free arm, allowing the doctor to enter the house ahead of him.

“Thank you,” Kristin responded kindly.  Her first reaction was to assume he was merely using his manners.  Upon reflection, a small part of her wondered if he drawing attention away from himself and was nervous and apprehensive about entering.

“Coming through this single back door leads into a small utility or mudroom of sorts.   A place to remove muddy shoes from working in the garden or wash off any excess sand after being down on the beach.”   Against one wall there was a rectangular aluminium sink with cabinetry mounted underneath.   On the opposite side of the room there was a row of three wooden pegs to hang coats, hats or other miscellaneous items, ready to be used again.   Large hard-wearing terracotta tiles made up the floor space with a drain cut into the centre to allow water, soil or sand to escape.

“Set the trolley aside there, Lucas and that baggage you are carrying Kristin,” Nathan instructed, stepping forward to assist her once he had wheeled his own trolley into position.  “Now that we are inside the main house, most of this gear can stay here tucked here out of the way.  Thank you both for hauling the supplies this far from the launch.   We can pitch in together and unpack everything including the perishable food, once I have completed the tour.”

Kristin noted that as soon as Lucas had stopped pulling the trolley, both hands were stuffed deeply into the pockets of his jeans.  Back at the research shack he had been eager to begin exploring and commented without hesitation.   Everything about this house was on a bigger and grander scale but that didn’t make the reason obvious.

What could be the cause?

The shift in deposition was understated enough to be overlooked or brushed aside.  She had been right in her assumption of him wanting to suppress any anxiety he was feeling.  The teenager was taking an active interest when Nathan was speaking, but there were subtle signs of disquiet in his body language and mannerisms.

Bridger continued the tour for his guests, “Walking through here you come to the laundry room that has a washing machine and dryer.   Please feel free to use them at any time you need to while staying here.   There is soap powder available in the cabinets and also a portable clothes line and clothes pins to hang clothes out in the sun if you prefer the sun to dry the natural way.  Sunshine is the one thing that is rarely in short supply.”

“Most of the other cupboards are fairly empty at the moment, I usually don’t store a lot in them at any one time,” Nathan explained, opening up one of the doors and finding nothing inside as he predicted.

Bridger walked over to a taller cabinet, intending his next remark to be of more benefit to Kristin, “In here is one of those fancy steam irons to be used as anyone needs.  Carol disliked the older fold-out style ironing boards.  Previously my uniforms were cleaned and ironed by her, on the base where I was stationed, or by myself.   Now that I am onboard SeaQuest, the laundry service offered to all crew members is more than adequate.  Speaking for myself, during the next few days my wardrobe will be a whole lot more laid-back as I usually do when I am here on my own.”

Lucas was currently sporting the casual baseball shirt, jeans dress code he wore on a daily basis.   Nathan had personally seen the small number of clothes the boy had brought back with him to SeaQuest.   He wasn’t even sure if the teenager owned any formal clothes that would require being pressed, but he wasn’t about to broach that subject after just walking through the back door.

Bridger pulled on the antique handle of a white wooden door, leading his guests into a corridor, “This door closes off the laundry from the main floor and is usually left unlocked and open.”   The transparent panel had a decorative bird scene in a beautiful mosaic of stained glass.

Kristin began walking underneath the door frame but turned when she heard Nathan’s voice.   Lucas was leaning awkwardly against a row of cabinet’s whilst lifting one foot off the ground.  “Everything alright?”

Lucas halted what he was doing, glancing back with his tussled hair hanging over his forehead, “Ah, yeah, I was getting ready to take my shoes off.”   Confusion dawned; his actions were fairly self-explanatory.

 “Why?” the Captain queried, smiling with amusement as the boy adjusted his stance at least twice to keep his balance.   There was a noticeable underlying urgency from the teenager as he attempted to complete the task with fortitude.   Bridger’s grin disappeared, with a twist in his gut telling him that something wasn’t quite right.

The teenager was perplexed by the man even asking for a reason.  “Well I assume you wouldn’t want me wearing my sneakers across your floors even with the gravelled pathway outside.  The soles are fairly clean, but I don’t want to create scuff marks or spread dirt across any inside.  I am wearing socks so they should be soft enough on any surface unless you want me to remove them?”

“Scuff marks?  I can’t recall ever having any hard or fast rules about footwear not being worn inside, shoes or socks.”   Good manners were one thing, but to Nathan, etiquette of this nature sounded out of place for someone of Lucas’ age.   There was an unspoken backstory that he couldn’t delve into for the moment;  but he suspected a high standard of correctness and civility must have been instilled in the teenager.

‘No rules?  That didn’t strike him as being correct.  He vividly remembered the punishments that had been delivered as consequences of not complying or obeying.  There were always rules.  

“You don’t?”  Lucas released his foot, standing upright with sneakers still in place on his feet.  “I was told…”  pausing before he made the mistake of using ‘he’.

Walking a few steps closer, he wanted to keep the conversation casual without causing the teenager to become defensive.   No matter how trivial Bridger considered such an issue, he would have to tread carefully with his next set of words.

Nathan could see the silent battle centring around whether or not to believe him, “Trust me, whatever makes you comfortable while you are here.  I am allowing you to make the choice.”

In his mind, the Captain was taken back when his words ‘you are safe’ had a defining impact.  “The choice is completely up to you,” Nathan reiterated gently, seeing that Lucas was watching and listening for any shred of a lie.

For a few moments the teenager wrestled with what his final decision would be.   ‘You don’t ever get to choose.  That has never….’

Pushing aside that voice before negativity could tarnish his thoughts further, “I would like to leave them on please?”   In his mind, he couldn’t help but double-guess that decision.

“Great, now let’s keep going so you can take a good look around inside,” Bridger encouraged.

A bridge had been established between them with Lucas providing half a smile as he prepared to follow the man into the next room.


Entering through the laundry door, Kristin was first to comment, “The stain on these floors are darker than I would have expected, but the off-white walls compliment them well.  Visually, a very pleasing colour palette upon entry.   Did Carol choose the scheme, or did she have a decorator?”

“Dolphins were definitely her passion in life, but she always had a strong desire and flair for interior design.   Attending college she even contemplated taking a few courses in that direction before focusing her efforts on becoming a marine biologist.   I would get consulted about the various preferences and my opinion was often sought, but I allowed her to make all the decisions on colours, finishes and furniture.   Carol tied all of the ends together to create the magic that you can see for yourself.”

Lucas listened to the conversation between the two adults but did not offer conjecture or participate.   He couldn’t help but compare this home to other floors he was used to walking across without shoes.   Those surfaces were usually covered in thick velvet pile carpets, imported marbled titles or hard concrete slabs.   Beneath his feet here, the texture of the wood grain created a sense of connection throughout the room.   The dramatic ceilings drew his attention and he craned his neck upwards to appreciate their full height.  Blending them with the wide flowing floorboards and a single word could describe the entire ground floor;  extensive.

The teenager broke away from Bridger and Kristin, choosing instead to wander and explore at his own pace, taking in the aesthetics and features.   The corridor and dividing walls provided enough definition allowing for flexibility, functionality, multi-purpose living and relaxation.  Walking to his right and he came into a large expansive and spacious combined living room and kitchen.

A heavy oak rectangular coffee table was surrounded by a midnight blue curved sectional lounge suite with chaise with a large seating compacity.   Touching the top edge of a square cushion, Lucas was surprised how soft it felt as he cautiously ran his fingertips across the plush surface.   With the rich colour only a shade or two darker, he made a mental note to tell Ben Krieg that his selection for the Captain’s cabin aboard SeaQuest was a good one.

Two single arm chairs were positioned opposite the suite, covered in a smooth beige toned fabric with accents of lemon yellow.   With Bridger left living here on his own after his wife passed away, he wondered to himself why they had opted to purchase such a large piece of furniture.

Standing behind each single arm chair was a tall free standing lamp decorated on top by a dome mosaic opaque glass shade depicting Japanese cherry blossoms.   Their complex patterns and Victorian era style were completely different to other pieces of furniture and decor.  Perhaps they had once belonged to a relative or family member and had been inherited.

By the time Lucas ambled into the kitchen, both adults were standing on the other side of the island and had been talking quietly to each other.   Bridger was pointing out some of the different features to Kristin as he described the amount of work that had been required.  The bottom of the island was painted in a dark navy shade with much lighter marbled bench tops.   The cabinetry and island were set further back, but the open plan concept allowed occupants to see each other.

Kristin walked over to a rectangular table, reaching out and touching the arrangement, she discovered the beautiful flowers arranged in the vase were synthetic.  “With all of the lovely plants growing outside, I am a little disappointed that these are not real.”

“Be thankful that they are fake otherwise they wouldn’t live very long,” Nathan answered truthfully.  “When I am away, there is nobody here to water or take care of any living things.  By the way, that is the table where any meals are shared inside.   Carol had grand plans for entertaining, but she wanted that to be done outside when weather permitted.  Any dining inside was intended to be an informal affair.   That table is situated close enough to the kitchen that those present can mingle and interact with each other, even as food is being prepared.

“Those are the double sliding doors I spoke about earlier when we were coming in that lead out to the entertainment area,” Nathan commented to Kristin.

As the doctor joined him in the kitchen, the Captain watched his other visitor with intrigue.  “What is your verdict so far, Lucas?”

The teenager baulked for a moment before giving his answer.  He didn’t know how the Captain was going to react, but decided to be honest, “I sticking to my earlier statement that this place is very different from you.  It is all very nice, neat and even luxurious, but I don’t see much of you in here.   Unless they are packed in boxes too, there are none of the artefacts like those you took back to SeaQuest to put display.”

Bridger saw the teenager drop his gaze towards the floor as soon as he finished giving his brief assessment, but he was pleased that Lucas had chosen to be truthful in his judgement.

Looking about the room, Nathan gave a grin, “I can understand how you came to that conclusion, but I would like to think as you get to know the place a little better, that I have managed to leave a mark somewhere.”

“Can I keep looking around?” Lucas queried, a little unsure of any boundaries there might have been.   A little voice crept into the back of his mind to when he had asked Ben a similar question about any restrictions of where he could go on-board SeaQuest.

“By all means, take your time.  I will show you and Kristin upstairs shortly and then we can head back outside.”  Bridger didn’t want to follow the boy’s movements, but he was keen to see where he chose to go next.

Heading back into the living room, the one thing that struck Lucas was not about the furniture and décor that was there, but more so what was missing.  Memories.  On this floor so far there were no personal photographs or family snapshots.   There were a few pieces of artwork, and thankfully not the contemporary or modern day abstract designs that got called ‘masterpieces’ because they cost a lot of money.

 These were nice pictures and he wasn’t standing in a stuffed-shirt art gallery trying to guess their meaning or use them to question his own existence.  Those kinds of compositions were coveted by his father and hung garishly on the walls where business meetings were conducted.  Lawrence Wolenczak often took great pride in dragging some poor snivelling foreign ambassador before his latest acquisition and then brag about how much money it was worth.   That wasn’t the purpose of art or self-expression to Lucas and he found himself appreciating other less popular formats for reasons other than monetary gain.

Standing in front of one canvas, the picture included two small birds, perched on an old, leaking metal faucet, taking a drink before the water droplet could fall into the old wooden bucket below.   On another wall a short distance away there was a large horizontal interpretation of the rainforest.  There were other paintings hanging in different locations around the room, but he didn’t approach them and wasn’t close enough to see them in any detail.

Nathan watched the teenager walk past one of Carol’s favourite paintings, but his mood was continually fluctuating and proving difficult to read.   The boy walked over to the rainforest landscape, again his face not openly displaying any internal feelings.  Kristin was taking an interest in a cottage garden landscape, but the teenager changed direction and headed away from her.

On the left, leading away from the corridor off the laundry there was a partitioning wall and an open arched doorway separating the space.  Lucas walked through, coming to a staircase that lead up to the second floor.   Each of the steps was stained the same dark shade as the floorboards with the surrounding bannister and balustrade matching the off-white walls.

A large open entrance way lead from a double set of front doors to that staircase.  Lucas naturally assumed that the stairs would lead up to the second floor.   Before he explored that part of the house, he walked towards the huge bay window to the left of the front doors.    There was a large padded bench seat and shelving built in to place a few books and a cup or mug.

Kristin was making her own way towards the front doors and noticed that the inlaid stained glass panels matched the one on the laundry door.   This picture though was much more elaborate and contained many more flora and fauna elements.   “Did you have these specially made, Nathan?” she asked, admiring the fine detail and skill needed as she ran her hand over the textured glass.  “I imagine the craftsperson must have taken great care to create panels of such a high standard.   They truly are very beautiful with the sunlight shining through them.”

“Carol and I were fortunate enough to have them given to the both of us as a gift when this place was being built.   I am glad you appreciate the workmanship;  they are unique and one-of-a-kind.”

Nathan and Kristin were standing together, finishing their conversation as they watched the teenager’s confusing movements.   Starting near the front door, essentially standing on one foot for a few seconds at a time before carefully putting heel to toe for each step.   Walking in a relatively straight line, he was using his out-stretched arms as a counter-weight as he slowly paced out the distance back to the laundry door they had entered.  Apart from stepping out the floor, Lucas was also looking around cautiously, taking in every detail.

The Captain watched him in silence for a few seconds, trying to figure out what the boy was attempting to achieve.   His actions were definitely puzzling, but this wasn’t something random, there was a specific purpose.  He was silently muttering to himself, but too quietly to distinguish any specific words.  Pivoting on the balls of his feet, he turned and repeated the process back over those same steps, seemingly unaware that the two adults were observing.

The scene bordered on comical as the teenager stretched out his arms and used them to counter-balance and maintain steadiness on two separate occasions.  Sensing that there was definitely meaning behind the determined expression and the unaltering focus, Bridger didn’t dare laugh or even want to show an inappropriate grin.

“What do you think he is doing?” the red-haired doctor whispered.  She was intrigued but cautious about wanting to interrupt and ask first-hand.

“I don’t know,” Nathan replied honestly to her, but as those words left his mouth, suspicion began to form in his own mind.

Genuine curiosity could be the reason, but the stepping out was too precise.   His gut was telling him that Lucas was conducting some kind of threat assessment within his new environment.   By measuring the distance, he could be calculating the time needed to leave and formulating an escape route.  Despite the assurances of nobody knowing their whereabouts and the promises of being safe after leaving SeaQuest.   For now, Bridger kept these assumptions to himself, not wanting to alarm Kristin without something more creditable or tangible than intuition.

Oh how he hoped he was wrong about that hypothesis.

Trailing back to the front doors, Lucas stood beside the padded seat of the bay window, pulling back the patterned drapes back just enough to peek out at the front view.

Bridger took this opportunity to stand beside the teenager, glad to see a change in expression on his face.   This time it was pleasing to see one of delight at the bright sunlight and no doubt due to the beach front that would have been visible from behind the glass.

The Captain was sure he heard a whispered:  ‘Cool’  which brought a smile to his own face at the exclamation that probably wasn’t meant for anybody else.   A plethora of  descriptive words came to mind for the perfect combination of water, sand and sun.   Yes, he supposed in its own way, the beach was cool.

Lucas was startled for a second by someone standing so close, “Oh, I didn’t see you.  Everything looks great so far,” the teenager commented with some emotion beginning to creep into his voice.

“How about I finish showing you and Kristin around in here so then we can go out there?” Nathan negotiated.  “There is still a fair amount to see inside.   I promise you won’t miss a thing outside.”

“Sure,” Lucas answered, joining Bridger but stealing a glance back at the front window, eager to explore what was being shielded by the curtains.

Kristin followed them in walking back towards the kitchen and was talking to Nathan, but Lucas found himself drifting away from their topic of conversation with niggling thoughts of his own.

Reflecting more on what was happening, he was still floored that the Captain was willing to open up his home.   Since receiving the invitation back on SeaQuest, he couldn’t stop the silent wave of questions that had multiplied and were rolling around in his mind.   How did Bridger feel about them now that they were here and sharing his home?

What was gnawing away incessantly was the fact that there hadn’t been any further developments about his father’s whereabouts or activities, and that made Lucas internally shiver.  To people who only got a glimpse of the man’s facade he was intelligent, intuitive and somewhat predictable due to a strict adherence to routine.   Behind closed doors the man’s personality was calculating, manipulative and controlling with an unhealthy streak of impulsiveness that often resulted in spontaneous bursts of violence.

The three of them would only be here for a few days and Lucas knew he would have to leave again and push any positive feelings back down inside.   Positive experiences in his life were fleeting and he had to mentally prepare himself for that unavoidable eventuality.


Lucas had not looked down at his watch to notice how much time had elapsed from leaving the research shack to exploring this ground floor, but Kristin was determined to remind him and the Captain.

“Nathan it is past two o’clock in the afternoon and well after the hour normally associated with lunch.  I must admit that I got distracted by your lovely home too, but you both must be hungry?”

Bridger did look down at this watch and noted that the doctor was correct about the time and their attention being drawn away from their stomachs.  “I guess we did,” he conceded.  “Did you want to eat now?  I was hoping to complete the tour and can wait a little longer.”

Kristin was clearly not in favour of the suggest to wait, knowing that Lucas had already missed breakfast this morning.  “Lucas, please come and have something to eat,” she offered from across the room.

“Now?” the teenager questioned, remembering there had been brief a discussion about getting food.  “It is already almost two thirty, having anything now will nix the need for dinner in few hours.  I can wait.”

He had honestly forgotten about having lunch and wasn’t sure why the doctor was so fixated on checking up on whether he would be eating or not.   Deep down, he didn’t know how to express an objection without risking a clash with her.  Nobody had ever been quite so vigilant and proactive before and he didn’t know how to handle her constant scrutiny.

The doctor fought to quash any building frustration about the teenager’s blasé attitude about nutrition.  Nathan certainly wasn’t helping either when he was prepared to do the same thing.   Kristin knew she would have to choose the battles on this particular subject carefully.    “I will be holding you to that, young man,” she remarked, but by the time her sentence was completed, the teenager had turned away and was following Nathan as the tour of the ground floor resumed.

The three of them walked around the staircase into an adjacent corridor, a matching colour scheme being co-ordinated for all surfaces.   Decorative light fixtures were mounted on the wall at evenly spaced intervals.   Due to the lack of sunlight, the hallway was much darker.

“Carol must have spent an awful lot of time planning everything out,” Kristin marvelled.  “Here we are in a different part of the house, but the flow with the floors and walls throughout is seamless.   You should be very proud indeed of her ability to blend even the finest details.”

Nathan gave a small chuckle at the heaped helping of praise.  “She would have taken none of the credit for herself, but yes, I am proud of what she achieved,” he said, nodding his head as he glanced about the room, remembering the blank canvas they had started with.   He may have seen it many times before, but it had been too long since he had allowed others to share and appreciate Carol’s vision.

“From here I should give you a rough layout of the rooms you haven’t seen yet,” Bridger explained as they came to the first door, turned the handle and pushed it open.   Out of the corner of his eye he could see Lucas standing a few meters away, quietly taking everything in.  “This the first guest bedroom complete with a separate bathroom.  I thought this may be where you could stay, Kristin.”

“Thank you,” the doctor said courteously as she entered the room at his invitation but quickly found herself lost for words.  When Nathan had told her that there was plenty of room for her and Lucas to stay on the island, she had built up an image in her own mind.   This level of extravagance far exceeded anything she had been expecting or was accustomed to.

Inside against the opposite wall there was a large double bed with a curved ornate headboard.  The interior walls were painted in neutral colours, however, a bright woollen throw blanket laid across the foot-end of the bed added a pop of colour and was being used as a focal point in the room.   The interior furnishings could easily compete with a classy five-star hotel suite.

“Are you certain that you wish to offer this as a guest-room, Nathan?” Kristin questioned.  “Your hospitality is truly commendable and very generous,” she added, not wanting to sound ungrateful.   ‘A simpler room would have sufficed’ but she kept that comment to herself.

“I am quite sure,” the Captain affirmed, pleased that the guest rooms would finally benefit from someone staying in them.  “There are built-in closets along that wall for your clothes and behind this door is the on-suite bathroom,” he stated, opening a door and showing the adequate proportions inside.

“You should be comfortable in here,  Kristin,” Lucas remarked, feeling out of place and suspecting that the doctor shared similar sentiments from the tone of her voice.   Ducking his head into the bathroom, the teenager was trying to maintain an interest but feeling more and more out of place by the second.

Lucas wasn’t prepared to offer any explanation to Bridger, or the doctor should they note his lack of enthusiasm.   His reasons were probably quite different and justified, but he wasn’t ready to share or admit them to anyone.  For a brief second, he attempted to get his nerves under control, but failed.  Without prompting, he exited the room through the door, heading back out into the corridor.

The Captain was more than happy to hear the boy’s opinion but didn’t note anything amiss.  “I will deposit your luggage in here once the tour has been completed.  Now if you will follow me, show and tell can continue.”

“I feel as though I am being escorted through a grand hotel rather than someone’s home,” Kristin remarked as she left the room.  “It is such a shame that our stay will only be for a short time, but I am glad that you twisted my arm.”

‘Maybe this first visit will lead to more opportunities to return’ Nathan surmised.    Before signing on as Captain, he had been settling into the solitary lifestyle he had created.  Perhaps now he was willing to allow a handful of people to share this natural paradise and slowly rejoin a world he felt excluded from and had taken everything.

The next door they came to was on the opposite wall.   Constructed in solid oak wood, this door was stained, rather than painted.  Standing in front of it, Lucas pushed down on the handle but was mildly surprised when he was met with resistance and found it locked.  Upon closer inspection, a satin chrome keyless dead bolt lock had been installed.   This alternate style didn’t require a digital code like those he was trying to reset aboard SeaQuest.

“This room and the next one are secured for very different reasons, Lucas,” Bridger informed him, as he punched in the correct sequence.  “The numerical code can be reset, but the process is much less complicated than what you had to do for Chief Crocker and Ben.”

“This model is a little outdated now, and you don’t typically see them being used outside large office buildings for their administration departments,” Lucas remarked.  “Being used inside a house for privacy purposes, it is a nice simple piece of hardware.  Configuration to numbers that you will remember is a snap.”  When it came to some topics, he tended to give too much information and talk excessively.  By the time he finished speaking, self-consciousness was creeping up his neck and underneath his jawline.

“Once again, your knowledge of door locks is impressive,” Bridger commented.   He wanted to ask a few more questions about how he came to know so much about them but refrained from doing so.   “Sometimes I think I keep this door locked for my own benefit rather than security,” he began to say, pushing the door open.

“Labelled and objectified by my wife as ‘the office’, these days it no longer gets used as one,” Nathan explained as his two guests entered with curiosity but sensing a very different vibe.   “In here, there are a few unique pieces from my naval career that were put on display with Carol’s insistence.   There are book shelves containing reading material of my favourite subjects that have been collected from across the world.”

Upon entering, set upon a cabinet behind the main desk, the first thing of interest that Lucas spotted was a photograph of Carol Bridger, encased in a fancy glass photo frame.   The exact same picture that he had used to change the image in the holographic scanner.

“I have many pictures of us together stored away, but this one of her has always my favourite,” the Captain quietly commented.   He picked up the frame and gazed down at the beautiful smiling face staring back.   There was so much to say but the regret over lost time was palpable.   “Carol accepted my drive to see it completed but didn’t appreciate my obsession entirely.  I wanted to show her the culmination of so many days, weeks and months on a project that consumed most of my time, energy and sanity.”

“The one you used aboard SeaQuest was only a copy.  I was too afraid of this one becoming lost or damaged.”  When Bridger looked back at Lucas, he was touched to note that the teenager was listening intently to his words, without judgment.

“I know about compulsion and preoccupation over a project, even if I don’t understand everything else,” Lucas replied softly, keeping eye contact for emphasis.   Society didn’t class him as an adult yet and neither did a lot of people he crossed paths with.  However, life had been treating him like one for as long as he could remember.

The teenager’s candour and grasp on the level of emotion that could be involved was often overlooked or ignored.    Bridger gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze in acknowledgment, knowing that more than one meaning could be drawn.

Changing the subject and tone of the conversation as the photo frame was carefully set back in place, Lucas gave an opinion on some of the other furniture pieces in the room.   The leather desk chair directly behind him gave the impression of belonging to someone of importance.   The heavy-set wooden desk in front of that was even more elaborate, with intricate carvings on the legs and brass fittings on the drawers.

“They were both gifts when this office was first completed, but I don’t think I have sat down in the chair or used the desk itself more than half a dozen times,” Bridger commented, presuming that the teenager’s examination of the furniture would reach a similar conclusion of the house itself.   The style didn’t fit his personality.

“The chair looks comfortable enough, but fine leather in such an isolated environment may not be a good thing,” Lucas stated.  “I don’t even know where to start on the desk.  How come you need so many drawers?”

The desk in his father’s office had contemporary lines, modern abstract legs and a series of hidden drawers.  They were locked and Lucas was aware of the ‘rules’ surrounding  permission and gaining access.   His father wasn’t aware that he had bypassed the locks on at least two occasions out of necessity and could do so again if the need arose.  In this office there was no hidden bar containing imported spirits and expensive cigars from some exotic places.   The differences in extravagant tastes and décor between the two men had never been more apparent.

Although the teenager was ready to make a few passing remarks at the Captain’s expense, he wasn’t prepared to open any of the drawers and pry inside.   For a moment, Nathan noted Lucas was lost in his own thoughts.   His attention was drawn away when Kristin began speaking to him.

“The custom shelving along this wall completes the executive feel of this whole room.   The books only account for half of the available space, there is plenty of room to add to your favourite subjects.”

“Someday I do hope to do just that,” Nathan replied truthfully.  “The subjects are more diverse than some people would give me credit for having interest about.  There is plenty of catching up on reading the ones I have already collected first.”

Kristin walked away from the book shelves, noting that sitting on top of a small table was a most impressive antique world globe.  “This is a rather intriguing addition.”   Maps of any kind on display would not have been unusual for any seaman, but this particular specimen was different.   The depicted maps were much older, using fine ink over a sepia surface.  The detail the artist had gone into was exquisite.   There was a small brass plaque at the bottom of the metal stand with the year ‘1668’ engraved.

“A few modern day landmarks may be missing but considered quite accurate,” Bridger informed her, seeing her surprise at the year.  “The world as it was known back then, when the seas offered vital ancient trade routes and passageways to new worlds.”

“Lucas, this may be of interest to you too, even if it is not on a computer screen.”    The teenager came to stand beside her, taking in the embellished speech about the workmanship.

“These maps are derived from the works of a guy called John Speed, who was a well-known mapmaker or cartographer during the Stuart period of history,” Lucas began to explain.  “Speed started making maps as early as 1590, but his best known pieces are ‘The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine’ published in 1612 and ‘Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World’  published in 1627.  He died two years later in 1629.   Other examples of the atlas on this globe have been engraved on canvas and clearly show the master hand of the Dutch engraver Pieter Van Den Keere who was closely associated with Speed’s known miniature works.  This is merely a well-made replica, but nonetheless, a nice antique piece.  There would only be a handful left in existence.   An original would be housed behind a tempered glass case in a well-known history museum or in the hands of a rare artefact collector.”

History had taught him to be careful though, not everybody appreciated such a bold exhibition or that method of delivery.   A demonstration of intellectual confidence to the wrong person had resulted in harsh, painful lessons.  With Bridger and Westphalen, he was taking a chance, but erring on the side of caution at the reaction he might elicit.

Lucas could barely hide a cheeky grin as he casually walked to door, leaving two gob-smacked adults in his wake with the level of impromptu knowledge.  They both thought they were sharing knowledge about an object deemed far too old for his generation.   It was safe to assume that he had left both of them speechless.   Occasionally it was nice to turn the tables on people when they least expected it, to keep them on their toes.

“I fell right into the same trap of underestimating his broader knowledge base.  I should have learned that lesson after the game we played in my laboratory,” Kristin openly admitted.  “Did you know any of the information on the artist and its origins that he provided?”

“This globe once belonged to my father and is one of the few remaining heirlooms that has been passed down through my family,” Nathan told her.  “I knew it wasn’t original, but it was kept in his study and I only got to view it on a few occasions growing up.  I have heard the names that he mentioned and have seen examples of their other works, but I didn’t know the connection with this specific piece.  I have always had a personal fascination with maps, even before my naval career.”

“Lucas might have had the last laugh in this room, but follow me as I think it is my time to turn the tables on the younger generation,” Bridger proclaimed as he directed the doctor out into the corridor

“Colour me intrigued, Captain,” Kristin said with a shy smile.   Today had already been a mix of new places and discovering new things about each other.  How did he intend to get the upper hand over the teenager?


Nathan grinned back at the teenager who stood waiting as the two adults exited the room and relocked the door to the office.  He was genuinely glad to see such a positive change to the teenager’s mood.    His mood had changed several times since arriving on the island.   Sometimes the boy was openly talking and being reflective and prepared to give honest opinions about the new surroundings.  At other times Lucas had appeared more secretive and simply clammed up or withdrawn from himself and Kristin.

“Keep laughing, when we get to the next room in the house, I think I may have won the battle” Bridger said with an air of confidence.  “Let’s say that all your work on SeaQuest with the door locking mechanisms may not be enough for that door.”

“Challenge accepted, Captain,” Lucas shot back with eager anticipation, following as requested, wondering about the man’s renewed resoluteness.

Bridger kept dropping clues, “Think back to what you said about my quarters.  You were concerned that I would call your curiosity about the historical relics on my shelves, nosy

“Your quarters?” the teenager replied.  “That was a few days ago and you expect me to remember?”

“Well I thought with your far superior intellect it wouldn’t be a problem,” Nathan teased.   “If it helps to jog your memory that was the morning you were working on the holographic program.”

Lucas thought for a minute, shrugging his shoulders and about to concede defeat, but then he had a lightbulb moment.  “That was the morning those two guys were harassing me about being in there.  One of them had punched my sore shoulder without me even knowing they were in the room.”

“Yes, unfortunately it was, but that is not what I was hoping you would remember most about that morning.   Steps have been taken that should see the actions of that day to be in the past,” the Captain said with a little fire in his voice at the disciplinary action he had been forced to direct to his Executive Officer.

Ben had been there and escorted the two men to face Commander Ford for their infractions.   Bridger had requested that he stay for a few minutes so they could talk.   There were some bookshelves and artefacts on display that they had started discussing about their origins and what holding onto them meant.

The subject may have not been one that Lucas was happy to recount, but together, senior staff were determined to stamp out undesirable behaviour coming from the military crew towards civilian team members.   Pockets of trouble and jealousy in relation to accommodation arrangements had increased tensions.  Kristin would also make sure that the same reciprocating high standards were exacted in return from her own workers.

Kristin smiled at the playfulness between the teenager and Nathan, silently pleased with the man’s ability to draw the boy out of his shell a little at a time.   There was no arrogance or profound egotism involved, merely a healthy way for them to connect.

Approaching the next room, Lucas could immediately see some of what Bridger had been hinting at, but as he got closer, his enthusiasm grew.   Scarcely able to believe what he was seeing, he turned back to the Captain with a shocked look on his face.

“Outstanding!  This is what I was trying to tell Commander Ford that the U.E.O. should have been investing their budget on for the SeaQuest,” the teenager declared.   “I told Ben about options like this that were available if you had the right connections and the money.  He could have made a better pitch about the benefits to be gained versus expenditure at the beginning.  Why hadn’t the Captain told him about having something like this and kept it a secret?”

“Instead of being made from chrome, this is a stainless steel smart door, fingerprint keyless smart door lock.  There are electronic keypads, a biometric digital auto-lock with two-factor authentication.  Great green colouring for the numbering panel with a time and date display with a fingerprint scanner than is functional and streamlined rather than being bulky or cumbersome,” Lucas explained as he took a good look at the external hardware and assembly.

Lucas felt like a kid in a candy shop looking at the latest sweet treat.  A top-of-the-line working model like this was what he needed to show Ford and convince the brass and powers-that-be, but then he erred on the side of caution.  Maybe the Captain didn’t want everyone knowing about the first-rate security system he was using.  “What could  be hiding inside that required such protection?”

Kristin laughed the boy’s exuberance but given the confidence Nathan had been displaying a few minutes ago, she expected what was inside to be even more surprising.

Nathan chuckled at the boy’s reaction, “Before you ask, I didn’t install this system.  I don’t remember all fancy details like that, but it is state of the art.   There is a spare key and it only comes with a right handle.   The cost was most definitely outlandish and eye-watering to say the least.  Considering what is being housed inside this room, I think the expenditure can be justified.”

“Put the palm of your hand on the panel,” Bridger instructed, waiting a few seconds to see if Lucas was able to distinguish the other measures that had been taken for the mystery room.

“What have you got in here, Fort Knox?” Lucas asked, but laid is hand palm side down against the wood grain.

There was a reason behind the Captain’s casual request.  Nathan was even more delighted when Kristin brought her own curiosity, copying the teenager by laying her own hand on the surface of the door.   Both of them trying to figure out what he wanted them to notice.

“The door feels colder,” Lucas described, but he wasn’t sure if that was only his imagination playing tricks.

“I feel that difference too,” Kristin stated, lifting her hand off the door and swapping hands to confirm.

“What you are both feeling is correct,” Nathan relayed.  “From a visual aspect, the doors do look similar.   What makes this one unique is the thick layer of insulation between the wooden panels on the front and back.   The only fingerprint to enter is mine, and it cannot be opened from this side without that or the numerical code.  This room is fully temperature controlled from the inside.”

Bridger demonstrated that by entering the required code and placing his thumb against the scanner.  This triggered a small light to turn green and give a distinctive click to signal the hand could be pushed down and the door successfully opened.

“Temperature controlled,” Lucas remarked, clearly impressed as they follow Bridger into this mysterious cavern.  “Why would it need to be…”  was the only part of that sentence that left his mouth.     He couldn’t find the words to adequately describe what was laid out before him.

Bridger inspected an electronic panel inside the door that displayed the current temperature and humidity.  Everything was as it should be and maintained at an optimum level.  He was content to allow his two guests all the time they needed to take in this room.  He stood back and watched their reactions but was thrilled with Lucas’ awe struck expression the most.

On three sides there were floor to ceiling high custom built dark stained wooden cabinets, with glass panels.  Each compartment was back light as well as additional accent lighting from underneath that gave any visitor the best view.   Inside the cabinets lay a lifetime’s passion of collecting artefacts and historical relics from history and preserving them.

Standing beside Lucas at the first cabinet, “This is an extension of what you saw in my quarters aboard SeaQuest.  Please feel free to walk around and explore,” Bridger whispered, adding a warm smile as the teenager turned to him.   Any idea of turning the tables had been forgotten and he was merely pleased that he had been able to create a spark of interest in something that he believed was important.

There were shards of pottery and pieces of history from long forgotten places and cultures.   In the bottom cabinet there was a tall amphora vase with a broken handle and a large crack running down from the neck.  There were earthenware urns and jars of varying sizes and statues of bronze and jade, part of a roman blade with an intricate detailed handle.  Beneath each piece there was a simple plate naming the civilisation, where it had been found and an estimate of age.    A number of them had B.C. neatly inscribed beside the numerical year.

Along the fourth wall there were more book shelves filled with all kinds of references.   The subjects ranged greatly from ancient civilisations to natural wonders beneath the oceans.   Some of the tomes here had leather covers to them and they were much older than any of the books that he had seen in the Captain’s office.

Having reached the back wall of cabinets and marvelling at the extent of the collection, Lucas turned to the Captain, “This was what I was talking to you about that day in your quarters.  This room is most definitely you, even if the house doesn’t seem to fit at first.  Where did you gain such an array of treasures from across the world?”

Bridger paused to come up with the most appropriate answer.  “You are correct, I do feel comfortable in here.   This is only part of the collection that has been a lifetime’s work.  There are a lot of pieces that Carol and I gained from obscure sources that should be put on display.   They need to be handled with great care in a stable environment, hence the temperature control.  I did have plans to expand this room or to create a second one but haven’t given either idea much thought recently.”

“There must be hordes of archaeologists who would love to come in here and get their hands on these fabulous reminders of ancient cultures,” Kristin commented, suitably impressed at Nathan and Carol’s burning desire to preserve the past.    Until now she hadn’t fully understood the level of their commitment to such a project.

“Plenty have tried to take for themselves or offer a bribe, but all they saw was dollar signs,” Nathan offered cryptically.   “That is not how or why we started doing any of this, but I will leave explaining more to the both of you when Commander Ford and the other crew members arrive in a few days.”

“This room is fantastic, and I can understand why they need to be protected.  With your permission, can I come back in here another time?” Lucas asked, expecting the answer to be ‘no’.  Who would trust someone his age and inexperience around priceless artefacts?

Bridger gave his upper left arm a small squeeze, “When time permits, you can help me sort through the pieces that are still in storage.  While you are staying here for next few days, all you need to do is ask.  Carol was the one who suggested I needed a room like this in the first place and helped find someone to design and build it.  The very reason she and I started collecting was to enjoy and share our passion.”

“I would really like that,” Lucas replied softly, grateful that not everybody saw him merely as being too young or a clumsy idiot who would cause damage.

Kristin was aware that the open invitation to revisit this room included her.    There were a few areas of interest that both she and Nathan had in common.  From science and preservation of the natural world and archaeology and ancient history.  There could be many healthy topics of discussion that they could engage in that didn’t overlap into their work.

“Now that you have seen the best room in the house, what do you say to seeing the room I chose for where you are going to sleep tonight?” Bridger asked with a hopeful smile.  “After that I can show you the gardens and spaces outside.”

“Sure…,” the teenager answered, nodding his head with a false response.

Lucas quickly turned away, walking towards the door and praying that it would be confused for eagerness.   What the Captain and doctor didn’t see was him biting the inside of his cheek to prevent a sudden change in his facial expression from showing to the two adults.

Kristin had followed behind him and then Bridger to exit the room, but he couldn’t be sure that he was keeping it together well enough without them becoming suspicious.  Inwardly he was berating himself harshly and masking his feelings and current his state of mind.

A wave of anxiety was mounting from within and striking hard as he headed out into the corridor, where the tour would deviate from this floor and continue upstairs.


By the time Bridger had secured the artefact room, and re-joined Kristin in heading back down the corridor, Lucas was already waiting for them at the bottom of the staircase leading up to the second floor.    He had collected his bag from the trolley in the laundry thinking that it would be better to leave in the room now.

The Captain had put the move down to a good forethought on his part, when in reality the teenager had used the short walk to try and rid himself of the lingering uncertainty.

“This staircase was built quite solidly and should last many years,” Bridger commented as the three of them began walking upstairs, Lucas deliberately choosing to trail behind.

As the teenager climbed, this time paying little attention to the colour of the wood stain or the design of the balustrade.

“At the top there is a small landing that Carol and I didn’t really know what to do with,” Nathan started to explain, “After a while we decided to put a small sofa here and a desk.

Now it is where the main monitor for the video call system is set up, with a second monitor mounted on a bracket and cleverly concealed by a hidden panel downstairs near the kitchen.”

“This is the main satellite phone and where the various paraphernalia that comes with it is safely stored.   There is second handset tucked away in my office as back-up and for emergencies.  With both systems, and the radio equipment that I have at the research shack, there should always be a way to contact the mainland.”

“A very cosy little nook for reading or relaxing with a Sunday morning cup of coffee,” Kristin remarked, liking the choice of colour and fabric for the small sofa.

“Carol and I have done that on a few occasions,” Nathan confirmed.  “On the odd occasion where we do talk to someone via a video-call, this little seating area provides somewhere to sit down without feeling rushed and needing to stand up the entire time.  There is a small satellite dish above our heads mounted on the roof to ensure a smooth and long lasting connection and signal.”

Nathan had been expecting Lucas to be wanting to examine the video monitor and ask all sorts of questions about the satellite phone set up, but the teenager was standing a few feet from the top of the staircase.   He had yet to makes any movement towards the electronics or give any opinion about the furnishings.

“Something the matter?” the Captain queried.   Since leaving the room downstairs the boy had become noticeably quiet.   Definitely time for some fresh air once they were finished getting a first-hand glimpse of the amenities up here.

“Sorry no, getting tired after such an early start this morning, I guess it is beginning to catch up with me,” Lucas answered, brushing his fringe out of his eyes for emphasis.   Whilst that wasn’t a total lie, he was hoping it would be enough of an excuse for the man to not want to probe deeper.

“Well then we better keep moving,” Nathan offered.  “Apart from this seated area, there is a double sized guest room there for you Lucas.   My own bedroom is down this short left-hand corridor.  There is another double room down the hall from yours and a family sized bathroom that you have access to anytime.  Unfortunately neither of the guest rooms on this floor don’t come with on-suites like the one Kristin will be using downstairs.”

Lucas found his hands back in the pockets of his jeans, balled up into fists as he tried to quell the building uneasiness, “I am sure that I will manage fine.”

“The handle on this door is much more basic,” Bridger said as he turned the knob and pushed the wooden door open.   Entering the room he found light switch and turned it on.

The space was quickly illuminated with a soft light that was growing brighter.  “The light fixture mounted on the ceiling is connected to a dimmer switch.   I went for an older style that is turned for the desired effect.    The two lamps on the beside tables have a similar but separate set up.”

Bridger turned around after his explanation, but Lucas was still standing in the doorway, wary of entering.   This was the first glimpse at his temporary lodgings.

“Come on in, don’t be shy.  For the next few days this will be your private space,” the Captain encouraged, but didn’t understand why the teenager’s hesitation.

Kristin was standing behind him and couldn’t come up with a reason for his reluctance any more than Nathan.  She was about to put a hand on his arm to check if he was feeling alright, when he finally took a step forward preventing any contact.

The Captain continued to point out the best features of the room, “There are built-in closets along that wall to store the contents of your bag or  whatever you like.  The bed has already been made up with sheets and blankets, so you should have everything you need.   There is a large linen cupboard in the bathroom that has extra pillows, sheets, blankets and anything extra.  There was a wooden dresser with long drawers and antique brass handles beneath the window.   Carol wanted staying guests to feel welcome in our home.”

Lucas glanced about the room, taking in little of anything that Bridger had to say.  There was a multitude of voices echoing off the inside of his skull, but none of them belonged to the Captain or Kristin.  Even if someone demanded a verbal response, he couldn’t have adequately described the tide of emotions.

The large double bed was set against the wall with a small bedside table on each side.   Two pillows lay at the head of the bed with an assortment of colour contrasting, textured and mismatching sized cushions arranged in front.   Spread over the bed and long enough to touch the floor was a blanket, he almost made the mistake of reaching out and running the palm of his hand across the surface.   The fabric was woven differently from the fluffy polyester provided by Ben onboard SeaQuest.

How many cushions and pillows did the average person need anyway?  Lucas mulled over.

Bridger walked a short distance across the room,  “The vertical blind can be operated by these two open and close buttons here, and there is almost no noise given off by the track,” he demonstrated, allowing the afternoon sunlight to filter through the room.   “You can adjust the amount of brightness to your liking.”

Soft plush carpet ran across the whole surface of the floor.   The colour palette of the whole room was textured in complimenting tones of silver and blue.   A suitable retreat for any visitor staying the night or any length of time.

They wanted him to sleep here tonight?  How could he explain to them why he was freaking out over a bed?  They couldn’t possibly understand the reasoning.  

 Lucas stared back at the Captain, greeted by the man’s expectant gaze as though waiting for an answer.   The only problem was that he hadn’t heard any question.   The proverbial ‘deer in the headlights’ would aptly fit right about now.

Shaking his head slowly in an attempt to clear the chaos swirling around in his mind, he gave the best vague honesty he could muster, “Sorry, I was lost in my own little world there for a minute, thinking about something completely different.”

“I can see you were distracted, but you don’t need to apologize,” Bridger assured him.  “Anything that I can help with or you feel like sharing?”

“Um, no, something silly that doesn’t mean anything,” he brushed aside, interjecting a healthy dose of disinterest into his tone of voice to cover his tracks.

Taking matters into her own hands, Kristin gently took a hold of the handles but feeling no resistance tugging it free from the teenager’s grasp,  “I will leave your bag on the bed, you can worry about unpacking later.”   ‘Or needing to do it at all’  she mused to herself, noting that the contents didn’t weigh very much.

Setting the bag on the bed, hoping that Nathan would pick up on her subtle hints of concern over the boy’s mood.   “I reiterate the earlier suggestion of us gaining some fresh air outside.”   There was something else going on that she couldn’t put her finger on.

Nathan hadn’t needed Kristin’s hints to know that something was amiss with their young charge.   He had been expecting a similar response that Kristin had given about his room, but with the teenager’s own admission of being tired, maybe he should give Lucas more time to form an opinion.   Both guests needed a night to settle in and get more acquainted with their respective lodgings.

Noticeable changes in the boy’s energy and level of participation had been happening on and off since they arrived, with few clues as to the cause.   The tour had seen him brimming with confidence one minute, only then to be seen taking a step back; hesitant and undecided.

Ben had made plenty of comments about what had been going onboard SeaQuest during the middle of the night over the past week, but none of that seemed to correlate with what had been transpiring today.    Kristin and he were going to have to do some silent observation of their own and figure out the problem.

Lucas paused at the top of the landing, watching the two adults make their way downstairs.   Change rarely came because he wanted it, and less often when he plucked up the courage to ask.  Descending the steps, he took a deep breath whilst reminding himself to suck-it-in and deal with how things were.

Two minutes later, any attempt to disguise his emotions would fail completely.


By the time Lucas had reached the bottom of the staircase, with the intention to go out the same way they had entered the house.  Bridger and Kristin were standing at the end of the corridor leading into the laundry, patiently for him to catch up but noted his pace had slowed to a crawl.

Halfway along the corridor there was a white door set underneath the stairs.   Quite concealed and hidden unless someone pointed it out or you discovered it by pure chance.

Had that been there before?

Bridger took a few steps towards the teenager, ready for the teenager to find out for himself by simply pushing it open, but his verbal response would catch them both off-guard.

“Where does this lead to?” Lucas casually asked, wrapping his hand around the door knob.   There was no visible lock or keyhole.

“To my unfinished basement…,” but the sentence was cut short.

In one violent motion, Lucas yanked his hand away in haste, releasing the metal handle and lurching backwards awkwardly.  A startled cry came out of his mouth as he lost his balance and fell to the floor.   Landing in a seated position, he had jumped several feet away from the door frame.    He was trying to scramble further away, shuffling across the floor as Bridger approached.   Flight became his natural knee-jerk defence.

“Lucas!  What is wrong?” the Captain called out, quickly covering the short distance between them and offering to help the boy to his feet.   In the short time that he had known the boy, he had only heard him make a guttural noise when he was under extreme distress.

“Please don’t!” he snapped, clamping down on his tongue to stop an onslaught of angry words from spewing forth.   Any unwarranted backlash would only cause friction and seek to alienate the very people who were offering support without judgment.    He was doing enough of that on his own.

Mortified and embarrassed, frustration was taking a firm hold as the teenager clumsily pulled himself to his knees and regained his feet, ignoring Bridger’s extended open hand.   Lucas turned his face away in shame, avoiding eye-contact and refusing any shred of physical contact.   Rational thinking and logic had abandoned him, replaced by sheer panic and with crushing self-loathing.

Passing a critical glance towards the basement door, he adamantly took two steps further away.   Internally, the boy was using every technique and short-cut he knew in an attempt to calm himself down;  but nothing was working.   Memories assailed him from all directions, increasing his heart-beat tenfold and leaving his mouth dry.   Silently he was telling his lungs to slow down;  his chest felt constricted making it difficult to take a deep breath.

‘What happened?’ but Kristin’s question went unspoken.  She was seeking an answer, but tensions were high and at risk of becoming strained further.   Lucas was actively retreating from Nathan, so she chose to approach the unfolding dilemma with caution.

Ordinarily, she wouldn’t be swayed from checking over someone under her care, but this afternoon, her good intentions were for nought and would probably be met with opposition.

This standpoint was much more precarious than the incident in the guest bedroom on the second floor.    On the verge of delivering a few scolding words touching on foolish pride, Kristin’s resolve was quickly replaced with empathy as she surveyed the spectrum of emotion showing on his face.

In a split second, the doctor was playing witness to a sudden and drastic switch in attitude, but his motivations were unclear.   Lucas’ current frame-of-mind was going to make     co-operation arduous and prohibit any real attempt at remedy or support.  There was more to this sudden change of circumstances than mere daydreaming or asserting one’s own sentiments as unimportant and brushing them aside.

.Nathan’s own genuine concern increased with the teenager’s uneasiness and disquiet.   There were residual markers present that couldn’t be ignored.   Lucas was constantly shifting from one foot to the other.   His breathing pattern had changed with it sounding way too fast.  He was wringing his hands together furiously, the skin on his fingertips and knuckles turning red due to the exertion.

Fear! That was the most plausible explanation for the dramatic response and sudden out-of-character behaviour he was exhibiting.

Terror from what?  They had come down the stairs, walked down the corridor, ready to go outside.   Trailing behind, Lucas had innocently asked about the puzzling door he had stumbled across.  Bridger’s answer to the question had been straightforward, an unfinished basement. 

Kristin understood that chastisement nor reprimand were not needed right now and presumably wouldn’t get through the teenager’s defensive shell.   She was relieved to see Nathan employing his own unique calming techniques.   Back onboard SeaQuest, his methods had proven to be a true stroke of genius when the stakes had been raised even higher and the outcome unstable for all involved.

Deliberately lowering his voice and respecting Lucas’ personal space, the Captain ensured that his body language wasn’t demanding or threatening by moving forward too quickly.  “You don’t need to tell me anything if you are not ready.  I can see that you are hesitant to talk.”   He paused before continuing, giving the teenager as much time as he needed for the words to make an impact.

Bridger’s gut instincts told him that the teenager was ready to object and be combative. “I won’t force the issue; you know that is not how I choose to do things.  But at the same time, I can’t stand by and pretend that something didn’t happen.  I would be lying to myself and in turn to you.   I made a commitment to you promising honesty and I don’t intend to fail.”

Changing tactics and cautiously taking two steps forward, Nathan gently placed his hands around Lucas’ in a display of support and comfort that wouldn’t be patronizing or too overwhelming.   He had done something similar in the mess hall onboard SeaQuest when there had only been the two of them.  On that occasion, the teenager had been struggling with unresolved matters concerning his father.   At an uncivilized hour, that one simple gesture had created a small connection of awareness between them, and he hoped that it would do the same here.

A small nod and a visible flood of relief on Lucas’ face was the reward for his efforts.  A handful of words had struck a cord and meant something.

Attempting to regain his composure, the teenager spoke a few words of his own in return.  “I trust your word that down there is unfinished, but I can wait until it is ready to see it for myself.”   The boy ensured that there was still ample space between him and the offending door.    The strain of needing to push aside any lingering dread was palpable, but there was strong willpower and ambition to overcome whatever was making him skittish and fearful.

Together, Kristin and Bridger had yet to unravel the origins of Lucas’ distress, but had witnessed the subsequent ramifications.   A breakthrough had been reached, but that delicate balance could be easily be jeopardized and the panic allowed to resurface.

“There will be another time to tell you, but I think both of us would definitely benefit from that fresh air outside?” Nathan broached.  “There is much more that I want to share with you and Kristin, but there is plenty of time and our schedule is not set in stone.   The rest of the tour can go ahead with a clean slate tomorrow.    There is an experiment that I planned to set up and thought you might be interested enough to assist.”

“Wait for me in the laundry near the back door and let me talk to Kristin for a few moments,” the Captain requested.  “Being a lady, I am sure the doctor would like to freshen up and settle into her guest room.”   During that short time, he surmised that the teenager would be seeking some space to gather his psyche and suppress any lasting self-disgust.

“There is one secluded spot that I am sure you will enjoy seeing first-hand before we call it a day on the sight-seeing.”   The request to conduct some kind of experiment together tomorrow was met with genuine interest.   Bridger’s talk of a hidden area of the garden sparked a great deal of curiosity.

Preparing to walk down the corridor to the back door, Lucas turned back momentarily…

“Captain, I can’t…… thanks.”

Bridger smiled and nodded in acknowledgement, choosing not to dampen the meaning behind the words by speaking or adding any gesture of his own.

The boy was trying to make amends and show gratitude, so as far as he was concerned, that was enough.   When it came to Lucas, he was learning that the answers were never going to come easily.   Wanting to be involved was not always going to be met with positivity or acceptance.   Satisfaction came in form of knowing that he could make a difference.


Both adults followed Lucas with their eyes, knowing that he needed time, but wishing he would let them in more to his private world.  Nathan glanced over at Kristin, seeing that she cared and wanted to reach out to him.

“Lucas is an adolescent, Nathan, desperate to spread his wings but battling against a swirling storm of upheaval,” Kristin commented, her mothering instincts shining through.   Turning back to Bridger she was making it clear that there was a sense of duty and responsibility to their decisions.   “An extremely intelligent young man trying to grow up in uncompromising world and navigate streets paved with selfishness and falsehoods.   He baulks at teamwork but excels at self-reliance.  Underneath those defensive layers he is vulnerable and suspectable, but he needs unwavering encouragement to strive towards good interactions with other people.”

“We need to offer support, but also be willing to give him independence,” Bridger summarized.  “I don’t think either of us are ready for what lies ahead, but we can’t surrender because the road starts getting bumpy.”

“Today, I think we made real progress.   Maybe trying to show him everything on the first day was too ambitious on my part, and not without consequence,” Nathan admitted.  “I think he will benefit enormously from my last minute decision to split the tour and continue with the outside gardens, garage and secondary buildings tomorrow.”

“Lucas needs nourishing food that should aid in getting some better sleep tonight.  Being awake at such and early hour before we even left on the launch this morning, coupled with participating and being vigilant for the majority of the day.  This afternoon, he was admitted to feeling over-stretched and his concentration straying.   Lucas needs time to process and digest what he has seen so far and refresh his batteries.”

“Day by day, I am finding it more difficult to keep a respectful distance as a medical professional.   Where possible, I try and provide unbiased guidance based on my own experiences, but at the same time want to reach out with caring and give kindness as a friend ,” Kristin professed.

Bridger smiled, “When it comes to making choices about important matters regarding Lucas, your heart has been overruling your head;  and I for one think that is a very admirable quality.”

After being suitably reminded of who this short trip was supposed to benefit, Kristin brushed aside her own wistfulness.  This assigned task would need them to show a united front and work together to initiate any long-term change.  “Let me put my own bags in the guest room and then I will get everything prepared for an early dinner for the three of us.”

Kristin beamed back, listening to what he was conveying and appreciate that they were both holding onto individual self-doubts where Lucas was concerned.   Nathan had a knack for finding the right words of reassurance and the capability to lift people’s spirits.

“At the front of the house there is a patch of lawn that continues all the way down to the beachfront.  Set about halfway, there is a sunken barbeque and seating area complete with a picnic table.  The perfect spot to share a simple dinner with an endless view of the ocean.   The natural setting will enhance the informal surroundings and promote relaxation.  The colour changes of the sunset on the horizon paint a spectacular background.   A warm breeze will dance across the sand before greeting the stars as they come out one by one in the night sky.”

“Well, you have outlined an ideal landscape in which to enjoy our meal and the recipe for a carefree evening,” Kristin remarked.  “I am sure I will find my way around your kitchen without too much trouble.  Let me prepare our humble menu and summon you both when the plates are laid on the table and the food is ready to serve.   Go and join Lucas.”

“Please leave the grilling on the barbeque for me,” the Captain requested.  “I take a small amount of pride in showing-off my outdoor culinary skills to visiting guests.”

“Oh I wouldn’t miss out on such an auspicious moment.  I will definitely be reporting on your cooking efforts directly to Mr Krieg,” Kristin laughed with amusement at the mock indignation on Bridger’s face.   The expression only lasted a moment as he turned to walk to the laundry.

“Lucas and I will be nearby.  Given what happened in the corridor, it might be the right kind of place if he wants to talk.”

The doctor was curious about the special spot that Nathan was keen on showing to the teenager, but she saw enormous benefit in just the two of them to sharing quality time together.   There would be another opportunity for her within the coming days.


Bridger exited through the back door and found Lucas casually standing in the garden, taking a closer inspection of the leafy pots and climbing plants.  The Captain felt somewhat discouraged to see that enough time has elapsed whist he had been talking to Kristin for Lucas’ mask of indifference to descend, erasing any sign of his earlier outburst.

 Nathan suspected that it was a well-practiced reflex that Lucas deliberately and knowingly employed as a coping mechanism.   That type of stubborn mentality was going to take time to adapt to and patience to change.   Bringing the subject up now was not going to solve the problem and would only antagonise and counteract the small amount of trust earned.

“I was about to organise a search and rescue party, thinking you had gotten lost inside your own house,” Lucas teased.   “Where is this mystical place you have been hinting about?”

“Mystical?  I don’t remember saying it quite like that, “Bridger debated.   However, you will appreciate the true appeal it offers when we come from the front.  Follow me,” he coaxed without giving away any further clues.   For now, he wanted to keep the tone between them normal and uncomplicated, but he was carefully watching for signs in case that changed suddenly.

Keeping pace with the Captain the two of them walked down the left-hand side of the building.   The late afternoon sunlight was casting shadows through the diverse variety of leaves and foliage from the trees bordering the gardens.   Rounding the corner of the house, he wanted to be slightly ahead to witness the teenager’s first impression of the panoramic view.

“The front verandah extends all the way along, and no matter where you are seated or standing, there is an uninterrupted view.   The external windows were enlarged to allow the maximum amount of light inwards and the best aspect outwards.”

Below each windowsill there was a potted flowering shrub growing in a wooden planter box.   Wired hanging baskets were suspended by thin chain and spaced evenly underneath the eaves.  The natural coconut husk liners had an array of low maintenance and sun-loving plants trailing over the edges.   Aesthetic stone animal and bird figures had been carefully selected and added as finishing touches.   The whole area was a gardener’s playground.

Lucas came to a standstill, his face etched with genuine admiration.  “I never would have pictured you owning or living in this place, especially after wandering through some of the first and second floor rooms.   I believe I am safe in presuming there is more to learn about you and this island, Captain,” he taunted.

“Thank you for that straightforward remark.  By my own admission, I am quite selective of who I share my favourite spaces with, but that is not meant to be restrictive or sound prohibitive,” Bridger clarified.   “The island’s unpredictable weather pattern can dictate weeks of drenching tropical rain or create inclement heat and oppressive humidity.   Mother-nature puts on a great performance that I cannot take any credit for what happens on most days.

“That porch swing you can see was brought over from the mainland.   Carol found it in a second-hand shop and couldn’t stop thinking about it for over a week.  For close to a month she went about restoring the frame using a tough, flexible material to remake the adjustable back-rest and canopy.   The pillows and cushions are covered in a weather-resistant fabric that will outlast the harshest elements.   Once completed, a few lazy Sunday afternoons were spent sitting in that spot when the weather was milder, thinking about absolutely nothing.   You can come back here later and test out the comfort level.”

“You must have found it challenging to identify the right species of grass that would tolerate growing in sandy soil?”

“Carol took on that laborious task all by herself.   Speaking in person and communicating via email with a number of horticulturalists and passionate gardeners, she gained their valuable opinions by listening to their own trials and successes.  Then she sourced the recommended tiny seedlings through markets, specialist nurseries and private growers.  Some types of grasses grew better from exposure to full sun, but other perennials suffered beneath the shady trees.  There are approximately five different categories or groups across the whole area.   What you see is the result by trial and error of a mixture of varieties that co-exist and share an eco-system.”

“I admitted to Kristin recently that I don’t have a vast amount of experience when it comes to plants and knowing what they need to grow and thrive.  Your island provides a great opportunity to see an enormous array in their own natural habitat.”

The teenager’s attention was being drawn away from the house, instead, focusing on what was beyond the lawned area, trailing down to the beachfront.  Walking anywhere without restrictions and experiencing a tranquil setting like this didn’t happen when he was away from SeaQuest.

“Unspoiled scenery that looks amazing and is nothing short of spectacular!” came the unabridged critique.

Nathan’s plan to go outside for some fresh air was proving to be a good choice.   There were notable changes to Lucas’ tone of voice and body language.   Inside the house, he was observed carrying out measured surveillance.   Out here, that keen sense of curiosity about his surroundings had been reignited.    A spark of intelligence without equal that came from him.

Lucas spotted a sunken entertainment area, including a large brick barbeque.  Wicker cane seating was built into the rectangular space, together with matching outdoor furniture.  A casual dining space that offered an unobstructed view of the beach and surrounding shoreline.   A unique vantage point that could create a visual sensory overload.

“That is where Kristin will be setting up for us to eat soon.   I know the beach is enticing and you can go out there as soon as I finish showing you this one place that is rather special.  I do hope you will have fun and enjoy staying here.”

The teenager followed the Captain, filled with intrigue about a place this man was willing to openly profess as special.


Taking a similar approach to coming outside, Bridger choosing to curtail any swaying commentary and preferring to wait in silence for an unbiased opinion from Lucas.  Fortunately, he didn’t have to wait long, but kept the jubilation to himself.

Talking around the left-hand side of the house, Lucas slowed his footsteps, waiting momentarily for his eyes to adjust to the lower level of light.

“Wow, this is…. something unexpected……….real nice back…..private.”

The teenager’s quiet utterances of wonder being delivered as a fragmented sentence was enough of a win for Nathan.   The double-take expression on his face was an added bonus.

A weeping willow tree took centre stage with its draping silver-tinged foliage creating a secluded corner with its dramatic canopy.   Some of the delicate branches were long enough to touch the ground.

“That tree must be at least thirty feet tall!” Lucas estimated, looking up.  “You can’t even see the very top of it from down here.  The leaves are quite small and paper thin,” he added, reaching out to examine one more closely.

“I wager it is thirty-five or more,” Bridger countered.   “These specimens were here when the plans for construction of the house were first drawn up.  Carol was adamant that nothing was to happen during the build.  A few outer branches may have been sacrificed by this end of the house, but great care was taken to adhere to her desire to keep them.”

Closer to the house, planted against a sturdy wooden framework, the vines of a lilac Wisteria snaked their way up the entire length of lattice.  The pendulous branches of the wisteria formed a living curtain with a handful of purple and white coloured, scented flowers.

These were Carol’s favourite trees above all others on the island.   There isn’t much of a display of flowers right now as it is still too early in the season.   They are both deciduous varieties, but I have found that they have adapted to the climate here than other specimens on the mainland.    The foliage sheds over a shorter period of time but has a longer flowering cycle.  That will happen as the leaves begin to change colour in the cooler months.

Lucas reached out, allowing the soft petals to run across the palm of his hand.   Lowering his nose, he was surprised at the sweet musky small wafting up from the flowers.  “Standing this close, the perfume is fairly mild.”

“Wait until the whole tree is in full bloom, the strong, spicy aroma nearly knocks you off your feet when you first come here.   In late autumn, there is a carpet of leaves underneath your feet.   This is one of the few spots close to the house where there is no endless view of the waves or the sandy beach.”

Beneath the main trunk of the willow there was a moss-covered stone bench.  The dense foliage created by the arch of the tree stifled off enough of the sunlight for the ideal growing conditions.  Offset in a semi-circled position, there were two wrought iron benches with wooden slat seating.   Enough for more than one person.

“Why did you feel the need to devise a secluded patch like this?” Lucas asked, figuring that the Captain had put a fair amount of thought into its purpose.

For a moment, Nathan was startled by the direct question, but nonetheless felt obligated to answer.

“A lot of reasons really, some of them even made sense at the time.  Originally, I was going to give it some token symbolic name like ‘Our Secret Place’ or something else just as cheesy.  Now I casually refer to it as the ‘contemplation spot’ but over the years it has served in many different capacities.   When Carol and I first came here, it was a place to sit down and enjoy the sunset together, or an early morning sunrise.  Nobody else was invited here, it was a private sanctum.   There was laughter and some very happy memories made here together.”

Bridger’s voice changed and deepened as old emotions began to resurface.  “When we lost our son, Robert, it was a church for us to cry, pray and share our grief as we searched for answers that would never come.   When Carol first became sick, coming here meant that I could climb up on my own soapbox to scream and yell and vent with frustration and anger at the injustice.  Why had she been chosen to be taken too soon, instead of someone like me who was more deserving of suffering and purgatory?”

“After Carol’s death, it became a haven of a different kind.  It wasn’t unusual for me to spend an entire day and night here, going without eating or sleeping, losing track of time and desperately wanting to shut the world out.   Occasionally, I still spend quite a bit of time sitting here, reflecting and remembering about many different things.  Sometimes it is nice to come here and think of nothing at all.   Believe it or not, a few weeks ago after Bill Noyce came seeking me out to rejoin SeaQuest, I came back here, trying to weigh up where my life was going and what fate still had in store.”

Lucas cleared his throat, a lump of sorrow growing over how much the Captain had endured and lost.  “Speaking as someone who has only played a bystander for a short period of time, it may be too early yet to see any real benefits.   Noyce may have chosen well and sees more merit in your leadership skills than you are willing to give yourself credit for.”

“After walking away disillusioned;  a small part of me was opening up to the idea of having more to offer the scientific community.  I couldn’t explain this unquenchable thirst that was slowly eroding away my sense of usefulness.   I was convinced that my years of experience were wasting away.   I concede that the reasons Bill gave to me on the beach that day may have hit too close to home.”

Nathan remembered talking with Lucas in his quarters, still undecided about accepting the position of Captain.   He had still been carrying some unresolved hostility towards Bill after his impromptu and underhanded visit.  The teenager had made a few comments of his own about his parent’s marriage.

Bridger felt regretful that he could stand here and talk about what had been eating away at him with a fourteen year old boy rather than someone he served alongside.   Bill only wanted him to take a harder look at what he was doing to himself and start living again.   If the roles were reversed he would have done the same and not let a life-long friend fade away into obscurity.

Lucas chose his next words very carefully.  “It is natural to be afraid of breaking the solemn promise that you made to your wife, and people wouldn’t fault you for taking such a hard-line stance.   Think of what the Admiral has offered as a positive opportunity rather than using it as an excuse or crutch.  What would your son Robert be telling you to do?  For what it’s worth, I think you have made the right decision.”

A wry smirk appeared on Nathan’s face.   Where did all that level-headed reasoning come from in someone so young?  What did it say or reveal about the teenager’s own ability to put a negative spin on choices and deeds?   Bridger didn’t want to delve too deeply into what events or actions Lucas had withstood to be able to peg him so accurately.

“Thank you.  I haven’t admitted it to too many people out loud yet, but the jury is undecided,” Bridger replied.  “Take note that anything that is shared in this spot remains a secret and what has been spoken today stays private.”

“Just between us,” Lucas affirmed, nodding his head.    He understood the gravity behind the Captain’s expectation of confidentiality.

Nathan wanted to brighten his own mood and sharing a meal with others was one way to do that.   “I should go and see if Kristin needs a hand.   You are welcome to sit here for a while longer if you like until the food is ready?”

Lucas pushes his hands deeper into the pockets of his jeans, “If you don’t mind, I will take you up on your earlier offer to go down to the beach.”

The teenager didn’t want to insult the Captain’s cooking skills, or underestimate Kristin’s determination to ensure that he ate on a more regular basis.   Mentally, he wasn’t ready to do battle with either of them.  The tour had gone on for much longer than any of them anticipated and her efforts on that particular subject had been thwarted.

‘Let him sit on the sand and give him some of the space that he is craving’

“Take all the time you need.”

A crooked grin was given in thanks.

Nathan watched on as the teenager brushed back the draping branches of the willow and casually walked out.   By the time he exited, ready to head back to the kitchen, Lucas was walking across the lawn towards the water.


The previously blue sky was now a multitude of hues; salmon pinks and pale yellows.  Golden ripples appear; a glint of fading light dancing across the waves.  As the setting sun touched the horizon, the colour dramatically changed again to red and burnt orange, the surface of the water set ablaze.

The afternoon darkening by the minute and transforming into dusk.   The surface of the water captivating and the aroma from the sea breeze was fresh and tantalising.  The constant ebb and flow of the salty waves was hypnotic.

The last warmth of the day was shining on his cheeks and the blustery wind was tickling the tufts of blond hair against the nape of his neck.  A few weeks ago there was never even a hint of something like this being possible.   A peaceful setting and almost no sound.   Freedom and people who were offering to make a difference in his life.  Lucas closed his eyes, wanting to make a memory of this moment.

Swimming was out of the question with the stitches in his back.   Taking his sneakers off, Lucas sat down on the dry sand, the cool, foamy water running soothingly over his bare feet.   He wanted to sit on this beach and think about nothing and allow the waves to wash away what he was feeling inside.   Was that too much to ask?

Despite the tranquil and relaxing location, it wasn’t long before darker thoughts began to manifest.

‘What was he going to do?’ he mulled over, slapping the granulated sand with his open hand.

Being able to see the stars and feeling the sun on his face; not totally new experiences, but simple pleasures that were not achievable for him on regular basis.  They were nothing more than empty hopes and unfulfilled dreams.  Bridger and Kristin had both stated that they were ready to listen.  But would they really?   The Captain didn’t strike him as someone who went back on their word and wasn’t likely to ignore what he had found out or merely pretend to walk away.    Both of them were barely aware of what he had endured, and he certainly wasn’t ready to revisit those experiences or share them with anybody.

What lies on the surface hides doesn’t always tell the whole truth about what is hiding in plain sight.  Many people, including the crew of SeaQuest would be shocked to learn about his past and current lifestyle.  Despite recent disclosures made under duress, he was relieved to know that ‘some’ had only overheard a garbled and sketchy tirade with insufficient detail.  There were no roots keeping him anchored to anyone or any specific place.   Infrequently, he was drawing some weird comparison to drowning and running out of air to breathe.

Before coming onboard, deciding on the best way to survive every second of each day needed was crucial.   In an instant, any planning could prove fruitless with control completely taken away and choices negated.   How to cope through the day until the night became a secondary afterthought.

Existence, that is what his life had been thus far.   Caught up in the stench of blatant greed of those purported to be closest to you.   Having no chance of separating yourself from their unscrupulousness and corruption without choking on burning humiliation that came to the top of your neck.

Unrelenting criticism and spiteful words had been shouted and hurled at him countless times,  ‘You will do exactly what I tell you to without question.’ ‘You are a nothing but a coward’   ‘A pathetic, snivelling weakling’  ‘You will never amount of anything’   Even here, they had a profound impact and weighed heavily on his soul.

footsteps approached from behind…..

“Whoa!” Lucas blurted out, instinctively jumping to his feet and taking an evasive step backwards, unable to mask being visibly startled.   To his relief, the compacted wet sand of the shoreline provided enough stability to stay upright.

The looming cloud of melancholy dissolved with the fading sunlight;  only to be left guessing when it might strike again.

“Um, I didn’t hear you sneaking up on me,” Lucas confessed, running a hand through his hair to brush it back from his forehead and adjusting his shirt.  “For a minute there, I was lost in my own thoughts.”

“I can see that; I didn’t intend to scare you,” Nathan tendered with remorse, grateful for his honesty.  “The soles of my shoes must absorb and muffle the sound when I walk from the grass onto the loose sand.”  The teenager’s mood had changed again in a short amount of time, but in his humble opinion, the current sunset wasn’t to blame.

Holding out a pair of folded black sunglasses, Bridger tried to make amends with a peace offering.  “I came down here to offer these during your stay.   They are an older pair that once belonged to me.  I haven’t been them used since investing in frames that fit better a few months back.   You can leave them here when we go back to SeaQuest.”

He had wanted to include the words ‘next time’ but skipped them, wanting Lucas to settle in first before deciding on whether he wanted to return.   Silently he hoped there would be a chance for the boy to come back.

Lucas reached out to accept them,  Thank you,” he replied softly, his voice filled with gratitude at such an unassuming gesture.  “I will take care of them,” he added, wanting to say more but failing to find the words to adequately express the flurry of emotions.   There was caution and nervousness, but a sliver of trust was emerging from that random act of kindness.

Nathan pointed out a larger wooden structure down the beach, “What you see over there is the larger pier that I mentioned.   Each pylon underneath is made from a single tree trunk and they are massive in diameter to see when the tide is low.   The jetty itself goes out about one hundred twenty five meters.   I am sorry that showing it up closer didn’t happen this afternoon.   There is plenty of time to complete the rest of the tour tomorrow after checking on Darwin.”

Rather than say more on that particular topic, Bridger glanced down at the teenager’s discarded sneakers and grinned.   The beach was certainly the perfect opportunity to ditch the footwear.

“Standing up seemed all wrong for this time of the day, and the water looked inviting,” Lucas explained, briefly giving a crooked smirk of his own.   Turning back towards the Captain, his next statement took on a completely different tone, “You have a great place here.  I can see how it might be difficult to tear yourself away from this.

“I am glad you found a way that works for you.   I won’t deny that I haven’t done it myself on more than one occasion;  let the water erode everything away, a little at a time.  As for being difficult, that depends on your interpretation I guess.   To me it feels more like a moth being drawn to a flame or a beacon.   That sense of belonging somewhere that becomes a part of you, all-consuming and always wanting to return no matter how far away you are.   I never expected to feel like that when Carol and I first came here, but over time, the place has woven itself into every facet of my life.”

There was more that could have been added, but Nathan didn’t want to pressure the teenager on the first day of arrival.  The day had been long enough for all involved.  For several minutes, both of them were content to enjoy the silent company and watch the waves dance back and forth.

“Grab your shoes and come join us,” the Captain encouraged.   “I am about to start grilling the food and Kristin will be scolding the both of us for being late to dinner.”


By the time they walked back, Kristin was entering the sunken seating area, setting down a tray laden with plates and napkins.

“Everything I thought you should need has been set up next to the barbeque, Nathan.”

“Thank you for what you have done.   I hope finding the utensils in my kitchen didn’t cause you too much trouble?”

“I found the layout convenient and thus I was able to pull out what I needed quite easily,” Kristin answered.

Lucas found himself feeling unsettled and battling internal unease as he entered the large entertainment area, barely listening to the light conversation taking place between the two adults.  Turning around, he came face to face with the Captain.  Walking in front of Bridger meant that any chance of an escape route had effectively been cut off.

“I, um….was just,” he was floundering to come up with a good enough excuse to back out of the whole deal.

“Come on now, don’t be shy.  Take a seat wherever you like while I fire up the barbeque.  I hope you will approve of my menu choice,”   There were emergency reserves stowed away if the teenager objected.

“What is our menu choice?” the teenager asked, glancing at the tray on the table and surveying the contents.  There were a number of small condiment pots, with a small spoon protruding from each.   There was a rectangular, lidded plastic container.

Kristin took a seat at the table, and then went about taking each item off the tray and placing them in a specific order on the table.   Breakfast had been missed and lunch had been delayed more than once today.  He had put aside any notion of stating that he didn’t want to eat, knowing both adults would object strongly.  Without commenting, Lucas sat down on the bench seat directly across from her, watching with intrigue.

The doctor had heard Nathan’s words and could see the unspoken questions on his face about the what they were going to be eating.  “I didn’t know what your personal preferences were, so these little pots will allow you to make one or more of your own selections.”

“Choose what?” he questioned, peering into the pot closest to him and lifting the spoon to determine the contents.   Ketchup;  a thick red dollop.   He didn’t want to be rude or insult the way the doctor served the accompaniments.  Wouldn’t it normally be in a squeeze bottle? 

“Hot Dogs,” the Captain stated, holding up the first wiener with a pair of tongs before placing it on the barbeque grill.   “When planning out the menu for the next few days, I assumed after a long journey, and the grand tour, going simple on our first night would be best.  These are the manufactured sausages that are produced now rather than the real meat ones I remember eating as a kid.”

Out of all of the possible choices for dinner that the Captain and Doctor could have made for this trip, he would not have guessed at hotdogs.  There was nothing wrong with them per se, more a case of him not being allowed to have them very often.

Kristin handed over a plate and napkin, noticing the unfamiliarity on Lucas’ face.   But at the same time, she recognized that he didn’t want to disappoint Nathan by refusing to eat was being prepared.

“This pot contains mustard, spicy but mild,” Kristin explained.  “Although I have it on good authority that a different type of cheese is usually preferred in this country, this evening  grated cheese is what is available,” she told him, lifting the lid on the container.   “These are some diced raw onions.”

In a large basket in the centre of the table there was a batch of long bread rolls.   Lucas pulled away with revolution on his face at the idea of one ingredient being added.  “I will be skipping that last one, thank you.”

“I love most forms of cheese, but I never became a fan of liquid nacho cheese in large amounts.  I have never tried mustard, but Shep used a lot of extra toppings while we were at college.  Nick had an opposing opinion and preferred ketchup only.   The two of them used to argue all the time over whose tasted better.

This was another one of those rare unguarded moments when Lucas was tired and hadn’t realised what details he had revealed.   Both of them had picked up on a few clues about food likes and dislikes.  There was also a chance mention of the friends ‘Shep’ and ‘Nick’ who Nathan had overheard the teenager talking about aboard SeaQuest.

“My first introduction to this cuisine was when my ex-husband Nelson and I went to a baseball game a few months after arriving here.  He also liked a lot of toppings and would deliberately seek out the most unusual ones.   I prefer a good strong French Dijon mustard instead of the vinegary one made in this country and a sparse amount of ketchup on any food.  Cynthia would have called them offensive and never touched them.”

Until now, Lucas hadn’t given a lot of thought to the premise that Kristin had grown up in a country vastly different to this one, with an entirely distinctive style to where and what they ate.  She may not have sampled some that were considered staple dishes or got-to-try delicacies.   Food was a melting pot of flavours, ethnic recipes, traditional ingredients from many cultures and nations.

“Carol wasn’t a fan of them,” Nathan remarked as he started removing the cooked dogs from the grill.   “Unfortunately we never got to try this barbeque out together.   Hotdogs were one of Robert’s favourites and we have been known to hold an eating contest or two between us.   The score between us was a draw, so unfortunately there will never be a final round to decide the winner.”

After finishing the cooking, Bridger sat down next to Kristin, “Supplying grated cheddar cheese was my idea, because like you Lucas, I don’t like nacho cheese.  Robert used to have bacon, relish and sometimes sauerkraut, but I prefer to keep things much simpler.   He used to correct me on calling them cheese dogs or chilli dogs or the popular nickname.”

Following the Captain’s lead, Lucas took one of the long buns out of the basket and started constructing his own dinner.   Keeping his focus on the task at hand, he could feel two sets of eyes watching what he was doing.

Wanting to keep the meal relaxed and casual, Kristin started a conversation, not comprehending the impact of her words.  “Is this something you would occasionally have at home, Lucas?”

The teenager had finished making his hotdog and was adding some of the ketchup, but almost dropped the spoon when her question struck.

Unable to mask his surprise, the teenager swallowed the lump that had formed at the base of his throat.   Lucas failed to keep eye contact with Kristin, dropping his voice to answer, “Uh, no, my father would never count this as any type of real food.”

Kristin could see that her question had invoked strong emotions and was badly ill-timed.  Wanting to make amends, she placed a comforting hand over his in apology.   “Please forgive me, I should have thought more before asking awful questions.”

Instead of speaking and knowing that the doctor has his best interests at heart, he gave her hand a gentle squeeze in return.   Questions about his previous life and his father;  they were inevitable now that too many people were aware of his dark secret.   Learning how to say enough that could be believed was a fresh challenge.   Avoiding the real truth;  he had been doing that for a very long time.

Bridger didn’t want to make any additional unnecessary comment, pleased that forgiveness had been given and an understanding had been reached.  Inwardly, he did wonder about a great many things about the Wolenczak household.

Kristin and the Captain had starting eating their hotdogs before Lucas had finished making his.  In the end he had made a simple choice of wiener and ketchup inside the bun.  Both had tried not to laugh at the revulsion on his screwed up face at the vinegary, spicy tang, as they watched him taste-test a small dollop of mustard off the spoon.

After taking a drink of water to cleanse his palate, Kristin noted something odd about Lucas’ eating ritual.

“Come on, take a bite,” Bridger urged.  “Please let me know if my cooking skills are up to par after all this time.”

She didn’t want to create waves or cause him to lose his appetite.   It was almost like the teenager was waiting for Nathan to say something or be invited to eat.

Forty minutes later, in the time Lucas took to eat half of his first hotdog, Kristin had consumed two of her own, and the Captain had eaten three.  There were three spare grilled wieners, plenty of cheese, long bread rolls and condiments.

With more than half of the hotdog consumed, Lucas gave his critique, “I would say that you can still grill well on the barbeque.  The ketchup is sweet and together with the bread and hotdog; overall a good combination.”

“Thank you, and I am glad you enjoyed it.”   Glancing down at the plate, the Captain noticed that a small portion remained uneaten.  A growing boy should easily be able to put away a second hotdog.  “Aren’t you going to finish your plate?” he asked when it became clear that he losing interest.  Surely he was still hungry?

“Nah, I am good,” Lucas replied after using the paper napkin and placing it so signify that he was done eating.  “The early start to the day is creeping up on me rather than wanting more food,” he admitted reluctantly, leaning on the table and rubbing at his eyes tiredly.

Tiredness, Kristin could plainly see in his body language and features, but that wasn’t the riddle she wanted to identify.   This wasn’t the first time either, there had been small signs of unusual behaviour surrounding meals aboard SeaQuest.   She was determined to get to the bottom of it, but not tonight.

Pulling away from the table and slumping heavily against the back of the wicker bench, Lucas ran his hand across the surface of the fabric cushions.   The whole entertainment area was surprisingly much bigger than he first expected.   “These seats are comfortable and feel odd to touch.   I guess sometimes you have to try things out up close.”

Nathan had decided to cap dinner off with a buttered fresh bread roll.  Whilst he was enjoying the last few morsels, Kristin tried to bring up some casual conversation that wouldn’t offend.

“When I brought the food out here, I couldn’t see where the two of you had gone.  I became worried and was almost tempted to send out a search party.  What did you get up to together?”

Lucas and Bridger shared a sly smile at each other, neither of them willing to tell her what had been spoken about beneath the trees.

“We talked,” the teenager stated plainly.

“What did you find so interesting to talk about?” she asked, watching the looks and grins they were exchanging.

“Nothing important,” Bridger interjected.  “I showed Lucas a special spot down the side of the house, sheltered by trees.  He went down to the beach; it is very nice down there this time of the day.  I briefly came inside before joining with him to watch the sunset.”

“I took my shoes off and put my toes in the water,” Lucas reported.  It was clear from the thrill in his voice that such an occasion was a rare treat.

Kristin knew they must have talked about more than nothing important, but she didn’t need them to reveal their secrets.  During dinner, Lucas was much more sociable than he had before leaving the house.   Whatever methods or tools Nathan was employing were welcome and having a positive effect.

“Want to call it a night and turn in?” the doctor questioned.  “I should pack up this table and get settled into my new lodgings myself.   This morning was an early start for all of us.”

“No, I want to stay out here and enjoy the night a while longer,” Lucas mildly protested.  “None of us will have an alarm clock to get up to in the morning.”

“I will pack up the table, Kristin, you did all the earlier preparation.  You have done enough today, go inside and relax.   When I come back out here, a friendly game of cards will cap off the night.”

“A card game?  I don’t really know any apart from solitaire,” Lucas replied, finding himself put on the spot.   The opportunity had never up and there was never anybody else to play with.

“I know a couple I can teach you,” Nathan offered.  He hadn’t shared a simple game of cards with anyone for a long time.  “Stay here and enjoy the stars, I will be back in a few minutes.”


Twenty minutes later, Bridger came from the house, holding two steaming ceramic mugs and with a deck of cards in the pocket on his shirt.   He set the mugs down quietly on the table, looking over and seeing that Lucas was battling to stay awake.

“My hot chocolate may not be as good as Chef Don’s, but I think it will do the trick.”

Lucas sat up abruptly, grinning sheepishly at being caught out.  “What did you bring?” he asked, only partially hearing the name of the galley chef from SeaQuest mentioned.

“I made us both a cup of hot chocolate, but I didn’t know how sweet you like it.  I tend to like mine without the extra calories, so I didn’t add any extra sugar.”  He removed the pack of cards and laid them on the table.

The teenager sniffed at the hot milk drink before carefully taking a small mouthful.  “Passable,” he stated.  “It tastes fine without the sugar.   I am still not a great fan of milk, so I wouldn’t have it every day whether made by you or Don.”  He took two more mouthfuls before putting it down.  He had wanted to give the Captain’s efforts some justice, but not interested in finishing the contents of the mug.

Going over to the barbeque and locating a panel with a number of switches, Bridger instigated the garden lighting system to turn on.   “Those should give us a little more light.”

There was a large one on a metal rod on each corner of the entertainment area, followed by various sizes of inset lights scattered about.   Combined they gave enough light, but hopefully they wouldn’t attract too many biting bugs or insects.   There were solar energy saving lights flowing along the garden wall and pathway back to the house.

Bridger sat down at the table, picking up the deck and turning it over in his hands, watching his younger opponent across the table.  Lucas was watching every move he made, but it was clear that he wasn’t sold on the idea of playing a game.

“I thought we could start with an easy game like Snap.  Best between two players and easy enough to learn without needing too much instruction.   The game requires a standard pack, which you can see in my hand.  To start, I will deal the entire deck equally between us.  Then we take turns flipping over the cards one at a time until there is a match.”

Nathan could see that although Lucas was following along on how to play the game, he didn’t appear keen to join in.  “I won’t be sore if you don’t feel like playing tonight?”

“Are you sure?  I am sorry, Captain.  Can we bring them out and play another night?”

“Sure, what do you want to do instead?”

Lucas mulled that question over in his head for a few moments.  “This may sound corny to you, but what about looking up at the stars?”

Nathan was taken back by the request, but his was soon grinning at the suggestion.  “Now you are talking about something I will never grow tired of doing.”

Standing up, Lucas moved to the bench seat where there were no overheard obstacles.  Laying down horizontally on the padded cushions, lacing his hands behind his head and

looking up at the blackness and the best view.   Bridger walked around the table and sat on the corner of the seat adjacent so that they could talk quietly to each other.

There wasn’t any need to talk and both of them were enjoying the evening show immensely.   The sky was like a piece of fabric, painted black but with tiny little pin holes of light poking through.  The stars;  some small and further away, others larger and appearing closer.   There were patterns and distinctive patterns to some clusters, but it was the randomness and chaos of their placement that kept you enchanted.

“There is so much up there to admire, wouldn’t you agree?” Bridger commented.

“Yeah, I guess there is when you spend time like this,” Lucas agreed.  “We don’t get to experience them like this at night when we are under the ocean in a submarine.”  The Captain didn’t know that he hadn’t able to see them very often at night growing up.  “I like astronomy and the idea of there being more out there to be explored.”

“You like the concept that we may not be alone in this universe?”

Lucas sat up and turned to face the man as he spoke, “Yes, I think it is cool to think about the endless possibilities and advantages, don’t you?”.

“I am open minded about space exploration, but not convinced about deliberately using valuable resources to search for intelligent life-forms.  I think man-kind interferes and meddles with enough on this planet without creating problems out there where the results could have more serious repercussions.”

“Hmm, maybe there is a good amount of truth in what you say,” the teenager admitted.  He briefly explained the properties of some stars and the elements, even though Bridger probably had a good general knowledge on the subject.  “I don’t know how I would react if I was to come face to face with an alien race.”

“For me, the use of the stars was for simpler purposes rather than identifying the heated gases they contain.  I started out learning to navigate by them, on land and through the oceans.  Usually reliable and chartable, depending on the season of the year and your geographical location.  They were a way to get somewhere or to return home.  Astronomy has been a passion of mine since I was younger than you, Lucas.”

The Captain looked down at his watch, noticing the time was almost nine-thirty.   Lucas was slowly falling asleep in his prone position.

“I don’t know about you, but I think I am going to call it a night.  Want to join me in walking back to the house?” he asked, using his own tiredness as the excuse.

“That’s sounds like an idea.  Although these cushions are soft enough to sleep outside tonight.”

“You can explain your reasoning to Kristin when she finds you out here in the morning.  I will deny all prior knowledge of your actions before she declares you guilty and hands down sentence.”

Bridger turned off the outdoor lighting, emptied out the mugs and gathered them in one hand back as they headed back to the house.


Entering the house through the back door, Lucas paused before starting to climb the staircase to the next floor and the room that he had been allocated.

The Captain was ensuring the front door was locked.   Standing at a hidden electrical panel he pondered whether he needed to activate the security system.   “I don’t think I need to bother about setting this whilst you and Kristin are here.”   The panel retreated back into the purposely built cavity in the wall.

“Remember if you need anything during the night, like a drink or something to eat, help yourself, the kitchen is fully stocked.  The bathroom is on the same floor.   Kristin is downstairs here.  I have shown you where my bedroom is, so if you need anything else, you know where we are.”

“Captain, …..” Lucas started to say, wanting to encapsulate the entire day into a few well-chosen words, but coming up a little short.   “Thanks, today was a different experience, but a good one.”

“You are very welcome, Lucas.  Go and get some rest.  Tomorrow will be a bright new day filled with lots of interesting things to see and do.”

Nathan watched him climb the stairs and heard the door close quietly.  He knew that the teenager may be nervous on his first night in a strange place.  He had so many ideas and plans for the next day but had to tell himself to stop and see what the morning brought first, before setting any kind of agenda.


Standing inside the bedroom with the door closed, Lucas was grateful that Bridger or Kristin couldn’t see the whirl of emotions that were on his face or take note of how apprehensive he was acting right now.   His small bag was still in the same place at the edge of the bed, but it too was another indication of why he couldn’t take things for granted.

Eyeing the bed with mixed emotions, he still didn’t know what he was going to do with all of those extra cushions.   One step at a time he started telling himself, starting with the shoes he had put back on after the beach.    He sat down and removed them, tucking them neatly beside the small bed-side table.   After a few more moment of deciding what to do next, he took the bag off and placed it along side his sneakers.   All cushions except for two normal sized pillows were taken off the bed.

Truth be told he didn’t know how he felt right now.   Someone would say it was just a mattress on a bed, no big deal.   Sure he had slept on that bunk bed in his cabin aboard SeaQuest, but that was no more than a converted storage closet.  This room was spacious and well furnished.   He didn’t want to come off sounding ungrateful.   How was supposed to explain to Bridger that he had never had his own bedroom.

That voice was echoing loudly inside his head again.  He hadn’t earned the privilege or deserve to have comfort at night to sleep.  “Come on, you can do this,” he harshly chastised himself.   After years of being constantly reminded, Lucas found it difficult to shake that deeply ingrained belief of being unworthy.

In the small bag on the floor, he had brought a portable music player, an older style that had belonged to his friend Nick.  They were not the new kind that came with wireless ear buds, but he had a set of headphones that enabled listening.   He sighed in defeat knowing that that the batteries were dead before he brought it onboard the submarine.   Like his depleted stash jars, he had hoped to acquire some funds to be able to purchase new ones.

When he had told Kristin about not being able to sleep well in unfamiliar places, he had been telling the truth.  He didn’t have any music to play and help ward off the demons tonight.   The last thing he wanted to do was to wake her or the Captain with a nightmare.

Laying down on the wicker seating outside in the entertainment area, he had been in danger of dozing off.    That had been less than an hour ago and now sleep was being evasive.

Resting against the two pillows, a lot of wild scenarios were running through his mind.   Foremost was how he was going to find the courage to talk to Bridger about why he wanted to get involved in his mess of a life.   Lucas hadn’t wanted to say ‘no’ outright and risk seeing disappointment or worse, but at the same time he was scared to give a definitive ‘yes’.   The Captain was holding out his hand offering help, protection and support, and patiently waiting for him to accept.    Harsh lessons from the past were not convincing him that it was safe enough to do that yet.

By nearly three o’clock in the morning, he was no closer to being able to sleep in these new quarters.   The cowardly course of action had been chosen.  Grabbing his shoes, he silently tiptoed down the staircase, navigating his way through the laundry and mudroom to the back door.

Putting his shoes on, he left the house, closing the door as quietly as he could behind him.   Walking away from the house, he headed across the gravelled path towards the dense tree-line and the lagoon where the SeaQuest launch was moored.

In his haste to leave, Lucas failed to see the figure lurking in the shadows and following every step.

To be continued…………………………

Jules

Author Notes:   

 Thank you to all who are bearing with me.  This chapter is my longest one yet, and I do apologize for it being so.  Reluctantly there was a lot I had to remove from this chapter that will be rolled over into the next ones.  I am trying to write everyday so that I can update all of my stories more, but there have been delays for reasons you don’t need to hear about.  This chapter was going to be released on New Year’s day.

There are lots of clues as usual for this story and future plots.   With a few scenes, the characters took over and wrote something completely different to what I had planned, for example the basement door scene, Bridger changed what was meant to happen.   Apart from the bare canon basics, any additional information, likes, dislikes and backstory pertaining to Nathan, Carol and Robert Bridger in this story are invented by me.   There is still more for the tour yet at the house itself and on other parts of the island.  Not much action in this one with only three characters, but that is coming in time.

I would love to know what you are thinking about the story or this chapter.   Thank you for taking the time to read my work.

Jules

Chapter Seven – Reminiscing And Remembering

RIVER BOAT GAMBLER

By Jules

Author Notes – in this chapter I have used exerts and scenes from the Bonanza episode Marie, My Love, but I have not kept strictly to those events or lines and some have been altered to suit my plot. The biggest of these is Marie having spent time living in the same house as Marius Angerville. I took descriptions of the inside of the house from the episode, but the second floor and description of other rooms are entirely invented for my purposes. The reasons for these changes or alterations I hope will be explained as the story pans out more.

from the previous chapter:

“I want to go and check on a place, there is a little tavern on the coast called the Captain’s Nest, Ben replied, deliberating avoiding any forthcoming information on where he was heading. “I will meet you there in two hours where we can put our heads together and decide what our next best move is.”

and now the story continues:

“Adam, that fella might not have come across to you as someone who is mighty neighbourly at first, but he gave us what he knew about Joe,” Hoss commented as the two brothers watched their father leave.

“You were the one that had to separate him from the other wagon driver before the Constable came along,” Adam pointed out plainly. “He was pretty quick to hold out his hand for the money when I offered, including the extra tip. He wasn’t too happy that cowboys didn’t accept the ride and complained loudly about making any offer in the future.”

“Reckon he was at that,” Hoss remarked, not able to deny anything that Adam had stated. “Maybe he has a reason for being so eager. There must be quite a few taxi driver’s in a place this big, all trying to get the same fare.”

“Without a doubt, there would be many,” Adam agreed, stepping aside from a number of people walking past, and pulling on the sleeve of his larger sibling’s shirt, encouraging him to follow his example.

“A lot more people in this city walking the streets than you would normally be used to, Hoss,” Adam gently chided. “You have to be on your toes because there is always someone waiting to step on them. Did he at least give you his name, in case we need to find him again?”

“Folk around here do seem to be in a hurry,” Hoss noted, not liking how rushed and chaotic the streets were. “Last name was Doyle, that much I remember. His first name……,” pausing to recall what he had heard.

“The heavy Irish accent he had was unmistakable, so Doyle certainly fits,” Adam replied in agreement.

“She-miss, She-says………,” Hoss pronounced, frustrated that neither of those suggestions sounded correct. “He sounded sorta like that McCarthy fella that we had all that trouble with when I found that strong box full of gold.”

“Seamus,” Adam filled in, giving a little chuckle, finding his brother’s efforts mildly amusing, but quickly making it disappear at receiving the distinct stare of disapproval.

“That ain’t fair, Adam,” Hoss huffed indignantly. One of the few times that he felt like siding with his younger brother when Adam appeared to be getting too big for his britches, and using his college education in mockery.

“It is a very common Irish name that I have heard in the past,” he gave in his own defence. “There have been a few people that I have known over the years that you have never met. We don’t need to be coming across the likes of anybody like McCarthy,” he added, remembering that saga well.”

“Let’s get to what we need done about finding Joe,” Hoss countered, not entirely believing his brother’s excuse, but letting it drop for more important things at hand.

“Yes, let’s do that,” Adam encouraged. Time was not on their side, and was slipping away.

Deep down, he was beginning to worry as much as his father about how many days it had been now since Joe had been forcibly separated from his family. They may not find anybody who had seen Joe this time around, or find something left behind that belonged from him. They had been fortunate enough to find clues along the way so far up until now, but Adam wasn’t convinced that their share of luck could last forever. With a city of this size, the enormity of their task was beginning to stand out starkly.

“Feels kinda odd getting around without having our own horses to rely on,” Hoss stated. “It would be good to find someone who has a bit more knowledge of where to go than we do. Might help us be able to find out where that skunk is keeping Joe.”

“That would be something worthwhile, Hoss,” Adam answered, knowing that they were all eager to find any shred of evidence that would aid in their search. “We do need to find that livery stable that Pa was talking about and suitable horses.”

“A word of warning; you have been in this city less than a couple of hours, and you cannot suddenly judge the character of a person because they gave you their name and know their way around?” Adam mentioned. If these were the streets of Virginia City, then he would have had no problem believing any commentary from the people that were crossing their path, or need to second guess their intentions. In the past, Hoss was pretty good at being able to tell the measure of a man, by his walk and by the gun he wore.

New Orleans was very different from what his younger brother was used to. The city had a personality all of her own that only a few had ever truly captured with a paintbrush or music and song. Hoss had previously visited cities such as San Francisco, and once to Boston, but that was the sum total of his extensive experience. Any advantage they may have possessed or gained was stripped away.

Right now, the two of them were still wearing travel clothes. They couldn’t see any well-dressed gentleman openly wearing a gun-belt. They were the strangers in a city where the people stared back, misjudging character based on appearance before any interaction ever happened.

The two brothers had watched their father walk down the street at an even pace, away from them in an easterly direction. “Pa was sure being secretive about where he was headed wasn’t he, Adam?” Hoss casually commented, fiddling with the brim of his hat.

“There are memories from this city that have haunted Pa for a long time, Hoss,” Adam pointed out to his larger sibling, having a little inkling of which ‘other place’ would draw their father’s attention away from finding Joe. In truth, their father may have prayed that going there would provide some of the answers they desperately needed.

The silhouette of their father quickly became lost amidst the busy crowd that made up a typical New Orleans street. The two Cartwright men turned in a westerly direction, away from the Railway Station, intending to find accommodation and transportation in the city.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

The mid-morning sun was warm, and even more people had congregated, going about their business and daily lives in all manner of ways. From horse drawn, enclosed elaborate carriages, open coaches and narrow single-seated buggies. The modes of transport were very different to those one would find on the streets of Virginia City.

The gentlemen owning their own horses, sat astride them, riding purposefully towards their intended destination. Both mounted riders and wheeled vehicles criss-crossed their way down the wide streets. The noise from wagon wheels, the snapping of leather reins, pedestrians and animals alike, all crescendoed together in a chaotic orchestra that assaulted the senses of a visitor all at once.

This vast and vibrant city of New Orleans was a totally different experience, and for Ben, it was difficult not to compare his daily routine in quiet, reserved Virginia City, to how people made their way about these bustling streets. The men riding those horses were impeccably groomed and seated on ornately carved leather saddles. Ladies paraded the street in fine dresses, their faces partly shaded by large, wide brimmed hats, joining in pleasant conversations.

Tom Perkin’s humble General Store would be swallowed up by these larger shops, though the personal attention to detail for each customer would be absent. Bigger wasn’t always better in Ben’s opinion, and he liked to be able to take his own time to peruse the variety of goods available to purchase.

The smell of the air was dusty as a breeze gusted and swirled about, taunting the coat tails of the men, and the long skirts of the ladies. Taking a look down at one’s feet however, and they would soon be greeted by the overpowering stench of fouled water and partially dried mud that came from day to day business operations. A few shops away, where the street intersected with another, a butcher could be seen outside of his store, using a large knife to dismember a beef carcass.

Walking past a small apothecary establishment and the scent of perfume and dried flowers wafted out, drawing attention from the ladies who gathered around the window in small groups and chatted excitedly. Strong but enticing aromas came from the numerous bake houses making the daily quota for the masses.

Making his way down the street, Ben found the sights and aromas about New Orleans stirring up a whole array of emotions. A distinct reminder of how much the city had grown, expanded and diversified since his last visit, but more importantly, how much he had changed.

Ben tipped his hat politely to one young woman as he walked past her, but he received a brief and curt nod in response to his chivalrous manners. Her attention being drawn to the small child clinging with a sticky hand to her long skirt and a large colourful lollipop in the other.

There was a part of Ben that wanted to travel as quickly as the other folks would allow to his intended destination, but there were memories from the past catching up to him, following with a breath of nostalgia and causing his stride to shorten and his pace to wither with trepidation. Although it had been many years since he had walked down this particular route, somehow his feet carried him without hesitation and he found himself nearing a familiar bend in the road.

Before long he recognised an approaching street sign which read Rue Royale, and suddenly there was no crowd of people; quite the opposite, everyone but himself faded away with the ghost of time. Ben Cartwright found himself standing not far from the front of a building that brought back a mixed up, patchwork of emotions and a plethora of overwhelming memories.

One fateful morning all those years before he could vividly recall approaching from the opposite direction, passing in front of the Exchange Place, a local market where many different people gathered to buy and sell goods. This part of the city and people who dwelt within these streets often held a sordid reputation compared to other more affluent neighbourhoods. Walking on foot that day he had been making his way across the chalky road, the street sign had been affixed on a wrought iron fence, not the fancy tall lamp post where is was currently attached and displayed.

On that day his attention had been on other matters at the time, when without warning, the unmistakable sound of a galloping horse startled him from behind, causing him to move quickly and maintain his balance, but also to sidestep out of the animal’s path. The large chestnut obeying the sharp snap of the reins from its master’s skilful hands and altering its intended direction enough to avoid a collision. Ben found himself being covered in dust and showered in small stones that were churned up as a result of the horse’s hooves on the loosely compacted roadway.

A young woman revealed herself as the rider, dressed handsomely in a tailored, full length fitted black dress, trimmed with silver brocade. On her head she wore a tall black fabric hat trimmed with a long white sheer ribbon and accented by a scarlet red flower. A playful smile crossed her lips and she seemed to take a small amount of delight at Ben’s futile attempts to shield himself from the debris raining down on his travel cloak.

Elegant, and youthfully bold, her enticing laughter reached his ears and he had not been able to disguise his curiosity, offering a genuine smile of his own in greeting. The mystery of a name and who she was only grew more as the horse galloped away from him towards the house. Ben adjusted his coat tails and top-hat, making a silent promise to himself to learn everything he could about her.

Time had become both a combatant enemy and a trustworthy friend. Allowing him the luxury of reminiscing and the feeling of mystery and intrigue; only then to show him the cruel hand of fate with the loss and loneliness for the love and life that had ripped from him too soon.

A team of horses pulling a wagon drove out in front of Ben from the street at heart-racing speed, the sharp snap of the leather reins ringing in his ears, the churning dust filling his lungs and causing him to cover his mouth and nose with the bandanna he wore. For a short time, he was bent over at the waist, lifting his eyes briefly only to find his view obscured by the choking plume, forcing a harsh cough to erupt from the back of his throat. He was forced to look away again and use the brim of his hat to shield his eyes as best he could from the cloud of debris, coughing a second time.

Ben’s barely contained apprehensive expression turned into one of confusion for a moment as he stood and gazing at the exterior of what had once been a grand house. Overbearing and much taller than some of the other buildings nearby and further down the adjacent and parallel streets. In earlier times, the house had proudly stood without neighbouring homes on either side. From what little he had learned, Marius’ family had been a proud family and signified this with everything that was owned.

Delivering news of Jean’s unfortunate death had brought no comfort to Marius or Marie, but Ben had promised the man that he would see through such a dreadful task to the end. He still recalled vividly the first time he had entered the house and was greeted with Marius sitting at a table, wielding a sword. Although he had only known the man a short time, an sense of guilt over his death existed. For many years afterward taking Marie back to Nevada, he would ask himself if he could have done more to prevent the duel that would ultimately cause his demise.

The shadows of the past were beginning to take a much firmer hold, tugging at his memory, almost guiding his footsteps. His attention was drawn towards the house, and for a brief moment he found himself contemplating; a doorway began to emerge, opening up and inviting him to walk through the passages of time.

In an instant, his mind was forcibly wrenched back to current time, like a stranger delivering a cold harsh slap to his face, there was no emotional connection to hold onto. No familiarity to cling to with the dwindling hope that somehow a ghostly shadow of Marie’s presence would help him find Joseph before it was too late.

Upon first meeting of Marius, he remembered the timbers of the two-storey home being weathered grey, but still sturdy and well-constructed. Ben could recall there being some shrubs planted on either side of the main support beam, but the unruly growth made them appear sparse and spindly. There had been the threat on more than one occasion to have them forcibly removed, and now it appeared that it may have been carried out, because there was no living greenery surrounding the lower level of the building.

Once there had been an old rickety chair seated out the front, in which his friend, Marius, liked to watch the people and the bustling city go by. Above his head there had been a large aging sign which read Angerville Academy. What greeted him now was a building that was so very different from the house that Marie had so loved and cherished. The timber painted a dull white. Where Marius’s chair had been, now there was a large cumbersome pushchair and the sign had been hastily scribed over to read: Royale Rue Hospital.

Everything had changed, and perhaps Ben paused regretfully, and being honest, himself most of all. Today he wasn’t wearing the heavy cloak that he had been that fateful day or his newly purchased hat. Only his long travel coat which he had made a poor attempt to brush the street dust off, and his hat, one that wasn’t new but fit better after many years of moulding to his head.

Ben removed his hat out of common courtesy, like he had done that first day when greeting Marius. Today, his first few steps into the entrance-way caused those memories of yesteryear to return tenfold, casting a strange spell over him and causing him to hesitate in his gait as he entered through the front doors. Once inside he stopped in the large expansive room, his gaze drawn in all directions. His mind was trying to recall what had changed and what remained the same.

On the wall beside the door, there had been a large elaborate tapestry draping from ceiling to floor, covering most of the main front window. Marie had told him that it had been especially brought in from Spain at great expense, but now he could only vaguely remember the figure of a horse woven into the fabric. This had now been replaced by thick heavy curtains that blocked a lot of the natural sunlight penetrating into the room. A number of lights inside burned brightly despite it being a clear sunny day outside in the street.

In front of the tapestry, the large heavy set dark wooden desk with ornately carved legs had been replaced with a plain wooden bench seat. There was no longer any coat stand just inside the doorway to hang one’s coat, so Ben left his coat on. The large rust coloured rug that had adorned the floor had been replaced by a clean hard surface. Cold and uninviting with no story to tell.

The brick work that had been on Ben’s right when he walked through the door was now sealed up and the cabinet that once rested against it gone, as was the heavy brass Coat of Arms plaque signifying the stature of the family from an earlier time.

There had been two embroidered Edwardian chairs down stairs, as Ben remembered the lovely brocade on each of them, but they were nowhere to be seen. Nor the number of bronze statues or the brass candlestick holders that had been present during past visits. Although there had been changes, Ben’s mind could recall exactly how the room had been decorated with antique furniture and elaborate collectable pieces from many different parts of the world.

The mahogany staircase, carved out of rich dark wood that gave it a commanding presence in the room and was central to the lower floor, was now painted a stark white, with little elegance or grandeur left to be seen. Any knots of age had been sanded back and the surface now smooth and void of any kind of character.

Unfortunately once Marie had joined him to live at the Ponderosa, Ben had not been able to keep up with who had acquired this stately building after Marius’ death. Marie had certainly been concerned and had written to good friends whom she could trust. But she had not received any replies as to who had taken over the residence. Someone had planned for it be used in a more practical manner as a hospital.

For being mid-morning, the whole place was strangely void of noise and people. Quiet was usually expected at a hospital, but the atmosphere that greeted him on this felt like something entirely different.

Echoes of the very first conversation Ben remembered having with Marius ran through his mind as he placed a hand on the staircase railing, preparing to head to the next floor. A smile touched his lips as he pictured the scene of Marius maintaining an epee replaying before him. His question about the man’s identity had been answered with another question and they had talked about his clipper voyage to New Orleans.

Upon his arrival, he was unaware that of the tangled connections and bitterness that existed within the family, not only with Jean, but towards Marie and Marius. Giving his mother the awful news had not been an easy or welcomed task. When he thought some common ground had been reached about being able to sell the furs he had brought with him, she had quickly turned her back and refused any further audience when the subject turned to his marriage with Marie. It soured even further when he gave her information about his accommodation, and Marius’ name was given as a good friend.

The woman was adamant that the two men had never shared such a friendship. Marius had declared openly that he considered Jean like a son. Further conversations with Angerville confirmed that they had once been good friends, but Marie had greatly disapproved of him challenging her cousin to a duel.

Ben found the man’s manner relaxed and friendly from the very beginning. The torment in the man’s eyes at hearing of Jean’s death that day had been very real. His sense of duty for carrying out an unenviable undertaking stayed strong. In the end he had seen to it that the man’s last wishes were carried out to the best of his ability, including the partial apology to Marie which had not been well received or accepted.

The bannister beneath his hand felt smooth but a little less familiar. For the number of times he had visited this particular residence, there had been even fewer times that he had climbed the staircase to the next floor without invitation. There was no such permission on this occasion either, but he felt compelled to head in this direction.

At the top of the stairs, there was a large landing, a luxurious sitting room behind the door directly facing him. There was a smaller bedroom to the left, and a corridor that led to a number of other bedrooms and bathrooms to the right. Ben kept his focus on the door to the sitting room, putting his hand on the brass door knob, but pausing before turning it in his hand.

A warm breath of air blew against his neck, and Ben used his gloved hand to brush it aside. Admonishing himself for being silly, he gathered a good helping of confidence and twisted the knob. For a moment he had been expecting resistance and the door to be locked, but instead he was delighted with a touch of surprise when he was able to enter without further impedance.

As he walked inside the room, his gaze was drawn to the large vacant expanse of plaster wall above the fireplace. No fire had burned there for many years, and the surrounding grate and ornate black iron insert on the front were now cold to the touch. At one time a large portrait painting of a young Marie had taken pride of place above that mantel. A picture that had taken Ben’s breath away when he had first laid eyes on it, not unlike his impromptu meeting of the young woman herself that first morning.

A striking pose, with the ghost of a smile on her lips, as though mischievously taunting anybody who gazed upon her when they walked into the room. In the oil-brushed depiction she had been wearing an heirloom French lace shawl across her shoulders. At another time it had belonged to her mother, handmade by and passed down by her maternal grandmother. The garment was now carefully stored in a chest in Ben’s bedroom. The background of the photo had depicted a fenced paddock and one of Marie’s favourite horse’s Aramis, a handsome black stallion. The name of the artist who had painted the portrait evaded him.

The brass frame and picture had been removed, the room itself devoid of furniture except for a few remaining large, bulky antique pieces scattered across the room in a chaotic, disarranged collection. An elegant long settee could be detected beneath a heavy calico drop cloth, covering the richly embroidered fabric, keeping it protected and hidden, erasing the years and purpose that it had once served. At one time there had been a beautiful wood stained grand piano over in the corner of the room, but now that space was vacant. There wasn’t even a round scuff mark on the floor left behind by the wooden feet.

This room had been one of Marie’s favourite, with morning sunshine warming it during early spring. Aristocratic society of New Orleans would have deemed it a reception or drawing room, she had referred to it often as her parlour. Ben had come to learn that it was the privacy of the room that drew her to spend most of her time there. A place where she would write long letters to friends, and record entries in her personal diary. A few of those private journals were wrapped in parchment paper and tucked away out of sight in the same chest as the shawl back in Nevada.

Ben swapped the hat he was carrying to his opposite hand as intense emotional winds buffeted against his back, causing him to drawn in a deep breath and slowly exhale. Feelings that he had pushed down deep a long time ago were finding their way to the surface, refusing them to be ignored. Trying once more to regain some kind of composure, he placed his free hand on the uncovered mantle above the fireplace. Supporting himself at arms length, he was attempting to establish some balance between reality and memories that were growing stronger within this very room.

The man wasn’t wearing any gloves this morning, and lightly ran a finger very slowly the entire length the wooden mantle. Lifting up his hand, he didn’t quite know what he expected to find. There was no dust on his hand or fingertips, no shards of Marie who had made this place a home. Remnants from a lifetime ago that had aged with time, or the ashes from a house he had barely known, and was no closer to unlocking the secrets held within. Shivering slightly, his mind returned to present time.

This room had not yet been painted white like some of the walls downstairs, signifying its transformation into a space used as part of a hospital. The lace curtains that had once hung there had been replaced by thicker, darker drapes. The whole room appearing clean and bleak, as though Marie had never lived here at all. Lifting his arm from the mantle, Ben turned and walked a few paces across to the left-hand side of the room.

Beneath the window was a small round oak writing desk that was decorated with a fine lace tablecloth, accompanied by a single chair. A vase of delicate pale cream roses allowed a gentle scent to fill the room with a light perfume. The petals took on a paler colour as warm gentle morning sunlight streamed through the window and bathing that one side of the room. Vanilla, one of Marie’s favourite scents, even after she had moved away to the Ponderosa.

On top of the desk lay a handwritten sheet of music, waiting to be carried across to the opposite side of the room to the piano. For a moment, Ben could almost hear the sweet melody that would play. Reaching down with a trembling hand, his fingertips almost touching the aged paper. His attention drawn away for only a mere moment, but upon looking down again, he couldn’t help but blink away a silent tear that escaped from the corner of his eye. There was no lace, no sheet of musical notes on the table or vase of flowers. Only a metal service tray that had been painted plain white.

Time and his mind were playing a cruel game with his emotions and memories, or was he responsible for trying to recapture the very essence of a love lost? One that he still held deep in his heart.

Ben walked to the door, pausing and taking one last look behind as he closed the door, intending to head back downstairs. For the immediate future his unyielding focus, energy and efforts were needed to find Joe. When his son was safe, and they were ready to take him back home, then perhaps he could indulge in reminiscence and wander once more through those halls of yesteryear.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

Back on-board the paddle-boat:

Joe Cartwright lay prone on the bed, unaware of what had transpired for quite a number of hours. His curly dark head twisting and turning on the pillow, as though he couldn’t find a comfortable position. Earlier in the evening his sleep had resulted from the sedative that Seline had administered. Gazing down at the young man with fresh growing concern in her own eyes, Bonnie couldn’t be sure that it was the residual drug in his system was causing his current state. The young man’s restlessness had increased over the past few hours. His position of laying on his back on the bed had not changed.

Bonnie had been able to remove the young man’s fine jacket and ruffled shirt as he slept without him giving her any trouble or being in a position to resist or object. Fever still plagued him, and she had spent the majority of the night bathing his forehead and chest with cool water. Her consistent efforts had managed to bring down his temperature but it had not relinquished its hold on him completely. Thankfully, she had been successful in getting some water down Joe’s throat, but she feared it was not enough to completely starve off the effects of dehydration.

The tanned skin beneath her fingertips felt hot to the touch as she ran a soft cool, dampened cloth across his chest with her opposite hand. Standing up and walking, he had begun to show some small signs of improvement earlier today, and had spoken to her as he dressed in the clothes left out for him. Joe had openly displayed his displeasure about not being able to remember simple things about himself, and had tried to argue with her. Emotions and actions that he had been unable to accomplish on his own a couple days ago aboard the train.

Since he had first been carried back from the gaming room by the two men, his sleep had been rather quiet and unremarkable. That had begun to change as dawn broke upon the horizon, with the pattern of his breathing turning from sounding deep and rhythmic to being much more shallow. Joe tossed his head back and forth on the pillows several times, and his brow creasing momentarily with confusion and pain. Bonnie was convinced that the young man was going to open his eyes and wake up, but alas, so far that hadn’t happened.

At least twice he had called out one clear word, but on its own, there was little substance or meaning to it, so no connection could be drawn as to why he had uttered it. Any other speaking had been infrequent, and incoherent mutterings punctuated with moans of pain. Joe had lifted his arm up to his head, running his fingertips across his forehead, signalling that he was still experiencing headaches. The few steps forward in recovery he had gained today had taken several steps back.

Bonnie was tired herself, both mentally and physically, and Seline and the other two men had shown little empathy to the long hours thrust solely upon her to care for the injured Cartwright boy. She had been hoping to gauge how much of his memory was returning by talking to him and taking note of his physical health, but he needed to be awake for that. She was growing concerned that she wouldn’t be able to maintain the false bravado of pretending not to care about the prisoner’s welfare.

Since taking the bold step of leaving the note at the docks for the Cartwright family in San Francisco, there had been no contact from them or anybody else who might be in a position to help rescue him from Seline’s clutches. There was no way to know if they had even knew of his peril, or if they were travelling towards New Orleans to help Joe.

The young woman prided herself on being able to rise to the challenge and cope in situations that society would deem unsuitable for a proper lady. She knew how to work hard, and tolerate tough men, but Bonnie didn’t know if she was strong enough to dare and offer more help. What could she achieve on her own without incurring Seline’s wrath for them both? The risk of drawing suspicion and being caught was high and should she be removed from taking care of the young man and he was left by himself, what then? Would Joe Cartwright be able to fend off any threat to his life or create any kind of escape attempt?

The meeting with Seline and the conversation they had shared had distressed him greatly. She had seen the pain reflected in his eyes at the tangled web that had been woven about his mother’s previous life. Learning about her tragic death at the hands of another man had been devastating news. She had felt the trembling in his limbs, and knew he was searching for any shred of familiarity or salvage any kind of past to cling to in order to make sense of everything that he was being told.

That whole time, Bonnie was aware that Joe was being manipulated by Seline into believing false accusations about his real mother and father, whilst setting himself up as the caring parent figure that was a large part of his life. She had heard the man deliberately name Ben Cartwright as the man responsible for Marie’s riding accident. For a second time today, a great deal of shame came over her at being an unwilling party to such a cruel charade.

Despite any efforts she might be making now to care for Joe, they would not be enough to make up for her part in this fiasco. No matter the extra risk she had taken to try and get outside help for the young man, she was just as culpable as the other men in his kidnapping and captivity. Bonnie had to resign herself to accept that her decision in the past, big and small had determined the fate of the Cartwright boy and all that he had been forced to endure up until this point. Her choices from this point onwards would determine the outcome and consequences for them both.

A few hours ago, Joe had come running into the gaming room, dishevelled and confused, barely able to stand and experiencing pain, shocking all those present with his strength of mind and physical strength. Panic had set in as too many images assailed him at once and there was no way to arrange them into any coherent order. The young man had pointed accusingly at Edwards and Yeager, clearly remembering a previous encounter with both men.

When the boy had collapsed in front of them all, Edwards and Yeager had conveyed the injured prisoner back to the room he had been occupying. Following that, Edwards had been sent in person to call upon the same physician that had come aboard the vessel when they arrived in New Orleans. Seline had instructed him to bring the doctor back with him, but had flown into a furious rage when the man had returned with only a message.

The doctor, Hector Rawlings, was out on another urgent visitation and had refused to stop his treatment and dealings and with that patient upon being summoned. Edwards had been told that Rawlings would come at the first available opportunity, but that was now approaching more than twelve hours ago.

Seline and Yeager had left Bonnie to take care of the young man on her own, expecting that Edwards would only be absent for a short time. When the man didn’t return to the vessel after hours, they had retired to bed. During that time, she tried to best to take stock of Joe’s symptoms and general well-being, as well as what she could recall had transpired since the doctor’s last visit. The physician would be wanting as much information as possible when he arrived to make an accurate diagnosis.

Bonnie was startled out of her own thoughts by shouting coming from outside.

“The Doctor is here,” she heard Yeager call out to his employer.

“It’s about damn time,” Seline muttered out loud, appearing in the doorway to his own private cabin, adjusting his embroidered waistcoat, and looking down at his pocket watch, noting the hour. Yeager stood nearby as Edwards escorted the doctor up the gangway onto the deck.

“Good morning, Doctor,” came Marchant’s thinly veiled cordial greeting after taking the cigar from his mouth and letting out a acrid puff of smoke. “I expected your presence quite some hours ago when I first sent one of my men to summon you.”

The gangly, tall physician was carrying his small black bag in his right hand, “I came when time allowed,” came the curt answer. The man’s complexion was quite pale and his gait was slow. “I have been awake for the past forty-eight hours and am in no mood to be chastised like one of your poorly educated lackey’s.”

“Now you listen here,” Seline snarled, ignoring the doctor’s words entirely, “I am paying you good money, so I expect service when I call upon you.”

The doctor stood up to his full height, his own anger beginning to grow, “No, you listen to me my good man, I am the only physician within a thousand miles on either side of the river who would accept your money. For the moment, my work at the hospital combined with the area that I am expected to cover on my own for private house calls, the workload is extensive. In any other city of this size, it would normally require the services of several of my learned colleagues. I can assure you that none of them would even bother with a professional visit of this nature, no matter the payment being offered.”

“I have just spend the last twenty four hours with a woman with a difficult delivery of her baby. Had I left when your man requested, then both the mother and child would certainly have been lost to blood loss and complications that had set in. As it stands now, both are healthy and should survive only due to my vigilance. There are many other patients that I am responsible for in addition to the young man you are keeping here,” Rawlings explained plainly.

He had been hoping to end his association with Seline and this whole messy affair, but as a doctor, felt compelled to follow up on anybody he had previously seen. Hector couldn’t deny to himself that he was looking for a way out of his current obligations that didn’t involve neglect or poor treatment on his part.

“You should be informed that I have tendered an application to the St Mercy Hospital as chief physician and consultant, and believe that I meet the necessary skill set and experience required. Should I be deemed worthy of such an honoured capacity, then all other work, including attending to private patients would cease immediately. The hospital is currently undergoing extensive expansion and will soon be considered to be the centre of medicine and learning for the whole state,” Rawlings confirmed. “That would suit someone like myself better and I may no longer be working at the smaller hospital where I am much longer. The current owner of that facility is still considering his next move in relation to it’s fittings, upkeep and staffing arrangements. The man taking over ownership of the building may not be in a position financially to match such a lucrative opportunity.”

“I don’t care about any other hospitals where you work or patients that you have to attend to, they are none of my concern,” Seline retorted without a shred of empathy. He was about to start another tirade at the doctor when he was abruptly cut off.

“Do you have a patient for me to see or not?” Rawlings spoke over the top of the man. “Because if you don’t, then I see no reason for me to stay and be subjected to your bullish behaviour any longer.”

A curt nod from Seline to Edwards and Yeager signalled for them to block the doctor’s path should he choose to turn around and walk back the way he had come.

“He is occupying the same room when you last came here,” Seline stated, unhappy that the doctor was talking back to him. The physician in San Francisco had argued with him too, and he had dealt with that person swiftly. The problem on this occasion was that this doctor’s absence would be noticed. Another solution would need to be devised if the man’s attitude did not improve to his liking.

______________________________________________

Bonnie stood up slowly, straightening and smoothing the front of her dress as Doctor Rawlings appeared in the doorway, partially blocking the sunlight behind him and for a moment, creating a dark and imposing shadow. His attention was immediately drawn to back wall, critically gauging the figure laying on the bed. Without any further invitation, he removed the hat he was wearing, walking across the room and on the bedside table, setting down a small black medical bag he was carrying.

Originally, the doctor had told her that he would be returning on a regular basis over the course of a week to check on his patient, but so far, that had not happened and this was only the second occasion that Bonnie had been in his presence. The animosity between Seline and the doctor was obvious to everybody, and neither seemed to be willing to put aside their personal dislike for each other. She could only hope that Rawlings was experienced enough not to let petty bickering or differences distract him from his duty.

Towards the front of the room, Seline stood, continually rocking back and forth on the heels of his boots, impatiently waiting for an updated verdict about the young man’s condition. As far as he was concerned, both the doctor and Joe himself were thwarting any attempts or drawn out plans that he had been making against the Cartwright family.

Edwards and Yeager chose to remain outside on the deck, waiting for instructions from Seline, noting that the room was already too crowded with fraying tempers.

Doctor Rawlings sat on the edge of the bed opposite to Bonnie, using the back of his hand on the young man’s forehead. “Elevated and slightly warmer than I would normally like to see, but not at dangerous levels or unusual given the circumstances. How long has his temperature been like this?”

An unexpected noise interrupted the doctor’s assessment and caused Joe to twist his head on the pillow towards the sound of an unfamiliar voice.

By turning his face towards the speaker there were distinct and prominent blemishes on his temple above the ear, spreading down the side of his face. There was a contusion on the back of his head, hidden beneath the dark matte of curly hair. An earlier one intended to knock him senseless in the street in San Francisco, but a second being suffered within moments. The fresher wound being the aftermath of the glancing blow aboard the train. Both subsequent blows delivered by Seline’s own hand.

“Up until yesterday, I would have told you that the fever has been burning within him fairly consistently since your first visit. Now that I stop to think about it, his temperature has been much improved and lower within daylight hours. During the night it returns and starts rising again until the early morning hours,” Bonnie answered.

Bonnie was surprised that the doctor was addressing her with his first questions about the young man’s condition.

The doctor’s method of examining the patient had not changed much, but his face held a little more character to it today, but his personality was too closed off. He had given her some comprehensive instructions after his initial assessment as to the best course of action, which she had tried her best to follow accordingly. Perhaps he wasn’t used to treating younger patients, but the man’s bedside manner needed major improvement.

“Similar symptoms have been noted and recorded by colleagues with other patient’s who are suffering from a head injury,” Rawlings informed her. “When was he brought back to this room? Has he been this restless the whole time?”

“Yesterday he was at least trying to eat and started to show some signs of pushing through and think more than he had been able to before. After lunch, I was told to assist him in getting dressed and taken out of this room,” Bonnie gave in explanation. “He was unsteady on his feet, and went against my better judgement, but didn’t want me to stay to help. By the time I opened the door again, he was a little more talkative and had managed to put almost everything on correctly without assistance. He did ask if the clothes picked out were something he would normally wear.”

“He didn’t demonstrate remembering anything simpler about himself like his name?” the doctor inquired. The entire time the young woman was speaking he could see her glancing towards the back of the room and being extra careful with her words.

Bonnie shook her head negatively to this question, “Not at that time, and he was only getting more frustrated with any efforts he made to try and force himself to remember,” she filled in. “He couldn’t hide the obvious pain that was evident the whole time. Stubbornness became more prevalent as he started showing improvement and wanting more independence. That includes attempting to do things for himself without help,” she added.

“Have there been any further bouts of nausea or vomiting before or after he has eaten or taken in water?” Rawlings queried, his gaze returning to the young man as he groaned and moved about restlessly on the bed.

“At least once when I tried to press him to eat something a little more substantial,” Bonnie answered truthfully. “You told me now to be concerned if he wasn’t eating a real lot yet, and the texture of the food itself may have been wrong. But he needs to eat much better than he has if he is to regain his strength. The fever has been burning off too quickly what little energy his body has been getting. I have tried to do everything as you have told me, but I don’t have the schooling like you do.”

“I am sure you have managed as best you can,” the doctor assured her, but any further back-handed praise was cut off when Seline made an impromptu snort of derision.

Rawlings had indeed promised and was prepared to come more frequently, but after leaving the vessel, Seline had sent word to him at the hospital that he would be contacted before his services were called upon again. The man had some grand idea that the young man was going to make a miraculous recovery. The doctor suspected this wouldn’t be the case, but the man was obstinate and wanted to dictate terms based upon what fitted in with his own plans, not sound advice or the best course of action according to the young man’s needs.

“What was different before he awoke in his confused state later in the day?” he asked, trying to pinpoint what might have caused a delay in his recovery.

“After he was dressed, I escorted him like Mr Seline wanted to the gaming room,” Bonnie replied.

“When he was there in what you are describing as the gaming room, did you make sure that he wasn’t offered alcohol? Did he consume any rich food, or eat something else that you know of that may have upset his stomach later?”

“No, not that I recall, he was given a glass of iced water, not hard liquor,” Bonnie stated. “The same goes for food, he didn’t have anything else to eat after leaving his room.”

“Hmmmm,” the doctor pondered, thinking that a few details were not adding up yet. “Can you think of anything to tell me?”

“No, I have told you everything I can,” she started to say, “He was nervous, standoffish and unsure of everything and everybody here. His complexion was pale and he lacked any kind of co-ordination. By the time he left the gaming room, his emotional state was not good, aside from the headaches returning fiercely.”

“Emotional state?” Rawlings recited, wanting her to elaborate further.

“When he left the room, he was upset and distressed about what had been talked about,” Bonnie relayed. “Mr Seline told him that you would be examining him again when he mentioned the headaches being very bad.”

“When he got to the room, he laid down on the bed, looking for anyway to escape the pain. I was about to hand him a glass of water before he dropped off to sleep, but Mr Seline dissolved a packet of powder into the water first. I thought it was one of the mild pain powders you instructed us to use, but it was not. It was one of the satchels that I was given in San Francisco to help put him to sleep.”

“A sedative?” the doctor asked loudly, and clearly unimpressed. On the bed, Joe startled at the sudden outburst. The man paused a moment, thinking that his patient would wake. When it was clear that he may take some time to do so, he continued stating the reasons for his disapproval.

“After I gave strict instructions that I didn’t want to take such measures until I was certain that there wouldn’t be further complications with his head injury?” He suspected that the young woman’s actions were heavily influenced by her employer, but that didn’t excuse her entirely. He had meant for the question to be directed at Seline for his foolhardiness and at the girl to a lesser degree, with a tone to match that both should have followed his medical advice better.

“It didn’t do him any harm,” Seline tossed back casually with the butt of a cigar still clenched in his teeth. He wasn’t in any mood for this doctor question his methods. “The boy was in pain, and I deemed it a necessary precaution. Bonnie has proven herself quite capable of attending to him up until now without needing you.”

“Alas, your ignorance and your poor judgement may have caused more harm than good,” Rawlings returned with a touch of condemnation.

“The young man eventually drifted to sleep, and to be honest for a good portion of time he was attempting to fight off effects the sedative,” Bonnie spoke up, thinking that the doctor was judging any of their actions a little too harshly with his accusations. “Once he fell asleep, he stayed that way for a good few hours.”

“When he woke again, none of us knew and when he burst into the gaming room for a second time, he was in pain, confused and disorientated,” she went on to explain. “It was clear to me that some of his memories of his previous life as Joe Cartwright were assaulting him. I say that because he recognized the two gentlemen outside and recalled a recent encounter with them.”

Bonnie’s mention of the young man’s real name and previous associations caused Seline to growl at her carelessness from across the room. She took a hasty step backwards closer to the bed, in case he decided to deliver a physical rebuke at her mistake.

The doctor put his hand on the patient’s head, probing the matted curls and giving his candid assessment, “The swelling that is present now that I can feel has certainly subsided, so that is good and encouraging.” Looking over at Seline as he pulled his hand away and spoke again, “Although you may want to hear the rest of my opinion, the time line is close to what I would have predicted for both improvement to be noticeable and for setbacks to occur. I still there there is quite a way for him to go yet before any kind of normalcy.”

Rawlings was silently pleased to see the young man frown at the intrusion and fresh discomfort, and make an effort to pull away and escape from what was hurting him. The lips parted and a few incoherent words were whispered followed by a moan of pain. The patient’s breathing pattern was slowly changing from when he had first come into the room, convincing him more that Joe was in the process of waking. The effects of the sedative were still affecting how long that may take.

“The bad headaches and dizziness are to be expected at this stage of recovery and demonstrates that the patient still needs to be monitored carefully,” the doctor remarked. “I do agree with you that he needs more nourishment and be encouraged to eat it more regularly.”

“I have tried doing that and giving a different selection each time that might tempt him more rather than just the thin broth and small amounts of soft food that he has been consuming,” Bonnie replied. “I will keep persevering,” she promised.

The doctor could hear Seline in the background, but ignored any blustering and intimidation tactics he was trying to employ to rush his diagnosis. Only when he was ready did he turn to Marchant and give a detailed care plan.

“There is no doubt in my mind that it was a dangerous move on your part to allow the young man to be out of bed for any extended period of time,” Rawlings admonished. “He should have been resting, avoiding food that is too acidic or heavy on his stomach, all alcohol and be kept away out of a tobacco free environment. Especially for someone with not only one head injury, but two.”

“I only examined him a few days ago unconscious and believed at that time that he would be suffering from severe headaches and bouts of dizziness when he did wake. All symptoms that this young woman has reported occurring and made worse by a culmination of exacerbating factors that should have been avoided for several more days to a week at least,” the doctor continued.

Turning his attention back to the patient, without waiting for further argument from Seline, the doctor went about trying to get his patient to wake. Rawlings noted that the young man was only partially dressed, with a fine sheen of sweat noticeable on brow and chest.

“Can you wake up for me, young man?” the doctor asked, using a softer tone of voice. When a verbal approach didn’t invoke the desired result, he used a hand on shake his upper arm. “Come on now, you have been asleep but need to wake now.”

The doctor’s patience and efforts were rewarded when Joe slowly opened his green eyes, but could see the confusion held within them and the uncertainty of his surroundings as he looked about for something familiar. Panic started to set in as he took stock of the number of strangers in the room, as he used both arms to push himself backwards towards the headboard of the bed.

Bonnie tried to help him and moved the pillows behind his back to help him sit up more. “There is nothing to be alarmed about, this man is a doctor,” she told Joe.

She nodded her head affirmatively at the young man as he turned his face towards her, searching to confirm what she was telling him was the truth.

“My name is Doctor Rawlings, young man,” he gave in introduction. “How are you feeling?” he asked, choosing to keep his questions simple to begin with.

Joe went to answer, but grasped and scratched at his throat to signify it was parched, gratefully accepting a glass of water, merely sipping at it before handing it back to the woman. She had been expecting him to drink more, but he shook his head in refusal and pushed it back into her hand. He was trying to gain his bearings and put together the pieces of what had transpired, but was coming up a little short on answers. He couldn’t even recall how he came to be in this room or how long he had been sleeping in the bed beneath him.

To say it was unnerving to open your eyes and have a group of people watching you was an understatement. Flashes and voices filtered through the pain in his head. Someone had told him that his name was Joseph but he didn’t know a last name. He trying to bring up the last thing he remembered, but was missing several hours and his head was throbbing without abatement.

Looking over at the blond woman standing near the top of the bed, he tried to make himself concentrate, squeezing his eyes shut. After a few minutes, he opened them again, still no closer to remembering her name, not that of the rotund man standing at the front of the room. A fleeting scene planted in his mind and he recalled them talking, but not what the subject matter had been. There had been another man present as well, but the location was different to this room. There had been carpet beneath his feet, where as the floor was made up of wooden boards. A circular woven rug covered a small portion of those planks beneath a chest of drawers.

“Fine,” Joe finally gave as a one word response as the doctor waited for him to answer. He was unable to hide the wince of pain from the headache that flared when he moved his head.

“Do you know who you are?” the doctor prodded, not intending to leave him in peace.

“No, I don’t, I already told that to her before,” Joe grouched curtly, instantly regretted raising his voice as the pain spiked through his skull again. He buried his head deeper into the fabric of the pillows and closed his eyes, searching for any kind of respite. A moment later he opened his eyes, “Someone told me that my name is Joe, I don’t know any more than that,” he gave in a calmer manner, placing his hand over his eyes to shield out the light.

“Your name is Joseph Dubois,” Seline stated firmly from across the room, not wanting the shortened version of his first name to spark any memory whatsoever of being a Cartwright.

“I understand your agitation about everything being confusing, Joseph, and your objection and dissatisfaction are duly noted,” Rawlings cajoled. “I know that you are suffering from a most painful headache, even though you have not stated so out loud to me.”

Joseph lowered his hand, looking back at the doctor expectantly and trusting that someone in the room would be honest with him and would help put his memory right. If this man was a doctor, than perhaps he would give him some medicine for the pain. Even his hair was hurting when he reached around and touched with his fingertips.

The doctor felt a sliver of guilt at the young man’s hopeful gaze, “I know you are anxious that you are still experiencing large chunks and lapses in your memory, but let me assure you, that with a head injury like you have sustained, that is perfectly normal. You have to allow yourself time to heal rather than trying to force things to change too rapidly. Otherwise the headaches will continue to plague you endlessly.”

Without vocalising the word, he saw the young man mouth the word as a question ‘normal?’, trying to understand everything that was being said to him.

“Yes, normal,” Rawlings repeated, reaching over to pat the top of the boy’s hands that were clasped casually together in his lap, but they were quickly jerked away by the boy who wasn’t ready to be friends. The gesture was meant as an unspoken apology for the part that he had played so far in this whole nasty scheme. Yes he had been a willing participant at the beginning because of the money being offered. One could say that he was still that now, even with regret beginning to settle into the pit of his stomach.

Rawlings deuced that the majority of the sedative the boy had ingested would have worn off by now, and that Seline would not want his patient knowing that his water had been previously laced. For now he left out that detail as he spoke. Being forewarned about Marchant’s use of artificial methods and a tendency to employ under-handed tricks would serve no purpose except to make the young man even more distrustful of food and drink handed to him.

“Some of the symptoms that you reported to me earlier such as disorientation and confusion could be attributed to someone having a head injury,” the doctor said to Bonnie, turning his face towards her rather than his patient. “When it comes to meal times, I recommend to do it more often in smaller amounts during the day. The headaches and dizziness will probably not entice his appetite, but as you have previously indicated, he does need to eat in order to improve and gain his strength.”

Joe gave an unappreciative noise and a scowl appeared on his face to demonstrate his displeasure to the doctor. All these people talking in the room about him, but not directly to him. Apart from the doctor, he had no idea who they were and no desire to interact with them. Frustration blossomed again as he pushed his body forward on the mattress and laid down on his side, facing the wall with the ever present headache growing and refusing to leave him alone.

Bonnie picked up the glass of water and held it out in offering to him, but Joe showed no interest in drinking the contents, refusing to look at her, instead choosing to close his eyes in avoidance. His current mood was a mixture of being tired and trying to block out what was happening that he didn’t understand and was beyond his control. Joe wanted to find a face that he could greet and know the name of that person without being told who they were or what they supposedly meant to him.

“Being obstinate I suspect,” the doctor stated to her, seeing the young man was intent on being difficult. “What he is feeling is not all of his own doing. There will be times where sleep is the best medicine that could be prescribed, but I will also leave some more pain powders in your custody. One dose in the morning with his breakfast, and one at night should suffice for the next few days. The powder should be dissolved in water to remove any bitter after-taste and make it more palatable.” He retrieved several small satchels of powder from his black bag still resting on the bed-side table and passed them along to the woman.

Rawlings rose from the bed, making one final statement to Joe, knowing he had not drifted off to sleep yet. “Joseph, you will get better and the pain will begin to lessen if you start eating and rest properly. Listen to your own body and do what is needed to take care of yourself.”

The doctor walked over to Seline across the room, firstly so that he was out of earshot from his reluctant patient, and secondly, not wanting to give the man who had summoned him any opportunity to renegotiate or dictate terms. “If you are not going to adhere to my basic instructions, then I see no need for our professional relationship to continue,” he said sternly. “I have other patients to see across this city who do require my expertise. If you want to keep this young man alive for now as you say, then I suggest you had better start listening to what I have already instructed.”

Seline’s face was quickly turning purple with anger at how the doctor was speaking to him like some errant child or lowly educated servant. His temper was at an all time high, and if he had been wearing the small derringer pistol he owned inside his waistcoat, then he may have made the doctor rethink some of his choice words.

“You will receive my account by the end of the day that is due,” Rawlings commented, placing his hat on his head and walking out onto the deck outside the room. “Good day, I do not expect to be called upon again.”

“I will be damned if I allow you to set foot on this vessel for another moment, you conniving, over-rated quack!” Seline spluttered with rage, following the physician with heavy footsteps, but only finding his voice after the man reached the gang plank. When the doctor’s account came to be paid, he would take great pleasure it tearing into tiny shreds.

Seline walked purposefully back into the room in a huff, almost letting his anger out on the door.

In the short time that he was out of the room, Bonnie had gone about what she had been instructed to do, take care of Joe. She had been partially listening to the heated conversation between the doctor and her boss. She couldn’t be sure how much the young man had heard, but suspected some of the threatening words, not everything.

By the time the doctor had exited the room, the boy had fallen into a light doze, his stubbornness short-lived, and fatigue settling in. Without waiting for his permission, she adjusted the covers on the bed, watching his steely expression change. A few seconds more saw his facial features relax further with him drifting closer to sleep whether he wanted to or not.

Seline abruptly stood in the doorway, smarting from the choice accusations the doctor had thrown in his face. “Do whatever you have already been doing to get Cartwright back on his feet,” he ordered, taking the cigar out of his mouth. For a moment he had forgotten his own rule about speaking the boy’s correct name out loud, “I am not going to have Marie’s wretched offspring coddled like some baby.”

“I doubt he heard anything you said,” Bonnie stated, her tone having a sharper edge to it. “He has fallen asleep, and will probably remain so for a while. When he does wake, I will offer him food and encourage him to eat.” She silently reminded herself to hold her tongue better, not wanting to redirect and incur the man’s anger at the doctor.

Seline chose to ignore the way she had spoken, instead wanting the woman’s co-operation, and to emphasis and impress on her how rapidly things were going to change on-board.

“By tomorrow he should be much more improved, despite what that pompous, self-absorbed doctor believes. If the boy is still having those headaches, then I don’t want him wandering around on the boat on his own. I have plans to include him more here amongst my men and deliberately sow a few new seeds about his background. I want to reinforce what he gets told about the nightly gambling activities that go on around here.”

“From tomorrow morning everything is going to get a whole lot busier around here, including many people coming and going to take care of preparations for the opening night in a couple of days. There will be cooks, waiters, decorators, carpenters and a lot of cargo being brought aboard to be stored. There will also be other men carrying out other instructions as I give them. Don’t let any of that distract you from your duties here, I want the boy kept out of sight as much as possible unless I sent for him. Edwards and Yeager will be in charge of security.”

Bonnie nodded her head to signify that she understood what he expected of her. The man turned his back on her, exchanging a few words with Edwards and Yeager on the deck, before leaving the area entirely.

A sense of foreboding began to grow and knot in her own stomach about what lay ahead during the next few days.

____________________________________________________________________________________

Back at the hospital:

Ben Cartwright had closed the door to the parlor moments ago, and was lost in his own thoughts, only to be greeted by someone at the top of the staircase. The middle-aged, dark-haired woman was startled to come across another person on the second floor.

“Oh my stars!” the woman uttered in total surprise. “Good morning, I apologise for my lack of decorum and appearing to be jumping at shadows. I heard the door close and thought my mind was playing tricks on me,” she gave with a brief laugh which was quickly replaced with a warm smile.

“Good morning. Please forgive me, I did not wish to cause you alarm,” Ben greeted her with still holding his hat in one hand and politely extending the other courteously.

“That is quite alright, but I am afraid that I must insist that you tell me who you are,” the woman spoke in return. “My name is Gertrude Russell, and I am the Matron of this hospital. I did not see you enter through the front door downstairs and nobody is allowed to be up here. The ground floor of this building has been temporarily designated as a hospital, but the upper floors are deemed to be private property. The owner has yet to give permission for the rooms above the main floor to be used in any capacity for patients or doctors.”

“My name is Ben Cartwright, and I come here from many miles away in Nevada territory. I have a good parcel of land situated on the outskirts of Virginia City called the Ponderosa. Together with my three sons, a lot of hard work with our backs and bare hands, we raise cattle, harvest timber for the silver mines plus carry on a number of other profitable ventures.”

“You certainly have come such a long way, Mister Cartwright,” Gertrude remarked. “I wager that day to day life where you come from is very different from what you observe outside in the streets of New Orleans.” The nurse was able to detect a strong sense of pride in his voice as the man spoke of where he came from and what his family had been able to achieve.

Ben gave a small chuckle of his own, “Yes, I cannot deny that at all. Not too bad for someone who started out as a mere cabin boy aboard a clipper ship. Upon my last visit to your city, this grand home was in the possession of a very good friend of mine, René Angerville. My late wife, Marie De Marigny, stayed here for quite some time until we were married and she moved with me.”

“The first name you mentioned, Monsieur Angerville, I have heard before today,” the nurse commented. “The current owner, a Mister Ezekiel Thomas, purchased this building as part of an estate, but I am not familiar with all of the details. I have only met the gentleman on one occasion when the doctor was appointed here. I am sorry that I do not recognize your wife’s name at all.”

“That is quite alright, Mister Thomas is someone that I have not heard about or met before,” Ben replied, “I wasn’t aware until this morning that the building had been purchased by another party at all. After my wife passed away, I tried to use work on the ranch and taking care of my boys to cope with her loss. I had intended to keep in touch with my good friend, but unfortunately that did not eventuate either.”

“I am not sure if you remember, but in that room that I came out of, a painting used to hang above the fireplace,” Ben told her, his voice filling with a touch of emotion. “That was previously used as a drawing room, and at various times where Marie would play music on the piano.”

“I do remember a painting hanging there in the room, there was a horse in the background beside a young lady,” the nurse stated. “Mister Thomas had some of the more valuable chattels, pieces of furniture and rich tapestries packed away and store carefully in another part of the building to avoid them becoming damaged. You would have noticed of course that some of the furniture has only been covered to protect it rather than move them.”

“Yes, I did notice,” Ben answered with his voice taking. “The young woman in that portrait was Marie, with one of her favourite horse’s. That room holds some wonderful memories for me, and she spent more time in there than any other part of the house. I can recall the furnishings in there, just as they were. I guess for a moment when I walked there, I became lost and entangled in the nostalgia.”

The nurse could see that the man had been searching for some kind of lost connection by coming here this morning, and she could see the grief in his eyes as he spoke his wife’s name. “I hope you are not too disappointed to come all this way, only to see empty rooms or gaze upon a grand painting?”

“Unfortunately it is neither good times or nostalgia that is the purpose of my journey,” Ben elaborated. “My two eldest sons and I arrived on the train only this morning from San Francisco, but after we parted company, my feet directed me here.”

“You mentioned a few moments ago that you had three sons?” Matron Russell recounted, making sure that she had not misheard how many children the man had. “Did your youngest son choose to miss the journey and stay behind at your ranch in Nevada?”

“Yes, I did,” Ben went on to explain but his tone of voice turning more serious. “My sons, Adam and Hoss accompanied me on the train. Marie was the mother of my youngest son, Joseph, who is barely nineteen years of age. I strongly believe that Joe has been kidnapped and brought here to this city from San Francisco against his will and under false pretences. We have received information from an unknown source that he is being held somewhere as a prisoner. He was taken more than a week ago, and my sons and I have been following behind as quickly as we can to try and rescue him.

“That is dreadful news, Mister Cartwright,” Gertrude gasped out loud. “Who would do such a cowardly and dastardly thing to steal your son away from you? Such a young man too. You must be beside yourself with worry about what has happened to him. I sincerely hope he has not been hurt and you are able to find him quickly. Have you gone to the police?”

“Thank you for your concern, news has been received by us at various stages that he has indeed been hurt, and that the person responsible means to do him greater harm to get back at me for grievances that go back a long way,” the silver-haired man gave in reply. “From what we have been able to discover, that has been his intention all along. By taking Joseph away from his brothers and his home, he knows that he is causing me great anguish. I will do almost anything to see my boy returned to me safely, even though the risk to my own life is high.”

“In San Francisco, we were fortunate enough to have the assistance of the police as soon as we reported Joseph missing. There were a few clues that emerged, but alas they only brought up more questions than answers,” Ben explained. “We do know that the services of a doctor were employed before my son was smuggled out of the city. Unfortunately we don’t know the full extent of his involvement, or what treatment was performed, as that man met with a grisly demise at the hand of Joe’s kidnapper.”

The nurse’s hands came up to her mouth in shock as she attempted to stifled the gasp of shock at such a statement.

At some point Ben realised that he had given away and openly shared quite a lot of details about where he had come from, his boys, and even the current situation and circumstances surrounding Joe’s kidnapping. Normally he wouldn’t have been one to share such private information about his family, especially when the authorities were about to become involved. He had let his guard down in a place that held a mixture of memories, and allowed his own emotions to come to the surface. Perhaps it was this lady’s warm personality on this particular morning, where he found a woman with a caring nature and willingness to listen, that had made him speak so freely.

“Going to the police here in New Orleans will be my next step once we have acquired some suitable accommodations during our stay,” Ben continued. “That is where I sent my two sons after leaving the railway station. I want to set up a comfortable place to bring Joe back to once he has been rescued.”

“Being a city of mixed cultures, it may be that we will need the services of someone who is able to speak and understand the French language. Marie did try and teach me after we were married, and my eldest son, Adam, can speak a few phrases very well. But that may not be enough on this occasion when the stakes involve a person’s life. We will also require people who are more familiar with the back streets and other sordid places in this city where someone may be inclined to keep a prisoner.”

“Time is quickly running out for my son, and I do fear greatly for his safety,” Ben told the woman, as he took a step closer towards the stairs, realising that he needed to leave. “This may sound strange or even superstitious, and is perhaps no more than a foolish notion, but I have prayed to Marie a couple of times during our rushed travel. By coming here this morning, a small part of me was hoping that her spirit would help guide our endeavours to find Joseph.”

The woman’s eyes softened and she put a comforting hand on his forearm, “As a nurse, I am usually a very practical person when it comes to treating people and nursing them back to health. During my years of training and taking care of people, I have also seen a lot of strange things. Some that have occurred but cannot be explained, or others that would sound implausible to those claiming to be of sound mind. Do you know what I have learned the most in all the time that I have lived in New Orleans?”

“Tell me please?” he requested, knowing that the words she wanted to impart on him were important.

The woman took another breath, pleased to see that the man was listening to her words. “Kindness and compassion cost absolutely nothing, but are not in abundance like they once were. The demand for them grows even higher when it comes to our families and people that we care about. This city has her secrets, Mister Cartwright, there is no denying that. There is a soul and a heartbeat that are all her own. Extraordinary things and miracles can happen around here everyday when you least expect them.”

“Thank you for understanding,” Ben said with genuine gratitude. “Joseph was very small when his mother died and he misses her terribly. A hole was left in all our hearts. Most of the time my son tries to keep his pain hidden and his memories of her private. Those feelings about his mother are very strong, even in relation to things she owned that are now carefully stored away.”

“I can see that you have a great love for your son and shoulder the responsibility of wanting to protect him. When it comes to a mother’s love; that stays forever. Nothing can ever break that bond between a mother and her child, even unto death. Keep a whole lot of hope and faith alongside of you, and I know you will find him.”

“When he has been rescued and you have spent time together, please bring him here to see this place before you leave to go back home. I am sure that knowing she lived here for a time will bring him a great comfort, even if it is his first time,” the nurse suggested.

“Thank you, I certainly will,” Ben promised. “Adam and Hoss would be pleased to come and see this place too, once their brother has been found. Please allow me to escort you back downstairs,” he requested, holding out his arm as any gentleman should for a lady.

Nurse Russell gratefully accepted the offer, knowing that this man was a cut above some of the men she had encountered before. Manners, courtesy and well spoken; all traits that were becoming less noticeable in recent years. The Matron found her own curiosity about this family from Nevada growing.

________________________________________________________________________________

As they made their way down the polished wooden steps, the conversation turned more casual. The whole place was eerily quiet considering the time of day.

“Forgive my questioning of your duties in a small hospital such as this, but are you the only nursing staff employed here?” Ben asked.

“Yes, for the moment,” the matron answered without hesitation. “There is only one doctor and myself, although that may not be the case for much longer. The man appointed to the position is hoping to gain employment at the larger hospital, St Mercy. It is situated a lot closer to the city centre and is currently undergoing major expansion and renovations.”

“Some days I would dearly love some assistance around here as there is usually more work to do than two pair of hands can accommodate,” Nurse Russell admitted. “I am not getting any younger in years myself, and I don’t know what would happen to the people who do rely on being able to come here. I wish I could pass along my experience to someone else younger like some generous nursing staff did for me when I first started.”

“I do think the owner, Mr Thomas was hoping to create a clinic here that would cater to a different class of people. Those who perhaps don’t have the means to spend on a doctor for themselves or their children,” Gertrude commented. “The people in this area of the city work hard, but to others are seen as having the wrong colour skin or judged because they come from a poor background. Those things shouldn’t matter when it comes to wanting to be well or see your children live a healthy life.”

Ben nodded his head in acknowledgement at her words, seeing that she truly cared about caring for people, not just about whether they could afford to pay for a doctor or not. “The problems about people’s skin colour and different cultural background don’t just occur here, but perhaps are noticed more with a larger population. We have some of the same troubles in Virginia City with the Chinese workers who have arrived in town. There are quite a few Indian tribes who try and maintain their traditions in many patches across the territory. There are many people of different races who are looking for work and travel to Nevada to seek their fortunes in the mines.”

By the time Ben and the Matron reached the bottom steps, any conversation between them was interrupted by the opening of the front door to the building. The figure of a tall thin man entered, removing his hat and carrying it alongside the small black medical bag in his right hand.

“Good morning, Doctor,” Nurse Russell greeted him respectfully, but became worried about his outer appearance and slow gait. “My, you do look worn out. I was expecting to see you last night. I hope everything is alright?”

The Doctor held out his black bag for her to take, “Morning, Matron. I am afraid I have not had a chance yet to survey the contents inside to establish what items need replenishing.”

“Oh there is no need for you to worry about that,” Gertrude responded. “Things have been fairly quiet around here since noon yesterday, and I have a few hours spare hours on my hands this afternoon. I will attend to taking stock of what needs to be replaced.”

The Doctor gave her a tired, small smile of appreciation, “What would I do without you looking after me, Gertrude?” he asked warmly, foregoing all protocols of how they should be addressing each other in the presence of other people.

The nurse returned the smile and a laugh with him using her first name rather than her title, knowing that it would be frowned upon in larger hospitals. Here in this smaller place where the two of them often worked side by side, she didn’t mind at all.

“You will be pleased to know that mother and child have both survived admirably, but it wasn’t until the early hours of this morning that I could be more certain about that outcome,” Rawlings informed her. “Whilst I was there, I was told that I was needed by another patient, which is where I have just come from now. I am sorry I was gone a long time without getting word to you.”

“That is very pleasing to hear, you did mention that Mrs Simpson may have a difficult birth,” the Matron commented. “There have only been a few people come here with minor ailments during your absence. I was able to successfully treat them and send them home again.”

Ben had been patiently standing by this whole time during the exchange between doctor and nurse. Gertrude glanced briefly in his direction after seeing the curious look on the doctor’s face at the stranger.

“Heavens, would you both please forgive my oversight. Mister Ben Cartwright, this is Doctor Hector Rawlings, the appointed physician,” the woman introduced, embarrassed that she had not done so promptly.

“Good Morning, Doctor,” Ben greeted the man, extending his hand. “I don’t plan to take up your valuable time.”

“Morning, Mister Cartwright, pleased to make your acquaintance,” Rawlings returned, completing the handshake, impressed by the strength and confidence of the man before him. “What business brings you here today? Mister Cartwright did you say?” repeating the man’s surname so that he wasn’t mistaken.

Nurse Russell spoke before Ben could offer his own reply. “Ben Cartwright has come here all the way from Nevada territory with two of his sons. This building holds special meaning to him and his family and he wished to see it again. He was hoping for permission to show some of the rooms to his youngest son, Joseph.” The Matron thought it prudent to leave out details of the young man’s disappearance and that he was still currently missing.

Both names certainly drew the doctor’s attention, and after coming from the paddle-steam boat only a short time ago, he could only wonder if there was any correlation. He didn’t alter the expression on his face, but could see resoluteness starting back at him through brown eyes. The first name given of Joseph certainly piqued his interest. He had not told the Matron the name of the second patient that he had finished treating after Mrs Simpson, nor his whereabouts.

Rawlings knew that Marchant had concocted a false story for the boy’s background and that included changing his surname. Although he didn’t know the full purpose of Seline’s rouse, instinct told him that the scoundrel was intending to use the young man’s memory loss to his own advantage. But the man had also slipped up and called out the boy’s real name as he was leaving.

“Why is your son not here with you if you are wanting to show him around?” the doctor asked, noting that the man seemed to be here on his own. “I have no objections to giving the permission you seek, but I will leave you in Matron’s capable hands. Please excuse my rudeness, I have been tending to a mother and child for the past twenty four hours. I need to get some sleep before I attend to my other patients.”

“That is quite alright, Doctor,” Ben answered, but didn’t elaborate further about why Joe wasn’t accompanying him. “Thank you for your generosity, I understand you have a busy schedule to keep and people counting on you. Rest well.”

Nurse Russell frowned a little, thinking that Doctor Rawlings was acting a little odd, if not peculiar and quite out of character today, even though there were tell-tale signs of fatigue on his face and in his posture.

The doctor began to slowly climb the staircase towards his personal quarters, not wanting to give himself away about having vital information pertaining to the man’s son. He was able to overhear the few final words they were exchanging.

“Please forgive his manner this morning, Mister Cartwright, he does some good work here, but sometimes forgets that people in his demanding position also need to take care of themselves,” Gertrude shared.

“There is no need to apologise, Matron,” Ben assured her, politely kissing her hand, getting ready to say goodbye and depart the premises. “I am sure he is a busy man, and he does provide an important service to the people here.”

“I pray that you will find your son very soon,” she offered, giving his hand a small squeeze in friendly comfort. “You, Joseph and your other two sons will be most welcome back here for a visit at any time. I should like to meet all of your family once you are all reunited.”

“I promise that I will return when Joseph is located safe and sound and before we leave this city for home,” Ben pledged. “Thank you for all your kindness this morning, I fear I have already taken up too much of your valuable time.”

“Nonsense, Mister Cartwright, talking to you today has been a delight and taken away the boredom from what would have been a mundane day of chores,” she replied with a smile. “We will meet again.”

Continuing his way to the stop of the stairs out of sight, Rawlings couldn’t help but think to himself that Seline may be in for a bit of a shock to learn that the boy’s family had not given up hope in finding him yet. From what he had observed first-hand, they were actively searching for him and any clues that would pertain to his whereabouts. The father he had met seemed to be focused on finding his son, and didn’t appear to be a man who would be easily diverted from that task.

____________________________________________________________________________________

After leaving the railway station and watching their father walk in the opposite direction, the two Cartwright brothers continued on foot in a westerly direction. Their intentions were to find suitable lodgings that would accommodate all of them, even Joe once he was found. Once that matter had been settled, a livery stable was the next place on their short list to find, where they could rent some horses for the duration of their stay in the city.

“How far do we have to walk, Adam?” Hoss asked. The distance wasn’t a problem, but the larger man couldn’t help but feel awkward and out of place.

“A few city sized blocks at least, Hoss, but don’t worry, I already have one place in mind,” Adam answered cryptically. He had noted his siblings unease and knew it was the reason behind the question.

“You do? That would be great, Adam,” Hoss replied with a grin, putting his complete trust in his brother’s knowledge of being able to navigate these busy streets much better. He couldn’t deny that he found himself in very unfamiliar surroundings. The crowds of people began to swell with larger numbers than he could have ever contemplated.

In addition to the people, there were dozens of horse drawn carriages and wagons. Buckboards and single horse-drawn buggys, all attempting to criss-cross the main street intersection at the same time. Anybody watching the confusion and chaos long enough was liable to get dizzy Hoss silently told himself.

“I guessed it would be different when we got here from the train, but I don’t think I expected it to be quite like this,” Hoss mentioned to his brother.

“Enjoy the city, Hoss, don’t let the faceless crowds detract from the grandeur,” Adam commented. “There is a lot to take in on someone’s first visit. With a little patience, after awhile, the noise of the crowds fades into the background and the people fade into the distance. What you are left with is a place that has a long history, where there is something new to discover at every street corner. Where the architecture of each building has a different story to tell.”

Turning the corner, Adam wanted to alleviate his brother’s misgivings by explaining where they were. “Hoss, this is Canal Street, one of the main thoroughfares or artery of this city. That rather large white building you can see on the left-hand side in front of us, is the St Charles Hotel. That is our first point of call to find somewhere to stay tonight.”

Hoss looked at where Adam was pointing, but wasn’t convinced about the choice. “You mean to tell me that we are going in there to ask if they have a room to rent?” His mind began to over-think what kind of price they could be expected to pay, but one could assume that there was a bank in this city when they needed to withdraw sufficient funds. Leaving the Ponderosa as quickly as they did, Pa had more important things on his mind than procuring additional money.

“A place like that would have more than rooms,” Adam responded. “They will have elegant chambers and adjoining suites on more than one floor, and probably more than one rising room so that we won’t have to walk up so many stairs. More than enough space for all of us.”

“A rising room?” Hoss asked, adjusting the collar of his shirt to mask his nervousness. He didn’t like the idea of those things, and had only experienced one of them in San Francisco. Oddly enough, that was an earlier occasion when Joe had become separated from his family and lost in different city. His brother had been quite a bit younger at only nine years old on that particular escapade.

“Somehow, I think I would prefer to climb those stairs with my own two feet,” Hoss stated firmly, pulling his hat down on his head for emphasis.

“Let’s get there and see what they can offer first,” Adam suggested, noting that Hoss was almost ready to plant his feet obstinately in the middle of the street and not move any closer. “We need to find somewhere to stay for Pa. You can plainly see for yourself that he hasn’t exactly been sleeping well since we started this journey from Virginia City. When we do find Joe, I think it is fair to assume that he may be looking for a nice, soft place to lay his head down and sleep for a day or two.”

Adam knew he was goading Hoss forward with a little guilt, but he was trying to use just the right amount of incentive without over doing it. He was counting on inducing a little more co-operation by mentioning their need to take care of Joe and their father. Hoss had rarely been able to deny his baby brother anything, especially when he was hurt or needed someone fighting in his corner. The tiredness that both had seen on their father’s drawn features was already making them want to shoulder more of the burden and responsibility of finding Little Joe.

The eldest Cartwright brother was mindful though and knew that he would need to keep an eye on this younger sibling too, for completely different reasons. Hoss’ apprehension was unexpected, but valid and understandable. They needed to work together at the moment towards a common and positive outcome. Both of them needed to maintain a clear head and have their wits about them until they could learn more clues as to Joe’s whereabouts.

Coming to stand in front of the large hotel building, one couldn’t deny its impressive size and expanse. The huge Corinthian white marble columns rose to great heights from the street level up to the roof, six in total and a very imposing facade.

“Quite the place wouldn’t you say?” Adam remarked as he stood behind his brother’s beefy left shoulder, watching Hoss’ gaze up and down at the marble colossus.

“I reckon it might be to some folks,” Hoss agreed, but the feeling of being out of place had only quadrupled. He didn’t want bring into question Adam’s usually reliable judgement, and therefore kept any comments to himself.

The two brothers moved out of the direct path of people who were disembarking from various forms of transport with the assistance of valets. No doubt their sole duty was to formerly greet the passengers and potential customers as they arrived, before ushering them along the fine rich carpet that lead up to the marbled steps of the front entrance. Each one of them was smartly dressed in fancy navy suits, featuring gold brocade on the fitted jackets and tailored pants. The professional uniforms were completed with top hats worn on their heads and polished black shoes on their feet.

Another set of uniformed footmen were unloading large numbers of baggage consisting of suitcases, carpetbags, heavy chests and trunks. These luggage items would then be packed on ornately decorated brass trolleys or carried inside before then being delivered to the bellhops and interior hotel staff. The scene playing out before them was like a pantomime where each person was a character on stage in a performance. Except this was a normal day in a city the size of New Orleans, with the customers dressed in their finest, out on public display.

The comings and goings of the various buggy’s, horse-drawn vehicles and an ever growing number of pedestrians was even more chaotic here then it had been outside the railway station. Some people appeared to have no patience at all and were clambering loudly to gain the attention of the hotel staff over the top of other citizens. A dozen conversations or more could be heard happening all at once with pushing, shoving, and demanding unrealistic expectations, seemingly the order of the day.

“Don’t worry, Hoss, this is not much different to nights back at home in the Bucket O’ Blood saloon when the miners get paid, or the days following a long round up with the ranch hands,” Adam appeased, seeing that Hoss was less than impressed with some of the behaviour. These folks would be the first to call themselves civilised, but to him a whole lot of common sense and waiting graciously in turn was sorely lacking today.

Adam thought the best way to counteract the frown on his brother’s face was to provide him with a little history of the hotel that he had learned through a number of sources.

“The original place was built in 1837, but was destroyed by fire less than ten years ago in January 1851. There was a huge matching dome turret on the roof in the original building, but they didn’t put it back in the design this time around,” Adam explained. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Hoss was facing him and starting to listen, so he continued.

A split second later, Hoss’ attention was momentarily distracted by a team of horses pulling in not too far away, churning up dust and debris. The driver was calling out instructions to a number of the hotel staff in a gruff tone of voice, but they were yelling back about his disregard for public safety of other people standing nearby and getting showered by plumes of choking dust.

“Do you know how much it cost to complete the renovations afterwards?” Adam queried patiently. His efforts were rewarded with Hoss turning back to hear his question, waiting for the answer. His brother knew all about building and architecture.

“Over eight hundred thousand dollars,” Adam recited slowly so that the size of hefty sum could sink in. “Almost a million dollars. The first build wasn’t much cheaper either.”

Hoss scoffed at the large number his brother had quoted, trying to figure out in his mind how many zeroes that acquainted to, “Who has access to that kind of money? I can’t even fathom anybody being able to amass that much wealth, Adam.”

“Let’s hope with that amount of money involved, this second version lasts much longer,” Adam remarked. “Come on, we have standing around here too long now. Time to climb those stairs and approach the reception desk,” he encouraged.

The two brothers made their way to the bottom of the exterior marble staircase, a number of the staff greeting them politely with “Good Morning, Sir” as they went about their duties.

“Never been called “Sir” so many times on one day in my entire life,” Hoss declared. Adam had a small grin on his face as his brother’s discomfort at being addressed in such a formal manner. He decided to add a few more trivial facts about the hotel as they climbed up towards the entrance.

“This place is reported to have over four hundred rooms across a number of floors. Enough space for between six hundred and seven hundred guests at any one time,” Adam filled in. “Thirty parlour rooms alone, and at least one hundred individual bathrooms. I think you will agree with me about the grand scale that everything seems to be done by. There is no mistaking it’s presence compared to all the other building on either side of the street.”

Hoss didn’t know how to respond to such outlandish and bold claims of luxury and decadence. He had never heard of that many people staying in one building at one time. And one hundred bathrooms? Surely that was an over-exaggeration or pure estimation.

As the reached the top of the flight of stairs, Hoss repeated his earlier question, “This is still where you are thinking we want to stay?”

“Sure, we will approach the Concierge and ask if they have any rooms suitable for us,” Adam replied. “We don’t need the real fancy ones. Something comfortable for all four of us for a few days. Visitors to this city come to this particular hotel from far and wide, and sometimes a booking is required beforehand.”

Hoss looked down at the travel clothes he was wearing, then looked about at the gentlemen and ladies who were bustling about nearby. Although he felt dressed up by wearing more than his usual work clothes, he couldn’t help but compare his wardrobe as they continued to pass by. He felt very inadequate and odd, even more so with his gunbelt not strapped around his waist.

Adam had walked a little further in front and had yet to notice that he was on his own when approaching the lobby. Hoss decided to stay where he was and try not to get in anybody’s way. His brother would be better at enquiring and gaining a room anyhow.

The outside facade had been impressive, but that grandeur was certainly carried on inside as well. The marble polished floors inlaid with coloured tiles that formed intricate and elaborate patterns. Even the very columns had been replicated, with a series of them standing proudly and spaced evenly throughout the vast expansive interior. The building was certainly much bigger than any place Hoss had been in before anywhere.

By merely turning his head in any direction, his gaze was drawn to an array of polished wooden panels, brass and copper ornate fixtures and fittings. The ceilings were accented by gargantuan chandeliers that bathed everything with the right amount of lighting and add significantly to the richness of the décor. Adam would have used his knowledge of poetic words to describe the hotel as having an avant-garde flavour. To Hoss, elegant and luxurious were the two words that came to mind.

From this vantage point, Hoss couldn’t see everything inside the hotel, including the proposed rising rooms that Adam had hinted at earlier. There were other features to note though, such as uniquely carved and sweeping staircases that probably lead up to the upper floors. He suspected there was even more to see with wonderment if he wanted to venture further inside. A piano could be heard playing a soft melody of music in the background.

The windows were covered and draped in curtains made from heavy, plush patterned fabrics. Tapestries and paintings covered nearly every inch of the walls, along with statues and sculptures displayed on evenly spaced marble pedestals. Large vessels containing leafy green plants were scattered about, some of them even covered with delicately scented flowers.

From where he was standing, a second large room was partitioned off with coloured stained-glass windows, and a matching door on the front. Inside there were chairs, and round tables set with fancy tablecloths, white china plates, silver cutlery and fine glassware; all laid out and ready for service. The restaurant or dining room he surmised, not realising that there was more than one belonging to the hotel, each catering differently to the guests.

Hoss stomach growled hungrily, reminding him that he had not eaten since getting off the train and it was almost eleven o’clock in the morning. Maybe he could wait and see what they brought out from the kitchen for lunch.

________________________________________________________________________

Some distance away at reception, Adam was standing, waiting politely to approach the staff at the front desk to make his availability enquiry. He had noticed a curious look from a number of the gentlemen present at his attire, but chose not to engage with them. He tipped his hat at a couple of the ladies, greeting them with ‘good morning’ in his deep baritone voice, receiving prompt and courteous replies with shy smiles from behind gloved hands.

Once the crowd had begun thinning out, a tall gentleman gestured for Adam to come closer towards the oak reception desk, “Good morning, Sir, how may I be of service to you today?”

Adam removed his black hat, “Good morning, my name is Adam Cartwright. My brother and I would like to make enquiries about a room that may have that would be adequate for four adult men to stay…….,” he started to explain, but halted half-way through as he saw the man looking dubiously on either side and behind him.

“Your brother?” the man with a shock of red hair queried, seeing only a single person standing before him. ‘At times the strangest of guests passed through the halls of this hotel’ he thought to himself.

Adam turned and now understood why the man had briefly given him a strange look. At some point, Hoss had decided to stop and not follow. “Please excuse me for a moment.” Walking away from the reception desk, he realised that the hand of fate had stepped in and made this decision, not only Hoss. They may need to make other arrangements of where to stay if his brother felt so uncomfortable.

Casually leaning against a marble column support for the downstairs restaurant, Hoss watched a small man with a blond moustache, carry a decorative black wrought iron easel. He proceeded to stand the ornate framework off to one side of the double mahogany wooden doors, making a few minute adjustments until he was completely satisfied with its final position. He was wearing a uniform similar to the valet’s outside, but with a different colour and wider collar adorning the front of the jacket. Despite his lack of stature, it was obvious he took his job very seriously. On the stand, the man carefully placed a crisp white sheet of card with black elegant print on it.

A menu’ Hoss thought with a small amount of delight. Perhaps the journey here would not turn out so awkwardly after all. Unfortunately, he made the mistake of taking a step towards the easel before the man had walked away completely. Finding himself under an unwelcome glare of rebuke and receiving a sharply toned admonishment.

“Monsieur, s’il vous plaît retirez votre chapeau,” the hotel employee requested.

Hoss had not understood a single word the man had said to him; the words coming out garbled and not even sounding like they were in English to him.

“Listen little fella, I don’t know what you said to me just now……………,” he began to reply but trying to be co-operative and not wanting to cause a scene. Hoss halted when the man attempted to step away from him, but still giving a fresh look of disapproval for good measure.

Adam had heard and understood the complaint, coming up silently behind his brother, and with one swift movement of his hand, corrected the problem. Even before Hoss had the chance to ask the man to repeat what he wanted.

“Sir, please remove your hat,” Adam translated for his brother. “Though in your defence, he was speaking French.”

“Oh, sorry, I plum forgot,” Hoss apologised with abashment, accepting the return of his hat and holding it by the brim in his hand. He was used to taking if off back in Virginia City whenever he went indoors, but his attention this morning had been drawn elsewhere upon entering this establishment.

With the offending head-wear successfully removed to his satisfaction, the small man had disappeared back to his duties elsewhere in the hotel without saying another word.

“I thought you were going to follow me to the reception desk?” Adam chastised lightly. “I looked a little foolish standing back there on my own, after introducing myself and mentioning that I was travelling with a brother.”

“Dang it! Sorry about that, Adam,” Hoss voiced, looking down at his hat, not quite knowing how else to explain why he had felt the need to stay behind. His facial expression changed to one of feeling guilty and being suitably chastised.

Astutely Adam could see the reason for himself, “For the record, after giving the matter enough due consideration, I don’t think this place is really for us to stay here either,” he remarked. He was pleased to see his comment bring a smile to his brother’s face.

“You don’t ?” Hoss questioned, but grateful that his brother had a complete change of heart. “Where are we going find somewhere for us to stay tonight then?”

“Oh, I am sure we can find somewhere,” Adam replied reassuringly, noting that a shred of guilt was beginning to overshadow Hoss’ brief moment of elation at needing to change their plans.

“I was about to take a look at that piece of paper the little guy left there,” Hoss admitted. Upon closer inspection of the writing though, his facial expression changed as embarrassment set in about not being able to read a single word.

“Don’t feel bad, Hoss, with such a large French connection to this city, the dishes were bound to be printed in that language,” Adam surmised. “Do you want me to translate them for you?”

“If you don’t mind,” Hoss agreed, feeling like a heel and having to rely on his brother’s knowledge too much already today. “I was beginning to feel a little peckish is all,” he mumbled.

“Well let’s see what they are having then,” Adam obliged, knowing that time was getting away from them. There were still a few tasks they needed to accomplish this morning before meeting their father at the designated rendezvous. None of them had eaten yet and missing meals was probably the one of those few times that Hoss was known for being more vocal.

Reading down the menu for himself, Adam turned to his brother with an apologetic expression on his face, “I think you are going to be disappointed with their selection they are offering today, Hoss.”

“They are having food aren’t they?” Hoss challenged, “Even the folks around here gotta eat sometime.”

Adam could see that the wasn’t going to be able to sway his brother easily, so he decided on the direct approach. Standing in front of the ornate framed stand and bending over to account for the height difference, he began to read from the very top of the menu. As he went, he gave the French name of the dish, followed by a description of the food in English.

Cuisses de Grenouille – Frogs Legs, lightly fried in clarified butter, and served with a creamy sauce.

Hoss’ grip on his hat increased dramatically and his mouth gaped open as he tried to grapple with a very different cuisine than what he was used to eating at the Ponderosa.

‘Who ever heard of eating a frog? Can’t be much meat on them little critters to begin with’

Adam hid a wry grin at the look on his brother’s face. Unfortunately he could see that the next few dishes were not going to appeal to him any better.

Escargot – Snails, gently sautéd in a delicately flavoured herb butter and garlic reduction.

‘Snails! They could usually be found in Hop Sing’s gardens, ruining the cabbages. Never once in his whole life did he think of cooking and eating one.

Hoss was starting to get annoyed by his brother’s antics and was convinced that he was being made fun of, “Stop deliberately making stuff up, Adam!”

“I promise you that I am reading direct from the menu,” Adam answered truthfully, but as he took a look at the next menu item, this time couldn’t scarcely hold back his laughter and knew that Hoss was not going to be impressed with the next dish.

Ox Tripe Provencale – Tripe with fettuccine, served with steamed potatoes and garnished with parsley.

Adam was sure that his brother’s face was several shades paler, as Hoss closed his mouth and swallowed nervously.

Being from a cattle raising family, he certainly knew what tripe was, and it was one of those foods that he refused to eat. “What is fetta…., that other word you said?”

“Pasta,” Adam replied helpfully. “An Italian staple. Quite tasty, but it may not have been served in any establishment where you have dined before.”

“Adam, if you don’t start reading that thing right, I am going to throwing up the lunch I haven’t even eaten yet,” Hoss whispered with grave warning. He could feel his stomach rolling at the very thought of any of those dishes on the menu.

Un Plateaude de Fromages – A platter of the finest selection of cheeses available from the local area. Served with a suggested wine.

“Cheese?” Hoss mouthed with dismay and disdain. A dislike for one particular food item that was a well kept secret in the Cartwright family.

“Isn’t there anything normal to eat in this city?” Hoss grouched, revolted by the offerings on the menu. Right now I could eat a whole half a steer on my own and still have room for dessert. I ain’t had a bite since supper last night and I am famished, but I am not eating one dang thing of any plate in this place when I can’t read or say it’s name.”

“Come on Adam, we have to find a real place to stay, where you don’t have to use the whole alphabet to spell out your supper. Joe probably wouldn’t eat half of that stuff spelled out on that piece of paper any more than me. I doubt they are feeding him right anyhow so he must be right hungry by now.”

Hoss turned away from the restaurant and started walking purposefully towards the cavernous front entrance. He had heard enough, but felt a hand on the back of his shirt. Adam waited until he had stopped walking and was willing to turn around and face him before speaking.

“Once we find a good place to stay, I will make sure to find something to eat that will appeal more to your appetite,” Adam assured him. “You are right, we have to find somewhere to stay, meet up with Pa. Then we can focus and double our efforts on finding Joe. Time is quickly getting away from us this morning.”

Adam decided to share some casual conversation to take his brother’s mind off his empty stomach, knowing that he was worried about their younger sibling. They all were and that was the reason the subject quickly turned back to Joe.

“Pa might be able to afford to stay at this fancy place, but I don’t reckon he would feel right about doing that any more than me,” Hoss asserted. “Joe wouldn’t like to stay in a place like this either too long.”

Adam pondered that statement for a moment, “Oh, I don’t know, I am sure at first our baby brother would be happy to be taken in by the luxuriousness that we have seen for ourselves today. Do you remember how he reacted to the private guests rooms that we were allocated at the Governor’s estate in Texas?”

“Yeah,” Hoss remembered with a fond grin. “He was jumping around on those feather mattresses that first night like he had never slept on one so soft before. That was ten years ago though and he was a little tyke back then. Joe has stayed in some much rougher places since then; even been forced to sleep on the floor without any bed or blankets.”

The brothers shared a smile at the memory, but that quickly evaporated as the peril that Joe had been in on that trip was refreshed in their minds and could not be easily forgotten. Unfortunately, stark similarities of the danger their sibling was facing could be drawn with the precarious circumstances he had fallen into with Seline.

“I am inclined to agree with you that he would quickly feel out of place as much as you. Joe might be happy to indulge at first, but he would quickly be deterred by being expected to wear something more appropriate than his beloved green jacket,” Adam responded. “Besides, he would only be wanting to make sure that Cochise was being taken care of, and sneaking downstairs to check on the animal all the time.”

The two brothers chuckled quietly over Joe’s particular brand of care about his horse, and the lengths he would go for her. It was a well known subject back on the Ponderosa and around Virginia City, often drawing a well placed joke or two. Although it was good to have a small distraction away from the restaurant, they were getting side-tracked again from the task at hand.

Adam was aware they had not discussed the prospect that Seline may demand a sizeable ransom for Joe’s return on the journey thus far. Somehow he was convinced that that Seline had entirely different agenda in mind for Joe’s safe return rather than wanting money. Until now, a slow chain of clues and misinformation had been gathered, tormenting at each turn that they were gaining ground.

With Joe still missing, there was no real way of measuring how close they were getting, and to be totally truthful, by travelling to New Orleans, it felt as though they were chasing their tails. Seline had already demonstrated that he was capable of being conniving, secretive and manipulative, with little regard for the people used in his schemes or the methods he was prepared to employ. The murdered doctor in San Francisco was a prime example.

Ben Cartwright of course, would be willing to mortgage everything he owned, including the Ponderosa. Their father would sell every single asset for the safe return of any one of his sons. This unpredictable adversary would be demanding more than any of them may be able to pay and extract a much higher price for the life of his prisoner. Seline was putting into place a meticulously planned out and uncompromising plan of revenge.

______________________________________________________________________________________

Exiting the St Charles Hotel, the two brothers were greeted with bright sunshine and another growing crowd of passengers arriving, loaded down with an endless load of baggage and trunks. The hotel staff were not going to get a moment’s rest today as they hurried off once more to carry out their duties under the scrutiny of their demanding patrons.

“I feel kinda sorry for those fellas, dressed up like they were trained monkeys, stuck doing the same thing over and over again, day after day,” Hoss commented. “Ain’t no way for any man to make a decent living, but I guess things are a lot different around here.”

“A little too mundane for me as well, but I suspect some of them do enjoy their work. They probably don’t get paid very much, but no doubt they are proud to bring home money to support their families each week,” Adam replied. “Times are hard all over, not just out on the ranches and in the mines at home. Everybody is competing against each other for a handle full of crumbs.”

“Come on, we need to find a mode of transportation for ourselves…….,” Adam began to say, but then spotted a shock of hair in the crowd that drew his attention. “Our wish may have just been granted,” he added cryptically as he started walking towards the crowd.

“I thought we were finding somewhere to stay,” Hoss called out, trying to keep track of his brother’s black hat in the middle of the oncoming people. He excused himself as a number of people rudely pushed their way passed him. By the time he had a chance to look forward again, Adam was nowhere to be seen.

“Adam! Where are you?” Hoss shouted over everyone’s head, only to receive a few scathing looks for his trouble.

An older, plump woman wearing a dark green dress and matching bonnet stopped in front of him, barely reaching the height of his broad chest. Disapproval was written across her face at his outburst as she made a point to berate him, “Young man, there is certainly no need to raise your voice outside in public to that level.”

Hoss looked suitably chastised, removing his hat before offering an apology, “Sorry ma’am, I was trying to find my brother…..,” but by then woman had turned away and moved on, not even slightly interested in listening to any reason he was giving in his own defence. Life around this city travelled at a very different pace to what he was used to, and the rudeness and indifference of people towards their neighbour was becoming very unpleasant.

Before he had the chance to let the unfriendly surrounds bring him down further, Hoss was startled by the sound of someone else shouting out above the sea of people.

Craning his neck to get a better view towards the sound, he listened intently, convinced that he had heard the voice somewhere before.

“Out of the way you people, can’t you see the man is trying to get through here,” a thick Irish accent demanded. “Come on, be quick about it, make a path, there is hardly any room to breathe.”

A man belonging to that voice found his way through the crowd and was now talking directly to Hoss, “I am sorry about that Mr Cartwright, some of the folk around here need a few lessons in good manners as you can plainly see.”

For a moment, Hoss stared back in confusion at the man chatting to him, scarcely able to believe that it was the same person they had come across earlier this morning. The man’s friendly disposition was completely different to the diminutive woman. He couldn’t help but give a lopsided grin in return.

After seeing the unspoken question written across his brother’s face, Adam came up along side of him, speaking softly into his ear. “I spotted him unloading a group of passengers as we were making our way out of the hotel. Unfortunately we don’t have much choice at the moment of finding someone who knows the city better than we do. This may be a curse or a mixed blessing in disguise,” he casually remarked.

Hoss nodded in head in agreement, some luck or good fortune shining on them from somewhere would be most welcome. This fellow had given a good account of himself of being able to get people around the city. This was the taxi-driver that he had separated from the wagon teamster at the railway station. Before he could say too much more, the man reintroduced himself.

The man was sporting a bruise above his right eyebrow, a reward from the scuffle he had gotten mixed up in. Right at this particular moment, any bitterness from that encounter had been forgotten as he held out his hand, wearing a smile on his face, “Doyle…..Seamus Doyle, at your service. I know we may have gotten off on the wrong foot this morning, but I promise to treat you and your family right and help you out.”

The man’s attitude had definitely changed from when they had crossed paths at the railway station. Their father had not been impressed with his antics either, but chose to turn the tables in their favour and gain some valuable information. Adam must have taken a page from his father’s book and changed his mind too since the man had been less than happy with the coin payment he had received for clues about Joe’s movements after the train.

Hoss obliged, completing the friendly gesture of a handshake as his curiosity came out in the form of a question, “What are you doing around these streets?” Hearing the question spoken out loud, he was worried that the driver might take offence.

Catching himself too late, he wanted to make sure that he wasn’t misunderstood, “I didn’t mean nothin’ by that,” he gave in apology. He had not meant to directly imply that the driver came from a lower working class. There were unwritten expectations from a city where the population was often segregated by race, economic status and ethnicity.

The driver didn’t take offence at such a label, instead speaking to them on friendly terms. “This is part of me job,” the Irish man declared with pride. “Picking up all those there passengers from the railway station and the stage coach stops and taking ’em wherever they desire to go. Every so often I am fortunate, and it happens to be to fancy places like the Saint Charles.”

Doyle continued to explain his day to day itinerary and to give a word of warning. “It’s like this you see, I like helpin’ new visitors to our fair city, but like those such as yourselves, they aren’t always aware of the tricks that are waiting to happen to them. Not everybody in New Orleans is as honest as I am, and would just as soon hand any one of you over to the local constabulary if they thought they could make a quid out your misfortune. Heed my words and be careful wherever you travel to because there are people waiting to profit off your disadvantage and lack of local knowledge.”

“There are really folk here that would do that?” Hoss questioned, knowing that he fell into the group of people that the driver was talking about falling foul of false intentions. “Hand you into the police like you said just now?”

“Every single day,” Seamus answered plainly and without hesitation. “Does everybody go by the rules where you are from?”

Hoss looked down at his feet before giving his reluctant reply, using one boot to scrap the dust and dirt off with the heal of the other, “I guess not.” There were a lot of good folks from Nevada Territory, including those who enforced the law.

Normally he was willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt and trust that they were true to their word. Honesty and having belief in a man’s handshake were strong traits he looked for and lived by, but a lot of people saw things that way. There had been some unscrupulous people in Virginia City in the past, and quite a few more that he could think of that would rather see you in Sheriff Coffee’s jail house. If he put his mind to it, he could come up with quite a few examples of people who would do others harm without any regard for the misery that it caused.

Adam cleared his throat, reminding the driver to move on from the current topic of discussion to the other purpose. Whilst maintaining eye contact with their new found Irish friend, he informed Hoss about what had already discussed and agreed upon. “Mr Doyle here has generously offered to help us find all that we need, a livery stable, somewhere to stay and perhaps guide us through the messy network of streets; for sufficient payment of course.”

Seamus took the hint, giving a slight nod at the arrangements to the man dressed in black, “Your brother, Adam, tells me that both of you are lookin’ for a different kind of lodgings? Can’t say that I blame you at all. Goodness me, it would take me a whole half a year to be able to afford walkin’ in the front door of the grand place,” the driver commented, choosing to leave out the subject of money.

“Our Pa will be wanting to join us,” Hoss quickly added. “We had better get a move on, Adam, he will be expecting to meet us down near the waterfront at that Nest place.” He couldn’t quite remember the name.

“The Captain’s Nest,” Adam recited. “Yes he was, but I suspect that we should have plenty of time to rendezvous with him. I have a fairly good hunch where he was headed to,” he said cryptically. Hoss have been told before, but being the older sibling he had a better recollection of his father’s past association with Marius Angerville and where he first met Joe’s mother, Marie.

“Aye, I know the place you be talking about,” Doyle did not mask his skeptical expression. “Are you sure the name you heard is the right one? Your father could have meant somewhere else a bit more hospitable for folks from out of town. Forgive me for saying it out loud, but that is not the kind of place I would be tellin’ people about in regular conversation.”

“Come along with me, and you can tell me rest of your troubles along as I show you the way towards a place I know about,” Seamus suggested, gesturing for them to board his taxi. Both brothers followed the driver back to where his buggy was standing. The two horses were calmly standing by, awaiting the next instruction.

_________________________________________________________________________

Joining the other buggy’s and other transportation on the street, the Cartwright brothers were pleased to have the driver’s expertise. The chaos and speed that they had witnessed from standing on the street couldn’t compare with what they were experiencing right now. Some of the horses and wagons were so close you could almost reach out and touch the riders and travellers.

Seamus steered his team of horses and weaved his taxi through the street with practised ease, even managing to turn a corner onto an adjacent road without causing hindrance to wagon, pedestrian or animal. Adam noticed his brother becoming increasing uncomfortable and moving around on the seat as he tried to remember different places of business along their route.

“Having trouble there?” he finally asked as he felt his brother’s larger frame move again.

“Dadburnit, Adam, I don’t mean no disrespect, but these things just ain’t wide enough for the both of us at the same time. Especially with someone as big as me,” he grouched, shifting backwards, not liking the cramped quarters.” Hoss felt like he was travelling from Virginia City by stagecoach all over again.

Adam felt the same way, but while they were reliant on Doyle for his local knowledge, they were going to have to adapt and make some compromises, “With any luck, we will reach our new destination and you can get out again and stretch your legs again.”

From his vantage point, Seamus was able to overhear the conversation between the two brothers, and noted the complaints about his taxi, “I am sorry about the narrow seating inside there Mr Cartwright,” he voiced, trying to take their mind off the lack of space.

“Plain old Hoss please for me, and this here is my brother, Adam. Mr Cartwright is how the manager at the bank addresses my Pa when he first walks in, not us.” He knew that the man was probably used to speaking formally to other passengers, but he was tired of that and wanted to be called by the simple name he was known by.

Seamus tipped the hat he was wearing with his free hand to show he understood, keeping the reins of the horse team firmly in the other.

“Did you happen to find your young friend yet?” Doyle asked, keeping the questions about the purpose of their visit to New Orleans. Back at the Railway Station, their father had been willing to pay a handsome sum of money for any small clues to their questions. He remembered that they had been looking for a young man wearing a green jacket.

“We haven’t received any further information than what you were able to provide this morning,” Adam replied. He was cautious in omitting any direct mention of Joe’s disappearance being a kidnapping. “The person we are looking for is our younger brother, Joe.”

“You think he is here in New Orleans?” Seamus asked, seeing a few lines of worry etched on Hoss’ face, but not saying anything out loud.

“When we were speaking to you this morning, you remembered that there were a few other people in company with Joe a few days ago, including a petite blond lady,” Adam explained. “The trail has since grown cold about his movements after the train station and we are anxious to find him.”

Doyle thought over the what he had recounted, “Like I said then, I don’t remember much, and I wasn’t taking much notice except for the fact that he was young. The green jacket stood out, but I didn’t get a good look at his face. There were definitely no names spoken out loud between any one of them. I am sorry that I didn’t know differently at the time, but I see so many people coming and going on a daily basis that finer details get a bit muddled at times.”

“No harm done,” Hoss voiced. “Our family is grateful for anything that might help us find Joe. After seeing the crowds in the city today, I can see how easy it would be to get folks mixed up.”

Adam wasn’t normally one to believe in things happening for a reason, but perhaps fate was taking a hand in their paths crossing again with the driver today. A chance encounter twice on the same day was more than a stretch, or believing that meeting again was merely coincidence. Maybe Hoss’ luck from the Irish people had rubbed off and was following them.

“We are coming into a completely different area out of the city centre now,” Doyle informed them, as the tall buildings gave way to different styles of housing. The streets were still wide, but the number of people riding horses decreased dramatically. There were open buck-board wagons carrying all kinds of goods rather than passengers. Children were playing simple games in small groups outside. The contrast was like night and day.

Adam started providing Seamus with a list, “My brother here would like you to find us lodgings that would be more suitable for visitors from out of town. Something a lot simpler than the St Charles building behind us, but offers hot water and good food and a nice place to sleep at a reasonable price. There will be two of us, my father whom you have already encountered, and enough space and extra room for Joe to join us afterwards.”

Doyle turned his head and grinned widely in Hoss’ direction, “I knew I was going to like you, Hoss! Mark my words, I promise that I know the perfect place,” he announced with excitement. The horses picked up on the change in his tone of voice, increasing their gait to match the spark of fresh exuberance.

“Do tell us about your choice,” Adam encouraged, pleased to see his brother relax a little due to the driver’s friendly nature.

“Ah, all in good time lads,” Doyle responded, clearly happy to keep an air of mystery about where he was intending to take them. “May not look much from the outside to most folk, but the place I have in mind is a hidden gem in this city.” The vague description only heightened the brother’s curiosity more about where they were headed.

Hoss brought up the other place they were keen to discover today. “Once we find that place, Seamus, a livery stable where we can rent some horses for our time here will be the next stop.”

“I can be helping you with that,” the driver answered, guessing that these men usually got themselves around by riding their own mounts. “There is a livery stable only a stones throw from place I am leading you. There you will find all the horses you be needing and the bits and bobs that comes with that.

Doyle wanted to hold onto their patronage for as long as he could. “Travelling like we are now may not be the fastest way and I can see by the expression on your face, Hoss, that you would prefer to be riding rather than being conveyed around by someone else such as myself. Heed my words now, that the streets in this part of the city are different because of the history that comes with them.”

“A right nice part of the city that we are coming into now, away from all those toffee nose folk. Visitors have come to know this area as the French District,” he elaborated. “But alas, that is where they fail to fully appreciate that the music, food and people here are unique and come from more than one place. Each with their own story to tell, and none of them the same. There is a mixture of faces, sights, smells and beliefs that you won’t see anywhere else, not even in San Francisco.

“Talking of them hiding something dark and sinister?” Adam commented casually, his tone clearly one of not believing any stories of ghosts or roaming spirits.

Seamus could hear that Adam wasn’t going to be influenced by folk-tales or legends, “You don’t have to believe in them for it to be true,” he warned. “There can be some bad elements around here at night is all I am saying. If you and your family were inclined to use me for the length of your stay, then it would take much less time to take you around and my own way of knowing how things work comes at no extra charge.”

‘Trying to get a little extra coinage for your trouble,’ Adam thought wryly to himself. They were turning the corner of an intersecting street, when he noted the sign Royale Road attached to the wrought iron fence as they passed by. “We would need to discuss your proposition with our father…….”

Any further discussion between him and Seamus was drowned out by Hoss’ sudden loud shout. He had been gazing across the opposite side of the street when he spotted a familiar figure, “Pull over, there he is now!” he declared with surprise. “Pa! Hey Pa!” he called out.

Guiding his team carefully off to the side of the road, Doyle used a command to slow down the horses down without needing to pull back on the leather straps too sharply. Adam placed a restraining hand on his brother’s upper arm, preventing Hoss from taking a nasty tumble in his haste out of the buggy. There was a genuine silent sigh of relief that his efforts had worked.

Ben had stopped walking abruptly at hearing a distinct voice and noting a buggy slowing down nearby. It was difficult to know who was more surprised to see each other, the two brothers or their father.

Rushing across the street, there had been a moment of worry as he saw Hoss stumble briefly. A broad smile appeared on his face at seeing his larger son standing safely next to horses. “What in the world are you two doing on this side of the city? I was starting to walk towards to the waterfront like we arranged, worried that I was going to be dreadfully late to meet up at the Captain’s Nest.”

“It’s sure good to see you too, Pa,” Hoss remarked truthfully, shaking his father’s hand. “Adam and I started looking for a place to stay like you told us, but it didn’t rightly turn out at all like we had hoped.”

“Trouble?” Ben surmised, looking up at the driver with a raised-eyebrow and waiting for a further explanation for the turn of events. This was the man they had come into contact with outside the railway station. He had given them answers that was sketchy at best, convinced that he had seen Joe a number of days ago. How had his two sons come to be riding in the company of this fellow to a completely different place?

Ben had left the Angerville building and only managed to walk a short distance past the bustling Exchange Market, intending to make a turn at the next corner. Another minute or two would have had them heading in opposite directions, hampering their intentions to rendezvous and decide on a search pattern to find Joe.

Adam answered, climbing out of the buggy, also greeting his father with a handshake. “Not trouble exactly, Pa. After separating this morning, we walked towards the centre of the city, and found ourselves standing outside the Saint Charles Hotel. There was definitely a large crowd of people going in and coming out.”

“The Saint Charles?,” Ben questioned, a place he had heard about through various sources over the years, but had never visited in person. In the back of his mind he remembered reading a newspaper article about there being a devastating fire. There had been mention of the building undergoing a large scale rebuild, with the interior to be refurbished in time for a grand re-opening.

“I didn’t think it was the place that you would like to stay in Pa, or Joe,” Hoss said, looking down at his feet, hoping his father wasn’t going to be too disappointed that he had chosen to stay some place else. “Adam went to ask if they had rooms available, but I guess I sort of got cold feet about staying there and how much it might cost. Ain’t a darn thing on the menu that short shanks would haven eaten anyhow iffn’ we could even read those foreign words.”

“Quite a luxurious place from what I have been lead to believe.” He would have trusted either son’s choice of accommodation, but to be honest he had not considered such a large and eloquent option for their needs. Whilst not out of character, Ben could see Hoss’ reluctance and avoidance to talk more on the subject, aware of his son’s aversion of people and places when he felt discontented.

Both Adam and Ben were astute enough to share a knowing look and understand there was a whole lot more to hear about the morning’s escapade that didn’t need to be brought up right now. They could speak more privately later between the two of them.

“Mr Doyle was letting off passengers outside of the hotel and I suspected he may be able to point us in the direction of a place to stay,” Adam explained. “We were on our way there now before Hoss spotted you walking.”

“A most fortunate thing too, Mr Cartwright, that I came along when I did,” Doyle exclaimed in self-praise. “Now you are all together again instead of getting lost. I be only too happy to convey you to a place that I was telling your boys about. The lady who owns the house will be most welcoming to any strangers so long as they mind her rules.”

“Can you take us there now please to make sure that she does have room enough for us to stay, Mr Doyle?” Ben questioned. “Once that has been taken care of, I would greatly appreciate you taking us back into the city to the police station. I know it means taking up more of your time, but I am willing to compensate you in return.”

“Those are most generous terms, Mr Cartwright, and I accept,” Seamus replied. “These are hard times for everybody and with five little mouths of my own at home to feed, I am sure you understand that a man has to do the best for one’s family.”

“Climb inside there with the both of you, plenty of room for two gents,” the driver instructed. “Hoss, you can take a seat beside me now. Usually frowned upon for a passenger to ride on-top, but this afternoon, we speak of it no more.”

Ben and Adam took up their seats inside the buggy, whilst Hoss clambered up beside the driver. He was definitely pleased to have more space to move about.

“Be careful there now, Hoss,” Doyle warned. Although there was more room, the bench seat was narrower and it wouldn’t take much for someone to lose their balance and topple off. “I would never forgive myself if one of my passengers took a nasty fall and was hurt.”

“Don’t worry about me none, Seamus, I have been driving all kinds of wagons around our ranch back home myself for quite a number of years,” Hoss commented. “Even rode as shotgun on a couple of stagecoaches from Reno and Carson City for the Sheriff. Pa and Adam have done the same. I even taught my younger brother, Joe, how to control a team of horses as he was learning.”

“The place I be taking you all to is only a couple of streets away,” Doyle called out as he snapped the reins and urged the horses forward. Adam and Ben were both pleased to be able to hear Hoss talking, signalling that he was in a more relaxed frame of mind. Inside the buggy, the topic of discussion was the need for all of them to have a decent meal.

“Do you really have five little tykes at home?” Hoss asked out of curiosity. “Must be tough raising them in such a big city.” It was no secret in the Cartwright family that Hoss adored children, often preferring to be in their company compared to some adults.

“Aye, Hoss, I do,” Doyle answered with a smile on his face. “Four little masters, two older boys in front and two younger ones at the back with one little shy lass in the middle.” For the duration of the journey, he told Hoss each of their names and their ages. The man may not be rich with material possessions and worked long hours away from them to earn money they needed; but the way he spoke of his wife and children were as if they were all the treasure in the world he would ever need.

_________________________________________________________________________________

Back at the paddle boat:

Seline entered the room where he has last seen Bonnie, but she was no longer there. Walking closer to the bed and gazing down at the occupant, the Cartwright boy was asleep. This was not the grand plan he had envisaged when he first took the young man away from his home and family. By now he had wanted to tame that youthful spirit and break the wilfulness he head inherited from his mother.

Thus far, his attempts at manipulation and forceful control had been mediocre and very unsatisfying. The head injuries had resulted in unforeseen delays of physical setbacks for his prisoner and a new, fast developing mistrust of certain uncooperative, loud-mouthed individuals from the medical profession. A few weeks ago, he was convinced that he had meticulously anticipated any problems before they arose. Patience was not his fortitude, but he had waited for exactly the right time to strike.

Any advantages he had gained by cunning and devious methods were quickly being eroded away, and time was becoming an enemy as it continued to slip through his fingers.

The final act of revenge against Ben Cartwright was still too far away, but there was no doubt that the boy’s family were trailing behind his tangent of ambiguous clues.

Striding out of the room with determination, he had decided that he was going to wrestle back some sense of control. Heading towards the kitchen which was the next most likely places for her to be if she was taking care of his prisoner as that wretched doctor had instructed.

Reaching the kitchen door, Bonnie had her back turned on Marchant as she kept her attention on a pan on the stove. Using the apron covering her skirt, she lifted the hot cooking skillet off the small stove, carrying over to a nearby table. She startled at the silent figure standing there, almost dropping the dish of scrambled eggs onto the floor.

“I am sorry, my dear,” Seline remarked, coming into the room. “I went to find you, but found young Joseph still asleep. Has he shown any improvement since the doctor’s departure?” The tone of his voice made her skin crawl with ingenuousness. The man wanted something from her but not coming out plainly and saying what.

“No sign of waking if that is what you mean, but his sleep was rather restless again an hour ago due to pain,” Bonnie answered truthfully. “I waited until he settled again before coming into here thinking that he may be hungry soon. I decided to make something simple, but a little more substantial this time than soup; scrambled egg. I have left the salt out until I see if his stomach is feeling nauseous and unsettled. Was there something else you wanted me to be doing?”

Seline’s grin widened at her direct question, but he saw this as the perfect opportunity to introduce a difficult answer. “Yes, there was something that I wanted to speak to you about,” he replied, using his index finger to to trace across the surface of the table.

“Put aside your concerns for Mr Cartwright’s dietary requirements for a moment whilst I explain,” he instructed. “What I have to tell you is most important, so I want you to listen to every word.”

Bonnie did as she was asked, setting the skillet back onto the stove, and covering the small amount of egg she had laid out on a plate. A few minutes were needed for it to cool before it could be eaten.

“Take a seat if you prefer,” her Boss suggested. This request only made her more nervous about what his demand was going to be. She didn’t think he would say it was important or seek her out if it was something trivial. Bonnie sat down cautiously, keeping her eyes on him at all times. Her hands were under the table where he could not immediately see them. She was wringing the edge of her apron tightly in both hands waiting for him to speak.

“This vessel is impressive is it not?” he asked, waving his hand about, gesturing towards the ceiling and everything within its walls. “A great deal of money has been spent on gaining her for my plan against Ben Cartwright, and there is still a lot more yet to spend in coming days. For the moment, there is only yourself, our prisoner, Mr Yeager and Mr Edwards, but that number will change dramatically as of tomorrow.”

“There will be a great many people here upon my orders undertaking tasks such as decorating the grand room to make it suitable as a gambling casino. There will be elaborate wooden tables and chairs brought in, luxurious fixtures and fittings, fabrics and curtains brought in. Some have come at a considerable cost after being sourced from various corners of the world,” Seline explained.

“Down in the engine room, there will be a number of people who have been employed to carry out menial tasks such as bringing stores aboard, stoking the boilers and making sure that everything is secured down below. Those people are coloured slaves whom will be in my employ for a short duration. They will not be allowed on the decks above the water line.”

“Some of them have been selected to be waiters and cooks for opening night, in which they will serve food and drink to our paying patrons, taking care of their every need,” Marchant continued. “Those that will be required to mingle with guests will be provided with appropriate clothing and uniforms. I want that night to be flawless, without anything out of place.”

“There is a large guest room on the other side of the boat, similar to the one that is assigned to Mr Cartwright. From tomorrow, that room will be out of bounds for everybody, including yourself and anybody else. From floor to ceiling, that room will be filled with furniture, rich furshings, bedding and other paraphernalia that one would associate with staying in a large expensive hotel. Only in this case, they will be staying here. Nobody is allowed to enter that room without my express permission, not even you.”

“That brings me to my important task for you,” Seline asserted. “Whilst I have spent a large amount of my own capital for this venture, I did need to ask for investment and financial backing from another source. This man is used to the finest of everything, and that is exactly what he will be getting here when he arrives. The very best of service.”

“Who is this person?” Bonnie interrupted, not sure how she felt about the mention of a silent party being involved this late.

Seline was about to deliver a sharp rebuke, but instead decided to ignore the disapproval he could hear with her question. Her place was not to argue his choices, but to listen and obey when he commanded it.

“I have gained the best quality ingredients, wines, whiskey, cigars and anything else he is used to experiencing in life. But what I want to make even more sure of, is the quality of the female company he will keep on that opening night.”

Bonnie suddenly understood the not-so-subtly of the message in his wording, jumping up off her chair in challenge, “You don’t mean for me to……..?” but any further refusal from her tongue was curtailed as he took a strong grip around her forearm.

“I do mean exactly that, and I expect you will do what you are told without raising your voice to me,” he pressed harshly, squeezing her soft skin until she elicited a cry of pain. She had no choice but to nod her head at his warning. “Do I make myself, perfectly clear?” he hissed.

“Yes,” she whispered, staring back at him and noting his menacing and unapologetic attitude. She felt the his hand around her arm loosen, but he was expecting her to pay close attention to what else he had to say.

“The man’s name, Bartholonew Herbert Henry Adams, I am sure you will not know, and he will not be inclined to know the likes of you. He is used to dealing with business people, and sophisticated people who have been successful in life. Not those who find themselves as no more than a scullery maid or tramp off the streets of San Francisco.”

‘What is he doing loaning money to someone like you then?’ Bonnie wanted to throw back in his face. Whilst she had not encountered him in person, she did know a little of his background. The newspapers regularly wrote articles on his family’s financial ventures.

The words hit too close to home, but she refrained from objecting to his description of her life, instead make a surprising comment of her own. “I have heard of his name before,” she said. “Being from San Francisco as you pointed out, most people from that city know who he is. He started his family fortune by working his way up in the world, not stepping on those beneath him.”

“Well, I certainly would have suspected you had known of him,” Seline responded with a good helping of condescension. “You are correct that he did work his way into money, but together his family manage a vast shipping and transport empire. He owns a significant interest in a number of companies shipping of goods and passengers from San Francisco through to New Orleans. There are in fact two other brothers who also control a large proportion of the delivery service from East to West. His eldest brother Miles Adams has heavy stakes in horses and the stagecoach lines. The younger brother Ethan Adams has a majority interest in the railway network, including its rapid expansion.

“All of them have been in business for more than twenty five years. I am unaware of his complete travel itinerary, but he sent a telegram advising of his acceptance of my invitation. He was due to travel by clipper ship for a number of days, followed by train for some of the journey and the remainder by stagecoach. He is a careful man who likes to check up on his investments and employees, often travelling long distances to test out routes and make changes where necessary.”

“You may consider someone such as myself to be gutter trash, but I am not one of those ladies of the night who would sell her body or soul for money,” Bonnie ground out with contempt. She had been expecting to receive a slap to her face from his hand, and wanted to recoil away in revulsion when Seline’s finger ran gently down the side of her pale face. He gently tucked a blond curl behind her ear, making his own insatiable and lascivious intentions for her clear.

“That probably won’t be necessary. All I need you to do that night is to wear your finest dress and be sweet company for him as I show him around and introduce him to the other invited guests. If he wishes to indulge any other pleasures before, during or afterwards, well then, I will let you discuss that with him.

Bonnie felt his gaze upon her, and although his tone if voice had changed, there was still an open threat of what could happen to her if she didn’t reply to his requests, or denied those of Mr Adams once he arrived.

“I will leave you now and allow you to tend to young Mr Cartwright before his food gets any colder,” Seline said with finality, releasing her arm and walking to the door. “Oh, on that opening night, Mr Edwards and Mr Yeager will take over personal security and supervision of Joseph. They will watch his every move, as I have some special plans in store on that particular night.”

Bonnie found herself sitting down in the chair as she tried to take in what she had been told. Seline had already killed someone in cold blood when they had challenged him. She didn’t want to become another nameless murder victim, but for herself there was the risk of suffering an even worse fate than death. The next few days would see her removed from taking care of Joe Cartwright, putting both of them put in more danger. She felt a cold chill run down the length of her spine at the thought of her future in the grubby and groping hands of Marchant Seline.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

Ben Cartwright and his two sons were now headed away from their new lodgings, back towards the city. They had arrived outside a cottage that was quite deceiving about the amount of space it had to offer. A low set building with larger two storey properties towering over it on either side. The roof-line of that particular house slanted to the front and the back creating a distinct triangular shape to the side gables.

Seamus Doyle had taken them to a bordering house belonging to Mrs Rosella Fleur, or ‘Rose’ they were encouraged to call her. The cottage had two entrances and two windows on the front facing exterior. Inside there were five separate bedrooms as well as two living areas, and a number of smaller rooms not including the kitchen. The woman had a kind smile, her long skirts of a dark blue fabric, her silvering blond hair pinned up at the back, curling and poking out at the front of the wool woven bonnet framing her face. Her warm brown eyes spoke of hardships endured that were never spoken of and held a gaze of wisdom that only came from experience.

The men explained to the woman that they needed accommodation for themselves and one other family member who would joining them later. They were unable to tell her how many nights they would be staying, but Rose assured them that there would be plenty of room for them as long as they needed. These last few months had seen less guests staying and she welcomed the money offered for at least a week in addition to food with a quiet thanks. The price seemed a little low despite being well maintained and presented single storey house, but Ben made a promise to ensure that their host would be adequately compensated. He made a note to discuss the matter with her at a later time.

Being the one nominated to go inside and assess if this place would be suitable, Hoss came out wearing a huge grin of approval. “Ma’am, the supper you are cooking in there is making me hungrier than a bear after the snow has melted in the winter time.

“I will make sure that there is some extra warm crusty bread set aside just for you, ” she assured Hoss, pleased to hear his praise about the delicious smells wafting from her well worn kitchen. “I will make sure that there is plenty to eat for everybody when Seamus has returned you back safely from your business in the city. I will make sure that there is a room made up for each of you with plenty of warm blankets so that you sleep well tonight.”

Thankfully, Rose had not asked too many questions about the nature of their business or why they were going in the city. She was ready to hear their stories when they were ready to share them. She had been curious about why they had arrived to stay without any clothes or belongings.

When they left Virginia City on the stagecoach, each of the them had been carrying a small carpet bag each. Adam explained that when they left the railway station this morning, they were intending to traverse the streets on foot until they at least found a livery stable. They had arranged with the porter to keep their bags secure, expecting to be riding back on horses to collect them.

With their circumstances changing after the Saint Charles hotel, Doyle told the men that he would make time to take them back to pick up their bags after attending the police station. Back in San Francisco, Hoskins had shown them the condition of the clothes Joe had with him in the saddle bags left inside his suite. Once he had been found and was safely back with the family, they may need to visit some clothing stores to replenish anything he needed before they left for home. Any additional clothing required for themselves could be purchased at the same time.

“I will be seeing you soon, Miss Rose,” Seamus uttered with a smile as he climbed up onto his buggy, tipping his hat in farewell, gesturing for his passengers to climb aboard. “You won’t find a nicer lady in this city, Hoss. Would help out any lost soul with a spare bed and something to eat when they are down on their luck. Even for a poor Irish fool such as myself when I first came here. One can only savour how good her cooking really is by tasting it for themselves. Ladies come to her wanting to discover new and favourite recipes to pass along to their own families.”

“Take heed of what I tell you now,” Seamus cautioned, waiting until Hoss turned and faced him before delivering his a stern warning. “Mark my words, if you rile her or do wrong to someone she comes to care about; the wrath she unleashes will be swift and unforgettable. The very devil himself will seem like a better choice of friend.”

______________________________________________________________________________

New Orleans Central Police District:

The two storey building from the outside appeared drab and washed out as the three members of the Cartwright family alighted from the taxi on the opposite corner.

There was nowhere for buggy’s to stop directly out the front, so they were forced to make their across the bustling street. The time was now just past one in the afternoon, allowing plenty of time to state their case for assistance.

Seamus intended to wait with his horses for them to finish their business before returning them to Rose’s boarding house. The inside of the police headquarters of the city was not a place wished to spend any mount of time. “I will be stayin’ right here with Buster and Finnegan, Mr Cartwright,” he stipulated to Ben, affectionately rubbing the noses of his horses.

“Thank you, that would be mighty helpful,” Ben answered, but his gaze was already drawn towards the entrance. “Come on, boys, Joe will be counting on us,” he urged, straightening his hat with purpose in mind.

The differences between this police headquarters and the one he had first entered in San Francisco were quite noticeable. A number of tall, police constables dressed in smart blue uniforms, accented with pewter buttons, could be seen in pairs or small groups, going studiously about their work. Adam and Hoss remained quiet, but alert, wanting to portray a unified front in finding their missing brother. Following their father through two large doors to the ground floor, they were ready to join any organised search team.

Behind that set of double doors there was a long wooden counter, possibly leading to other offices or even holding cells. To the right, set against the wall was an internal staircase where a number of police officers were walking up to, or returning from the floor above their heads. The place wasn’t overly crowded at this time of the afternoon, but there was enough continual movement of people to signify that they were providing an invaluable service within the city.

Ben found himself craving the small amount of space and single desk that local Sheriff Coffee occupied inside the Virginia City jail-house. Compared to this building, the resources Roy was afforded appeared quite rudimentary and simplistic, but at least he was much more approachable. At least there Ben could be assured of having one person’s undivided attention when there was a problem to discuss.

Upon approaching the Officer on Duty, there was a printed sign affixed that read ‘All Enquiries’ and below it, translated into French, ‘Toutes les Demandes’. A small reminder that there were two languages spoken by different sections of the population. A portion of the inhabitants were able to read, write and converse in French and English.

In San Francisco, Constable William Turner had greeted Ben when he first reported Joe missing, but the police officer that he approached now, was not wearing any kind of identifying name badge. Everything about the man’s posture and attitude displayed boredom and disinterest.

“Good afternoon, my name is Ben Cartwright and these are my two eldest sons, Adam and Hoss. We are seeking your urgent assistance in helping find my youngest son, Joseph Cartwright,” the patriarch gave in introduction.

“My name is Sergeant Felix Guillaume,” the officer declared with a deep, heavy French accent, nodding his head in acknowledgement at those standing in front of him. The officer’s bushy eyebrows arched in silent confusion at the very different attire the three men were wearing, including the older silver-haired man speaking directly to him.

Ben could sense the man’s unspoken question, advising him of where they had come from, “We have travelled a very long way for the best part of two weeks, over various routes from our ranch The Ponderosa from Nevada.” After hearing his own words of admission out loud, he could scarcely believe the time frame. Had Joe been missing for all that time?

“Gone and gotten himself lost has he?” the Officer remarked, pulling out a large book and small bottle of ink, preparing to write down any pertinent details. “I will need to know a little more about him than just a name, please.”

“Joseph Cartwright, nineteen years of age, slim build, a fair complexion with brown hair and could have been carrying or wearing a green jacket,” Ben quoted.

Dix-neuf ans?” the Officer scoffed. A word or two in French were creeping into his comments before he continued in English. “Probably got himself lost in a cheap bottle of liquor and is currently sleeping off the contents in one of the taverns along the coast, Monsieur Cartwright,” he gave as an alternative scenario, concluding with an insincere chuckle. The smirk quickly died on his lips as he looked into the man’s tired face, noting his disapproval at the assessment of his son’s possible movements and current location.

“Young men come to this city with plenty of wild ideas, money in their pocket, only to get themselves into all kinds of nuisance trouble,” the Officer explained for his rudeness and insensitivity. “There may be a number perfectly normal, and innocent reasons for you not to be able to locate your son. Most of their actions are quite harmless, but they fail to think ahead about the consequences.”

“For your information, Sir,” Ben replied in his son’s defence, “We strongly believe he may have been taken from San Francisco by force and smuggled into this city. His whereabouts are unknown of course, that is why we are coming to you here today. We fear that Joe may have been hurt, and is most certainly being held against his will and

kept as a prisoner.”

“We suspect deliberate steps have been taken by those responsible to thwart any efforts to find him or for my son to meet with other parties in San Francisco as arranged prior to leaving home. We have seen for ourselves that his horse is still being cared for at the livery stable of the hotel. One of those appointments was with a Major Kenneth Branson where a large sum of money was expected to be exchanged and deposited in a bank. The concierge stated that he saw my son leave the hotel that morning on foot, but Major advised us that Joseph never arrived at the bank, which is most out of character.”

The Police Officer realised that had done the young man’s family a dis-service by making unsubstantiated judgements about his character, and he could see that they were not about to accept that point of view about their missing family member.

“I apologize for my lack of understanding about your situation, Mr Cartwright,” Officer Guillaume said, standing up to his full height, preparing to listen more intently to their plight. “Please forgive me, all that information you gave a minute ago is too much at once. I prefer if you could start back at the beginning.”

The man’s heavy accent made it much more difficult to pick up everything he was saying in the conversation.

Ben gave a tired, frustrated sigh, annoyed at the man’s insistence of repeating himself thus far and wasting precious time. Removing his hat, he made sure that the officer was paying full attention as he began his story again for a second time. He hadn’t gotten too far though before the officer was interrupting again with fresh questions of his own.

“Do you have proof that your son taken by somebody, Mr Cartwright?”

“None of us were in the same city from where he was kidnapped,” Ben answered. “We did receive some very helpful clues from the police in San Francisco. There was also a note at the shipping yard, bearing my name,” he added, pulling out the small piece of paper from his shirt pocket and handing it over to be examined.

Officer Guillaume accepted the hand-written note, reading the message several times before pointing out one vital piece of information, “This does not show anywhere, the identity of the person who is telling you of his fate. Do you have their name?”

“No, but we believe it was possibly left behind by a young woman who was travelling with my son,” Ben remarked. He hoped that the man didn’t intend to use the word ‘fate’ too often around Joe’s name.

“Do you have her name?”

Ben turned back towards his son’s for clarification.

“Hoskins is the name of the man behind the reception desk of the Plaza Hotel, and he informed us that her name was, Bonnie,” Adam replied, stepping forward to continue. “The woman worked at the hotel for an indistinguishable amount of time, but couldn’t be located, and her absence coincided a little too conveniently with my brother’s disappearance. Constable Turner in San Francisco was able to give a first-hand witness account and description that matched a young woman accompanying Joe out of the city. She is reported to be the last person to have spoken to him on the night he checked into the hotel and before he left for the bank to meet with Major Branson.”

“We believe that a man by the name of Marchant Seline may be responsible for my son’s captivity, or at least arranged for it to happen. That person has held a grudge against myself and my late wife, Marie, before Joseph was even born. Only now has he decided to strike by carrying out such a vile act of betrayal, for whatever reason. You can confirm anything that we have told you with the San Francisco police. We know the services of a doctor were employed before they left the city. The body of a physician was found murdered.”

The officer appeared suitably surprised and alarmed at the news of a doctor being murdered.

Ben pleaded for him to understand how worried they were for Joe. “Officer, I am a wealthy man in money, land and livestock, but I fear that this man has much more than the financial gain my of material assets in mind for my son. Seline wants revenge on me, and he is using Joseph as a bargaining chip to achieve that satisfaction. We need to do everything we can to find him now!”

Clearing his throat to hide how much of an impact this young man’s disappearance was having on him, the officer continued his line of questioning. “Monsieur Cartwright, have you received a ransom note from this person, threatening harm to your son?”

The officer could see that Ben was about to give a negative response, but spoke his reasoning first, “You state to me that you are a man of substantial means and assets. If taking your son was his purpose, should you not have received such a demand by now?”

“No such note has been received, but Seline is playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse, leaving a few useless crumbs behind, knowing that we will follow his twisting trail that lead to nothing but dead ends,” Ben replied, his voice becoming a little harder towards the end. “I am not about to stand by idly and wait for false hope.”

Hoss watched the police officer stop writing, hoping that he was about to make some definitive solutions about organising a search party after hearing his father’s impassioned words. Unfortunately his next sentence put a whole dampener on much being done to find Joe at all. The larger Cartwright was getting equally frustrated by the lack of action happening.

Adam’s face disguised his emotions well behind a calm exterior, with his arms folded across his chest masking a distinct level of irritation. Knowing he had to prevent himself from making a rash statement and risk jeopardising police involvement. He had spent some time enforcing the law in smaller towns as a deputy sheriff, rounding up a posse of men to chase down known outlaws.

All four Cartwright’s, including Joe, had been involved in searches on horseback and foot. Often these were children who had wandered away and had become lost accidentally and lacked a sense of direction. There were also victims of robbery or criminal activity who were left by thieves or bandits to fend for themselves in unforgiving or dense terrain, during all types of weather.

After being within these walls during the last hour this afternoon, and having watched the officer’s gestures and general mannerisms, he could only draw the conclusion of having seen more organisational skills in Hop Sing’s chicken coop.

“I will make the necessary enquiries with our brother officers in San Francisco, but expect any answers to take more than a few days…..,” the officer began to say.

“More than a few days?” Hoss exclaimed, not allowing him to finish the sentence and unable to hold back his criticism. “The varmint that has my brother could be long gone by then!”

Ben put a hand on his son’s beefy shoulder to curb his outburst, knowing that he was only voicing how they were all feeling.

“Please understand me gentlemen, you are missing this Joseph quite badly, I know this,” Guillaume remarked, “My hands remain, how you say, tied. You are requesting that I do something with very little evidence of a crime being committed. Your proof is this torn scrap of paper left by nobody, hearsay from strangers and suspicions based on past personal grievances against you, not your son.”

“Our police force does not have the man power to traipse off each time a report reaches us of someone missing. It cannot work this way like you ask. Perhaps if you had come to me today with something more tangible, or a witness who could make a statement, or that ransom demand. I will do the best I can with what you have told me so far, but right now for you, the wheel turns a little slower I think, yes?”

“You have our assurance that we will endeavour to do what we can, but I need for you to be patient and wait to be contacted further. A search can only be conducted once a narrower area of the city can be determined,” the officer informed the family. “Do you have somewhere to stay in the city where you may be reached with news?”

“That is all you are proposing to do, after everything you have heard?” Ben petitioned with hands on his hips and a hard-line expression on his face. The patriarch was beyond incensed at the man’s justification of passivity with shallow promises. “After listening to us explain that something is dreadfully wrong, and plead how urgent this matter is. For you then to insist that we wait until you are satisfied that our claim has merit and we are telling you the truth?”

Ben was about to request to speak to a superior officer, not accepting of the officer’s opinion on how understaffed their police force was or care about the lack of evidence that had been presented. Joe was laying hurt somewhere and being denied his freedom, whilst he was forced to stand in front of this counter and argue with the police.

‘Wasn’t a man’s solemn word good enough any more?’

“Mr Cartwright, the sheer number of people, including children who are reported missing in this city on a daily basis would no doubt shock your family,” Officer Guillaume remarked. “Today, I have a three year old female child missing and an eighty-nine year old man, who suffers from senility. Which of these two urgent cases do you suggest I spend less time and resources on finding before nightfall?”

“This police station houses more than two hundred and fifty officers, all of whom speak both French and English to carry out their duties. During their shift hours, they are required to cover an area of this city that could use double that number and still not have time to complete every investigation thoroughly enough.”

Politeness and courtesy were quickly being eroded away by the officer due to his impersonal attitude. He had been beginning to show some genuine signs of empathy a few minutes ago when he asked Ben to repeat his story and be eager to help. Unfortunately that point of view changed all too suddenly.

Hoss and Adam exchanged a knowing look with each other as their father gripped the brim of his hat a lot tighter, changing his expression again to one they were quite familiar with. Their father wasn’t about to allow himself to be treated like the backwoods cow-poke that this police officer had probably sized Ben Cartwright to be. The two brothers had seen this stance a few times in their lives, tugging the front of their hats down to hide unsympathetic grins at what was about to befall Officer Guillaume.

This stature of Ben normally caused cow-hands to stop any work they were doing in the barn or around the yard, gather together and take an interest in what the boss of the Ponderosa wanted to say. The same method was employed as a businessman when delivering an ultimatum to sloppy suppliers when they had failed to fulfil their obligations of a contract. An unwavering gaze he directed at a Governor or local town mayor when he challenged them over trying to using the Ponderosa’s reputation and brand. He wasn’t about to allow their good name to be used to gain power by political influence or interference for their own profit.

A much younger Joe Cartwright had encountered the same stern presence and had been stopped in his tracks more than once or twice. Usually when being caught running through the house or having his boots on the furniture and skedaddling out the front door to start his chores on time. The boys had learnt to read Ben’s body language before they heard him speak.

Hoss and Adam both remembered being on the receiving end of that steadfast scrutiny from those brown eyes, followed by hearing that powerful voice giving them a steely lecture they wouldn’t soon forget. They had witnessed it again recently when their father had discovered Seline’s name signed in the hotel register in Virginia City. Their father had relied on that raw determination as he strode out, intending to fetch back Little Joe.

Standing before Officer Guillaume, Ben chose not to raise his voice, but ensured that he held the man’s undivided attention with his next proclamation.

Ben poured a mixture of disappointment and slow simmering anger into his short, meaningful testimony of words. “Today, we have come to you after travelling for almost two weeks, pleading for assistance on behalf of someone whom we care for greatly. At the very least, you could have offered some basic human decency and kindness. Instead, I find myself standing here, talking in riddles and arguing legalities, allowing more time to bleed away and our anxiety and concern for his well-being to grow.”

“That lost little girl and elderly gentlemen certainly have every right to all the help and resources that you and your police division are able to offer at this time, on that we can most definitely agree. I pray for the them to be found quickly and be returned safely to their families. As the father of someone who will most likely remain missing by nightfall, I throw back to you that the circumstances surrounding my son’s mysterious disappearance deserves no less consideration or effort of investigation. Our need to find Joseph comes with every ounce of fortitude that we can muster, and a very real fear for the danger he could be facing.”

The police officer opened his mouth and was about to say something in his own defence, but closed it again in silence, his face reddening with shame as he continued to receive the sharp rebuke.

Ben provided the address of the Rose’s boarding house as requested where they could be contacted, but made a final statement of warning as the three of them prepared to leave and return to the taxi and Seamus waiting outside.

“I reiterate my plea for any assistance, the officers and yourself from this station are willing to give in relation to this matter. Make no mistake that my sons and I will not sit upon our hands and do nothing, with or without the police. I intend to turn over every rock, brick and nailed wooden plank in this city until Joseph has been found and rescued, before it is too late.”

_______________________________________________________________________________

Back at the paddle boat:

Carrying a tray containing the warm plate of food, a glass of water and a hot cup of coffe, Bonnie made her way back to the room where she had left Joe Cartwright sleeping. A myriad of negative thoughts on her mind and emotions she could barely control. Seline’s task coinciding with the arrival of this new guest, Bartholomew Herbert Henry Adams were unsavoury and unwelcome.

Upon opening the door and entering the room, she was mildly surprised to see Joe Cartwright sitting on the edge of the bed, his shirtless back facing her. He was holding his head in his hands, massaging his temples. The headache he had when the doctor was present, still causing obvious discomfort.

Joe slowly turned his upper body and head at hearing her soft footsteps, squeezing his eyes tightly for a brief moment as movement caused his pain to spike, “I must have fallen asleep before you left.” He gave the young woman a deprecating half smile.

“The doctor told you that sleep is the best medicine for you right now,” Bonnie admonished. “I brought you some food, thinking you would be hungry by now, and hoping that having something in your stomach would help. Something a little more filling than soup today.”

She could see the words of refusal forming on his lips, “You need to eat,” she urged, with a touch of pleading in her voice. Was it so hard for him to believe that she wanted to see him well again?

Joe conceded, tired and growing irritable, not wanting to argue with her. He was telling himself he should be grateful that she had been taking care of him. A small voice in the back of his mind wanted to dispute that premise in tandem with his headache.

Bonnie arranged the pillows at the head of the bed, “Here, sit back against these, and I will hand what I have made to you. The food is still warm, but not enough to make the plate beneath it too hot to handle.”

Joe did as he was told, but couldn’t mask his discontentment as a chair was placed beside the bed. Following her continual movement about the room wasn’t helping his headache. He was feeling uncomfortable that she intended to stay in the room, annoyance creeping into his voice, “You don’t need to stay and watch me eat!”

“Nevertheless, I will be staying here until you do finish,” she challenged, holding out a fork by the handle. “The objection you are firing at me from those lovely green eyes won’t sway me, Joseph Dubois.”

Joe snatched up the fork with a scowl, displeased that the woman wasn’t about to give him the space that he craved and be allowed to consume his meal in peace.

“I brought a container of salt if you wish,” Bonnie offered, smiling briefly to herself at his tantrum. It disappeared quickly as realism began to set in. He may need every ounce of that stubbornness to overcome his captivity and stay alive.

Joe turned his attention to the food, scrutinising what was on the plate as he listened to the simple list of ingredients. The aroma was certainly enticing enough to make him want to taste.

“Soft scrambled eggs with small pieces of diced bacon,” she recited. “Should be easy on your stomach.”

“There is nothing wrong with my stomach,” Joe declared, plunging the metal tines into the soft yellow mound and extracting a mouthful.

Before he could demonstrate that to her, Joe inhaled sharply as images and a voice assailed his senses at the same time. The muscles of his jerking involuntarily and losing strength, causing the fork being held near his mouth to fall. It felt as though every breath in his lungs was being stolen.

You had better hurry up and take your share of those eggs, Short Shanks, if you plan on having any breakfast this morning.’

Bonnie immediately stood up in alarm, reaching over and grabbing onto his hand, calling out his name, knowing that something was wrong. Surely he couldn’t be choking on the food? The fork had hit the edge of the plate and bounced off, leaving a trail of yellow staining the bedclothes.

“What happened? Are you alright?”

She was about to race out of the room and find one of the men, but stopped when he tried to speak. Upon hearing the coarse, gasping noises escaping his throat, Bonnie handed him the glass of water, pleased to see him sipping on it rather than gulping the contents. She picked up the plate from his lap and the fork, setting them aside, as he moved to the edge of the bed, trying to regain his composure.

“I don’t know what happened,” he answered honestly, his voice sounding weak and strained.

Bonnie was about to say she didn’t believe him, but saw that he was trying hard to concentrate. She went to take a hold of his arm in case he faltered, but he backed away from her and the bed, feeling off-balance and dizzy. Possibly from standing up too quickly and his headache, but clearly rattled.

“For a few seconds……… it was like I was inside a dream,” he hissed, pausing half way and shaking his head trying to clear the fog. “I was holding onto a plate, this hand was reaching out, trying to take it away from me, and a voice with no face started talking to me.” He repeated the words as best he could recall them, before asking her a question.

“I hear this voice in my head, and I should know who it belongs to, but I don’t?” he beseeched, becoming slightly more panicked and agitated that his memory was coming up blank again. He was continually second guessing every single word he heard spoken or that left his own mouth.

Any rational person should be able to remember his own name without being prompted. The people around him, claiming to know everything about him, he should be able to recognize who they were without any difficulty. Joe could no longer distinguish what day the week it was. Each time he had awoken with his head pounding, there was no way of tell if minutes or hours had passed by.

An indescribable sense of frustration was building up inside at having to justify his insecurities. “Why does everything feel out of place and disjointed? Joe took another step backwards away from her. Dozens of puzzle pieces that couldn’t be put together to resemble any kind of normality.

Joe raise his hands, burying his fingertips into his hair, pulling and tugging, “You don’t know what it is has been like,” he shouted. “Looking into the mirror and not knowing the face that stares back in mockery. The only thing that blocks it out is the pain from these awful headaches, gnawing away at me night and day.”

“Nobody round here seems to want to give me a straight answer……….including you,” he accused the woman. “You are hiding more than you are telling me. What I don’t understand yet, is why you won’t speak the truth.”

“I am paid to be here by your father, to see that you are fed, provided with fresh clothes and tend to you as the doctor instructed, that is all you ever need to know,” Bonnie remarked, unsure if he was even listening. Forced to swallow her deceit, scarcely able to withstand the allegation of how much she knew about him.

The headache plaguing him spiked yet again, causing him to take an unsteady step over to the bed, holding his head in his hands as he collapsed unceremoniously onto his side. Squeezing his eyes shut, he gently massaged his temples, whimpering as the pain multiplied exponentially.

“Let me help you,” Bonnie soothed, encouraging him to rest, adjusting the pillows beneath his head. Any fight he had managed to scrape together was now gone, exacerbating his misery. Taking pity on him and seeing that he had lost any interest in food, she helped alter his position, hoping he would find some temporary respite.

After twenty minutes, she was relieved to see the handsome young man drift into a restless doze, his questions remaining unanswered. When he woke again, she may have to mix-up one of the pain powders that the doctor had prescribed, if his pain had not abated.

With the room now quiet, sitting here watching over him as he slept, Bonnie evaluated her whole position, trying to salvage any kind of future. How had she became embroiled in such an elaborate hoax? In the beginning it had been about money, and that is what she had told Edwards when he questioned her motivation. What were her choices now if wanted to change her mind and back out of this downright loathsome farce?

Was she really willing to tell Joe the full truth and be honest about her involvement in Seline’s wicked scheme? Having spent time caring for him, she didn’t want to see him hurt more or used as a pawn against his real father. And she definitely didn’t want to see him killed because of one man’s twisted vengeance.

When Joe awoke, maybe she could persuade him to escape with her, but that idea lost merit and wasn’t a very viable alternative way out when she considered that he was suffering from headaches and huge lapses in his memory. In San Francisco, she knew of a few back streets and alleys, and people who would be willing to harbour them. As strangers in this city, New Orleans offered no safe haven for either of them to find sanctuary.

Going to the police wasn’t a very good idea when she would be blamed for being actively involved in Joe’s kidnapping in the first place. Marchant would blame his captivity and any injuries he inflicted on her. The man would have the financial means and connections to get away from the law without consequence. She wasn’t fortunate enough to own firearm or sharp blade to defend themselves should Seline send out Edwards and Yeager in pursuit to bring them back.

Thinking hard about her own fate, if she was selfish enough to chance running away from Seline’s insidious trickery, what would happen to Joe? There wasn’t much time to devise a solution and she would have to be extremely careful. Any decision she made would affect more than her own life. Bonnie was headed for a trap and once caught in it, the cage door would be slammed shut. Neither of them would be able to break free or make it out alive.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Down on the docks of the waterfront:

A dark, dingy establishment with floors stained from decades of spilt cheap whiskey and reeking of stale cigar smoke. The tattered and stained curtains covering the windows were paper thin with age.

Mark Douglas stood at the bar, eyeing the shot of whiskey that the weather-beaten barkeep put in front of him. A coin was placed in payment and quickly snatched away.

Arriving in this city a few hours ago, losing track of how long it had taken to traverse the enormous distances, he was seeking a drink and then a hot meal. The clothes he currently wore didn’t quite fit properly, with the waist of the long travel coat at the wrong height to suit his shorter frame than the previous owner.

Finding himself stranded at Peak’s Crossing without a horse seemed like a lifetime ago. Without having a particular destination in mind, he knew there wouldn’t be a job to go back to at the Ponderosa for him or Nichols. His luck had changed when he had borrowed a horse from an unsuspecting stranger and rode into San Francisco. Standing outside the city bank, he had been pondering what his next move might be when an opportunity presented itself.

A well dressed gentleman, carrying a medium sized travel bag, had exited the building but was distracted when he paused to talk with two other business men. The bag had been placed on the ground beside him, but Douglas had no trouble using the growing cluster of people walking past to mask his thievery. For someone who had spent most of his life counting four legs and a tail for the meagre wages of a cow-hand, his adeptness came naturally.

Education was not his forte, and he was no scholar when it came to book learning. He was limited to being able to read some and to make his mark when required. Ben had been mildly surprised and willingly hired him over other workers. Those basic smarts had gained him an additional measure of respect from Adam Cartwright. That courtesy would have turned to dust by now though, after being fired.

The distance before them and a lack of experienced riders to handle the temperamental animals, Douglas could assume that the drive would have come to an abrupt and unsatisfying end for the Ponderosa. Notwithstanding that pleasing outcome, he still owed that spoilt rich-kid, loud-mouthed Joe, a good hard punch in the nose.

Upon examining the contents, he had found a treasure trove of personal possessions, embossed envelopes, fancy letters and important business papers. His eyes had greedily settled on a leather bill-fold; with a large amount of real cash money tucked neatly inside. Everything he needed to take on a new name and make a new life for himself. The handkerchief in the pocket of his coat was embroidered with silver lettering and the initials, B.H.H.A.

There had been travel tickets inside for a ship departing San Francisco, a stage coach and a train, which he took full advantage of using to leave the city in haste. He had never been on a real train before and had relished the exciting new experience. The stagecoach had proven to be dusty and slow, and he had not enjoyed the other passengers he had encountered. The inside of the coach had been too cramped and he was forced to listen to the endless chatter about their dull lives.

For most of the journey, he found himself seated next to a larger lady who had drowned her clothes in an sickening, overly sweet perfume. The stench would linger for days on everything he carried. Next time he would ride and choose his own road.

There had been several telegrams inside addressed to the previous owner, talking about being invited to a big celebration in New Orleans. A name in fancy writing, matching the initials, Bartholomew Herbert Henry Adams was recorded on at least one page of those documents. There was an engraved silver pocket watch hanging on chain, with the engraved inscription, ‘Love from your darling, Isabella’. He had no idea who the woman was and what she meant to the man, but cared even less and only seized upon it for the potential monetary value.

Maybe he wouldn’t be able to pull off pretending to be this Adams person for very long, and he might run foul of the law, but for so far, no questions had been asked.

He was confident that nobody in this city knew his true identity. With fancy clothes, money and other expensive belongings, he could afford to climb up the ladder of society and experience what it must be like to live well. He could keep the cash, use the tickets to travel to new places and eventually trade anything left of value for things he could use, including a good horse.

Swallowing the last of the whiskey and intending to find a room to rent the night, wanting to make sure the alcohol erased the name Cartwright from his memory.

To be continued ……….

Author Notes – After seeing the episode The Stranger I realise that the similarities with my Marchant Seline are in name only. The personality and mannerisms that I have adapted for him throughout this story are quite different to what is on the episode.

There is the mention of slaves being used in this work and people of colour. Please know that it is not done with any offence intended to any individuals or a specific race of people, but a desire to recreate what have happened in New Orleans during the 1860’s. Any derogatory or insulting terms used are meant to portray those times when not everybody was considered equal. This chapter only contains a word or two, but following chapters will contain quite a few more references and situations.

Don’t worry, Ben will get to find out about Rawlings knowing who Joe was before they met and not telling him. You haven’t seen the last of that doctor yet. There is a whole lot more action to come, even though some have been waiting for Joe to be rescued. The ending that I wanted all those years ago I started this story didn’t happen at the end of this chapter unfortunately. It was getting too long again.

There are a few new characters that I have introduced, and some of them have a particular speech pattern. Their words may be shortened, pronounced incorrectly or spoken with different enunciation to highlight ethnicity and language differences. I use a similar system for Hoss and Hop Sing in my writing. Officer Guillaume turned out quite different in personality to what I had originally planned.

And just who are Bartholomew Herbert Henry Adams, his family of brothers and Isabella you ask? Those details yet to be revealed too.

There were about three other places that I wanted to stop, and there is a lot more to hear about Rose’s family and background. Although it has been a long time in being finished, I want to take my time to do it correctly and not be rushed. The next chapter shouldn’t take so long to be published, but my muse has been letting me down since November.

To the people of New Orleans, I apologize for any details that I have wrong about your city. I did a lot of research, but also changed some details as needed.

With the boarding house in New Orleans, I used the historical description for a Creole House for the outside, but the layout and number of rooms inside are different to suit my plot. The action is only just getting started and everything is about to get a whole lot more complicated. This chapter took a long time to write, more than six months, for a number of reasons that nobody needs to hear about. Please know that I continue to work on all of my stories, old, new, being rewritten and yet to come for all my fandoms.

Thank you for reading. I would love to hear what you think about all the additions and this new chapter.

Jules6

Chapter Five – Preparations For Leaving

THE GREEN PEN

By Jules

Author Notes – thank you for everybody who is still reading. It truly means a lot that people are reading after such a long time of being away. I hope you enjoy this next instalment.

This is the second story in my new series, and it would be helpful for you to read Please Tell Someone as this story continues straight into a new page from the ending scenes of that story.

This particular chapter does not have a lot more action happening, but is necessary to set up some of the key events yet to come later in this story and others into the future. There is a lot to cover and introduce, so hopefully I will to it so you can follow easily enough.

The reason for this title will not become apparent until much later in the story, but was thought of ten (10) years ago or more, when the original plot came to me long before I added in the new adoption arc.

Any legal references, laws, requirements for reporting abuse, the steps taken afterwards, court proceedings and outcomes and interview protocols are all fictional. Some are based loosely on real laws and circumstances, but a lot are fabricated to suit my story only and have been changed to suit the plot I have derived. The same with which authorities are involved and their individual roles and responsibilities.

With some of my medical procedures, I have used real techniques and treatments to a certain extent, but there are some that are completely invented for my stories as well and are totally fictional and should not be used for real people. They are used to progress my stories and include for specific scenes as required.

Given that SeaQuest is set in the future, medical technology would have changed greatly, with new procedures and medications and medicines being discovered and put into practice.

Chapter Five – Preparations For Leaving

towards the end of the previous chapter:

Let’s go and tell everybody our good news,” Bridger suggested. “After that, you and I need to start making a list of everything we are going to be taking with us, and anything we could possibly need over four days.”

And now the story continues:

After giving Lucas a few more minutes to get over the shock of his poorly worded invitation, Bridger left his own quarters in the company of the teenager, both heading to the front of the vessel. The Captain had been expecting the boy to be full of questions about what they were going to be doing on their short break away, but was surprised when that didn’t eventuate.

Nathan could tell by the expression on his face, that Lucas was definitely mulling over something on his mind, but whatever the reason was, he wasn’t sharing. As they passed by the moon pool, a few members of Kristin’s science team were in the immediate area, conducting work.

Bridger approached the dome doors, the expectant siren wailed, promptly followed by Chief Crocker’s dutiful announcement of, “Captain on Deck”, showing the proper courtesy and respect.

Commander Ford had been talking to Miguel Ortiz as the Captain entered, but postponed any further discussions and approached his Commanding Officer. “Captain, Sir,” he cordially greeted the man. Bridger seemed quite pleased with himself, so he could only assume that his talk with Lucas had ended positively in his favour.

“I have some news, Commander, or should I say, ‘we’ have some news,” Bridger stated, expecting the teenager to have followed and be standing only a few steps behind him and sharing their good fortune.

“We, Sir?” Jonathan queried, not seeing anybody else standing alongside him.

The Captain was puzzled by the man’s question until he noticed that Lucas was nowhere to be seen. He turned back towards the dome doors, but there was only Crocker standing nearby. “I could have sworn…..,” he began to say, but didn’t finish the comment.

“Lucas was headed here with me after we left my quarters, but perhaps it is better to organize a short impromptu meeting in the Ward Room,” Bridger explained. “For those directly involved, Commander. Yourself, Mr Ortiz, and Mr O’Neill, for about ten minutes of your time. I will locate our wayward teenager and Doctor Westphalen and have them meet us there as well.”

“Noted, Sir, and we will be there momentarily,” the dark-skinned Commander answered. He watched the Captain leave the Bridge again, and approached Miguel and Tim, telling them quietly about the meeting about to take place in the Ward Room.

Nathan walked back in the direction he had come from, spotting Lucas standing near the moon pool and talking quietly to Kristin. She must have spotted him and stopped him to talk, interrupting his continuation to the Bridge. “There you are. I got to the Bridge before I realised you were missing.”

“Sorry, I got side-tracked for a minute,” the teenager gave in apology. “I was intending to get a drink from the mess hall.”

“No matter, I may as well let both of you know together, there is a small meeting about to take place in the Ward Room in approximately ten minutes. What I want to discuss won’t take long, and there is only going to be a few people present,” the Captain informed them. “Grab your drink, and meet us there please?”

“Sure, I can do that,” Lucas readily agreed, changing direction and heading towards the mess hall. Thankfully, his mood and tone of voice had definitely changed from what it had been only half an hour ago.

Bridger and Kristin watched him leave the area for a few seconds. Nathan walked a few steps towards the moon pool and leaned on the edge, the tension across his shoulders noticeable to Kristin. Darwin was currently swimming outside in the open ocean.

“If it wasn’t for the fact that I have finished speaking to Lucas about going away on this short break, from the downcast look on your face, one could be safe in assuming that he had rejected your offer,” she commented. “Something troubling you that you want to share?”

“It nearly went so very badly, Kristin,” Bridger told her quietly, the emotion and guilt in his voice evident. At first Kristin thought that he might have been over-reacting, but she could see that was not the case at all. The current body language and facial expression were all wrong for the man.

The Captain looked back at her and decided she deserved to hear the truth. “I was trying sound tactful and persuasive when bringing up the subject, but in the end all I did was make him feel distrustful and fearful. For a moment, he wanted to get as far away from me as possible, and was almost running to get out of the room.”

“What happened?” the red-haired doctor asked, recognizing that whatever had occurred, wasn’t so trivial to Nathan. She wanted to be supportive and was trying to understand without carelessly ignoring or brushing aside his train of thought. Sometimes, the strongest people had their hardened exterior take a beating. Even with the best of intentions and planning to do the right thing; unpredictability could cause miscommunication.

Bridger didn’t want to repeat word for word what he had said, and instead gave her the blunt end of the conversation. “Lucas thought I was going to be removing him from SeaQuest, permanently. Can you even image that? Even after the numerous assurances and promises following what we have discovered about his home life. I never want to see that combination of disappointment and accusation directed towards me again.”

“The worst part was that, somehow, he was accepting that such a decision had been made without him, and that he owed a debt to others for putting up with him. How am I supposed to respond, when he looks back at me and proclaims ‘that he doesn’t have anywhere else to go’?” Nathan asked rhetorically, not expecting her to answer.

“I am quite confident when I state, that what you said to him would have been construed as a misunderstanding,” Kristin replied, trying to give the situation a small positive spin. She hadn’t been given a full account, but as far as she was concerned, there didn’t need to be. With Lucas’ state of mind over the past few days, it wouldn’t have taken much for him to jump to the wrong conclusion and feel hurt as the result. Thankfully, everything must have been corrected, and the boy had been made aware of the true nature of his intentions.

“When we were talking here together only a few minutes ago, he was a little apprehensive. But, I think that was because this is a whole new experience for him, not because of some mistake you made. Come on, let’s get to your meeting and you will be able to see for yourself,” she encouraged. “He may not have been cheering out loud, but from my own observations, Lucas was genuinely excited about going.”

Nathan stood up, glancing back at the doctor, and saw conviction and belief in what she was saying to him. She wasn’t trying to downplay his sense of inadequacy in a parental role or dampen his poor choice of words to say, as though none of it mattered at all. However, she wasn’t about to let him wallow in his own self-pity either. Kristin was giving him both a pep talk and the kick up the butt at the same time that he needed.

“Thanks,” was all he said, meant partly as an apology, and mostly in gratitude. Nothing else needed to be exchanged between them.

Both of them headed to the Ward Room, ready to make their news public.

______________________________________________________________________________

Lucas ambled into the mess hall, not expecting find many people about since it was past breakfast time. He was pleasantly surprised to see a dark-haired Ben Krieg seated at one of the tables, sharing a cup of coffee with the Head Chef, Don. He continued over to one of the new drink fridges, and retrieved a plastic bottle before joining the two men.

“Lucas,” Ben greeted him as he put down his empty cup. “Just finishing up here.”

“Hey, Ben,” the teenager replied, watching the man’s face carefully to see if he could detect anything going on with his friend without asking a direct question. He took the top off the juice bottle and drank from it, hoping to mask his actions from appearing too deliberate.

“Good to see you come back like you promised, Lucas,” Don said in greeting, though a little surprised to see the teenager so soon.

“Come back?” Krieg asked. “Have you had breakfast today?”

“Why does everybody keep asking me that question?” Lucas responded with slight annoyance, not wanting to sound like he was complaining. “Yes, thank you I have, and Don there can be my character witness to the fact that I have eaten at least once today already.”

“He was enjoying, and put a good dent in a dish of my mother’s home-made lasagne recipe that I have planned for tonight’s menu, Ben,” Don confirmed.

“Lasagne? For breakfast?” Ben queried with a chuckle. “Are you attempting to corrupt him with your mother’s cooking at every opportunity? And yet again I don’t recall that special offer being made to me this morning as a choice?”

“You won’t be getting any with that attitude either, Krieg,” Don chastised as he got up from the table. “Lucas volunteered to be my taste tester for the day. Like I told your Captain when he came across us in here earlier, we were talking some serious matters, namely ex-wives and girlfriends.”

“You were not?” Ben challenged, but looked over at Lucas, who nodded his head and attested to such a statement with a grin to the topics they had shared. “Next time come and get me, I have a few stories that you would scarcely believe.”

“I am sure that you do, but none of us has that kind of time on our hands, Krieg,” Don teased, and openly laughed at the corresponding scowl that he received in return. “On that note, I will leave you good people alone, some of us around here have work to do,” he poked in fun for the Lieutenant’s benefit as he headed back to the kitchen.

“I only came in to get a drink. The Captain is having a meeting in Ward Room in a few minutes,” Lucas explained. “Did he tell you about it?”

“I only woke up a short time ago and came in here first,” Ben replied. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to anybody yet except you, Don and my coffee cup. Do you know what the meeting is about?”

“Did you manage to catch up on your sleep?” Lucas asked.

“Not as much as I would have liked, but enough for now,” Ben answered truthfully. “You weren’t worried about me were you?” but he could see the answer for himself on the boy’s face and caught the tell-tone catch in his voice. “For some reason I just couldn’t sleep well during the night and I asked Ford to alter the roster,” he added without going into specifics.

“Yeah, that is what the Commander, and Bridger said after a few people around here confirmed that they had seen and talked to you earlier this morning,” Lucas said, glancing down at the table. “I didn’t mean to pry, but wanted to make sure you weren’t sick or something. I told them that I was awake for a good part of last night and would have kept you company if I had known.”

“Noted for next time. Thank you for the concern, it is appreciated, but nothing to worry about I promise,” Ben reported. “You were awake too last night?” he asked, keeping up the subterfuge of his nocturnal activities.

The teenager looked over towards the door, and then into the kitchen where the Chef was going about his duties, before taking a seat across from his friend. Lucas didn’t answer the question about his own lost sleep, but his demeanour changed to being skiddish and wary.

“Bridger requested that I meet him in his quarters this morning to have a talk,” Lucas told him, looking up at Ben as he finished the sentence.

“What’s going on?” he said, seeing the boy hedging and struggling to maintain eye contact, but wanting to say something. A minute ago he was ready to head to Bridger’s meeting. The teenager was fidgeting and playing with what was in his hands, giving off wistful vibes. For the next twenty seconds, Lucas went about playing with the plastic lid from the juice bottle before giving his answer.

“Well, at first I didn’t know what he wanted to talk to me about, and Kristin didn’t give any clues away after she finished checking my stitches. I asked her. Both Bridger and I turned up late, but then he started pacing back and forth around the room, like he was hesitating,” he continued describing the story.

‘Like you are doing right now’ Krieg thought to himself, but wasn’t going to say it out loud.

“I was beginning to feel on edge and uneasy, because other talks that we have had in there before today, hadn’t delivered good news.” Lucas didn’t elaborate further on that point further, hoping that Ben was astute enough to know what other time he had meant. He had been referring specifically to the time the Captain had wanted to be honest, and told him about other people finding out about his father’s mistreatment.

“I hope it was something good this time around?” Ben asked, trying to keep the atmosphere between them positive.

“You know, it almost wasn’t……………….,” Lucas started, and then stopped, still using his hands to quell his growing melancholy. The teenager began running the tip of his index finger around the top of the juice container. Attempting to keep his concentration somewhere else. “A stupid mistake on my part one might say,” he remarked, followed by a hollow laugh.

For a moment, he almost got up from the table and left the mess hall without continuing, but then stopped himself, knowing that he wasn’t being totally fair to Ben. He was the one that had brought up the whole incident. It was his mind that was seeking and demanding some kind of weird validation from someone, that what he had felt was completely understandable.

“Hey, tell me what happened?” Ben asked gently, seeing that whatever had happened, was causing the boy’s mood to swing and change considerably from when Don was present, only a few minutes ago.

“Bridger will tell you that he worded it wrong…………….,” he continued, but then paused again, looking up towards the ceiling and feeling like a heel all over again. Self-doubt was badgering him from within on all sides and causing the negative voices to echo loudly in response to any rational thoughts.

The Captain didn’t deserve the blame for his mind that was always reminding him of the precarious and temporary situation he currently found himself living in. He hadn’t anticipated that thinking about it again would cause those feelings to bubble up again, but here they were. He was having trouble separating them and dismissing them entirely.

“I thought he was taking me off SeaQuest permanently.”

For few seconds, Ben couldn’t think of a single thing to say in reply. Doing the best he could, and not wanting to provide any chance of bad thoughts to sow and take hold again, he spoke. “You do know that Captain Bridger wouldn’t allow such a thing right?”

Lucas nodded his head with acceptance, but couldn’t find the words to reply.

Ben decided to get in first and bolster his flagging confidence, “Don’t worry. I have got your back too. And you know there are other crew members on-board here that do too, and we are all in your corner.” Krieg knew that bringing up his father’s name now and promising that what he had suffered in the past wouldn’t happen again, would help raise the boy’s spirits.

“I do know that,” Lucas said truthfully, “Sometimes my brain goes off course for awhile and causes the rest of me to react automatically. In the past, it has done that before I have had much of a chance to think through what has been said to me. The teenager felt very uncomfortable in accepting that other people knew something about his home life, but there was very little he could do now to change that.

“So what did he word so wrong? Ben questioned, wanting keep the conversation going, and to prevent the boy’s mood from continuing down the path it was on, and tumbling off the proverbial cliff.

“I panicked too early, but the Captain was apologetic and was beating himself up for the mistake once he realised. There were some choice words, followed by a few tense moments on my part….,” Lucas began to explain, leaving out any specifics, and glossing over how much emotion had been swirling around in the Captain’s quarters. “Everything was smoothed out after he got to tell me his real plan. Admiral Noyce is giving him some shore leave due to him. He is intending on going back to his island home, and asked me if I would like to come with him.”

“Bridger asked you to go with him?” Krieg asked. “Wow, that is a terrific opportunity for you.”

“Before I left the Bridge to visit Kristin, Commander Ford was telling Bridger that his orders about the SeaQuest going somewhere were being carried out. I am sure that you have already noticed by now that we are currently under-way, and headed into deeper water so that the vessel can manoeuvre better outside the harbour. Admiral Noyce has ordered the Captain to start heading towards the Florida Keys today. He wants Commander Hitchcock to put on some show to a group of foreign ambassadors to prove that she is ready to start going on missions,” the teenager divulged.

“I, for one, am pleased that someone is getting to hear the good news happening around here for a change, and willing to share. I am usually the last person on-board to get told anything resembling important, noteworthy or even idle gossip,” Ben remarked. “Considering how nuts the schedule is around here at the moment, I wonder how Bridger managed to wrangle any leave from the brass?”

“The Captain didn’t go into all those details with someone like me, but he did invite Kristin too, and she agreed,” Lucas informed Ben. “Bridger intends to make arrangements for all three of us to leave here tomorrow morning.”

“Both of them away at the same time!” Krieg said in astonishment. “Plus you as well. This place is going to be very quiet and dull for a few days. Not to worry though, I will take care of your dolphin for you while you and the Captain are away relaxing.

“Oh, that is where there is more good news, you won’t have to, Ben,” Lucas declared, with the first sign of a small grin since sitting down. “Bridger has already confirmed that Darwin is going to be coming too! I don’t know what we will be doing there for those days, but the Captain said the weather should be great. A whole lot of sand, water and sun I guess.”

“Nice to know that it will be us working people left on-board here, while the three of you are off enjoying yourself,” Krieg joked. “Quite the adventure you and Doctor Westphalen will be able to have, going away with the Captain. How long did he say you were going to be away?”

“Four days, but I did put in a good word on your behalf, and said you could use a break too,” Lucas commented. “Sorry to say that Bridger vetoed you coming along for that whole time. The reason he gave was that the U.E.O. wouldn’t allow too many members of the crew to be away at the same time.”

“No, I guess they wouldn’t allow that,” Krieg replied. “Thanks for putting up my name though, I do appreciate that. I could do with a vacation too.”

“Bridger made a comment about arranging for you, and a few others to come on the last day for a barbecue, and stay overnight. I don’t know all the details yet or who else he is intending to invite, but he did mention that someone he knows will be picking up the people who are coming, and take them to his place.”

“Come on, we had better go and get to this meeting, or it will be finished without us,” Ben suggested, getting up from the table. “We can talk more on the way.”

“The Captain mentioned about getting you to help with the preparations this afternoon,” Lucas said, joining his friend and they headed towards the exit of the mess hall.

Before they reached the corridor, Ben was watching the teenager carefully for any signs that he was still carrying around negative thoughts. He even went one step further to confirm beyond the shadow of a doubt for his own peace of mind. “All good for now?”

“Yeah, sure, thanks for listening and letting me burden you there for a few minutes,” Lucas replied, jamming his hands into his pockets and being hard on himself for feeling that way.

The conversation between the two friends dried up a little as their made their way through the corridors of the vessel, heading to the Ward Room. Ben reignited their easy camaraderie, asking about his visit with Kristin. “Did the doctor have a good report card to give when you saw her earlier today?”

“Kristin said that everything is on the mend,” Lucas answered, and he was tempted to leave his response at that. But Ben had this way of making him feel like he needed to give a fuller account in his own words. “My hip isn’t hurting so much when I am walking around now; it twinges when I have been standing or sitting in the same place for too long. She expects that the stitches can come out soon. The bruising is still too dark for her liking and won’t begin to fade for another two more weeks.”

“Nice to hear that you are hurting less,” Ben commented. He was certain that a twinge felt completely different for Lucas.

Inwardly, Krieg’s mind was taking him back to when he first saw the bruising on the teenager’s back. Watching the kid receive stitches was something he was trying real hard to push aside in his mind and forget.

______________________________________________________________________

The two friends casually walked into the Ward Room, but were surprised to see that Captain Bridger and Kristin were the only ones seated at the table.

“There you two are, I was just about to send out a search party for you,” Bridger joked, but looked genuinely pleased to see both of them.

“I mentioned that to our young friend here as we left the mess hall that you might would be looking for us,” Krieg answered. “The two of us got caught up a little ourselves,” he added, but the look he shared with the Captain said a whole lot more. There was a catch in Ben’s voice that also caught Bridger’s attention.

Nathan nodded his head in understanding, recognising that he would have to wait until Lucas was out of earshot to hear what else Ben had to tell him and Kristin.

“Not to worry, it won’t take long to catch you up on what was discussed around the table,” Kristin remarked with an encouraging smile.

“Where did everybody else go?” Lucas queried, glancing about the room.

“Commander Ford, Tim and Miguel were here,” Bridger answered. “They all have other day-to-day duties that need attending to, so I couldn’t keep them from those tasks for too long. Everything went smoothly enough.”

“I am sorry to tell you, Captain, that I sort of let the cat out of the bag early to Ben,” the teenager owned up. “Though, I wasn’t totally sure of some details, and may have missed a few points or gotten them wrong.”

“Not to worry, Lucas, I guess he was going to find out when he got here sooner, rather than later,” Nathan replied, seeing the slightly apologetic expression on his face.

“Lucas tells me that you are planning to take some leave, Sir?” Ben asked, giving up what little he knew. “Bound for somewhere in the Florida Keys; should be exceptionally nice weather there this time of year.”

“Yes, Ben, I am. I have also persuaded Doctor Westphalen here to come along,” the Captain answered. “Lucas has agreed to join us too. I hope that he will enjoy the break away as much as we will.”

“Persuaded?” The doctor was ready to argue that point. “More like twisting my arm,” she conveyed, but the smile on her face gave away that she was pleased to be going as well. She was a strong advocate for improving all aspects of Lucas’ health, and if part of that had to be done away from SeaQuest, then so be it.

“I have spoken to Commander Ford, and filled him on the details of our destination tomorrow, and that of the SeaQuest herself,” the Captain stated. “My next assignment will be talking to Commander Hitchcock, and gauging her interest about conducting the tour for the high-ranking personnel at one of the naval bases.”

“Sounds like something Katie would relish doing, Sir,” Krieg commented. “Like I said before, her knowledge of this internal workings of this vessel are second to none.”

“Thank you, Ben, I think she will do just fine as well,” Nathan responded. “I do think she is the right choice on this occasion.”

“On the fourth day, Ben, I will make arrangements for yourself, Miguel, Tim and Jonathan to be brought to my island. A little sand and sun for all, and we can have a barbecue down on the beach that night with a camp fire,” Bridger explained.

“Well, I certainly don’t want to miss out on such a generous invitation, Sir,” Krieg answered with a grin. “Do you have enough room for us to stay overnight?”

“Yes, but the accommodations may not be what everyone would normally be used to. Unfortunately, they won’t even be indoors, but it is the best I can offer on this occasion,” Nathan answered with a grin. “So, Mr Krieg, we will be needing sleeping gear for all those attending.”

“Don’t worry, Sir, camping out for one night should be great,” Ben remarked. “Underneath the stars, the cool breeze blowing through the palm trees, the sound of the waves along the shoreline……”

“You don’t have to sell me the glossy colour travel brochure, Lieutenant, I already bought the place,” Bridger said a laugh.

In the back of his mind, he was already tallying up the number of tents and sleeping bags he would need to requisition from supply. Looking over at the teenager beside him, and noting Lucas’ earlier comment about this being a new experience, a few other ideas started to formulate in his head of how to extend the fun for all those involved.

“These next few days should be very interesting!” Lucas said with a little more animation coming into his voice. “I haven’t done this before, so it will all be new to me what and how much we need to take. What did you need me to help with to get ready?”

The teenager hadn’t given his words a second thought, silently, the three adults felt a small knot of dismay ball up at hearing such an honest statement. This break away was definitely long overdue.

The talk he had with Ben had gone a long way towards bringing some of the emotions to the surface that he had been trying to deal with from Bridger’s quarters. The teenager’s mood had improved quite a bit since the mess hall. The butterflies of excitement that he had felt only a short time ago were mustering again.

“How about you go and get your bag packed,” the Captain suggested. “Kristin and I need to talk to Don the chef, and provide him a list of the food items and other provisions that we will need to take with us. Anything in particular you want to add to that list?”

In the back of his mind, Lucas didn’t want to tell them out loud that there wasn’t really anything to pack. The couple of sets of clothes that he owned were still in the small bag in his room that he had brought on-board. There never seemed much point in taking them out, only to put them in a drawer or closet out of sight again.

“Not that I can think of right now,” the teenager answered, not really taking too much time to think about what he would be wanting to eat. Those were minor details surely and honestly didn’t matter so much to him.

“I have a few things to talk to Ben about in relation to the non-food supplies that I am intending to take home,” Bridger informed Lucas. “Later on this afternoon, you can help load the gear, and get the launch prepared that we will be leaving on in the morning?”

“Sure, I can help with that,” Lucas readily agreed.

“Kristin may need some help getting together what she will be needing to take,” Nathan commented, looking at the doctor as he spoke. The doctor nodded her head in thanks for the offer of assistance.

“Be mindful of your stitches, please,” Kristin forewarned. “Nothing too heavy on your own just yet,” the doctor added, speaking to Lucas, but then glancing over at Ben, silently seeking his co-operation and adherence to her request.

Mentally, Doctor Westphalen was currently making a list of her own. The basics of course apart from her own personal belongings, but then there were a few other items that she could think of. In the past, she was often accused of being too prepared and taking too much that never even got unpacked.

“On that note, I am leaving before you find anything else to remind me about,” Lucas stated, trying to get out of her spotlight. “Come and find me when you are ready for me to help, Ben.”

The three adults watched the teenager as he left the Ward room, headed elsewhere on the vessel. He hadn’t told them what his immediate plans were apart from packing his bag.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Bridger sat down on a chair at the large oval table, clearly relieved that everything about tomorrow’s trip was beginning to fall into place. Up until now, there had been few times where his own self- confidence began to waver. The stead-fast and strong Captain, overseeing a large vessel took a step back and been replaced by an ordinary man.

“See, you had nothing to worry about,” Kristin said in support. “He is genuinely looking forward to going. Those four days will prove to be the boost he needs at the moment.”

“I know, you were right,” Nathan replied. “Thankfully, he does sound pleased and curious. I can only hope that lasts for the time away.”

Kristin looked over to Ben, wanting to provide him some kind of explanation. “The Captain here was beating himself up a short time ago because of a misunderstanding that wasn’t received well.”

“Yeah, I can guess,” Krieg said with knowing tone to his voice. “No doubt, for the same reason why Lucas and I were late coming here in the first place.”

Nathan looked up sharply to the dark-haired man at this admission with fresh concern, “Lucas said something to you about how I asked him?”

“Yes. He stayed behind when it was just the two of us in the mess hall, but I could tell something was bothering him. The kid was looking around nervously of course, and cagey, making sure that nobody else would overhear, and it would be fair to say that it was weighing heavily on his mind,” Ben answered. “But, Sir, he was blaming himself more than you for the misinterpretation.”

“Blaming himself?” Bridger responded, standing up and wanting to go and find the teenager and repeat his apology all over again.

“I almost made the mistake of thinking it was something trivial,” Ben continued. “Don had finished chatting to the two of us, and went back into the kitchen. Lucas was more worried about checking up on me and not sleeping the night before. When I pressed him a little harder to find out what was going on, he sat down and told me what had transpired.”

Krieg could see that the Captain had been affected as much as Lucas, but for different reasons. “Sir, honestly, I wouldn’t be saying this to you now if I didn’t believe it,” he attested. “He knows that you made a mistake by the way you started asking him, nothing more.”

Bridger was about to say something to counteract that statement, but Krieg pushed back first.

“His fear about being removed from the SeaQuest is a very real one, and justifiable, but it was only for a brief time. Given his background, it is completely understandable, but once he had time to think things through, he said himself that you had worded your offer wrongly.”

“For a few seconds, after he told me what he had been thinking and feeling, I couldn’t have strung two coherent words together,” Krieg admitted. “You could have knocked me over with a feather.”

“What did you end up saying to him?” Kristin asked. “Whatever it was must have worked, considering the mood we saw he was in only a few minutes go,” ” she added with gratitude.

“I made sure that Lucas knew, that you wouldn’t want or allow him to leave SeaQuest, until you were convinced it was safe for him to do so, Sir,” Krieg answered, speaking to Bridger, but keeping the doctor in the loop, knowing that she cared too.

Kristin may have been thinking of the Captain at this time, but she was probably carrying enough worry of her own around.

“I told him that I would always around as a back-up as well, and that there were plenty of other people on-board that wanted to help him. Something that he may know, but I felt needed to be repeated with emphasis.”

“Thank you, Ben, thank you,” Bridger remarked, knowing that the man wasn’t looking for praise, but he had certainly earned it in his opinion. Pleased to hear that for the first time, Lucas had opened up and spoken to someone else apart from himself or Kristin.

“Nothing to be thanking me for,” Ben replied. “After we had talked a little more, he went onto explain that his reaction was something that his brain does automatically in certain situations. Once he was a little more at ease, that is when he told me about the plans you had both discussed. He was a little sketchy on the details of who you were planning to invite to stay overnight.”

Krieg watched Bridger, trying to gain some insight on his mood after hearing his explanations. The Captain wasn’t giving a lot away though, so Ben decided it was his place as morale officer to put some positivity back into the preparations.

“Now that you have gotten Lucas to agree to going along, it is time to get organised and set it up so the trip will be a total blast for him,” Ben suggested.

Bridger glanced back at Ben, finally giving a wry grin, “You are absolutely right, let’s get started.”

“A time for relaxation and to recharge ones batteries, Ben,” Kristin interjected, “Not a blast as you so ineloquently put it. Taking a break. Your suggestion remember was that Lucas needed time off, not a party?”

“That is what I meant, Doc,” Krieg returned in his own defence, hoping that the teenager would be having some fun as well.

On the table, there were a number of pieces of paper that Krieg had yet to view. The Captain held the first list up, but didn’t hand it over completely.

“That is a list of the food items that Kristin and I came up with that I am planning to take with us on-board the launch in the morning,” Bridger explained. “Together, I think we have made a mix of healthy choices, but fun too. Meals that should be easy to make in an island setting, and will give variety. I didn’t want Kristin or myself to be spending the whole time away cooking. We have both agreed to share the responsibility.”

“Between us, I hope that we can entice Lucas into helping out a little too, and teach him a couple of simple things that he can make for himself. Tasty to eat, but don’t require many ingredients or preparation time,” Kristin added.

Ben took a step forward to take a closer look at the list, and was making a few positive and negative muttering sounds as his eyes scanned down the page. “You have certainly thought carefully about it, Sir.”

“Hot dogs on the first night, outdoors, that should go down a real treat,” Krieg remarked. “I know what I like on mine.”

“I have no idea what Lucas may or may not like on his, so I decided on a variety of the usual toppings that he can choose from,” Bridger said.

“Not doubting your choices, Sir, truly, but it would probably be a good idea to include some of those other alternatives that I had brought on-board, like the noodles and the ice-cream, just in case,” Ben pointed out. As his index finger moved down the list, he didn’t see anything out of the ordinary until he reach the fruit and vegetables.

“Why do the bananas and oranges have asterisk marks beside them, Sir?” Ben asked in curiosity. “There are plenty on-board, I just delivered fresh stocks to Don earlier this week. I have no idea why the U.E.O. send us so many bananas. I know Chief Crocker likes them but he is not the only one, and we currently have enough to support a entire colony of chimpanzees.”

Kristin couldn’t help but hold back a small laugh at Ben’s comments about the copious amount of the delicious yellow fruit currently being kept on-board. Until now, she had no idea that Manilow liked bananas that much.

“I marked those specifically to gain a few extras from Don in the supplies that we take with us,” Bridger stated. “They don’t have to be perfect, and even though they are all grown hydroponically now, they will still suffice. A little natural experiment that I thought Lucas may enjoy helping me set up after breakfast one morning. I am keeping my plans under wraps for now, so not a word to Lucas, please.”

The expression on Krieg’s face said it all. He was trying to think what the Captain had in mind, but was coming up blank. He didn’t want to spoil any surprise he had in mind for the teenager. Ben was sure that he would hear whether the experiment was a success or not at a later time.

“Now you have me curious as well, Nathan,” Kristin replied, intrigued as much as Ben for the reason behind the extra fruit items.

“Speaking of not being perfect, I fully support your idea to hold a barbecue on the night that we arrive,” the Lieutenant began, “Since real ground beef has now been outlawed and made illegal, grilling the created meat products is not going to be the same. I want to put that out there on the record. My days of being able to enjoy a real cheeseburger with my grandfather are long gone, but I can still dream.”

“I am sure everyone will enjoy what is on offer and there will be plenty to go around,” Bridger predicted. “Off the record, it has been a long time since I had a real burger of any kind. I used to enjoy them too occasionally.”

Ben’s eyes widened with delight when he saw the next set of ingredients on the list. “Smores, I haven’t had those since my academy days down by the beach. All that gooey chocolate. I hope you are planning to roast the marshmallows over an open fire, Sir?”

“After the barbecue, I thought we could have a camp fire down on the beach,” the Captain suggested. “A few chairs on the sand, under the moonlight night.”

“Sounds very warm and indulgent, I must say,” Kristin commented. “In England it was difficult to find a suitable substitute for the crackers that you use over here. When I was studying and began my intern-ship, there were weekends where we would attend a manor house out of the city. Each person would bring what we needed. Sometimes the end product wouldn’t be exactly edible, and the marshmallows were often burnt rather than melted. Good times and great friendships were formed,” she remembered fondly.

“Now that I have your approval of my list, Lieutenant,” Bridger said with a smile, deliberately using the man’s rank and pulling the piece of paper out of view. “This is the list that I want you to attend to as soon as possible. That one is not as comprehensive as the one you were reading.”

A second piece of paper was produced, this one he did hand over to Krieg, and watched patiently as the man glanced down the list of items.

“Those activities I have planned should keep everyone occupied for the day until the barbecue,” Bridger stated. “If you can think of anything that I have left off by mistake, or want to add anything, please do, within reason of course. We are only away for four days, and have to pack everything up again to return here. Anything else should be available in my shed once we arrive.”

“I am heading to the mess hall for a cup of coffee, and to talk to Don,” Bridger informed Ben.

“I will join you for the coffee, Nathan, but after that I need to start putting together what I plan to take,” Kristin replied. “I want to spend some time talking to Mr Levine for the majority of the afternoon, to ensure he has everything he needs during my absence.”

“I just came from the mess hall, Sir, so I will go ahead and make a start on getting the items on this list ready for you,” Krieg opted. “I will do as you asked and find Lucas once I am ready to start loading the launch.”

“After I finished talking to the chef, I will be talking to Commander Hitchcock, but no doubt you and I are going to need to talk to each other through the rest of the afternoon about a number of things. If you need me, please come and find me, I will make time to help with whatever you need.”

“I will meet you in the mess hall for that cup of coffee in a few minutes, Nathan,” Kristin said as she excused herself. “Mr Krieg, I may need some assistance from you a little later.”

______________________________________________________________________________

“I will be ready any time you are, Doctor Westphalen,” Ben answered. The two men watched Kristin walk away from the Ward room towards the mess hall.

Krieg had held back a little before leaving, expecting that the Captain wanted to have a few words between the two of them.

“Thanks for waiting behind, Ben,” Bridger spoke in gratitude. “I wanted to ask you about carrying out a quiet favour or two?”

“No problem at all, Sir, what else did you need?”

“I don’t know if you noticed or not when Lucas was here, but Kristin and I certainly did. He still hasn’t caught up on a whole lot of sleep. Lucas didn’t say what other things he was going to be doing this afternoon, but I don’t want it to be more computer work. That is why I brought up the premise of him helping you load the launch, and for you to give him some proper instruction on where to find everything. If we can keep him occupied for a few hours, then perhaps we can wear him out a little more and he will be tired enough to get a few hours of decent rest tonight. There will be plenty of marine creatures and plant life for him to see once we are in the shallower waters, when we leave in the morning.”

“Consider it done, Sir. To his credit, he is holding up rather well considering how much sleep he admitted to missing out on,” Ben noted. “I will make time to have dinner with him later this evening, to ensure that he eats something else today.”

“A second favour, please,” Bridger requested. “This one is on a more personal note. Amongst your crew uniform stores, do you have any spare or extras of those black baseball caps with the SeaQuest logo available?

“I should do, Sir…….. I will check, oh you want to give Lucas one,” Ben said with a grin once the penny dropped and he understood the man’s intentions. “I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. He should have been given one already when he first came on-board. I am sure there will be one that will fit comfortably. I will come and find you when I have located the correct box. A nice touch, Captain.”

“Thanks, I don’t even know if he likes those kind, and I haven’t seen him wearing one,” Bridger commented. “He will need to take advantage of using a number of different ways for sun protection over the next few days. The temperatures are much warmer this time of year, and the glare off the water can be brutal. The heat can quickly cause sun-burn and headaches for anyone that is not being vigilant enough about how much time they have spent outside”

“For someone like Lucas, with fair skin, he will need to ensure that he wears enough protective clothing from the harsh rays during extended periods of exposure. Kristin has a fair complexion and red-hair. During the parts of the day where the sun is directly overhead in the sky, it would be better to stay in a shady spot and to keep hydrated.”

Krieg moved towards the door to the room, preparing to leave and start on the preparations. “Glad to hear that you are thinking well ahead, Sir. With both you and Doctor Westphalen for company, and looking out for his best interests, Lucas is bound to have a great time.”

‘I hope you are right, Ben’ Bridger thought to himself as he left the Ward Room to go and meet up with Kristin for that cup of coffee.

In his right hand, he was carrying the list that of food items he was planning to give to the chef.

______________________________________________________________________________

Kristin Westphalen had just finished draining her mug of coffee, when she saw the Captain walk through the doors. She caught a glimpse of his unspoken apology, “For a minute, I thought you must have changed your mind about sharing a cup, Nathan.”

“Sorry, I got caught up talking to Ben for a few more minutes,” he replied. “I might have to take a rain check. I want to give this list to Don, and then I need to talk to Commander Hitchcock as SeaQuest gets further out into the harbour and before we reach open waters. I wanted to personally brief her on what I will be requesting her to do.”

“I will hold you to that rain check, Captain,” Kristin taunted, but didn’t pursue what the two men had spoken about after she left. The doctor was certain if they wanted her input, or for her to know, she would have been included.

As the two spoke, Don, the head chef approached from the kitchen, looking down at his watch to check the time before he greeted the man, “Hello again, Captain. Are you able to talk more freely with me this time around, since I don’t see young Lucas with you?”

“I am sorry about that, Don, I didn’t mean to put you in an awkward situation in front of Lucas,” Bridger replied. “I wanted to talk to him before I revealed my plans to others on-board such as yourself. I wasn’t sure if he would be open to the idea or not.”

“No trouble at all, Captain, I knew you would explain in your own time,” Don responded. “Ben appeared to be having an intense conversation with Lucas in here earlier today. What do you have there?”

“Right now, the SeaQuest is headed for the Florida Keys on a mission sanctioned by Admiral Noyce,” Nathan answered. “I have been granted a few days leave. Lucas and Kristin have both agreed to accompany me during that time to take advantage of the weather for some relaxation.”

“A break away at any time sounds good, but particularly in that part of the world,” Don remarked. “I am pleased to hear that Lucas agreed to going. Some outside time and a little healthy activity might be the natural way to increase his appetite.”

“This is a list of the food items that Kristin and I put together, to cover most meal times. There may be a few items that you don’t have in your fridges or store pantry, but don’t be too concerned about anything that you cannot supply. On the fourth day, I have a friend of mine who can drop off any extra supplies that I need, along with a few of the crew members who have been invited to my island home, including Ben.”

Don took the piece of paper from the Captain and began scanning down the list. Nathan made a few more comments as the chef read the meal plan.

“I thought the first night I would do something simple and outdoors,” Bridger explained. “I may be completely out of my depth here in assuming what Lucas will want to eat. Kristin will be taking care of the dinner menu for the third night. The fourth night in intended to be a barbecue on the beach after the other invited crew members arrive.”

“I think what you and Doctor Westphalen have planned out here, will be just fine for any teenager,” Don remarked. “I don’t think the actual food itself being offered is the key to getting him to eat. More like the encouragement of good people such as yourselves keeping an open mind into what he wants and listening is the best course of action. Any kind of forced or regimented meal times isn’t going to work with someone like him from what I have noticed from the short time he has been on-board.”

“In addition to what you see there, Ben suggested including some of those noodle boxes and ice-cream tubs, and that may be a prudent move. In case Lucas isn’t entirely happy with the menu in front of you,” Bridger explained. “Kristin and I tried to come up with options that would suit all of us. The cooking will be a combined effort, but I also wanted some quick and easy options. Evening dinners are planned around spending more time outside together, rather than in the kitchen.

“From what I can see on this list, Captain, the only things that I wouldn’t be able to provide at this time would be the marshmallows, or the crackers for the s’mores,” Don informed them. “Not much opportunity to have an open fire aboard a submarine. I could provide the chocolate though,” he added with a chuckle.

Nathan grinned at the comment about the chocolate. He usually didn’t admit out loud too often, that he occasionally had a sweet tooth for such treats. “Thank you, please mark anything you don’t have. I plan on making contact with my friend later to bring the extras.”

“Speaking of marks, why are there some beside oranges and bananas? Don enquired. “I can give you those in ample quantities.”

“Ben brought up that very same point not too long ago,” Kristin responded. “All Nathan would tell either of us, is that he wants a few extras of both to conduct an experiment with Lucas. We are both curious about their use too.”

“Well then, I will wait until Lucas returns and ask him about what the experiment was all about, and how it went,” the chef replied, but he had no idea what the Captain could have planned that involved humble pieces of fruit.

Don continued surveying the list until he had almost reached the end, “Someone has written down a whole raw chicken. Any meat products or substitutes are processed and packaged before they arrive on the launches and are delivered to me by Ben. Sorry to say, but the best I could do there is provide chicken pieces?”

“That was my addition, Don,” Kristin answered. “I was hoping to be able to cook a whole roast chicken in the oven of Nathan’s kitchen for that night’s evening meal. Pieces will be fine, in lieu of a roast dinner, I can make chicken and dumplings and vegetables. Hearty and filling, and in keeping with your own unique repertoire and source of inspiration for drumming up meals that might tempt Lucas. A recipe my mother made when I was growing up in England.”

“Your making me hungry already,” Nathan remarked at her description. “I am afraid my effort in cooking meals won’t be anywhere near as grand as that. Until recently, I was only used to providing for one person. Darwin catches his own supper when he is swimming in the lagoon.”

“I will see to this list, Captain, and pack everything in a couple of sturdy containers that can easily be loaded on and off a launch,” Don promised. “The items that need colder storage or to be kept frozen for the journey will be packed in a portable unit. They come in very handy for transportation and will maintain the set temperature for quite a number of hours. Everything should remain fresh until you reach your destination.”

“Thank you for your co-operation, Don,” Bridger replied. “I did ask Lucas if there was anything else that he wanted to include, but he remain fairly tight lipped on the subject. Ben will be keeping him occupied later with helping to load the launch, which will include the food storage containers. If he tells you that he would like to add anything, please do.”

“Your list shouldn’t be a problem at all, Captain,” the chef confirmed. “Ma’am, if you think of anything else you would like to add as well, please let me know.”

“Thank you for your diligence,” Kristin commented. “I should be down in the science department for the remainder of the day should you need to ask me a question, or need my assistance.”

“I have a number of other things to organize for the next several hours,” Bridger predicted. “Ben has a fairly good understanding of some of the activities I am planning, that I haven’t told Lucas about yet. I want to try and keep to my intended schedule of leaving first thing in the morning. Like Kristin said, please come and find me and let me know if you have any questions or problems.”

______________________________________________________________________________

Exiting the mess hall, Nathan and Kristin paused in the corridor for a few moments.

“I am going to find Commander Hitchcock and talk to her about Noyce’s plans for the SeaQuest in my absence.”

“What are these other activities that you mentioned a moment ago in there? Mr Krieg gets to know, but I don’t?” Westphalen teased. The doctor knew that he had Lucas’ best interests at heart with any of the planning he was doing.

“I am choosing not give my secrets away to you, Kristin,” Nathan answered with a sly smile. “I want you to enjoy yourself on this short break too.”

“You have me convinced that you are taking this break for the right reasons,” she said with a warm smile. “I will come and find you to talk more later.”

Bridger watched the doctor head down the corridor away from him. A myriad of thoughts were going through his mind, about her agreement to help. Lucas’ mix of hesitation and excitement. Throw that all together with a heaped helping of the unknown, and the outcome of this little jaunt was yet to unfold.

The man knew that Lucas wasn’t going to be the only one surprised on this trip. There were quite a few mysterious rumours surrounding his chosen self-isolation, and speculation about what he got up to there. A part of him did think that he was giving up some of the secrets that he had been keeping. Was he prepared to let some of these people into a way of life where not everybody was willing to understand or accept the reasons why?

______________________________________________________________________________

Commander Katie Hitchcock was in her small office, and was looking over a print out of the various glitches that her engineering team were working diligently on solving.

Her staff had certainly been putting in the hours, but there were still a few niggling problems plaguing a number of the systems. She was intent on establishing a regular maintenance schedule, but that was being thwarted.

She was due to relieve her Executive Officer within the hour, and take over the shift on the Bridge until the early morning hours. When the Commander had informed her only a few hours ago that the SeaQuest would be pulling out of Pearl Harbour and heading towards the Florida Keys, she was most intrigued by the intended destination.

A knock came on the outside of her door. Katie got up to answer it, expecting it to be Jonathan Ford, expanding the details about the mission that had been handed down by the Captain.

Hitchcock turned the hatch and opened the door, and was surprised by a different person standing before her, “Good afternoon, Sir,” she formally greeted the man.

“Good afternoon, I hope I am not taking too much of your valuable time,” Bridger responded politely.

“Not at all, Captain, would you like to come in?” Katie queried, but turning around, she took stock of the small amount of space inside the room and changed her mind. “Forgive me, Sir, but it may be better if I come out there and talk to you. It would be less cramped for the both of us.”

“Wherever you feel most comfortable, Commander,” Bridger conceded. “I see your office has the same problem that Lucas’ small living accommodations has. I wish there was a way to rectify the issue for you too.”

Thankfully for the both of them, the small office that was designated to the Chief Engineer on-board, and located in one of the side corridors. Personally, she preferred any instructions to staff about maintenance schedules to be done face to face. Small electronic tablets, like the one she had provided to Lucas were used for important databases that needed critical data to be recorded. Although both of them could be seen standing together and talking, neither of them expected a significant amount of foot traffic from other crew members, who could potentially interrupt their discussions.

“For now it is manageable, Sir, and fortunately I don’t spend too much time in there on a daily basis,” Katie replied. “My time is currently divided between locating and fixing the glitches we have, and my shifts on the Bridge. There are other rooms that I could use should I require more space to work. I haven’t had the opportunity yet to show you my long term ideas that may help any more faults from emerging.”

“Jonathan did mention to me that you wanted to talk about changes to the Bridge, and I promise that I will give you the audience that you are seeking in due course,” the Captain affirmed.

“Commander Ford has told me that he has already spoken to you briefly about the new orders I gave,” Bridger continued, directing the conversation to current matters at hand. “I am sorry that I didn’t give either of you a heads up, or much time to work with. I know that you have a lot on your plate at the moment, and appreciate the efforts that you and your staff are currently putting in to rectify all the problems. I am sure that you are aware now that the vessel is beginning her slow journey out into open waters?”

“Yes, Sir, Jonathan advised that you gave him instructions about our intended destination,” Katie replied. “He told me that you would be providing an explanation as to the reason we are heading towards the Florida Keys.”

“Admiral Noyce has granted me four days leave starting tomorrow morning,” the Captain explained. “Doctor Westphalen, and Lucas will be accompanying me to my island. The main idea behind the time off is to get Lucas taking a break away from here and learning to relax more.”

“Commander Ford also told me what was spoken about in the Ward Room earlier today, and Lieutenant Krieg noted the workload he has taken on,” Hitchcock commented. “Although we were both happy to have his assistance for the electronic door locks, I hope you understand that neither of us expected him to be carrying out the repairs at the pace he has been maintaining.”

“None of us were aware of the crazy work-load and little sleep schedule he was keeping until Ben’s well-placed hunch and late night surveillance,” Bridger remarked. “Hopefully this short trip will be enough to encourage him to slow down and teach him that he can still contribute to the crew in a useful capacity. Lucas needs to learn that taking care of himself, and getting enough rest are all part of that regime. By the time we return to SeaQuest, a more realistic solution will have to be considered and then hammered out that suits everybody.”

Katie nodded her head as she listened to the Captain’s reasons behind his sudden departure, “Yes, Sir.”

“I have spoken to Jonathan, and instructed that he will be appointed Captain during my initial absence, but that responsibility will be short lived. Once you reach the Key West Naval Base, I have asked him to stand aside as a gentleman, and officially hand over to you as Captain,” Bridger indicated.

“You are probably wondering why I chose yourself specifically on this occasion. Admiral Noyce would have accepted either of you stepping forward for the role.”

“There are three main points to draw your attention to about why I made the personal decision of yourself over him. This isn’t in any way a reflection on previous performance, seniority or experience. Both of you are equally qualified and I am certain, would represent this vessel and manage the crew with professionalism and integrity. As I mentioned to Jonathan, I am not trying to steal his thunder, and I will ensure that there are plenty of opportunities for both of you to take over as Captain in the future and advance your career paths.”

“I would like to hear your answers behind that choice, Sir,” Katie replied, genuinely intrigued. She was aware of her counter-part’s expertise and leadership credentials. Ford had already carried out a number of dangerous missions on this vessel where the stakes had been at their highest. On paper, and given his proven track record, she couldn’t help but be curious about Bridger’s unique way of selecting the most appropriate candidate.

“Firstly, my decision was based due to your extensive knowledge of the area and the base that we are headed to. It has been a long time since I attended the Naval Air Station at Key West myself and I am sure that the place has expanded and changed quite considerably since my last time there. My understanding is that you have spent a considerable amount of time there during your service?”

“Yes, Captain, I did as part of some advanced training programs that I undertook before my last assignment,” Hitchcock answered. “The station itself has gone through some extensive upgrades over several years, and quite a number of federal agencies are now based through there. The base plays a vital role in hosting offshore air combat ranges for a large contingent of Fighter Squadrons there and many other allied military forces.”

“That was explained somewhat to me by the Admiral,” Bridger advised.

“My time there was mainly spent with the Special Forces Underwater Operations,” Katie continued. “I was close to gaining promotion there before I applied for my placement on-board SeaQuest. The opportunity to come here outweighed anything more I could learn there. Not only offering advancement, but the chance to work at a classified and different level of technology than ever before.”

Bridger listened to her reasoning behind leaving the Naval Air Station to accept her role as Chief Engineer. It must have been a difficult decision at the time. Both offered a lot for someone who was driven and wanted to prove themselves, but at the same time, came with additional responsibility and expectations. The Captain knew that such choices often came with unforeseen repercussions in the personal lives of those successful officers.

“The second reason for my selection for this tasks is due to your comprehensive knowledge of the SeaQuest and her internal systems,” Bridger stated. “I know you have worked very hard to gain that level of knowledge and practical hands-on experience. The third reason, is because Jonathan and a few other crew members have been invited to my island on the fourth day, to stay overnight. I am sorry that you are one who will be missing out on this occasion, Commander, but that won’t always be the case.”

“I understand, Sir,” Katie replied, assuming that Bridger would have selected people that Lucas was comfortable being around. “I do appreciate your belief and trust in my abilities to Captain the vessel in your absence.”

“The exact purpose of our mission might sound plain enough on paper as an addendum to the negotiations that we had to grant my leave,” Bridger predicted. “Make no mistake, the Admiral wants to utilise your unique skill set and knowledge to his full advantage. Those plans include having you demonstrate the SeaQuest’s internal systems and external capabilities to a group of senior brass officials who are stationed at the station in Key West.”

“I am prepared to provide a comprehensive first-hand presentation at any time, Sir,” Katie declared confidently. “Has Admiral Noyce advised the schedule for the tours and provided names for the senior military personnel that I will be expecting to host?”

“No he hasn’t, and I don’t expect much communication or assistance in that department if I know Bill as well as I do,” the Captain said. Looking down the corridor in front of them and behind, he made sure that it was just the two of them for the next few remarks he intended for her ears only.

“I have given the same details you heard just now to Jonathan earlier today on our destination and the mission itself,” Bridger forewarned. “What I am about to talk to you about now, is to remain between you and me. Understand?”

“Completely, Sir,” Katie affirmed. Hitchcock didn’t think that Bridger was the kind of Commanding Officer that would deliberately mislead his Executive Officer, without a good reason.

“Whatever Admiral Noyce’s undisclosed plans are, I think he is keeping a lot under his hat, even from me at this point, that won’t be revealed yet,” Nathan spoke candidly. “Don’t let his friendly exterior fool you, he has been at this game a long time. Use your instincts to their maximum capacity about what the true objectives might be for these senior personnel that he is suddenly allowing to snoop around. I suspect they already have high-level clearances in relation to classified projects.”

“I am under no illusion that we are playing a very carefully constructed game of chess, but not all of the pieces are in place yet, Bridger surmised. “I think he has something big planned up his sleeve for the SeaQuest in the not too distant future. This opportunity that he is setting up is much more than a guided tour and to prove that the vessel is ready to show off and demonstrate that she is ready to conduct missions.”

Katie Hitchcock listened intently to the Captain’s theory about the Admiral’s true motivations. Although the pieces of the puzzle had been laid out before her, she hadn’t reached the same level of suspicion yet or been able to draw the conclusions about the secondary reasons behind their current heading.

“The Admiral is trying to persuade a few undecided nations to join the U.E.O. to fall under the umbrella of protection, but I don’t think that is the whole plan either,” Nathan repeating to her what had been changed during the video-link conference. “My gut is telling me that there is more to this set of strings, other than granting my leave and helping Lucas.”

“Do you think that the tour is being politically motivated by higher-level military leaders and other private constituents, putting pressure and demands on the Admiral, Sir?” Hitchcock tried to gauge. “There are quite a lot of smaller nations who would benefit from such an arrangement, but the time frame to do so may not suit them or the SeaQuest.”

“Possibly,” came the short answer. “The Admiral wants to come on-board here once we return to Pearl Harbour, but I haven’t told Lucas that yet. That is not the sort of news that he will be welcoming at all. Somehow I have to plan on finding the right time to tell him, while we are on this break.”

“Yes, Sir, I will make any necessary preparations for his visit and inspection once yourself, Doctor Westphalen and Lucas have left on the launch tomorrow,” Katie replied.

“For the next couple of hours, I will be on the Bridge, overseeing last minute details and that the provisions I have requested are being loaded smoothly,” Bridger said. “I will leave any other day-to-day operational decisions up to you and Jonathan as you work together as a team. Take on everything we have spoken about, but don’t allow it to prevent you from carrying out your duties with a good dose of common sense.”

______________________________________________________________________________

Ben Krieg had spent most of his time after leaving the Captain in preparing the supplies that would be loaded onto the launch. The essentials were taken care of first, and packed into tough, waterproof containers for easier transportation. He made sure that they weren’t overloaded, since there would only be three passengers to unload the cargo once they reached their destination.

There were are few containers that he had secretly been preparing afterwards that would be brought with him and the other crew members joining them later. Things that he wanted to keep as a surprise for Lucas, and items which wouldn’t be needed until that last day and night anyway.

Now he was ready to go and find the teenager and get him to assist in loading the containers. He had started making his way down the corridor towards Mammal Engineering, but stopped as he saw Lucas talking softly to Darwin by the moon pool.

“Hey, I was coming to find you, I thought you were going to be in your cabin getting packed?” Ben asked with enthusiasm. Lucas appeared to be in a fairly good mood, but that may have been due to the dolphin’s presence rather than his own. He was looking for evidence of ‘being excited’ about going on the trip as described by the Captain.

Darwin proceeded to swim away from Lucas’s hand, and out of the moon pool.

“I have only been here a few minutes, and the bag I am taking is ready to go,” the teenager offered. Ben didn’t need to be bothered by the small details, like the fact that there was virtually no packing to be done on his end. The only clothes that he owned were already in the small bag on the floor. He would be wearing the only pair of shoes he owned on the launch.

“The personal luggage can wait until tomorrow morning to finish being loaded, before you depart,” Krieg told him. “Kristin is yet to provide everything that she is taking to me, but a lot of the other containers are complete. So if you still want to help, follow me and I will show you what is done.”

“Let’s go then,” Lucas said with a small grin, and a positive tone of voice. There is was, the touch of buzz that Ben had been watching for, but he wanted it to grow significantly more yet and have the kid as keen as mustard about going.

As they walked together towards the launch bay, Krieg decided to try and start the ball rolling early about the location of this mystery destination. “So have you managed to worm out of the Captain where you are going to yet?”

“No, he wouldn’t give specifics, except that the SeaQuest is headed for the Florida Keys,” Lucas answered.

“Well after we pack the launch, lets you and I get a couple of maps and pour over them during dinner in the mess hall,” Krieg suggested. “There can’t be that may secret places in that part of the world.

“That sounds great,” Lucas replied. “I don’t mind if we don’t find out until after we leave. I think the Captain is planning to the location secret from both I and Kristin. But it might be fun to speculate, even if we get it completely wrong. Unfortunately, I don’t have much experience in being able to read nautical charts though.”

“Count your blessings that you have all the right connections, Lucas, because you don’t need to. I can teach you,” Krieg said with an burst of self-confidence. “I have been reading them successfully for years. Came top of my class during my time at the Academy.”

“You did?” Lucas questioned, impressed by such a declaration. “I will let you guide me then, oh masterful teacher,” the teenager joked.

The two of them sharing a laugh together, and Krieg was pleased that he was keeping the boy’s attention, and making him a willing participant in the preparations.

In the launch bay, three large yellow plastic containers were resting on the floor in the corridor, and along side of them, a mobile trolley.

Lucas tested the tough outer plastic with a light kick of his foot, “These boxes seem pretty versatile from the outside, but are they heavy?”

“No, I took care in making sure that the weight was evenly distributed over the three of them. I probably could have managed with two, but erred on the side of caution this time. The trolley will make it much easier when you get there to unload,” Krieg answered.

“So, what is actually in these boxes?” Curiosity written across his face. He was very tempted to turn one of the locking mechanism’s and lift the lid to peer inside.

“You checking up on my work now?” Krieg taunted. “Don’t you trust me to have everything ready that you will need?”

“Well someone around here has to apart from Commander Ford, he already has enough to do,” Lucas shot back cheekily. “Who knows what you could be smuggling off the SeaQuest.”

Krieg’s eyes widened in mild shock, and his laughter grew at the kid’s spontaneous jibe. Give Lucas more opportunities for his true personality to shine through, and Ben was certain that there would be more fun ahead. The Lieutenant was willing to cop any kind of joke in his direction if that is what it took to get for the boy to relax more. To not have to think about the darker issues currently in his life and stop fearing what the road ahead had in store for him.

“You want to see inside the box? I will show you what is inside the box,” Krieg proclaimed, seeing that the teenager wanted to do that. After lifting the lid, he stepped back so that Lucas could see for himself how neatly the contents were stored.

“Fruits, vegetables, all kinds of food stuff to keep the three of you eating well for those few days,” Ben shared. “Some cooking utensils, though I suspect the Captain will have some useful items in his own kitchen to use.”

“Everything seems to be packed in there well enough,” Lucas gave in critique as he closed the lid and watched how Ben secured the locks. He would need to know how to open them again once they reached the island.

“The interesting stuff that I wanted to show you, isn’t in these boxes my young friend,” Krieg hinted at with a smirk. Placing the trolley into the correct position, the first box was lifted, “Follow me into the launch. I will show you how the boxes are secured to stop them rolling or moving around. There are a few neat things on-board to point out and demonstrate where they are concealed.”

“Concealed?” Lucas replied with intrigue, as he trailed behind the Morale Officer.

“Has anybody told you much about these launches before me?” Krieg asked. “I will leave explaining the controls that the pilot uses for the Captain to explain to you tomorrow.”

“That should be great,” the teenager remarked, as he watched the box being manoeuvred to the side of the launch, away from the doors. Secretly he was looking forward to Bridger showing him how to operate the vessel. “I have been inside one a couple of times now, but there was too many people both times, and I didn’t know anybody to ask at the time.”

“Well, now you do. Me. And I can answer any questions you have at any time. See those small indentations on the floor there and the matching ones alongside of them?” Ben asked, pointing to two sets of four grooves that had been purposefully carved deep into the pieces of metal plate. Eight in total.

“Yeah,” Lucas nodded, but a shrug of his shoulders signalled that he didn’t understand their importance.

“Those little divots may not seen like much, but trust me, on days when the sea is very rough, you will be thanking them in person,” Ben explained. “They are used for stopping large pieces of cargo like these boxes from slamming into you from the other side with force. Not all of the boxes like these have wheels on them, but some do. The U.E.O. operational and safety manual clearly states, that all luggage and supplies need to be secured during any journey.”

“What happens to boxes that don’t have wheels, or are stored on top of other containers?” Lucas queried. On the inside, his stomach was doing a little flip-flopping of its own at the thought of the launch being in rough seas. He hoped he never had to experience that. So far he had been lucky and not felt sick, but he didn’t want to know the opposite.

Krieg opened the front of a storage panel and pulled out a set of long, strongly fibre woven straps that had interconnecting metal fastenings on either end. “These,” Ben held up to show him. There were a number of other cords still stored inside, and a similar sized storage panel below, which probably contained more. “The wheels for boxes on the bottom usually have a small metal brake. For the other pieces of luggage or cargo, these straps are wrapped around and used to secure anything else in place without causing damage. They have strong hooks and other bits for that, and the cord itself is tested to be able to stop large weights from moving if done correctly. Everything is anchored to the floor for even more stability.”

Lucas watched as Ben showed him how the straps worked. He assisted Ben to bring in the other two boxes which were then secured in place as well. He tried to remember each step as it was shown. This being the first time, no doubt he would need to see it done on several more occasions.

Ben looked up and saw the teenager watching intently, “Don’t try and take it all in the first time. Trust me, there is plenty of time for you to learn, and it doesn’t need to be all in one day. It took me quite a long time before I could even get it half right.”

Lucas looked back at him, a little embarrassed that what he was feeling and thinking was being displayed so openly on his face.

“Now that is all done, lets show you some of those other neat features I was talking about,” Krieg said as he stood up. “You can see all of the padding on seating behind you there,” he continued. “Again, when it becomes rough out there, you will be very happy for that extra cushioning. The pole that is anchored to the floor there beside you, trust me you will appreciate it’s presence and the fact that it doesn’t move when everything else inside this cabin is that isn’t nailed down.”

Lucas stared back at Ben with a greenish look, hoping he never had to experience that. He had been fortunate so far on the trips he had taken on a launch and had been lucky enough to avoid feeling nauseous. Unpredictable situations like the one that Krieg was describing made him swallow nervously, and doubt that his stomach would cope very well.

“Up the top on both sides of the passenger cabin, you can see the over-head storage compartments. Some of them are too small to be useful in my opinion,” he demonstrated, by opening the door on one. “The doors have magnetic seals and are designed to stay closed when it gets rough, but there have been times where that has failed…..”

Krieg left the statement unfinished, assuming that the teenager would be able to make up his own conclusion about the results of that happening. “Absolutely everywhere….” he finally said, seeing the answer of where the contents would end up.

Lucas opened one of the larger compartments and saw a box inside labelled, ‘First-Aid Kit’, a fairly standard accompaniment one would assume for any kind of water craft. He opened a second door to the left where a small orange plastic container was marked with the words, ‘Food Rations’ and a whole list of instructions on the outside of how to prepare them. According to the size of the box, he couldn’t imagine anything in there being worthwhile eating.

“Dehydrated and supposed to last for centuries and keep you alive, so the manual tells people,” Ben exaggerated with a chuckle when he glanced over the boy’s shoulder and saw the label. “I have never tried them myself, and don’t ever want to.”

“That makes two of us,” Lucas agreed, closing the door. “Is there anything of any real use in any of these compartments.

“There are storage tanks under one side of the bench seat there for fresh water,” Krieg answered. “Life-jackets and other personal safety equipment beneath the other end. Underneath one of the floor panels there is also an inflatable survival raft. There is a ton of boring stuff that you probably could already guess about. Anything else isn’t worth mentioning. I am sure there will be plenty of other opportunities for you to poke around in here.”

“You want to hear the real scary numbers about these launches?” Ben asked, seeing Lucas look back at his ominous tone of voice. The teenager stopped looking through the compartment he had opened, and nodded his head cautiously.

“These sea launches are put through some rigorous testing, and are operated to depths of more than ten thousand feet,” Krieg stated. “Take that in for a minute. And then imagine the amount of space that you and I are standing in now. The exterior total length, including the cockpit, passenger module and all other areas add up to sixty-six feet. Life-support is supposed to be viable for twenty-five people for up to ten days.”

“Ten days!” Lucas said incredulously, looking around at the restrictive size of the cabin. “I don’t think it would fit more than ten people in here, once you account for luggage or any supplies as well,” he gauged. “I have been on one of these twice, and there was barely any standing room on both trips with.” He was impressed with the man’s expansive knowledge and statistics about the vessel.

“Can’t say I want to be in one that long, even with full power, but that is what they are designed for. At the Academy, one of the mandatory exercises for assessment was being capable in getting out of one of these launches in an emergency and being required to know how to deploy the raft,” Ben explained. “I agree with you on the number of people. Thankfully there will only be three of you tomorrow.”

“I take it that you were successful when it was your turn at the Academy to demonstrate your competency?” Lucas questioned, closing the door on the compartment.

Ben had wry smile on his face as he tried to find the right words, “A piece of cake, once you know how. Although ‘Commander Had-To-Tell-Me-Twenty-Times’ was not entirely happy with my performance, and made it a point to tell everybody out loud. There were some people at that place who never seemed satisfied with my efforts. My record speaks for itself, that I am a highly trained launch operator. I completed the course and have an excellent knowledge of how to pilot one, have kept passengers safe during any journey, and cargo has reached the intended destination without any problems.”

Lucas laughed at Ben’s description, “I am sure that someone will tell me the real story in the future. Before that, tell me about some of these other neat features you keep hinting at.”

The teenager used his eyes to follow the network of pipes that ran parallel throughout the cabin and ceiling of the craft. A number of various control panels could be identified, but then a few that had him guessing at their intended purpose. There were a whole lot of electronic panels that he would have liked to look behind and check out further for curiosity sake, but he erred on the side of caution.

Ben was pleased to see the kid taking everything in that was being shown to him and being spoken about. The kid’s face and body posture were showing early signs of fatigue. Planning to keep his attention only a little longer, and then encourage Lucas to join him in the mess hall for some food, he answered with one of his own.

“Look directly above your head towards the cockpit and tell me what you see?” Krieg asked, waiting to see if the boy was perceptive enough to pick up on a new security measure. “Next time you travel via one of these, be aware that everything you do and say is being recorded by the powers that be.”

Lucas heard the challenge, and glanced about the area in question. He was about to give up when he spotted something he immediately recognized, “A security camera,” he declared, the glass lens blinking directly back at him. He had definitely seen one of those on more than one occasion.

The teenager watched as Krieg opened a secret compartment, ready to explain more about it. It was Ben who was amazed when Lucas was able to identify the type of camera, right down to the exact model and specifications. The kid never stop surprising him with his intelligence or knowledge about subjects that someone his age shouldn’t know so much about.

“Well, they spared no expense when these were installed,” Lucas reported, clearly impressed with the array of equipment that he could see at first glance. “These cameras are wired, and usually are more trickier to install to begin with. Once that is done, they can become very useful and ultra reliable. They are also good for domestic use inside a house too, or put into places where the camera itself doesn’t need to move around a lot. With that kind of set up, a home owner can keep constant surveillance on multiple parts of their properties at the same time. This one is fairly obvious to spot, but there are models on the market that are even smaller, and much more advanced and can be concealed and well hidden.”

“I don’t know why I was planning on telling you all about them,” Krieg said. “The U.E.O. only installed them during the last eighteen months because a lot of supplies was going missing and couldn’t be accounted for. I guess they figured that they couldn’t trust any of us any more. It begins recording as soon as the launch engine starts up and does so continuously; the footage is downloaded to a server on SeaQuest. Then it can then be made downloadable to a computer anywhere else someone wants to send it. How come you know so much about them? ”

Lucas was poking his fingers into where the hardware and cabling was, trying to get a better look at the set up, but withdrew them, and replaced the panel. He was startled by the question for a minute, but saw no reason to be anything but truthful. “Oh, well I honestly don’t claim to know that much, but I have this best friend who has shown me a lot about cameras.”

“A friend?” Ben prompted, inwardly hoping that this ‘friend’ was one of the two that Bridger had secretly found out about and was about to be named.

“His real name is Nick,” Lucas replied, but too distracted by how well hidden it was. “Cameras mean as much to him, as computers and technology do for me. All kinds, big and small, new and old. He does play around with computers too, but photography is where his real passion and expertise lie. Wolfy has taught me a lot about them and owns a lot of them,” he added, without realising the mistake he was making.

Krieg made a mental note for later about the friend’s name and was silently grinning to himself. So far, he was one up on everybody else in that department. For a moment or two, he weighed up the pros and cons of whether he should be giving Lucas a peek at something else entirely. He wasn’t deliberately seeking to break the rules, but he knew the teenager would be fascinated.

Opening up a medium sized compartment behind Lucas’ head, “That security camera may be stationary, but these are not,” Krieg said, pulling out a small rectangular device.

“These portable body-cameras were added only six months go, but I am sure you will agree, they are much more sophisticated. They are an optional extra that some crew members can use at any time when they leave the launch, but feel the need to record their surroundings, or whenever they find themselves in questionable or unsafe areas. There are usually three kept on each launch at any one time.”

“They are usually reserved for use by military personnel only, and the brass is fairly stringent when it comes to who is taught how to use one. I suspect that people from the science contingent are not even advised that they exist unless it becomes absolutely necessary or in the case of an emergency. I am showing them to you, but let’s keep that information a secret between you and me. The Captain and Ford don’t need to be told about everything that you got to see this afternoon.”

From the words of warning, Lucas could tell that Ben was flouting with what was and wasn’t permitted by allowing him to see some things being revealed . He didn’t want his friend to get into any real trouble, and felt a little guilty as he nodded his head in agreement. There was definitely a level of unspoken appreciation as a result of Ben’s trust. No-one else had been prepared to treat him like that since coming on-board; like an adult who was capable of keeping his mouth shut when required.

Ben handed one of them to Lucas, who was even more impressed with this body-worn camera than the one installed above his head. “Colloquially known as Body Worn Cameras or B.W.V. for short. I am sure they are given or referred to by other common vernaculars too. These are extremely cool!” he remarked, with animation coming into his voice, as he turned the small black, rectangular object over in his hands. “The U.E.O. must have the right connections and spent a lot of money, as these are top of the line. Concealable, high-tech and very functional, and able to record continually for hours, whether the wearer is standing in one place, or moving around in the field. I have known them to be used by some foreign government officials, and heard rumours of them being used by unscrupulous business people who like to spy on their competition without them knowing about it.”

‘Now, how would someone like you know those kind of details?’ Krieg silently asked himself with genuine intrigue. He doubted that even having a friend with a passion for photography and electronics would have taught the teenager those kind of secrets. This sort of knowledge went way beyond being intelligent or smart, and it was never more clearer how much that they had been seriously underestimating Lucas. Circles one wouldn’t normally find anybody outside the military travelling within, unless they had top-notch security clearance. ‘Foreign governments and spies? How much could Lucas possibly know at fourteen years of age?’

“There were older versions, but they didn’t record as well and had a limited memory capacity. Often they would stop working as soon as the user too a step outside of the launch, or the image that was too distorted to be of use in sending back vital intel,” Krieg explained. “These do have a much wider reception and the sound recording on them is fairly good compared to those older models. There have been a lot of advances in the last twelve months. I haven’t had the opportunity to use one of them myself. He had started this tour thinking that he would be the one doing all of the talking and teaching, but the tables had certainly been turned when it came to both types of cameras.”

“This model comes with both audio and visual capabilities, which isn’t always the case. Some less expensive ones only come with visual, and the operational distance is limited,” Lucas continued to elaborate, as he inspected the camera at the same time. “These are definitely state-of-the-art, and although I haven’t used one of them personally either, my friend has talked about these endlessly when they were being developed. They are designed for a myriad of purposes in mind; everything from commercial enterprise to aiding law enforcement officers, and of course, enhance the objectives for the military in close encounter in both friendly and hostile situations. Nick always wanted to get his hands on one to pull it apart and see the workings inside for himself, but could never afford the price tag.”

Krieg had been leaning against the door arch of the cockpit, but now glanced down watch and noted the amount of time that had passed.

“Well, I think that about wraps up the tour for today, and includes the stuff that you shouldn’t know about. A timely reminder to keep still until the sea launch makes a complete stop, and keep all arms, legs and any other additional or protruding body parts inside the cabin until we reach the docking bay. Please listen to your launch pilot at all times, and don’t forget to tip them generously as you are leaving because they desperately need the money.”

“We are already in the docking bay, Krieg,” Lucas pointed out, laughing at the man’s comical antics and comments. “And the launch never moved the entire time.”

“There is always one unsatisfied passenger who wants to cause trouble,” Ben joked, as the two exited the vessel. “Any last minute personal luggage can wait until the morning.”

“What is on the agenda now?” the teenager asked, noting that the day was coming to a close. “Thanks for the tour, and I mean ‘all of it’” he added, glad that Krieg had added his own personal flavour to showing him around. From anybody else, it would have been a completely different story, and a whole lot less to see.

“How about you and I go get something to eat,” Krieg suggested. “Then afterwards, we can start pouring over those charts of the Florida Keys that I mentioned earlier, and try to work out where you are headed tomorrow?”

“Sure, I can join you in the mess hall, but I am not very hungry right now,” Lucas admitted. “I don’t want a full meal tonight. A drink and something light and not so heavy on my stomach.”

Ben listened, and wondered about the cause behind the lack of appetite. Something involving his father, and part of what he was already dealing with? Another reason concerning the impending departure tomorrow morning that the teenager wasn’t forthcoming about? Lucas didn’t appear to be masking any unresolved emotions right at this particular moment. Maybe he was becoming better at disguising his fear and anxiety from those who were still learning what signs to look out for.

______________________________________________________________________________

Entering the mess hall for dinner, Ben thought that the teenager would have baulked more at the number of crew in the room and the noise level. Lucas didn’t say anything, but this was certainly somewhere he wanted to be right now. Both of them grabbed a tray and joined the end of the line in front of the service tables.

The head chef Don was present and could see Lucas wanting to change his mind about staying, and doing so only because Krieg was standing alongside of him. As they edged closer to being able to make a selection, he waited until they were the last two people to drum up some casual conversation.

“Captain Bridger tells me there is an exciting trip planned for tomorrow, Lucas?”

The teenager selected one of the containers of dessert on offer, “A few days away with him and Doctor Westphalen. I cannot confirm the exciting part yet, but hopefully some different scenery.”

“Are you at least taking him with you out of my hair?” Don joked, pointing a thumb in Krieg’s direction.

Lucas had to suppress the bubble of laughter at the resulting scoffed expression on Ben’s face, “I tried to talk the Captain around, Don, I really did. To help you out.”

“Now wait a darn minute……….” Ben started to object in the most strenuous of terms.

“Thank you for at least trying,” Don answered with a cheeky wink. “I guess the rest of the crew here will be stuck with him like normal until you all return.”

“The Captain did finally agree to let him off here after a few days and stay elsewhere overnight,” the teenager offered, continuing the charade. He knew if he looked at Ben’s indignant expression, then he would not have been able to keep a straight face. “Sorry, that is the best I could come up with at such short notice.”

“I won’t forget, Lucas,” Don declared, shaking the kids hand in mock appreciation. “Anything you want in return, you name it.”

“Name it? Stuck with me?” Krieg challenged, willing to take the knocks on the chin. He was getting a kick out of the teenager joining in with the chef, even if it was at his expense. “Mark my words, I won’t forget either of you!” he declared, adding to his tray before turning away and walking to a vacant table.

“I had better follow him before he explodes,” Lucas responded with a chuckle. Their taunting of Ben had helped the time go a little faster. The chatter echoing in the room lessening considerably, and the seated crowd thinning out.

Don looked at Lucas’ tray and saw that it still only had one dessert and a cold drink. “Not having anything else for dinner?” feeling obliged to say something, but still let the teenager be in charge of his own choices.

“I decided to do everything in reverse this time around, which is why I chose a dessert,” Lucas answered. “Don’t worry, this is plenty and will tide me over until morning.”

“Remember to fill me in with everything that happens once you get back,” Don prompted as he watched the teenager turn away and walk towards Krieg. They had taken a slide back in encouraging him about food today, but maybe that was going to happen from time to time. The head chef thought they had climbed up that hill a little more, but guessed that set backs were bound to occur.

______________________________________________________________________________

When Lucas sat down across the table from him, Ben had some of the same thoughts and concerns running through his head as he saw how light Lucas’ tray was. He decided that there needed to be a different approach to the problem, and now wasn’t the time to keep beating the subject in the same way.

On the eve before the trio was due to leave, there wasn’t going to be an opportunity to think of a workable solution. No doubt Bridger and Kristin would do their best as a team on the island. When they came back after that few day’s break, and if things had not improved, maybe it was time to talk together and come up with new strategies of encouragement.

The teenager was satisfied with the amount and choice of food he had made, judging that he would be able to argue that very point if Doctor Westphalen pressed him about whether he had eaten food or not. Krieg was pleased to note that he wasn’t displaying the same hesitation or nervousness from earlier in the day, when they were talking in the same room. Tiredness was becoming more noticeable, but it didn’t feel right for him to be telling the kid to get some sleep.

Lucas could see the wheels of thought turning around in Ben’s mind, and if he thought about it hard enough, he was sure what the topics would be. For now though, he didn’t want to do that, and swallowed any comments on the tip of his tongue, along with his soda.

Ben consumed his own meal, keeping the conversation between them about the trip and what activities the Captain may have devised. Whilst Lucas delivered the used trays to Don in the kitchen, Krieg left for a few brief moments to grab the oceanographic charts that he had hinted at earlier.

When he returned, Ben had in his hands a portable tablet device, and a series of paper charts rolled up and tucked up under one arm. Lucas rescued the paper charts before they fell to the floor and started to spread them across the table.

Ben began looking through them and arranging them according to the information he was looking for, and hoping to show Lucas. Whilst he was doing that, Lucas picked up the tablet and switched it on, thinking that it had to be a more up-to-date method.

“Wouldn’t this be quicker?” the teenager asked, as the display opened up. “How do you even decipher and read what is on the screen?”

“Oh ye, young apprentice,” Krieg replied with a grin. “The information provided on the tablet would certainly be more recent. Tonight, I am thinking like Bridger. He is old school, and seasoned naval guys from his generation, take advantage of these older nautical maps.”

“Yeah, I guess he would,” Lucas agreed, thinking about what little he knew about the Captain’s background. He did seem to like to do things in a particular way, and going by some of the objects that he kept on display in his quarters, that was a logical assumption for Ben to make.

“There are a couple of different types here to look over. Each one represents is a graphical representation of something different, and together or individually, they can be a very useful tool,” Ben explained with patience. “Each chart has a prescribed scale at the bottom. Topographical maps are going to give you details about the depth of water and the height of any surrounding bits of land.”

“They will also show natural landmarks and features of the seabed or sea-floor, the coastline so that any hazards can be navigated around. Information on tides and the deep ocean currents, all essential resources for successful marine navigation. With the tablet in your hand, you can only see a portion of any one map at a time. The ability to zoom in and out as necessary does have its advantages. However, with these charts laid out like this, there is much more to see overall.”

“So much to learn about these that I would never have suspected before,” Lucas remarked, drinking in every detail and listening intently. “Where do you think we are headed tomorrow? I don’t really mind it being a mystery and not knowing. I guess Bridger will show Kristin and I soon enough tomorrow morning when we set out.”

“Using all the skills that I have, I believe we need to take into account areas like this………………,” Krieg started to circle. “This whole area is the Florida Keys, where SeaQuest is currently headed. Over here, the Naval Base at Key West is located,” Ben described, using the tip of a finger to follow the features on the map.

With both of them looking down at the surface of the table, neither of them heard or saw someone enter the mess hall. Bridger had eaten a quick snack dinner himself an hour earlier, and had only come in to get a hot cup of coffee. He saw the two friends seated at the table, and pouring over something of interest. He decided to find out what they were so curious about.

“Having fun gentlemen?” came his voice from behind, startling them both.

“Whoa!, Sir!” Krieg yelled out in total surprise. “Talk about sneaking up on people.”

“Captain…….,” Lucas admonished, feeling the man’s hand touch his good shoulder in friendship. He couldn’t deny that he had jumped nearly as high as Ben in fright.

“Sneaking? I came in here to get a coffee,” Bridger said in his own defence, but he had a lingering grin on his face at being able to catch out the Morale Officer when he least expected it. “My job description calls for keeping personnel on their toes at all times, Lieutenant.” He was pleased to see that Lucas wasn’t upset and had quickly brushed aside any embarrassment.

Bridger looked over the top of their heads, and down at the various nautical charts and had a good sense of what they were trying to achieve. The smirk on his face returned, knowing that he still had the upper hand in that respect too. “Looking over those maps won’t do either of you any good, but you certainly get marks for trying, Ben.”

“Oh, come on, Captain, you have to give us a hint, Sir!” Ben pleaded.

“There are a still a couple of small jobs to complete before I retire for the night,” Bridger said, redirecting the conversation. “Everything packed in the launch as requested?”

“Yes, Sir, everything except personal belongings, which won’t take much time tomorrow morning,” Ben answered dutifully.

“How about you, Lucas?”

“Ah, yeah, all done,” the teenager offered, not wanting to admit to their being no packing to speak of. “I am about to head back to my cabin now anyway. Ben, do you need a hand to pack these up?”

“Nah, I have it covered,” Ben answered. “Thanks for your help this afternoon,” he added.

“I was planning on calling by your cabin last, Lucas, if you are going to be there,” Bridger gauged. He had picked up on the same level of fatigue as Ben, and hoping that work wasn’t on the teenager’s agenda tonight.

Lucas stood up from the table. “Yeah, I will be there. I am not planning on doing too much for the next few hours except wind down. Catch you both later.”

Both Krieg and Bridger were pleased to hear that statement and watched as the teenager left the mess hall.

“Let’s hope that is truly the case,” Bridger commented. “Tomorrow morning, there are a few last minute jobs and instructions that I will give to specific crew members before we embark on this journey.”

“I will go and retrieve that cap for you now, Sir, and drop it off to you. I got a little side-tracked this afternoon with loading the launch.”

“How did the tour go?” Nathan asked. He had been waiting to see if Lucas was going to tell him about it.

“Very well, Sir, he seemed genuinely interested in learning and even taught me a thing or three, which I was totally unprepared for. I left showing him the controls of the cockpit for you tomorrow, thinking that you would enjoy that task yourself,” Krieg replied.

Ben was right about the controls, Nathan was looking forward to being able to spend some time with Lucas and explain about the different controls of the launch as they travelled. Something that the two of them could do together. Nevertheless there was something missing from his brief and concise answer that said a whole lot more.

“A problem I should know about?” he asked. In the back of his mind, Bridger was wondering what Lucas managed to teach Ben within the short space of a few hours.

Ben looked back at the Captain for a minute, wondering how he figured it out, but smiled, rocking back on his heels and glad that he didn’t have to say it out loud. The man’s intuitiveness when it came to Lucas certainly could not be underestimated.

“There isn’t much to tell you, Sir. You know I would, if I thought that I should be. Lucas was great company this afternoon, and was playing along, talking pleasantly. He would answer a question when asked, participated in everything that I was doing. Even coming in here, there was a moment of hesitation, but that smoothed out, and he and Don were making jokes at my expense.”

“And…….?” Bridger said. He was nodding his head at everything he was hearing, and could have put the possible cause down to residual mixed feelings from their earlier discussion in his quarters.

“He is tired, and needs sleep yes, but that is not it. Lucas says he is looking forward to going on this trip, and I believe him,” Ben reported. “But something was off, and I haven’t been able to quite put my finger on what,” he said, thinking along a different route.

“Thank you, I do appreciate your honesty. I will be making going by his cabin my last point of call for the night. I am hoping he may have fallen asleep by then.”

______________________________________________________________________________

Bridger went back to his own quarters momentarily, whilst Krieg was searching through boxes in his storage area.

Nathan was planning on making contact with the person he was arranging to pick up and escort the invited crew members to his private island. When he reached his quarters, he had a change of heart, wanting to keep the mystery for as long as possible.

He would have the ability to contact them once he reached his island, and not have those crew members know before they were greeted at Key West on the fourth morning. By that time, it wouldn’t matter so much if Lucas or Kristin found out who the person was. Although Bridger was hoping to keep the identity from them too until they were introduced face to face.

He would leave details in a sealed envelope he intended to hand to Ford before departure in the morning, in case he was unsuccessful in being able to reach them. Nathan was looking forward to this reunion as well, knowing that he was the one who was the one responsible for maintaining the distance and keeping the silence between them. They had tried to reach out, more than once or twice, and had the door firmly slammed shut in their face. Time had changed his outlook after Carol’s death, but it hadn’t always been that way. Sometimes he was too stubborn for this own good.

As he was securing his door, Ben Krieg was approaching his quarters, with the item he had requested in hand.

“I located a brand new one that will suit your purpose nicely, Sir,” Ben commented, a huge grin on his face, as he handed over the brand new box. “The sizing should be correct, but let me know if it is not.”

A part of him wanted to be there when it was presented, and see the look on the teenager’s face. But he also recognized it as a chance for Lucas and the Captain to make more of a connection between the two of them. “Let me know how it turns out. I am sure you have nothing to worry about, Sir, and it will be a well received surprise.”

“Thank you, I hope you are right,” Bridger answered simply. “I really appreciated all your efforts today with Lucas and the supplies.” There were quite a few words he could of said in gratitude, but they seemed inadequate and the meaning behind them would be have been lost.

Running his hand over the outside of the box, there were a lot of thoughts running through his head. About the contents, the impending trip and more. All of which he could assume that Ben could safely give a list of, but respected his judgement enough about when it came to Lucas.

______________________________________________________________________________

After leaving the mess hall, Lucas didn’t have any plans as he had told Bridger and Ben. As he walked by the moon pool, Darwin came swimming up to the edge of the tank, and the teenager couldn’t resist stopping to spend some time with him.

As he glanced about the immediate area, the boy noticed that is was nice and quiet at this time of the evening. There were no scientific staff from Kristin’s department at any of the benches or computers. The area was devoid of any military personnel too, which was just as uncommon. Normally the moon pool deck was a hive of activity and with people coming and going as they went about their duties.

Lucas was grateful for the solitude. If there had been other people present when he was walking past, he probably would have given a quick hello to his dolphin friend and kept going. With nobody about or watching on, he was content to stay a little longer.

“Hey, Darwin,” Lucas greeted the mammal, leaning on the edge of the pool and reaching in and rubbing his hands gently over the smooth, sensitive head. He knew that he would be able to spend time with the dolphin during their break, but not being able to swim in the water with him both here and there was depressing. There was only so much interaction to be had between them while petting and talking through the vocorder.

The vocorder control was in the designated bracket on the wall on the other side of the tank, but the teenager didn’t bother to retrieve it. The control would transmit any speech that came through easily enough.

“Are you ready for the big adventure tomorrow?” Lucas asked. He had no qualms about how odd it sounded or looked to anybody that he was talking openly to an animal. A better friendship than most of the human ones he had ever known.

The dolphin raised it’s head out of the water, splashing the teenager as it opened his beak, “Darwin go with Bridger.” It sounded as if he was happy to be going.

Lucas wanted to reply openly that he was happy to be going to, but that was only partly true. With the time to departure growing shorter, and looming in the back of his mind, his fears about his father had been quickly gathering strength over the past several hours. It had been gnawing away at him even when he and Ben were pouring over the nautical maps in the mess hall. Hopefully Ben had been too distracted in showing him the various charts to take enough notice in his efforts to quell the anxiety knotting up his insides.

“Yeah, me too. I bet you are looking forward to going home for a few days. At least you will have more freedom than the tanks on-board and the aqua tubes. You will be able to swim in the shallow warm waters. SeaQuest is usually down at depths where the surrounding environment is darker for you, and the temperature of the water much colder.”

The thoughts rattling around in Lucas’ mind started to become darker too. With the mention of the word ‘home’ he wondered if he would ever find a place for himself. So far in life, such a thing had only been a fleeting wish and wanting everything that it offered. Somewhere that offered a different kind of protection and safety and not only from the weather. Knowing what it felt like to have one and that indescribable moment of pride in belonging somewhere. Surely such a feeling could only be part of a dream.

Lucas was brought back from his far-away thoughts, when he was hit with a sudden jet of water from the dolphin to his face. He clearly hadn’t been paying attention, and Darwin was letting him know it.

“Sorry, I drifted away there for a minute.”

Darwin go home.”

“Yes, Darwin will be going home tomorrow,” the teenager said with a smile. “I haven’t seen this mystery place yet. You and the Captain can show me around when we get there, huh?”

Lucas go home too.”

The dolphin didn’t see the smile drop away from Lucas’ face with that electronic chirp.

“I don’t have a home yet, Darwin,” he answered, trying to push down the swell of emotion that had been evoked by his own words. “And maybe not any time soon,” the boy told himself silently.

The mammal wasn’t to be deterred though, “Darwin’s home, Lucas home now.”

Lucas was taken back by the dolphin’s off-hand comment. “You really think so?” speaking with a heavy helping of scepticism. “You get to choose where you want to live and come and go as your please. There on the island, in the open ocean, or here on SeaQuest. But it is not as easy as that for me no matter where I am.”

One of the security personnel assigned to the evening shift walked into the moon pool area, breaking up any further talk between the boy and dolphin. Lucas didn’t want any anonymous and well-intended report to reach the Captain about him having second thoughts about leaving the sanctuary that Bridger had created for him.

Heading back to his cabin as Darwin swam out of the moon pool tank, he couldn’t shake the anxiety that had been renewed earlier in the day, and a constant companion all afternoon. Some intense gaming might help him deal with any pent up negativity or thoughts about his father and get rid of them before their departure in the morning.

The Captain kept promising that he was safe whilst on-board, but all of that was about to change. What was going to be his father’s next move?

______________________________________________________________________________

Lucas got about twenty minutes into playing his game when he heard a knock behind him on the hatch door. The movement of the game controller suddenly stopped in his hand, and he contemplated whether he really wanted to answer it at all. The more he thought about his father and leaving tomorrow, the tighter his grip became on the handle, and the more erratic and unfocused his playing became. He was no longer hitting any target on the screen and his efforts of strategy diminished substantially.

He resumed using the handle of the joystick again, “Come in,” he called out, but didn’t turn around to face his visitor. There was noticeable tension across his shoulders, and he was sitting very rigid against the back of the chair.

Bridger casually stepped into the small cabin after hearing the invitation to enter, holding onto the box that he had taken from Krieg a short time ago.

Standing inside the doorway, the Captain took stock of the boy’s stiff posture and closed off body language. At first he thought the teenager was upset at the game he was playing, and suspected that he was losing whatever battle he was involved with. There were other obvious signs that indicated that Lucas was using what was on the screen as a distraction from what was really bothering him.

“Are you going to turn around and face me?” Bridger scolded lightly, wanting to make this visit a positive one. Maybe this was one of those times where teenager’s got perturbed by interruptions to their on-line screen time.

Lucas placed the controller on the table in front of him and swivelled around in the chair to face the owner of the voice speaking to him.

“I am sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude,” he apologized, running his hands through his tangled blond hair, and blowing out a large lungful of air as he tried to get his thoughts and feelings under control. He stood up, looking at Bridger and trying to find a grin, but was clearly struggling.

Bridger decided it was going to be up to him to break the ice and start a conversation between them, “I thought you might getting some sleep before tomorrow.”

“You would think so,” Lucas said, some of the tension leaving his face, but quickly replaced with a self depreciating smirk that wasn’t hiding anything.

“Talk to me,” Bridger stated plainly, setting the box aside on top of the bunk bed. Lucas’ eyes glanced sideways at the box for a moment, and his expression changed briefly to one of curiosity, before coming back and settling squarely on the Captain. He knew he needed to ask this question, but he was finding it difficult to get the words out.

“Please tell me that nobody will know where to find us?” he whispered, swallowing the lump lodged in his throat. The desperation showing in his eyes for the need of such reassurance was palpable. He needed Bridger to understand why he was asking.

Bridger could see the internal war raging within and knew that the teenager was hanging on for his answer. And he knew exactly which ‘nobody’ was being referred to without mentioning names. Now he knew why the boy had been hesitant and slow to turn around to face him when he first came into the cabin.

Nathan took half a step closer to the teenager, reaching out and running a supportive hand down his upper left arm as he spoke, “I promise you that only a few select people I completely trust will be told where we are. My friend who will be bringing the other crew members to us later in the week, has kept the location of my place secret for a long time until now. You don’t need to worry about him.

“Thanks,” Lucas whispered softly, feeling guilty and embarrassed that he had to ask the question at all. When he looked back up at the Captain, there was no judgement at all on his face. The fear and anxiety were still present, but the Captain’s promise allowed him to take a breath again rather than have him feeling that he was holding one in endlessly.

“Playing a game tonight were you?” Bridger brought up, changing the subject, but inwardly kicking himself and knowing he was sounding like an idiot. He had clearly been able to see what the boy was doing when he entered.

Lucas was appreciative of the man’s efforts to talk about anything but what was currently weighing heavily on his mind.

“Yes, to relax like I told you earlier,” he answered, without admitting his fear stopping him from attempting sleep yet, and suspecting his explanation didn’t really hold water. From the furious pace of the play Bridger had witnessed first hand, he doubted that it would help anyone relax.

Lucas’ gaze was drawn back to the box sitting on his top bunk, “What did you bring?”

“Oh, just a little something that you should have already been given when you first came on-board,” Bridger replied with a smile. “All crew members are supposed to have one provided as part of their official SeaQuest uniform. Some personnel consider wearing them as a little more optional until they are reminded otherwise by Commander Ford or Hitchcock. A little oversight on my part that you were overlooked at receiving one. Open it up, it is for you.”

Lucas’ expression switched to one of suspicion as his brain started going off in one particular tangent about what he could be receiving.

If the Captain thought he was going to putting on one of those black jumpsuits, or even one of the blue ones from Kristin’s scientific department, then he was going to be sorely disappointed. The teenager didn’t want to appear ungrateful, but he wasn’t looking to dress in any kind of uniform at any time. Some people needed one for their occupation, or to demonstrate that they belonged to a specific organisation like nursing staff at hospitals, students that went to private schools and the military.

Although he didn’t have much of a wardrobe to speak of, conforming and being requested to wear any items of clothing because everybody else expected you to, totally went against his individual personality, belief system and sense of style. He respected the people on SeaQuest who were required to do so and they did look smart, but they weren’t for Lucas Wolenczak.

The teenager picked up the box, surprised by the lightness of the contents. Whatever was inside certainly didn’t weigh anything at all, so perhaps he had jumped to the wrong conclusion. He started to lift the lid, but looked back at Bridger, seeking permission to do so. He had picked up on the words ‘wearing’ and ‘uniform’ and was puzzled as to what could be inside and how he fitted into this whole equation.

“Yes, open it up,” Bridger repeated. “I want you to have it. It won’t bite you,” he encouraged, remembering Krieg’s report of how the boy had reacted at the acceptance of something considered a gift.

Lucas gave a partial lopsided grin at the Captain’s comment, but any words on the tip of his tongue fell away as he lifted out a black baseball cap. Turning it over in his hands and facing the visor towards himself, the cobalt blue triangle with white edging in the background and the gold embroidery of ‘SeaQuest DSV’ and the hammerhead shark emblazoned and layered proudly over the top.

“T-this is for me?” he finally managed to get out. He gently ran the tip of his index finger over the raised thread symbol and lettered patch.

“Yes, this one is for you,” Bridger said, seeing the emotions swirl around and knowing that being given a simple gift was having a profound and overwhelming impact on the teenager. “I already have one, and this one is a size or two small in diameter.”

The teenager took half a step forward and gave Nathan a brief and awkward embrace, “Thank you,” he whispered, unable to think of anything even remotely adequate to describe his current frame of mind. Lucas didn’t know how appropriate it was to give the newly appointed commanding officer of a military submarine a hug.

Bridger was taken aback by the spontaneous display of gratitude, “You are most welcome,” he said, giving a light chuckle, only too pleased to respond to the gesture and add a gentle squeeze to his left shoulder for good measure. The boy needed someone to be willingly spend quality time with him, without any conditions, strings or expectations wanted in return.

Nathan recalled Ben’s remarks about affection being foreign and unfamiliar to him and actively avoiding most forms of physical contact. He could guess at the amount of courage it had taken for someone this shy to push themselves outside of their comfort zone. The two of them being the only ones inside the cabin probably played a major factor. Lucas was someone who had been missing out on a lot of basic positive human interaction for far too long. He may be living on SeaQuest through no choice of his own, but he wanted to feel included.

“I gave it to you now, hoping you would put it in your bag to take with you tomorrow,” the Captain told him. “The afternoon sun on the island can get a little hot this time of year, so you are going to need something to protect your head from the heat. You are welcome to leave it here until we return it you prefer.”

“No, I want to take it with me,” Lucas affirmed, placing the cap back inside the box temporarily and setting it off to the side. Taking the box seemed unnecessary, and he didn’t want to remove the cap from the box and leave it inside his small bag overnight.

“I saw you wearing a pair of sunglasses on the launch you and I shared the first time. Bringing them along might be a good idea too,” Bridger stated. He didn’t recall seeing the teenager sporting them when he and Ben came across him asleep on the second launch.

“Oh, well I did have some like you saw,” Lucas replied, his heart sinking at having to derive a false explanation for their absence. “They must be at home somewhere. I didn’t have them with me when I came back.”

The Captain readily accepted the reason, but saw the slight dip of his facial expression and knew that there was more to the story that the boy didn’t want to reveal.

Lucas didn’t want to tell Bridger that the pair they were talking about were at home, like he said. However, now they were in pieces in a garbage bag somewhere, thanks to his father’s efforts. Before he had the chance of giving an explanation for his lateness, and before his impending punishment had been carried out. During his most recent visit home, he had entered the man’s office and the thin frames had been ripped off the front of his shirt. Unfortunately they became a casualty of his father’s boot, the dark lenses shattered beyond recognition.

The teenager knew he didn’t need to remind Bridger what else had fallen victim to the man’s unbridled fury and stomped on that night. The sunglasses in question had been a spare pair from his friend Nick, who had given them to him when he upgraded to new ones. It would be a while before he would have sufficient funds to be able to afford to buy another set of his own.

Down at his feet, Nathan spotted the small bag that he had seen a few times in Lucas’ possession, and suspected it would be what he was using as luggage tomorrow. It didn’t look much different now to when he and Kristin had found it with Cynthia Holt’s stash of medication inside. So much for his bold comment in the Ward Room about getting packed.

“Got everything together that you want to take?”

Lucas immediately looked down at the bag and realised that its outer appearance was a pitiful site. Scuffed and not holding a lot inside of it. “Yeah, the clothes are still in the bag, and I only have one pair of sneakers in the way of shoes, so I will be wearing those on my feet in the morning.”

The Captain nodded his head, but made a mental note to himself to talk to Ben Krieg in the morning about ordering the boy some more clothes and footwear, without making a fuss about it. If his father wasn’t going to provide what Lucas needed, then Nathan was perfectly willing for the U.E.O. or himself to step in and provide something. The tricky part was going to be getting Lucas to accept anything being purchased on his behalf. Even if it was something like clothes to wear. He had turned Krieg down outright when offering to order replacement snacks for his stash jars.

“All of my tasks are completed for now. I will see you in the morning. Tomorrow is going to be a great day,” Bridger proclaimed as he prepared to leave. “I am headed back to my own quarters and I know that Kristin was planning on getting a little more rest tonight. Please try and get some sleep if you can, I am about to do the same.”

“I will try,” Lucas promised, as he watched the Captain open the hatch door. “Thanks again for stopping by with the cap.”

Rubbing at his eyes after locking the door behind Bridger, the teenager was true to his word and was intending to try and sleep tonight. The computer game he was playing had logged him out due to inactivity and he had no desire to start it again.

Bridger’s talk and gift had lifted his spirits somewhat about tomorrow, and the bubbles of excitement about the island began to rise again. However, he couldn’t suppress entirely or deny the unsettled feelings that were set lower down in the pit of his stomach, and it had nothing to do with a lack of food.

______________________________________________________________________________

At three o’clock in the morning and Ben Krieg was silently cursing that he had to get up now, knowing that his alarm was set to go off in another couple of hours anyway.

Padding in bare feet down the corridor to the mess hall, his intention was to grab a cold bottle of water and take it back to his cabin.

At first, he thought that the room was in virtual darkness, except for a few security lights strategically placed around the room. He was relying on those to navigate his way to the fridge, and had grabbed what he came for. He was just about to walk out, when movement from the shadows caught his attention.

Looking into the pitch black room, the silhouette of a lone figure could be seen sitting at one of the tables. A voice spoke to him, “What are you doing in here this time of the night?”

Ben started walking towards the table and from the dull illumination emitted nearby, threw back a question of his own. “That should be my question to you, Lucas.”

Approaching the table, he could see that the teenager had a cup of coffee off to the left-hand side, and a deck of cards spread out on the surface of the table. Taking a closer look he could see the pattern, “Solitiare?”

“Yeah, it’s pretty much one of the few cards games you can play on your own,” the teenager answered. “Pull up a chair if you want,” he invited.

“Aren’t you supposed to be getting some sleep before you leave in a few hours?” Ben queried.

“I promised Bridger that I would try as he was leaving my cabin. And I can honestly say for a good part of two hours, I tried to live up to that. Everything went south about three hours ago, which is how long I have been sitting in here before you came.”

“You have been sitting in here in the dark all alone during that time playing cards?” Krieg asked, taking a look at the kids’ face and judging from himself that the problem about his sleeping pattern were still clearly evident.

“Nothing else to do much, when I didn’t feel like playing a computer game,” Lucas replied casually. “It wasn’t fair to wake anybody else up. You don’t need to keep me company either, I am sure you have a lot to do already today.”

‘The Captain wouldn’t see it like that, Lucas’ Ben thought to himself, getting the distinct impression that he was avoiding sleep again, just like he had reported.

“I came for the water, but it won’t be long before my alarm will be going off,” Ben countered. “If it was a better time of the day, I could be teaching you thing or three about cards.”

“Wow, you mean to tell me that I have caught the great Ben Krieg out at a time when he isn’t at his absolute best?” Lucas challenged with a daring and cheeky smirk.

After the initial shocked expression faded, the man’s own grin widened significantly at the open taunt from the teenager.

“Go turn up some of the lights in here and refill your coffee cup, Wolenczak, and let me show you how to shuffle the deck for a real game of cards,” Krieg ordered.

______________________________________________________________________________

By the time Bridger arrived in launch bay area, just after seven o’clock in the morning, Kristin was standing by a couple of large boxes. He was in time to see the back end of Ben Krieg enter the designated sea launch carrying another large box.

“Be careful with that one, Lieutenant, I don’t want the contents getting tossed about when it took so long for me to carefully pack everything separately,” Kristin called out.

“Good morning,” Nathan greeted the doctor, carrying a bag of his own containing his personal clothes and belongings. He was currently dressed in casual attire, and probably didn’t look that much different than the day Kristin had accused him of being a tourist.

“Good morning, Sir,” Ben greeted him, as he exited the smaller vessel. He had been planning to grab the next box for Doctor Westphalen, but changed his mind. “I will take custody of that for you, Captain, and see that it is safely stored on-board before your departure.”

Nathan relinquished his hold on the bag easily enough, but there was also a sealed envelope in his other hand that caught Ben’s attention.

“You still have several of my boxes to stow on-board, Mr Krieg, before you start offering your services to others,” Kristin pointed out to him good-naturedly. She had laughed out loud at the expression on his face when he had first seen the stack of boxes she insisted were necessary for four days.

“Don’t remind me, Doc,” Krieg answered with mock exaggeration. “One could do themselves a major back injury after loading the amount of luggage you are taking all on your own.”

Kristin and Nathan shared a small laugh together at the Morale Officer’s antics. But the doctor side of her noticed something else about him, wondering if the Captain had picked up on it yet. “Does Ben seem a little fatigued to you this morning than normal?”

“I haven’t been here long enough yet to take a good look at his appearance,” Nathan answered truthfully, but was concerned that Kristin had noted something about the man’s health. They were already dealing with one person who had a troubled sleeping pattern. He didn’t want it to become contagious on-board and spread to anyone else.

Before there could be any further discussion between them, Commander Jonathan Ford arrived, carrying his usual clip-board in hand. “Good morning, Captain, Doctor Westphalen.”

“Good Morning, Commander,” came the pleasant tone from Kristin.

“Good Morning, Jonathan, I see you are up bright and early like some of us,” the Captain greeted his second-in-command. “Can I safely assume that we are still on-course and the scenery outside should have begun to change dramatically since leaving the harbour last night?”

“Yes Sir, and Tim O’Neill and Miguel Ortiz are at this moment at their respective stations, ready to assist you as you leave the launch bay,” Ford reported. “The SeaQuest is continuing to cruise at an impressive speed, but as you would expect, the depth is very different to what we are used to at Pearl Harbour. We are navigating the current at two thousand feet. I estimate that we should reach our destination later this afternoon, a good hour ahead of schedule. As for the scenery outside, we are still a little deeper to see much of a difference yet, but I do suspect that will change before lunch time.”

“Thank you, Commander, that is pleasing to hear, and allows me to relax a little more, knowing that the helm and everybody on-board is in experienced hands,” Bridger commented. “Make sure you put the show on both main screens on the Bridge and throughout the other departments as possible. Although not everybody is coming on this short break, I want all of them to witness the spectacular gifts of nature that will be on display in this neck of the woods.”

Ben emerged from the launch to pick up the last of the boxes to be packed, “Be right with everyone, as soon as I get this last piece secured,” he said, seeing the small group mingling on the deck nearby.

“Did you see what I was talking about, Nathan?” Kristin asked.

“See what, Doctor Westphalen?” Ford questioned, knowing that he was coming in late to the conversation in relation to something about Krieg.

Before Kristin or the Captain could answer the Executive Officer, Ben came back out of the launch. Nathan decided he was going to address the problem right here and now, before he left, and that started with some honesty from the man himself.

“Lieutenant, I know you have been doing an exemplary job on getting all of the supplies we will need, and loading them, without much assistance,” Bridger began. “I hope you are still maintaining a healthy fitness routine and have been taking care of yourself as well? The reason I ask, is that the doctor suspects that you didn’t get a lot of sleep last night?”

Ford listened with intrigue as the Captain’s observations. Since the meeting in the Ward Room, he had been unable to find fault with his work ethic. He had tackled putting the supplies together and ensuring they were being loaded securely. At the same time, he had carried out his own duties without falling behind or slacking off. Like the Captain, he had not been in the launch bay long enough to notice the tiredness they were accusing the man of.

Ben hesitated for a minute, debating with himself whether or not he should be telling the Captain about his early morning activities in the mess hall with Lucas. Upon second thought, if he look tired after a few hours of lost sleep, then he could be certain that the teenager wouldn’t be able to disguise his own tiredness. Especially with Kristin. She was liable to be watching him like a hawk on this trip anyway, and reporting anything quickly enough back to Bridger.

So far he had maintained an honesty policy with the crew about Lucas on most occasions. It was probably better to give the Captain and Kristin a heads up that there was still a lot of work to do in that area.

“I am fine, Sir, thank you for asking, and you Doc, for pointing out the bags under my eyes,” he replied with a laugh at himself. “I did get some sleep, but woke up at about three o’clock, way before my morning alarm. I was only planning to be up long enough to get a bottle of water from the mess hall. But when I got there, I saw that I wasn’t the only one awake at that hour.”

“Lucas?” Bridger guessed with an audible sigh, knowing that the teenager had already admitted to being awake during the early morning hours, before last night.

“He wasn’t doing anything wrong, per sè, merely drinking a cup of coffee on his own, in the dark, playing solitaire with a deck of cards,” Ben informed the group. “I can only go by the estimation that Lucas gave me about how long he had been sitting there when it came up in our conversation. Three hours. But he did mention that he had made a promise to you, Sir, about trying to get some sleep, so I assume he had tried earlier. I didn’t want to leave him there alone at such an unreasonable hour, so I stayed to keep him company.”

“I am not happy to hear about him missing out on more sleep again. Nathan, we really do need to find a workable solution, preferably before this trip is over,” the Doctor said adamantly.

“I agree,” Nathan said in agreement, but wanting to hear the end of Ben’s take about their conjoined nocturnal activities.

“Neither of us went back to bed, but we parted ways about six a.m. this morning, when I came here to start getting organized, and he went back to his cabin. Don only came into the kitchen an hour earlier, but he was busy getting breakfast started for the crew.” Ben decided to omit the details about teaching him a few hands of a different game of cards.

“Did you see Lucas have any breakfast this morning, Mr Krieg?” Kristin asked, already suspecting the answer, given the account of what time he was awake. “Even if he isn’t sleeping, he really should have something in his stomach before we set of this morning. And during his critical years of growth, something more than coffee.”

“Thank you, Ben, I know you would have been looking out for him,” Bridger remarked. “Although I am not happy to hear about his sleeping either, I want to start this trip off on the right foot. With a positive mindset for all of us. I am hoping this time away will allow us to help him change some of these choices for the better.”

Reluctantly, Kristin knew that Nathan was right, and she didn’t want to start berating him over his sleeping and eating habits as soon as she saw him this morning. The two of them working together over the next four days would make a difference.

______________________________________________________________________________

“Speaking of positive things,” Ben said with a good deal of anticipation, “How did the surprise gift go over with him?”

“It went very well, Ben, and thanks again for your help,” Nathan gave in reply, a wide grin on his face, but he wasn’t going to elaborate on what went on between him and Lucas in his cabin.

Krieg was intrigued by the very happy vibes he was getting from the Captain, but he didn’t ask further. Like the card games, some details of what had gone on had been deliberately left out. “It was nothing, Sir, forget it.”

“Commander, can you speak with Doctor Westphalen for a moment. My apologies to you both, but I want to have a quiet word or two with the Lieutenant,” Bridger instructed. The idea he had in mind may not work yet. He could tell Kristin what he was planning for Ben to do, once on his island.

“No problem, Sir,” Ford responded. “Doctor, if you care to take a look, I think you will find this schedule provided by Mr Levine for your department to your liking,” he added, drawing Kristin away out of earshot from the Captain and Krieg. Both of them were wondering what all the secrecy was about, but didn’t want to intrude.

Ben gave the Captain his full attention, “Something I can do before you leave, Sir?”

“Not for me, Ben, but something for Lucas, while we are away. I wanted to have a quick word to you, and for the moment keep this between you and me,” Bridger explained. “Before he arrives here, I wanted to ask you about ordering some clothes for him on the quiet. Something that would suit his style, and his size. I saw the bag that he is intending to take with him.”

“The one that contained his mother’s medication?” Krieg gauged. “From what I remember, it was fairly small.”

Bridger nodded that it was, “The same one. It only has two sets inside of it, and he tells me that the shoes he is wearing, are the only ones that he owns. You will have a better idea of what someone his age would like, rather than me. Use that baseball shirt in the laundry that they are trying to get the bloodstains out of for a size comparison. As for the shoes, I have no idea, but leave it up to your best judgement.”

“I have a few people I can contact who should be able to help with the clothing. Shoes may be a little more complicated, but let me handle that,” Krieg told the Captain, confident that he could find out without arousing suspicion with the teenager. “You are right though, he may not be too willing to accept them being purchased for him.”

“Thanks, I appreciate it,” Nathan said. “Everything on-board now?”

“Yes, Sir, except for one small bag that we have mentioned,” Krieg replied. “When you get to your island, there is a mobile trolley in there that will make unloading the supplies so much easier. I showed Lucas where it is. None of you should have any trouble.”

“Hello to everyone, what are you all standing around idly for?” came a familiar voice from behind them. “Anybody could mistake the launch bay for a bus stop.”

“Lucas,” Kristin was the first to return his greeting, pleased to see him. The teenager was dressed in jeans, a long-sleeved undershirt, with a baseball jersey over the top that had been seen before today.

“This is going to be a great time, Lucas,” Nathan smiled in greeting as he moved back closer towards the group. Ben followed, concluding the private discussion they had been having.

“Thought you must have gotten lost, I expected you over half an hour ago,” Krieg teased in return, looking down at his watch and noting the time. “Hey, what is that you have on the bottom of your shoe?”

“What?” the teenager asked, stopping to lift up one of his sneakers to see if something was stuck to the bottom. “There is nothing there, I don’t see anything.”

Bridger inwardly rolled his eyes at the Lieutenant’s obvious ploy, but then again, gave merit to the man’s brazen frontal approach of the problem without drawing attention to what he was trying to achieve. Lucas hadn’t objected at all when Ben casually inspected the bottom of the shoe, and was able to get a size from the sole.

‘Shrewd, Mr Krieg, very shrewd’

Kristin and Ford shared a dubious look with each other, and their own conjecture confirmed by the expression on the Captain’s face. They could see the Morale officer was up to something, but they didn’t understand what.

“Sorry, my mistake, it looks fine now,” Ben apologised. “I thought you would be raring to go this morning.”

“Yeah well, that would be mostly your fault, Krieg, for keeping me awake,” the teenager returned, “It is too early to be doing anything at this hour of the day, but I wanted to make sure I was here in time to get a good spot.” He was aware that Kristin would already be scrutinizing him and picking up on his lack of sleep. His energy levels were charged enough for what lay ahead, fuelled by curiosity and the chance to experience something different.

Lucas could see the Captain glancing in his direction, with a smile on his face. He reached up with one hand, knowing what the man was taking note of.

“Sporting some nice new head-wear there, Lucas,” Krieg commented, chuckling at the manner in which the cap was sitting on the new owner.

“The Captain gave it to me last night,” Lucas gave in explanation, complete with a proud smile, “It is a fraction too big and it was sitting uncomfortably over the top of my ears, so to compensate for that, I decided to turn it around and wear it this way.”

“You have it on backwards,” Ben pointed out plainly. “I guess that is how the ‘in crowd’ keep being relevant.”

“It won’t do you any good in the sun, turned around like that once we reach the island, but for now, how you have it is fine,” Bridger interjected, receiving a crooked grin of appreciation for his support.

“Trust me, it looks way cooler on me like this, than on you, Krieg,” Lucas taunted playfully. “Don’t worry, Captain, by the time the sun gets too hot overhead, I should be parked in the shade of a palm tree instead.”

The missing half an hour that Ben had brought up, Lucas had spent in his cabin, psyching himself up. There were butterflies of excitement, mixed in with a heaped spoonful of negative feelings and emotions. No matter the promises and assurances that Bridger had given, his fears were genuine and were not going to evaporate overnight. For now, he was putting on his best smile, and wanting to participate.

Kristin walked a little closer towards Lucas, “Did you have any breakfast this morning?” she asked quietly, trying not to deliberately embarrass him, but wanting an honest answer.

Lucas didn’t have enough time to come up with a credible lie, and couldn’t hide the uncomfortable expression on his face quickly enough. “I was going to have something, but I was wary of my stomach becoming nauseous on the launch. This trip is going to be a few more hours than I have travelled in one before,” he admitted truthfully.

The doctor’s warm smile at his honesty didn’t waver, “Having a little something, even a piece of toast may have helped alleviate that problem to a degree.”

“Sorry,” he replied contritely, “I will remember that for next time. I was going to have coffee, but the thought of it sloshing around inside didn’t sound appealing either.” The teenager didn’t think it smart or to his advantage to bring up the fact that he didn’t have any food in his stomach on those occasions to Kristin.

“Hold out your hand please,” she instructed, pleased to hear that he had stopped consuming caffeine hours earlier, before the start of their journey.

Lucas did what was requested, but it wasn’t until she turned it over that he understood why. Discreetly, Kristin placed two gel capsules into his palm, gently closing his fingers around them. “Only take them when you feel that you need to.”

“Thank you,” he whispered, touched that she had remembered his propensity of suffering from motion sickness on boats. He gratefully accepted the medication and tucked into the top pocket of his jeans, hoping that taking them wouldn’t become necessary.

“Don’t feel ashamed or think of it as weakness, Lucas. I have some set aside for myself,” Kristin informed him.

You do?’ his eyes silently asked her with relief. Inwardly, he wished that his face wasn’t quite so readable to her.

______________________________________________________________________________

“Kristin and Lucas, are both of you ready to buckle yourselves in and prepare to depart?” Bridger enquired, taking note of the time. Half past seven, it would be a good four hours before they would reach their destination, depending on the current. He wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary other than a smooth ride.

“Yes! “Let’s get started,” Lucas declared. “See you in a few days, Commander Ford,” he said to the man, giving a quick wave goodbye. “I am claiming the co-pilot seat,” he announced, entering the launch and waiting for the other two passengers to do the same.

Ben Krieg followed him, intending to demonstrate how to buckle the safety harness of the co-pilot chair, merely as a precaution. He had meant to do it yesterday afternoon, but forgot when he left showing the cock-pit controls up to the Captain. As a launch operative for a number of years, first-hand knowledge had taught him to prepare for the unpredictable. He didn’t think that Bridger was going to be doing any speed records to get back home, and the waters of the Florida Keys should be peaceful and allow a smooth unobstructed voyage.

He wanted to wish the boy luck, without an audience or putting him on the spot in front of Ford or the Captain. Sometimes it purely was a guy thing.

Kristin was about to state that she was ready to get under-way as well, but turned at her name echoing from down the corridor.

“Doctor Westphalen!” her assistant called out. A moment later, Jane Edwards ran into the launch bay area, grasping something in her hands. She had to spend a moment catching her breath before she could talk.

“Jane, whatever could be so pressing that you had to run all this way?” she asked with concern. “At this hour of the morning I would expect to find you having breakfast.”

“Oh, I was, please believe me,” the petite woman stammered. “But then I remembered this coming in yesterday afternoon and noting the ‘Urgent’ written in red on the back. You were busy and I forgot to tell you about it until now. It looked too important to leave in your office and wait until you came back.”

Kristin took the large sized envelope from the woman and out of habit, glanced at the printed return address on the top left hand corner. The doctor immediately drew in a breath and gave a gasp of surprise. Turning it over, just as Jane had reported, the words ‘Urgent and Confidential’ stood out in stark contrast and in red ink. Carefully lifting the back flap and peeking inside, there was a folder marked with a name on the top. She quickly looked towards the launch, silently being thankful that Lucas had not been standing in the vicinity.

“Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Jane. You were correct in assuming that it was important and couldn’t wait,” the doctor praised. “Mr Levine is capable of handling anything that may crop up until then. I will see you when we return,” she added, and watched her assistant head back towards the science department.

Nathan waited until the woman had walked away before approaching, wanting to know the cause of her reaction, “What is the matter?”

“These are the medical records that I requested from the Hospital Registrar for Lucas. He gave me the written permission I needed to conduct a search, but I was expecting it to take a little longer to receive any results,” she stated with some in-trepidation. “No doubt existing under more secrecy about what was being done medically, without being able to link it back to his father. No wonder I couldn’t find anything initially under the surname ‘Wolenczak’. This file shows records under the patient name of ‘Lucas Holt’.”

“His mother, Cynthia’s name,” Nathan said, lowering his voice and watching the launch doors. They were both thinking the same thing. “Lucas doesn’t need to know the contents right now does he?” Ben was one of the trusted few who knew about the boy’s connection with surname Holt. That being said, however, the Captain was rather glad now that Lieutenant had followed Lucas into the launch and wasn’t overhearing them either.

The envelope itself had a considerable weight and thickness to it, suggesting that there were secrets caught within the pages inside. What they were could be was anybody’s guess, but neither of them wanted the spoil the upcoming trip before it even got started.

“No, I will put this out of sight until I have had a chance to view what is contained on the pages within first,” Kristin answered. “Lucas confided with me that he wasn’t certain that he wanted to know if there were any records in the first place, or find out anything else. I will let him know they exist once I have had a chance to examine them carefully, and he can make an informed decision on whether he still wants to be told or not.”

“Not today, please,” Nathan negotiated, hoping that Kristin would see it his way and wait to view the file.

“Agreed, not today,” Kristin replied, holding the envelope so that it was tucked out of sight. She would put it inside her personnel luggage and keep it hidden until she could make a detailed analysis.

Ford was trying not to listen, and could be trusted to maintain strict confidentiality and privacy, especially when they were talking about medical files. Obviously there was something significant about that piece of information. This was the first time he had heard any mention about Lucas’ mother’s name since the teenager had come on-board.

“You have my word, Doctor,” he simply stated when the doctor glanced in his direction. The Commander knew that Lucas was still reeling about some of the crew knowing about the abuse that had been inflicted upon him. There was no need to make that situation any more precarious than it already was, given that they had made a solemn pact and sworn to keep his dark secret.

“I will go and join Lucas before he comes back out looking for us,” Kristin stated to Bridger.

“I only have to officially hand over to Jonathan, and I will be along with you,” Nathan promised. He intended to keep the whole process simplified and uncomplicated. He still had his own set of instructions in a different sealed envelope to pass along.

Inside the launch, Kristin had just enough time to put the large envelope at the bottom of the bag that contained her personal clothing, before Ben came out of the cockpit.

“Oh there you are, Doc, the kid and I were starting to think you had changed your mind and this mission had been scrubbed,” he joked. “I was just about to come searching for you and the Captain.”

“Nathan is officially handing over to Commander Ford and wanted to pass along some last minute instructions. He will be along in a moment,” Kristin reported.

Using up all of the excuses he could think of to stay longer, Ben said a few final words in parting to his friend. “Have a great time, Lucas, we can catch up together on what you have seen in a few days.”

“Thanks, Ben, I will be thinking of you when I am lazying on the beach sand,” Lucas teased. “In the meantime, don’t work too hard.”

“Take care, Kristin, I will see myself out and check that the Captain is all set.”

“Thank you for all you have done to make this trip happen, Mr Krieg, and the hours of preparation,” she offered sincerely.

Without his keen diligence and efforts to gain Lucas’ trust, they may not have discovered that he was using attempting to cope with some of his underlying anxiety and fears through unique methods. By the time they did find out, the problems would have grown and become progressively worse.

“I haven’t put my plans into effect yet,” Ben told her with a sly grin, lowering his voice so that the conversation was only between the two of them. “Wait I come to the island on the last day and see what I have in mind. I am going to bring a bag full of surprises for fun on that last day.”

Kristin was left standing on her own in the cabin of the launch, trying to figure out what activities the charismatic man may have in store. Fun intended mainly for Lucas no doubt, but what exactly did that entail? Her curiosity was piqued.

______________________________________________________________________________

Bridger began addressing his Executive Officer, “Jonathan, this is the first time I have had to officially hand over to you during my short time aboard SeaQuest. You have been in command of this vessel before, so I don’t think there is the need to create a lot of fanfair. I trust your judgement and you are an experienced officer.”

“Yes, Sir,” Ford answered with his usual calm exterior, suspecting that the Captain had delayed the conversation between them to allow for a few last minute instructions that were not meant for other ears.

“You will be handing over to Commander Hitchcock in a couple of days, and I am presume that you have your own check list for that procedure and set of protocols that you adhere to. I appreciate what you have been required to relinquish on this occasion, and personally assure you that it will not go unrewarded.”

“Once we reach Key West, everything is expected to flow very smoothly, Captain, without incident,” Ford predicted with confidence.

“I know that you will both operate professionally during those few days, even without having all of the facts in front of you right now,” Nathan replied. “I will be able to relax that much better and focus on Lucas, knowing that my crew and the SeaQuest are in good and capable hands.”

Bridger withdrew the envelope that bore the U.E.O. insignia in the top hand left corner, “For now, the information and instructions contained within here, are for your eyes only. I would prefer the contents were not opened until the day you leave. There are further options in there for how to contact me on the island if normal communication channels fail.”

Ford accepted it, nodding his head in acknowledgement, and waiting for the Captain to give him a brief summary of what else was inside.

“In there, you will find the contact details of the man that I will be arranging to pick you and the other crew members that I have invited to my island on that last day,” Bridger explained. “You will all need to assemble very early at the very last pier on that morning, and bring your own personal belongings. I will be giving that man a list of a few items that the head chef couldn’t provide.”

The name of the person you will be looking for is “Eddie “Chumpy” Adamson. A long time friend who operates a large private charter cruise boat called ‘Sally’. He conducts daily tours from Miami to the Florida Keys and will know where to bring you.”

Ford was curious about whoever this person was and their connection to the Captain. Up until now, he had rarely heard him use a nick-name for anybody, and Bridger was determined to keep the location of his island secret until the very last minute.

“I believe Mr Krieg will be wanting to bring a few ‘extra’ items as well,” Bridger mentioned.

Nathan saw the problematic expression that crossed Ford’s face. He had seen first-hand the number and size of the boxes that Krieg had already finished loading into the launch not more than half an hour ago. “What else could he be possibly thinking of bringing?”

“I am just as in the dark as you,” Bridger conceded, “But it will only be for one day and night.”

Ford wanted to say that Krieg could come up with quite an elaborate scheme in that time frame, but chose not to say anything out loud. Now it was time for Jonathan to tell the Captain about what the arrangements were going to be for Darwin after the launch had departed.

“Sir, as per your earlier instructions to me, Darwin will be released once your launch is a safe distance away from the SeaQuest,” Ford stated. “Tim O’Neill has volunteered to keep visual contact on his progress for as long as possible.”

“Thank you, Jonathan, I know that you were probably expecting me to use the rebreather apparatus, but at the depth we currently are, it won’t be necessary. Darwin is going to be swimming with some of his own kind for the majority of his trek, and some of those other mammals may be wary of anything attached to his body. There is a natural bay that surrounds the island where he frequents the most,” Nathan replied. “Darwin will take considerable more time to reach home today, depending on how many friends he stops to play with along the way.”

“One last thing,” Bridger said, as he paused at the launch door, “Once we arrive, I will have to check on the fuel cells and get the generators up and running. I have all of the modern ways of communicating, but also need to rely on some of he older methods too. It always pays to keep them around, especially when there are storms about or bad weather. Thankfully, I don’t expect anything but glorious weather on this trip. Our journey to the island should take about four hours, give or take. I will contact the SeaQuest once I reach the pier.”

“Good luck, Commander,” Bridger said, extending his hand, and completing the friendly handshake with his second-in-command.

“Understood, Captain, the crew and I will see that your launch exits smoothly and safely, and then wait patiently to hear that all of you have arrived in the same manner.”

Bridger closed the external sea launch doors and made sure that they were secure before making his way towards the cockpit.

______________________________________________________________________________

“Oh there you are,” came the playful accusatory tone of voice from Lucas as he entered the control center. “Kristin and I were sitting here twiddling our thumbs with nowhere to go.”

“Sorry, I got a little caught up talking to Jonathan. I hope you both found something to talk about together.”

While they were waiting for Nathan, Kristin had used it as the perfect opportunity to talk to the teenager about the labelling he had done. Apart from giving her heartfelt thanks, she had wanted to know the reason why he had done it. Lucas had brushed aside the notion that he had done anything out of the ordinary, telling her that it was something that he had done to help out. No other reason. He had shrugged his shoulders at her words of praise for his efforts, and found it a little disconcerting.

For now, Kristin realised she would have to be content with that answer, but wished he had more belief in his own self worth.

“Yeah, we did,” Lucas confirmed, sharing a small grin with the doctor, but nothing about what they had talked about. Kristin returned the smile, keeping their secret.

Bridger secured the small hatch door of the cockpit, noting a small cooler bag on the spare seat directly behind Lucas.

Kristin filled him in on what was inside, “I brought some cold drinks along, but put them in here since there is only three of us to cater for. Juice and water to keep us hydrated.”

“That’s a great idea,” Nathan praised, grateful for her forethought about such small details.

“How are you feeling inside here, Kristin? A little different I would assume since you don’t get to travel up here very often.”

“I must admit that it feels a little claustrophobic, being such a small confined space,” the red-haired doctor answered. “Everywhere I look behind me, to the sides and in front, there are instruments and electronic control panels. In all directions, and very necessary and important I am sure. I am used to seeing a lot of medical equipment in a hospital or my own department on a regular basis. In here, with blinking lights and digital read outs available for every possible scenario from life support, to navigation and propulsion, it is very daunting being crammed into this limited area.”

After such a comprehensive overview, Nathan turned to the teenager, wondering what his reaction or answer was going to be. It occurred to him that this was the first opportunity for him to experience something like this. “What is your impression, Lucas?”

“What, of being up front here?” Lucas clarified, a little surprised that the man was bothering to ask his opinion. “An up close and unobstructed view of the ocean like no other, once we leave the SeaQuest. What is not to like? This is the best!”

Nathan was very pleased to hear his response, considering that they haven’t even left yet. “Everyone buckled in securely?”

“Yes, thank you,” Kristin replied. She was seated directly behind the pilot’s chair, where there wasn’t a whole lot of extra leg room.

“Captain, how do I get this to sit correctly without digging into my shirt?” Lucas asked, fidgeting with one of the large buckle’s that made up his safety harness. “Ben showed me how it works and what to do to release it, but at the moment it is biting into my skin and is very restrictive,” he added, pulling at the nylon strap to signify his discomfort.

“Well that won’t do, let me take a look at see what the problem is.” Nathan released the buckle that was the source of the teenager’s frustration, noting that it was too tight. After pulling on the strap closer to the top, and making a small adjustment to the metal fastening, “There, try that and tell me how that feels. With any luck you will notice a difference,” he instructed, allowing Lucas to reattach that side of the harness himself.

“Somewhat better,” Lucas commented, but still squirming, noting only a small amount of change. He forced himself to pull his hands away, otherwise he would be constantly fiddling with it. “I still cannot move a whole lot, but I guess that it is necessary to have it done up correctly like this to work effectively,” he conceded.

“I am sure you will get used to it over the next few hours,” Nathan said with empathy.

The Captain settled himself into the pilot’s chair, adjusting his own harness and buckling into position. It had been sometime since he had piloted a launch himself. This particular model had been upgraded from what he was used to, but the basics were the same. Silently he had to agree with the teenager about its restrictiveness.

Without further ado, Bridger placed the communication headset over his ears, and began his check list of safety steps. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Lucas’ sharp mind watching his actions and drinking everything in like a sponge. Some of them were self-explanatory given the array of labelled buttons that could be read at his fingertips, any others could probably be guessed at according to the result they invoked.

Nathan had been expecting a multitude of questions to come in his direction, but when that didn’t happen, he began verbally explaining what he was doing. The teenager was too shy to speak up, but appreciated that the man was willing to indulge the interest he could see. His method seemed to work, when he shared a smile with Lucas and received a genuine one in return.

Kristin was watching the interaction between Nathan and Lucas, and couldn’t have been more happier about what she was witnessing. She didn’t want to intrude at all. Nathan’s quiet, unassuming but attentiveness was allowing a special fragile trust to grow between them.

Once he was satisfied with the instrument panel that was lighting up in front of him, the engines thrummed into life, and sent a jolt of excitement running through each passenger that this adventure was about to start.

“This is the pilot of sea launch MR-7 requesting permission to depart.”

“Captain, permission given to proceed with care when you are ready to pilot the launch out of the designated docking bay,” came the reply. “Please have a smooth and safe journey, and we will see you in four days.”

“Thank you, Mr O’Neill, we will endeavour to do that and look forward to seeing you all at that time. Bridger out.”

Out in the corridor and throughout SeaQuest, the loud speaker was giving the latest automated announcement of comings and goings.

‘SeaQuest MR-7 now departing Docking Bay Number Three’

______________________________________________________________________________

For the first half an hour, the sea launch needed to use the bright lighting mounted on the exterior to navigate the darker depths. The bands of light were wide, but were concentrated and narrowed the visibility area to the occupants.

The variety at that level still didn’t disappoint, and Lucas could he heard calling out a number of fish species that he could easily identify. Nathan and Kristin readily joined in with him, and were both enjoying themselves immensely.

Another half an hour would pass, with the launch steadily climbing towards the surface before there was an improvement on, with the sunlight from above penetrating the surface of the water, and changing the colour of the water with spectacular results. The murmurs of awe were the first real sounds of the wonderment of nature that they were witnessing. Bridger had seen it before, but even he had to admit that the view through the front windshield of the launch was unsurpassed.

“It looks like one of those giant aquarium places that you hear about people visiting visit on land,” Lucas casually stated, “One where you could reach your hand out through the glass and touch them because everything seems so alive.”

“Have you been to one of those Aquariums before, Lucas?” Kristin asked, fearing she already knew the answer from how he worded the comment.

“Who me?” Lucas turning towards her as much as the harness would allow, “No, but one of my friends during college have and told me about his visit,” he answered wistfully, quickly focusing back on the fish. “Maybe it would be neat to see for myself one day, but in all honestly, this view is spectacular and more than I could hope for.”

As a parent herself, to hear the wishful desire in Lucas’ voice, and his acceptance that it was probably never going to happen was difficult for both of them.

It was true that not every child got to attend an aquarium or animal zoo, and those individuals that missed out, grew up to lead perfectly normal and productive lives. However, some parents saw the value of such fun places because they were interested in enriching and furthering their son or daughter’s educational growth, social interaction and development. And from personal experience, nothing could compete with the beaming smile on a child’s face when the palm of their hand was tickled by a friendly marine creature or could touch the soft fur coat of a land based animal.

Lucas didn’t pick up on the heartache in Kristin’s voice about what opportunities he may have already missed out on due to his father’s selfishness and neglect, but Nathan certainly did. Bridger had not been planning on taking Lucas to those type of places on this trip, but swore that it would be the start of a variety of fresh and new opportunities for the teenager. Thankfully the coral reef outside were enough at the moment to keep him distracted and provide endless stimulation for his ever-active brain.

“The water is a very appealing turquoise colour and very clear,” Kristin remarked, focusing on what was being laid out before them by mother nature, and being positive for Lucas’ sake. “Gives a translucent quality to everything down here, enabling the vibrant colour of each species of fish to stand out.

“What would be even better, is to know someone who owns a glass-bottomed boat and slowly meander through all of this natural world,” Nathan hinted at with a knowing grin. “This trip is too short for that unfortunately. But maybe at some other time? Maybe throw in a little snorkelling too.”

“That would be amazing!” Lucas declared. “I have never done anything like that before. I mean, do you know someone?” he started to ask, but rephrased the tone. “Sorry, I never meant to presume.” Feeling a little guilty, he didn’t know why he automatically thought that the Captain would invite him along, no matter when he did those things or who he knew.

“I will put them on my ‘to do list’, Nathan said with a laugh. A moment earlier, he had seen the delight that the idea of those fun outdoor activities did for Lucas. And then saw the smile fade towards the end and heard the uncertainty of the boy’s words. “Don’t worry, we can do them together. I won’t forget you.”

Lucas stared at the Captain for a moment, unsure what to say in return. Nathan didn’t need anything to be said, and went back to watching the fishes outside, knowing that he had instilled a little hope in the teenager, and given him things to hope for. Obviously Lawrence Wolenczak had never done the same often enough.

Kristin had watched the exchange between them, and like earlier as they were departing, could see the natural and easy manner that Nathan used with Lucas. By simply talking to the boy, and listening to him, the impact he was having could not be underestimated.

Looking down at her watch, the doctor noted the time, “My look at the time this morning, it has flown by,” Kristin reported. “Would anyone like a drink?”

“Yes, please,” Bridger answered, taking a cold bottle of water when Kristin held up two choices.

“Lucas?” Kristin offered, about to reach in and grab another bottle of water to replace the first. She could see that the teenager was thinking and about to refuse both.

The teenager found a cold bottle of juice pushed into his hand, and finally relented, taking the bottle and twisting off the lid and drinking from the container. Part of him didn’t like her forthrightness, and determination to persevere without pushing too hard. The other part, grateful that she kept trying, and wanting to be able to tell her so.

Whilst he was drinking the juice, Kristin was keeping an eye on Lucas for any signs of him feeling nauseous. The colour of his face was good, and he wasn’t displaying any other tell-tale symptoms that she would naturally attribute to motion sickness. He looked like he was going to say something, but was looking out at the marine wonderland in front of him again, mesmerised as they all were by the colours, shapes and patterns.

In one particular section of the water, the sunlight was still penetrating and creating a marvellous affect at just the right angle. Without any warning, two bottle-nosed dolphins came into view, both of them dancing in a vertical position, their skin shimmering as the light hit their bodies and was reflected back.

They didn’t stay very long and swam off, carrying out a series of playful dives around each other. Unfortunately being inside the launch, their clicks and whistles couldn’t be heard. “Do you think they could be friends with Darwin?” Lucas asked, still watching the performance and thinking of his own aquatic friend.

“Maybe,” Nathan said, not wanting to dampen the boy’s energy, but the odds of these two individuals being family to his own cetacean friend were fairly slim. “Bottle-nosed dolphins live in these waters of the Florida Keys all year round.”

“The Florida Keys is a unique region and is home to a vast and diverse number of fish and wildlife species that are find these waters essential for their own health. In return, they help create an ecosystem that accommodates and allows for all kinds of ecological, recreation, and commercial fishing activities. These animals depend on healthy coral reef, seagrass, mangroves, and other habitats throughout their lives. Without they help and funding of the U.E.O. in recent years to reverse the trend of come unscrupulous people and outright pirates, they are vulnerable to exploitation. Their diet is easily affected by climate change, erosion and degradation of areas such as this that they call home,” Nathan described. “This is all part of the research that I have been carrying out on my island for years. I will show you in detail when we get there, what I have been monitoring during that time.”

“I think it is so great that you have been doing all that research and helping to understand them,” Lucas praised. “So many of these natural places across the world are being damaged by big corporate business, who don’t even give a second thought to what they are doing.”

“I agree with Lucas on that and think that the work you have been doing, Nathan, is very admirable and worthwhile,” Kristin commented. Both adults were surprised at the teenager’s take on the predicament that some marine species found themselves in, through greed and indifference. If only more of the his generation would stand up and take action, then problems like the pollution of the sea water and building more places on the surface for humans could be halted. Marine creatures could easily co-exist with humans and thrive; all it took was for someone to care about the environment they both lived in.

“Thank you both for your vote of confidence. I have been passionate about these waters for a long time,” Bridger explained. “The fish populations in this area are protected by a series of ‘no-take’ zones, so they have more time to establish themselves here in greater numbers. That level of safety provided is directly related to the size, configuration and habitat of that particular species. By understanding their movements and behaviour more, those species that are more vulnerable to exploitation can be identified and managed better.”

Kristin was very impressed, having a strong knowledge of marine biology herself. She was very pleased to hear Nathan’s theories and the history behind their numbers dwindling in the past. The fact that someone was taking decisive action to monitor what was happening in their own backyard was very commendable.

“Oh wow! Did you get a look at that?” Lucas exclaimed as a large loggerhead turtle swam directly in front of the launch. “They are huge! Their shells must weigh a ton, having to carry them on their backs all of the time.”

It was hard not for Nathan and Kristin not to break out with smiles of their own, at the short bursts of exuberance coming from Lucas. They hadn’t seen him being this happy, or even anything even close on-board SeaQuest. It was a pity that Ben and some of the other crew members had to miss out on seeing him react like this, purely based on having a great time. They could hear about it later of course, but it wouldn’t be the same.

“Lucas, look over to your right, in that cave there,” Kristin pointed out, waiting patiently to see if he could see it too.

The teenager looked in the direction she was pointing, and was about to give up, when he spotted a large pair of eyes blinking back from within the darkness. “What is it?” but no sooner had he asked the question, a large speckled grouper fish swam out of the entrance at speed, chasing down the meal of a smaller fish. The size was very impressive.

“Spectacular!” Lucas gave in response to the outmatched race, “So big, and it was perfectly camouflaged in that cave, that poor little fish didn’t stand a chance until it was too late. Survival of the fittest down here.”

Kristin couldn’t have timed it better and hadn’t predicted the large fish to emerge in such a dramatic fashion, but he had gained a captive audience.

“There are so many different types of corals down here,” Lucas stated. “I know some of them, and their genus names, but not all. Look at all those little fishes using those larger corals to hide in.”

“The Florida Keys has more than forty five species of hard or stony corals, Lucas, and thirty five types of soft corals. Quite a number of those are declared as threatened or listed as endangered,” Bridger filled in. “Factors such as weather, the temperature of the sea water, natural but harmful algae blooms all play their part in making it more difficult for them to recover once disturbed. Then there are diseases and ocean acidification that affect the time it takes for them to regrow or suffer as well.”

“The day after tomorrow, once we have reached the island and get unpacked, I will take you down to some of the rock pools and sheltered inlets at the far end of the beach. Bridger promised. “Keeping in mind that you still have bruising in a few places to be careful about. You will be able to paddle around in the cool water and soft sand with your bare feet and touch some of the small friendly crabs and marine creatures, Lucas,”

“Really?” Lucas asked with a fresh bubble of excitement. Bridger didn’t realised how much he liked the idea of being able to touch the sand and water. Something very simplistic to others, but it would be a dream come true for him.

“Yes, really,” Bridger answered with a laugh.

There was that slight tone of disbelief to the boy’s voice again, as though he didn’t think he deserve to do such fun things. A big question began to form and stare back inside Nathan’s mind, but he was afraid to ask it out loud and destroy the small amount of happiness that had built up during the last few hours. Most children liked the rock pools and the beach, as he did himself. How many times had Lucas been to the ocean? Once, twice, never?

“There are quite a variety of marine creatures that dwell in those shallow tidal pools and rely on the waves to bring the food they eat, and the nutrients the require in the salt of the sea spray,” Bridger told him.

For the next twenty minutes, all chatter in the cockpit of the launch stopped as the occupants continued to watch out of the front window, gaining the best vantage point. Kristin was about to call out to Lucas and point out something else interesting she could see, but upon looking over at the teenager, chose to remain quiet. She glanced over at Nathan, and saw that he had yet to notice, smiling to herself as she decided the best way to tell him.

“Nathan, I appreciate that you understand all of those controls and instruments you have in front of you, but do they tell you absolutely everything?” she enquired.

“Yes they do. What do you mean by that?” Bridger replied, thinking that she was taking a playful swipe at his piloting skills. He ran his eyes over the speed they were travelling at and noted the depth of the launch. The temperature outside was still mild, and comfortable inside, according to the data that was being recorded. Everything was in balance so far as he could tell and they were a few miles ahead of where he had planned to be at this time.

“What about if you co-pilot is no longer working?”

“I haven’t engaged the co-pilot controls yet……………,” he began, but looked to his right enough to see what the doctor was trying hard ‘not’ to say. He hadn’t noticed that the co-pilot was currently out of commission, and felt a little guilty that he hadn’t picked it up on it before her.

“I am sure that you would be able to consider a career as a tour guide, because you seem to have a knack for keeping your audience riveted,” Kristin teased. “I estimate he hasn’t heard anything you have said for the last fifteen minutes.”

“Very funny,” he whispered, deliberately lowering his voice. “How long has he been like that?”

“I don’t know myself, but I would guess more than a few minutes, given his relaxed posture,” she surmised.

They had both seen the tiredness when he first arrived in the launch bay, but after setting out, he had been showing an improved level of alertness for more than half of the journey. Ben had reported truthfully to them about him being awake during the early morning hours again. They should have suspected that he had spent the morning running on fumes. They could see the proof before them.

Kristin found herself acting like a concerned parent again,“I don’t want to wake him, and it would feel cruel to do so. But he is going to end up with a stiff neck by staying in that position for much longer. I cannot imagine that any sleep he is gaining is going to be restful.”

“This trip has to change this, Kristin. I know it has already been said, but we need to work together as a team over the next few days and try and find a workable solution. I don’t want him dozing off or catching snatches of sleep here and there. I want him to get some descent rest, not during the day, and be awake all hours in the middle of the night, opposite to everyone else. That is only going to exacerbate and reinforce his isolation from the crew.”

Kristin was nodding her head, agreeing with everything that he was saying, and the sentiments behind the words. Lucas was still trying to face everything on his own. Instead of admitting to tiredness. The whole reason for this break away was happening right before them, and neither could ignore the tugs they felt on their heart strings.

“We have plenty of time to pause here for a few minutes,” he assured her, slowing the speed down, and then halting the progress of the launch.

Lucas was leaning slightly forward in the co-pilot’s chair at an awkward angle. His upper body hunched over, but suspended by the restrictive harness. The new cap he had been wearing backwards, was cradling the right side of his head and in danger of falling off completely onto the floor.

“He hasn’t even heard the two of us talking to one another,” Bridger said, remembering how fatigued he had been only a few nights ago in his own cabin. Nathan unbuckled his own harness, intending to go against Kristin’s wishes and wake Lucas. They may be three quarters through the journey, but he wasn’t going to let him remain sitting like that for the remainder of the journey. He was going to make that change now. Picking up the half-empty juice container, he recapped it to avoid spillage and set it aside.

Nathan called out softly, not wanting to startle him. His first attempt at using his name was unsuccessful, so he tried for a second time. “Lucas.” The Captain reached for the buckles on the harness, releasing them.

“Hey, what the…..,” came the garbled response, as the teenager partially woke, his hands reaching up in front defensively. For the briefest of moments, his muscles tensed at feeling someone’s hands, but the sensation faded just as quickly. Glancing back at Bridger with bleary eyes, his internal warning system was telling him that the owner of this face wasn’t a threat.

Nathan adjusted his method of contact, understanding, but saddened that recoil was Lucas’ first natural reaction to touch. The cap did fall off onto the floor, so he retrieved it and handed it over to Kristin for safe keeping. Lucas hadn’t noticed yet that he wasn’t wearing it on his head. Seeing the doctor standing, he assumed that she was intending to follow him and keep him company.

“Come on, let’s get you standing up and out of this seat,” Bridger encouraged with patience.

“What is going on?” he repeated, followed quickly by a yawn, covering his mouth and yawning expansively again into his sleeve. He rubbed a hand over his face, trying to wake, but that only accentuated his tiredness.

“You are going to go into the cabin at the back with Kristin, and have a little sleep until we arrive. There is still an hour or so before we reach our destination, but you won’t miss out on anything.”

Nathan wasn’t certain how many of his words were filtering through to the teenager. Lucas stood up, waiting until he regained his equilibrium, “But, I want to see the fishes,” he murmured in protest.

“You will get to see them more later,” Bridger proclaimed, keeping a supportive hand close by, but allowing him to maintain his independence. He made a silent vow that he would do everything he could to ensure that Lucas had plenty of time to explore this abundant sanctuary.

For a moment Nathan thought he was going to get an argument to the contrary, but was pleased when that didn’t eventuate.

Becoming a little more aware of what was being asked of him, Lucas shuffled a few steps sideways around the chair, and moved towards the hatch door of the cockpit.

“Sorry I dozed off in there,” Lucas began to apologise, plopping down on the cushions, lifting his feet and slumping horizontally along the padded seat. “I am really not that tired, I don’t need to sleep…….,” but the end of the sentence faded away as his eyes drifted closed.

“You don’t need to anything right now,” Bridger patronised with mock exasperation at the teenager, and sharing a smirk of victory with Kristin. The boy was determined not to admit defeat, even against his own body’s betrayal.

“Why do you have to be so stubborn?” Nathan whispered, trying to figure out if this whole futile exercise was an inability to let go of any daily turmoil and hence, a coping mechanism. Or did it merely stem from being a teenager?.

“The two of you will be alright back here?” he asked rhetorically, seeing Kristin take her own seat. Even with Lucas laying down and stretched out with his shoes down the other end, there was plenty of room for them both. She knew that Lucas didn’t need her company and would be perfectly fine on his own, but resigned herself to staying nonetheless.

“I wanted to keep seeing the fishies too,” she pouted, almost making the mistake of letting go a burst of laughter at the expression on his face. In apology, she ran a hand softly across Lucas’ forehead as he mumbled a word or two in his sleep.

“Only for those good girls and boys,” Bridger teased at her charade. He took great satisfaction at shushing her with two fingers in front of his lips, and receiving a mock scowl in his direction.

Both of them were feeling very natural in each other’s company. Enough for pleasant conversation and to share a joke. This short break away may do the both of them some great benefit as well, and help them unwind from their usual hectic and demanding responsibilities. When they returned to SeaQuest after the next four days, they were both only too aware that such opportunities may be short lived.

“Keep an eye on him for me will you?” Bridger requested as he headed back towards the hatch door to the cockpit. “And if he gives you any trouble………,” waggling a finger in mock sternness.

“Two eyes, at all times,” she assured him with a warm smile, knowing how much Nathan cared. Looking over at the peaceful sleeping face beside her, positive that he didn’t need to worry about anything else. “Lucas and I will be just fine.”

To be continued…………………………

Jules

Author Notes:

Sorry folks, this chapter doesn’t have a whole lot of action, and took double the amount of time to write. I have no valid excuse for that except that my muse wasn’t following well at the beginning.

Some of this chapter explores more of Bridger’s thoughts as well as Lucas, and I hope that I have been a little realistic in my interpretation. Bridger is usually a calm and collective and strong character, but sometimes there needs to be a chinck in that armour. Lucas’ emotions are still a roller coaster, and constantly changing, but that is how I would see someone reacting with his dark past. Positive and Negative. There is a lot more to come in that area too.

This is one of the longest stories I have written for any fandom, but we are only about half way at this stage with Chapter Five. That is subject to change, but it will be longer, not shorter.

The new character of Eddie Adamson was only mentioned briefly in this chapter. How Bridger and he know each other will be explored in more detail soon. Four days on the island is expected to take two chapters. They are intended to be mostly happier times with a lot of new things happening. But that will soon change afterwards for those readers who know me as an author. (I am itching too, believe me but cannot reveal anything at this time) Although I want to get to more action, these fill in chapters are setting up a lot of detail and clues for this story and many others to come. Some are obvious, others not so much.

I know that some meat has been outlawed by the time frame that SeaQuest is in, and that has been mentioned. I have also included scenarios that used alternative meat products and processed substitutes, but still refer to cooking meat in some dishes and scenes.

It was a difficult choice to leave Ben out from coming along from the very beginning, but I am sticking by my choice. There will be plenty of time for him to become involved. And no, the reason for the title of this story still hasn’t come up yet.

I did do some research in some areas, and included some real facts. Others have been changed and altered to suit what I need to happen. I hope you will continue to follow the journey. Bridger’s island is based on a real place, but the name has been changed, much more to learn about all that yet. There are more permanent new characters to introduce in the next chapter.

I know it took forever to herd three people and supplies into a launch and leave the SeaQuest, but I hope you enjoy reading what I have created and continue to follow what happens next.

Jules

Chapter Four – Surveillance And Disclosure

THE GREEN PEN

By Jules

Author Notes – thank you for everybody who is still reading. It truly means a lot that people are reading after such a long time of being away. I hope you enjoy this next instalment.

This is the second story in my new series, and it would be helpful for you to read Please Tell Someone as this story continues straight into a new page from the ending scenes of that story.

This particular chapter does not have a lot more action happening, but is necessary to set up some of the key events yet to come later in this story.

The reason for this title will not become apparent until much later in the story, but was thought of ten (10) years ago or more, when the original plot came to me long before I added in the new adoption arc.

Any legal references, laws, requirements for reporting abuse, the steps taken afterwards, court proceedings and outcomes and interview protocols are all fictional. Some are based loosely on real laws and circumstances, but a lot are fabricated to suit my story only and have been changed to suit the plot I have derived. The same with which authorities are involved and their individual roles and responsibilities.

With some of my medical procedures, I have used real techniques and treatments to a certain extent, but there are some that are completely invented for my stories as well and are totally fictional and should not be used for real people. They are used to progress my stories and include for specific scenes as required.

Given that SeaQuest is set in the future, medical technology would have changed greatly, with new procedures and medications and medicines being discovered and put into practice.

Chapter Four – Surveillance And Disclosures

towards the end of the previous chapter:

Nathan whispered very softly, “Please don’t shut out the people who care and want to help, Lucas.”

And now the story continues:

Lucas’ brief unscheduled catnap was interrupted a few minutes later, as a number of crew members arrived at the mess hall for their own breakfast. A group of four people crashed through the doors, chatting away as they approached the serving tables, each picking up a tray.

The teenager was startled awake by the new voices and the clinking sound of crockery and cutlery, as trays were gathered and they began forming an orderly line. Rubbing at his face, the boy sat up and noticed that he had an impromptu audience.

‘Oops’ he thought to himself, he definitely had not intended for this to happen.

The teenager gave a sheepish grin to hide his embarrassment, “I told you this was a bad time of the day for me,” he gave as a quick fire excuse, shrugging off the possibility of there being any other reason for him falling asleep at the table.

I guess I will head to my cabin for a while,” he added with some hesitation, not knowing what else they wanted to hear. He hoped that none of them intended to follow him to try and talk. He wasn’t in the mood for any in-depth conversation or even to give a cheery ‘good morning’ yet to them.

I think that is a very good idea, Lucas,” Bridger agreed, holding off on wanting to debate anything where they were standing.

Thank you for breakfast, Don,” the boy said as he walked towards the set of doors leading out. He didn’t give any indication about what his schedule was going to be for the day.

My pleasure, Lucas, any time. Don’t forget to come back in here later today,” the head chef called out, receiving a hand gesture in acknowledgement of his statement. There was no further confirmation of what meal time he intended to return for.

After watching Lucas leave, Ben proceeded to line up in the queue with his own tray for breakfast. Kristin and the Captain sat down at the table that the teenager had left behind, with the chef promising to bring out their first meals of the day to them. Coffee was of course included with that offer.

Ben rejoined them with his overflowing tray. Sitting down to be included in the casual conversation, Miguel, Tim and Jonathan Ford arrived in the mess hall. They also took trays and selected their varying choices for breakfast. The Captain gestured for them to join their table.

Good morning, Doctor Westphalen and Captain,” Ford said formally. “We are all in here early this morning.”

Pleasant morning greetings were exchanged between everyone as Miguel and Tim took up seats at the table.

I have to start my day shift after breakfast, so I was up earlier so that I could tend to my plants,” O’Neill commented in answer to Ford’s comment.

My shift starts after I finish here too,” Miguel added as his reason. “What is your excuse today, Krieg?” not daring to ask Doctor Westphalen or the Captain.

I have some important things to attend to this morning, Ortiz,” Ben said cryptically, but his usual jovial persona then changed. “Unfortunately there were certain individuals seated at this table before you arrived that were awake and up even earlier.”

Who?” Ford asked, trying to think of the duty roster for other crew members on-board. Most day shifts on the Bridge didn’t start until seven o’clock in the morning. He had not been thinking about their resident computer geek being up at such an early time.

Lucas,” Krieg answered. “Something was definitely bothering that kid, apart from what we already know about. Though my stellar efforts last night probably went a long way towards that too,” he added in self reproach. “Before you three came in here a few moments ago, we discovered him slumped over the table here sound asleep. At least Don had seen to it that he had eaten decently this morning.”

Commander Ford looked about the faces at the table wearing a puzzled expression. He didn’t note that coming from Miguel and Tim. Jonathan assumed that he was the only one out of the loop about anything that happened the previous night involving the teenager.

I haven’t seen Lucas since he left the recreation room,” Ortiz piped in. “Surely he went back to his cabin to sleep last night?”

Tim nodded his head in agreement, “He was pretty upset from what I could see like I told you, but it wasn’t all your fault, Ben.”

Nathan told me about the incidents involving those horrid men yesterday that occurred even earlier than your movie night,” Kristin interjected. “By the time he came down to the science department, I could tell that something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. He didn’t stay there long enough for me to find out. He was trying to avoid any scrutiny, but unfortunately he wasn’t able to hide his anxiety. I think Lucas only went down to my laboratories looking for a safe haven until he got himself a little more under control emotionally.”

He probably suspected that someone would follow him back to his cabin after leaving the movie, and tried to find an alternative place,” Ortiz surmised.

Movie?” Ford asked, following that somehow Lucas had become upset and was looking to hide away from everybody and find some space for himself.

I am sorry you were not invited last night, Commander,” Krieg replied. “After you heard his choice words to Murphy near the moon pool, I drummed up an impromptu social night, with only a handful of people. I was trying to create a more social atmosphere, where he could relax. The Captain and I limited who the guests were because we weren’t even sure if he was going to turn up in the first place. It wouldn’t have mattered who came in the end anyway after the epic failure that the night turned into.”

No problem, Krieg,” Ford remarked. A movie night seemed a little low key to him compared to some of the other social events that the Morale Officer held.

Those seated at the table were part of Bridger’s small network; Krieg felt the need to continue a little more about how their young friend was fairing in general after yesterday.

Lucas stormed past Bridger and me in the corridor and declared that he wasn’t talking to the human race for the rest of eternity. He had a whole lot more to say back in his cabin to me though when I tried to talk to him. That time he wasn’t holding back and I got the first real glimpse of how he has viewed his whole situation since coming on-board, and I can’t say that I blame him.

Firstly those two idiots in the Captain’s quarters who were supposed to be putting the new furniture pieces together. Followed by Murphy tossing aside any help he was trying to offer about the computer system. Both times involved people attempting or succeeding in getting inside his personal space physically, which he is dead set against for obvious reasons.”

Lucas admits to feeling disillusioned about how standoffish people are about his offers to help around here, and the efforts that he has been putting in just to fit in around here in general,” Krieg explained. “He stated to me that almost every day since arriving here, and every time he turns around, someone finds it necessary for him to justify his presence on-board. Yesterday it happened more than once on the same day, deliberately. I guess even a nice, quiet and withdrawn kid like him has a breaking point too, because it was close to snapping. His tirade didn’t last long, and he was more pessimistic than angry by the time I left his cabin.”

The movie I chose had a boxing storyline to it,” Krieg informed Ford. “Tim told us that he observed Lucas trying to shield himself from the sounds and images on the screen with a cushion. I didn’t know that it would trigger bad memories about his father for him.”

The doctor had made a mental note the previous night to say something to him about his efforts being positive ones. Now seemed like the perfect time, and to prevent Ben from berating himself over something that was out of his control. None of the people seated at the table thought less of him. More importantly, she was convinced that Lucas most likely wouldn’t do so either.

Now you listen to me, Lieutenant,” Kristin lightly scolded, pointing a finger at him, but using a gentle tone of voice, noting that his own guilt was the enemy at the moment.

Nobody blames you for how he was feeling last night, Ben. You tried to do something nice for both the Captain and Lucas, and a movie that I suspect holds memories that you and Nathan’s son shared together as good friends. You are a caring person and you were merely carrying out an act of kindness,” she said. “ I am a doctor, so don’t even think of arguing with me,” she added with a smile.

The other men except Bridger gathered around the breakfast table were grinning at the chastising the Ben was receiving from Kristin. It was clear though from the expression on his face, that the man still wasn’t totally convinced that his actions hadn’t caused more hurt for the teenager.

Tell that to Lucas,” Ben said, looking direct back at her. “You both saw like I did, how tired his face looked when he was sleeping across this very table. At an hour that he is quite convinced needs to be recorded as a crime.”

Nathan couldn’t help but mull over some of the comments that Ben had shared around the table, spoken by Lucas. He wished the teenager had shared more of what he was feeling with him earlier in the day in his quarters.

Kristin is right, Ben,” Bridger interjected, “You tried to do something positive. We need you to be the happy and carefree person that we usually see and keep being his friend. And I will repeat that I do appreciate what you tried to do last night for my benefit concerning Robert. I hope you will share more of the times you spent together when you feel like doing so.”


By now, everyone at the table had finished their meals, and were down to their second and last cups of coffee before departing to start their duties. It was still relatively early, and more crew members were coming in for their own breakfast. From this table, they could speak without worrying about being overheard too much. With Bridger seated at the table, most crew members thought that the Captain was conducting a morning briefing about the vessel and intended to steer clear.

Since all of us are gathered here around the same table, we may as well have a little impromptu meeting amongst our little network,” Bridger suggested. “Those who are currently present anyway. I may as well let you in on what new pieces of information and interesting clues that I found out about Lucas yesterday. Firstly in the morning when he was working on the holographic program in my quarters. Secondly, later in the evening when I went to check up on him after he left the movie so suddenly.”

Krieg tried to do what the Captain was asking; push his guilt aside. The man was right, Ben needed to act like his normal self. He was intrigued by the ‘new’ information being offered. He noticed that everybody else sitting at the table was eager to listen too.

Bridger turned to the doctor first, seeing that he did have everybody’s undivided attention, “You told me yesterday morning that Lucas wanted to ask me a question about something, but didn’t tell you what.”

That’s right, Lucas told me that it didn’t really matter and wasn’t that important after he left your quarters,” Kristin stated, recalling the words she had previously repeated to Nathan from the teenager.

After he found you in there asleep in your chair, Sir,” Krieg chuckled with mirth. There were three sets of raised eyebrows after this curious comment from Ben. “Hopefully the new armchair we put together for you this morning will be a little more comfortable for the next time you decide to take a snooze.”

Anyway…..” the Captain said, trying to divert the conversation back to what he was saying. “I found out what the question was. After you left Ben, and while you were escorting those two clowns to the Bridge, Lucas stayed when I asked him to. Reluctantly at first because of what had happened, but then he and I talked for a few minutes. He began looking around at some of the artifacts and historical pieces I have on display in my quarters and asking about their origins.”

What he was really doing apart from looking from a general interest point-of-view, was hedging away from something he was finding difficult to ask me. He admitted to me himself that he had been trying to pluck up the courage to ask the question for a few days,” Bridger continued. “On a good news front, he may not have any family that he can count on to help him through these difficult times, but he does have friends outside.”

Ben was the first react, “Friends? Well of course he does, he is a likeable type of kid. That is great isn’t it?”

Two best friends he tells me,” Bridger revealed and nodded at Ben’s remark. “I know very little about them yet, but Lucas wanted to ask me if he could contact them to let them know where he was living now. Being placed aboard SeaQuest with only last minute notice, he tells me he didn’t get the chance to tell them beforehand.”

That is fantastic news, Nathan,” Kristin said with a smile. “We asked about other family members that could be contacted, but didn’t consider that there was another possibility. I hope you told him it would be alright to contact them.”

Yes, of course I did, but I didn’t quite understand why he was so nervous. He told me that he trusts these two friends with his life,” Bridger reported. “He was quite relieved when I told him could. He told me that he would tell me more about them both at another time.”

So when is he going to contact them?” Ben asked, wanting to find out more about these friends. The loyalty and dependability between these two mysterious friends and Lucas must run deep. Considering that the teenager wouldn’t let too many people on-board yet get close to him, and that he had willingly told Bridger.

Lucas told me that these two particular friends have helped him through some dark times in the past, unbeknown to his father,” the Captain informed them. “That is why he was so anxious about asking me. He assumed I might tell him ‘no’ and wasn’t so sure that he wanted to take that chance. He told me that his father doesn’t know much about these friends, and would prefer it to remain that way, for their safety.”

The Captain spoke directly to Tim O’Neill, “I told Lucas that he can speak to you quietly about gaining a secure line to be able to talk to them whenever he is ready, with my full permission.”

Yes, Sir,” Tim nodded in acknowledgement.

However, that may not even happen now, after what happened in his cabin after he left you, Kristin,” Nathan forewarned.

Why not?” Miguel asked before everybody else. They were all thinking that some genuine progress had been made in the right direction.

Lucas had a stroke of inspiration at the last minute about being able to contact them secretly and devised a way without anybody else knowing,” Bridger informed them.

When I first arrived outside his cabin, I thought he was talking to someone inside the room. I must admit I felt like a bit of a dirty rotten stool pigeon, standing there listening to his private conversation without permission.”

Naughty, naughty, Sir,” Krieg accused with a brief laugh, but was aware that the Captain may not have found anything out if he had revealed his presence to the teenager.

I don’t plan on making it a habit, I promise,” Bridger replied. “I am trying to be honest with him from the start, I told him that myself. Finding this out happened by pure accident and wasn’t intentional at all. I trust you will all keep what we have spoken about here today between us only.”

Somehow he has hacked into the computer system of the SeaQuest, and created a secure line for himself through one of his online gaming platforms,” Bridger described.

According to his own words, if he did it correctly, nobody should be able to track his movements. And he uses a secure password and alternate user-name anyway.”

Oh you have to tell us, Captain,” Ben begged.

He won’t be able to tell you, Krieg, otherwise Lucas will know,” Tim pointed out plainly. His words had the desired affect, and they all realised that they would have to keep anything they heard secret and to themselves.”

I will leave you finding that out from Lucas yourself, Ben,” Bridger responded. “He only spoke to one of these friends, not both of them. They all seem to have these alter egos or descriptive user-names for each other. I cannot remember what the other name was now. Unfortunately I didn’t get to learn their real names either.

Ben was already making a mental note to himself. When he had been talking to Lucas in his cabin a few days ago, the teenager had outright refused to reveal any of them. It was unfair that Bridger had found out about at least one without even trying. He wanted to know what this nickname was that the boy used online. Krieg was convinced that he could find out without his friend getting suspicious.

Bridger paused talking for a moment before continuing. “You should have heard the reaction of this friend,” he started to smile. “It was obvious that some time has past since they have seen each other in person, or been able to keep in touch through any other form of communication. Lucas sounded excited to be talking to this person and the rare moment of happiness was evident in his voice.”

For the first few minutes, the friend couldn’t contain the overwhelming anxiety from his voice either as soon as he heard Lucas’ confirm that it was really him talking. He was literally finding it different to string two coherent words together until he accepted that it was Lucas. From what I able to gather, these two friends have been worried for several months about what happened to him. Lucas promised that he would have kept in contact if he had been able to.”

What do you mean by that comment, ‘what happened to him?’ Krieg questioned. Leaving such an open ended statement didn’t bode well.

Bridger’s mood turned a little more sour at this point, with his face showing his displeasure, “Lawrence Wolenczak apparently turned up unannounced at Stanford College suddenly one day and without any prior warning. The last time these friends saw him was when he was being shoved into a car by his father. Lucas was ripped out of there before being given the opportunity to explain to anyone where he was going, or the chance to say goodbye.

Kristin looked like she was about to smash the coffee mug sitting in front of her into little pieces. Being a doctor, she was normally a very caring and kind person, and had endless amount of compassion and patience. In relation to Lawrence Wolenczak, that was changing with everything she was learning about how he had been treating his son. After finding out about the physical abuse the teenager had been receiving only recently, they could only assume that he would have found himself in a similar situation on that occasion.

Here is something else that none of you will be too happy to hear either,” Nathan forewarned. “They were convinced something bad had already happened, because they were searching the daily obituary pages of the online newspapers, expecting to see his name mentioned.”

The sobering expressions on those seated at the table reflected how they felt at hearing such a statement.

We may have to keep on our toes around here in the near future,” Bridger pre-empted. “Lucas didn’t exactly tell this friend yet that he was living on a U.E.O. classified submarine under the ocean. He commented that it was best that they didn’t know his whereabouts for now. He told this friend that he was with people who were trying to help him, but didn’t elaborate further or give out our names or level of involvement.”

That is a positive step in the right direction that he understands that we are doing that,” Miguel remarked.

What are you thinking, Ben?” Kristin asked, seeing the puzzled expression the Morale Officer sitting across the table wore.

“The invitation I made to the movie night…..,” he answered, pausing and thinking a little more before continuing. “When I mentioned what kind of social night I had in mind, he brought up a little more about himself in the form of a story. He told me about a friend who lived with a grandfather, and owned a large collection of old vinyl music records, cassettes and compact discs. There were also a lot of old movies according to him, though he had only seen it once.”

“Maybe this person the Captain heard him talking to over the gaming platform, is the same friend,” Tim added, following Krieg’s train of thought.

“I cannot remember the name of the grandfather, but I guess that is not that important at the moment,” Ben stated.

“This friend that I heard Lucas talking to wanted to make sure that ‘we’ as those people, were taking care of him and could be trusted,” Bridger said in complete seriousness. “From the warning tone in his voice, he was prepared to take action if he was told or thought otherwise,” he added.

Everyone seated at the table were totally floored by that statement. They were all doing their best to make sure that nobody was intent on bringing harm to him, physically or any other way.

“The next question was straight to the point, asking if he was safe,” Bridger informed them.

“That is great that someone else apart from us is not afraid to bring up or ask that question of Lucas,” Ben declared.

“Lucas confirmed that he was safe for now, but he was offered alternative living arrangements by this friend any-time he chooses to leave SeaQuest. For as long as he needs,” the Captain continued. “It may not sound ideal to us right now, but Lucas said he would keep it in mind.

The friend told Lucas that the both of them could be a car in ten minutes to rescue him. He seemed pretty darned determined to do it if Lucas gave the word and wanted them to,” the Captain continued. “Lucas didn’t directly turn him down and say ‘no’ either. He said he would keep it in reserve for another time.”

From the way they were talking, I think we can presume that these friends know a whole lot more about Lawrence Wolenczak than we do at the moment. There was no love lost when his name was briefly mentioned. This person repeated what Lucas has already stated to us, that his father is bad news and is going to be difficult to stop in trying to gain back control of his son’s life.”

Do they know about the abuse that he has been suffering through in the past?” Kristin weighed in.

Yes, they must do on some level, and I assume that is why Lucas was offered rescue and sanctuary,” Bridger answered. “There was a hint of acknowledgement that he had been on the receiving end of some punishment after leaving Stanford campus. He was silent again when it came to giving away any of the details, even to this friend.”

Tim O’Neill was finding it difficult to understand like all of them, how a parent had some to treat their child so terribly. The teachings that he had learned by attending a Catholic Church taught him that children were supposed to be loved by their family. Compared to Lucas, his own childhood and upbringing had been very different.

More information was beginning to emerge about the man, Lawrence Wolenczak and what lengths he had gone in the past. For his son, it was clear that he had ensured that any contact with the rest of the world was monitored and controlled. How much more would they find out about such tactics? And were they ready to hear them?

It wasn’t long before those topics of conversation that were brought up and changed his mood entirely. Any relief he had gained through talking evaporated in an instant,” Bridger revealed, recalling the sound of the teenager’s voice. “Lucas told this friend that these ‘good people’, meaning us, had found out about what his father was doing.”

That must have come as a shock to them?” Krieg voiced. From what they were hearing from the Captain, Lucas was willing to open up a lot more to this friend than he had with any of them. Even Bridger himself.

The Captain nodded his head in acknowledgement of the man’s correct assumptions.

That boy is still berating himself harshly over allowing his darkest secret being found out at all. He even had trouble getting the words out of his mouth. For a brief moment I thought the situation was going to mirror the emotional outburst he had in his cabin in front of me,” Nathan commented. “For him it is a sign of nothing but failure on his part of not being able to distance himself enough away from anybody.”

I would go so far as to say that it is playing on his mind an awful lot. The one true factor that is driving every action and reaction even here on-board. He is scared that his father is going to find out that somebody else has discovered the truth about his home life. I have seen it first-hand. The fear that he is currently carrying around just beneath the surface, is unmistakable and very prevalent.”

Lucas has established quite a few safety measures as best he can, to enable him to cope with his father’s tyranny,” the Captained explained. “Secretly hiding away from any threat is a one such method we found out by accident. No doubt there are probably others that nobody even knows about. There were discussions with this friend of at least one other, that is far more sophisticated in its set up and planning.”

What is it?” Miguel Ortiz asked with intrigue, seeing the same question and interest on the other faces around the table.

Some of them had already seen a demonstration of the teenager’s ability to solve problems. Lucas had already shown a level of intelligence that was extraordinary for someone his age during the short time he had been on-board. Computers, language, technology, advanced programming, the list was already impressive. What other skills did he possess?

Bridger answered with another question of his own, “With the training that you have all received as personnel aboard this vessel, and as members of the military service in general, I am sure you are familiar with the ‘defence readiness condition’ alert system that was devised by the armed services?”

You mean the Defcon system?” Ford queried, not sure what that had to do with Lucas and his unnamed friend.

Yes, Commander, that is precisely what I mean,” Bridger said with a grin. “Lucas has developed some kind of comparable system for these friends. From what little I understand about it so far, it correlates directly with how much danger he is at any one time. I don’t have details yet of all the individual levels, but as of right now, he told this friend that he is at Defcon Level Four.”

Level Four?” Kristin spoke up, with a puzzled expression. Like Jonathan Ford, she was trying to draw a line of reference of how such a system related directly to their youngest crew member.

Doctor Westphalen, the system that the crew of this vessel adhere to states or prescribes that there are five graduated levels of readiness for the military,” Tim O’Neill filled in for her. “It starts as Level Five, which is least severe and worsens to Level One which is most severe.”

I know there is such a system, but how does that involve Lucas?” Kristin commented, knowing the bespectacled man had meant well with his reply. Being a civilian doctor, those in the military downplayed what knowledge she had about their operations and regulations. She didn’t always agree with them, and certainly wasn’t afraid to voice her opinion when they encroached on her staff or their duties.

Lucas severed the connection to the internex a few minutes after declaring this level,” Bridger told them. “From that moment onwards, all communication and chatter between them is to be in some kind of secret code. And he will contact them, not the other way around.”

A secret code that we may never be able to properly decipher,” Ortiz pointed out. “If it is anything like any of those computer languages that he mentioned while figuring out the coding problem to my station, then we are all sunk.”

I think Lucas only brought up the secret code because he still doesn’t feel safe from his father’s reach,” Nathan added. “The assurances that I have personally given him haven’t been enough.”


Ben Krieg made himself sit up a little straighter, taking on a determined stance. “Thank you Captain, for new pieces of information. It is great to hear that Lucas has past friends who are willing to help him and have done so previously. As for myself, I need to be doing something positive now, here on-board, as one of his newer friends. Not waiting for someone to come and rescue him away from here.”

What do you want to do, Ben?” Bridger queried. “I think you have been doing a very fine job so far. You have been his confidante and gained his trust to a certain degree already in such a short space of time.”

With your permission of course, Sir, tonight I am going to try the social event route,” Krieg explained, ignoring the Captain’s praise. “Instead of a movie night though, just a little impromptu party. Some snacks and finger foods to eat, and some non-alcoholic drinks. A little music and a positive but relaxed atmosphere. That should eliminate any awkwardness like what happened last night.”

Do you think he would be willing to attend?” Kristin asked. She liked what the young Lieutenant was trying to achieve, but after seeing the teenager last night and this morning, perhaps Ben was being overly optimistic.

I am hoping to appeal to his better nature that it is not just for his benefit,” Ben answered. “Other than that, pure intentional and unashamed begging on my part.”

The group gathered around the table laughed at that comment from the Morale Officer. They were aware of how Krieg used charm to persuade others into doing things or co-operating with his unusual plans.

Actually, you may not have to do that, Ben,” Bridger commented. “When I finally did alert Lucas to my presence outside his cabin door last night, I mentioned to him about skipping out on your movie night. He wasn’t going to admit to what caused him to leave so suddenly, but he did feel guilty enough about not telling you. I hinted to him that he may not be able to turn down your next invitation so easily.”

Well, that’s settled then,” Ben declared with renewed energy. “Everybody seated here is invited of course, including both of you Commander Ford, and Doctor Westphalen.

I think I will still use a little restraint on the number of guests invited and keep them low. I am sure Don won’t object to turning out a few platters of eats that will tempt our young friend.”

I can supply some of the background music if you want, Krieg?” Tim O’Neill offered.

Sure Tim, that would be great,” Ben said with thanks. “Turn up in the recreation room a few minutes beforehand to set up. Other than that, the atmosphere will be low-key and without routine. Just a chance to mingle, talk and share some good food for a couple of hours. That way, there is no heavy onus on anybody to do anything specific, but to turn up and be themselves.”

I am heading down to my science department, Ben, but if you need any other assistance before tonight, you can approach me at any time,” Kristin advised. “I have quite a lot of work that I want to achieve before then.”

The group began packing up their trays and crockery, planning to leave and attend to their own duties for the day.

Bridger told Jonathan Ford that he would be along in a few minutes, but was sharing a last minute conversation with Kristin.

Tim and Miguel were discussing genres of music for the night’s promised activities as they left the mess hall together to start their day shifts. Miguel offered a few of his own pieces from his own collection of music for O’Neill to use.


Ben watched everybody leave, intent on staying long enough to talk to the Head Chef. Grabbing his tray, he proceeded to approach the serving counter.

Just returning these, Don,” Krieg shouted out to the man.

The breakfast line up had slowed a little. There were still hot dishes on offer for last minute stragglers or late risers. The avocados on toast had gone down a treat, and there were none left. There was still a healthy amount of scrambled egg with bacon pieces available.

Don the chef, wiped his hands on his apron, walking over to collect the tray, but wondering why Krieg had decided to do it this morning. Normally the guy left his tray on the tables for someone else to clear away like most of the crew on-board.

That will be a first from you. Keep that up and I will think that you are up to no good,” Don commented. “Lucas is proving to be a good influence on you in the good manners department, Ben.”

Now that hurts, Don,” Krieg fired back in his own defence. “I am doing you a favour.”

In return for…………?” the Chef gauged, knowing there was a reason behind it. “With you doing the asking, I can’t help but be suspicious.”

About what?” Ben countered. “I came here to return my breakfast tray, and ask if you wouldn’t mind helping me out for later on this evening.”

Here it comes……,” Don pre-empted, waiting to hear the man’s request.

I am having a little get together tonight, for say no more than ten people. In the recreation room at about six o’clock,” Krieg explained. “I wanted to know if you would make up some finger food platters. I would be needing some sodas and other drinks to wash everything down with. Nothing too fancy or complicated, but a nice assortment to go around.”

And you are only just telling me this now!” Don challenged, looking down at his watch. The number of people didn’t sound too many, but still. “A little warning in future would be nice, Krieg,” the chef proclaimed.

Ben knew that he asking a lot and not allowing a lot of preparation time, “This isn’t for me this time. I am organising a little social night that will include Lucas.”

That who the food is for?” the chef asked. He was tempted to ask Ben what he had done to the kid to try and make up for. The chef knew the man was making some genuine efforts where the teenager was concerned, so he refrained from bringing the matter up.

Some music, some eats and a little relaxed talking, nothing more. It will be for everybody, but I am hoping to lure him there a little later with an open invitation,” Ben answered. “He told the Captain that he was going back to his cabin when he left here. I hope it was to get a little more sleep, so I will ask him later when he is awake.”

He did look tired when he came in here, even before the Captain arrived,” Don remarked. “Alright Krieg, I will help you out and supply the platters and drinks. We don’t know everything he likes yet, but I will put together a few samples that I hope he will find tempting. There will be enough for everybody. You are going to owe me.”

Thank you,” Ben said cheerfully, as he turned and started to leave, heading off to find and planning to speak to Bridger. “I will definitely owe you,” he added as he exited the doors.


Arriving back in her science departments, Kristin was met by one of her senior staff members who was brimming with excitement.

Doctor Westphalen, what you have achieved in the last few days is tremendous, and I know everybody down here is very thankful for your extra efforts and dedication,” the woman stated.

Thank you Jane, for your sentiments but what are you talking about?” Kristin asked politely. Her duties over the past week weren’t out of the ordinary or anything that should be deemed as ground-breaking. If she wanted to be brutally honest, the current pace of testing was behind schedule. And some areas had not received anywhere near the amount of attention that was planned.

All the labelling you did,” the woman said, her expression turning one of confusion. At first the technician thought that the doctor may been downplaying her role, but now she noticed that Kristin really didn’t understand what her words of praise were for. “Both laboratories, one and two. All natural specimens and all the geology samples have been been carefully named with all the correct genus and common names.”

All of them?” Kristin said with more than a little surprise. That was a task she had been hoping to achieve over the next several weeks. To hear now that it had been carried out was very strange. Nobody had been authorised or assigned yet to carry out such a task, because they were all busy with more pressing work demands.

I am sorry, I assumed that you did it,” Jane replied. “I don’t know who else would have done it.”

Walking with the young woman into the first laboratory, “Show me what has been done,” Kristin instructed, wanting to view first-hand what the young woman was pleased about.

Gazing at each individual specimen in turn, she could see what had been done. The science department had made a great deal of progress since she had given Lucas a tour through these laboratories. A number of slides had now been prepared for the non-living specimens, dead coral samples, rock and sediments.

Looking intently at the slides, she could see the labelling that had taken place. With each being hand-written in very small and neat print, she now knew the identity of the person who had done it.

Lucas told me that he was almost finished working on the software that I asked him about, but he didn’t mention anything to me about taking on any of this work,” Kristin said with gratitude in her voice. She could guess fairly accurately at how long it may have taken him to do them all. Where he had found that extra time she didn’t know.

The next laboratory is done as well,” Jane informed her. “All of the animal, plant and micro-organisms.”

Kristin was shocked again, and exited the first laboratory, only to enter the second. She had heard the woman mention that both sections had been completed, but it took looking about now for her to fully comprehend just how much work the teenager had done without saying a word. She hadn’t seem him down here during the day when she had been working. How many hours had he been doing this without her team noticing?

The young man that is staying on-board here,” Kristin said as she saw that Jane had not put a face to the name. “He has done all of this, I recognize his hand-writing. I must thank him as soon as I see him.” She remembered the game they had played and enjoyed together testing each other’s knowledge. Lucas had gone above and beyond what she would ordinarily expect and put those skills into practical use.

Well he has done a great job,” Jane applauded. “It will make a big difference to us down here. I hope you will pass along thanks on our behalf.”

I plan to make sure that he receives full credit for what he has done,” Kristin assured her. “I expect him to be down here a little more frequently so you will be able to pass along your thanks directly to him. Though he may act too shy at first. He is still finding his way around down here and the rest of the vessel.”

I will remember that if I see him. I will go back to my own duties now,” Jane stated, leaving the doctor alone with her own thoughts.

Kristin assumed that he would be sleeping in his cabin after leaving the mess hall, so talking to him would have to wait until he was awake. She would be passing on all of the praise and comments being made by her staff.


Walking through the corridor on his way past the moon pool, the Captain stopped and did a double-take when he spotted a familiar figure sitting on the backless stool, petting Darwin.

I thought you were going to get some more sleep this morning?” Bridger brought up as he came up alongside the teenager.

Sleeping is over-rated,” Lucas declared with a half grin, trying to downplay the man’s concerns. The truth was he had returned to his cabin, but sleep still wouldn’t come naturally. The short doze across the table this morning had been a mistake that he hadn’t been able to replicate. His mind was on overdrive and proving hard to shut down.

What are you and Darwin planning to do today?” Nathan asked, genuinely interested in the progress the teenager was making with the vocorder program. He had been maintaining his own method of communicating with the dolphin on his island and thought that well ahead of its time. This new concept invented by Lucas who was so young was fascinating.

Mainly revision work today,” Lucas replied, playing with various buttons on the controller. “I still cannot get into the tank to swim and play with him yet,” he added glumly.

Directly any further comments away about his stitches, the boy changed subjects entirely, “I did go by your cabin before coming here to look at your new furniture.”

Oh, what did you think?” Bridger questioned. “Ben and I struggled getting one of the armrests into the correct alignment. Eventually we got it to work. I think they look great. I haven’t had the chance to try them out.”

The sofa looks comfortable and large enough, but rather plain and boring in the colour department if you ask me,” Lucas answered. “Not that I have a whole lot of experience with furniture or décor to base that opinion on.”

Well boring and plain suits me just fine, thank you,” the Captain said with stoicism. “I told Commander Ford that I didn’t have any preference for the fabric or the colour, so you will have to take that up with Ben.”

That is alright then, I will tell him that he is plain and boring,” the boy said with a small laugh.

Did someone mention my name?” Krieg asked as he approached the moon pool. The man was carrying a clipboard in his hands. “I thought you were supposed to be sleeping?”

Bridger knew what Ben was there to do, and didn’t want to be seen putting any pressure on the teenager’s decision. “I am headed back to the Bridge, but I will talk some more with you later.”

The teenager ignored Ben’s question about sleeping entirely. It was the second time within less than half an hour that someone had brought up the same subject. It was different for him, and he couldn’t do it on command just because it was the expected thing to be doing at a certain time.

The furniture in the Captain’s quarters, I took a peek before coming here” Lucas told him with a little teasing in his voice. “When I brought up about the fabric colour choices, he mentioned that you were responsible for selecting and ordering them. That is why the colours are plain and boring.”

That’s it, you are off the invitation list,” Ben taunted back, using the comment as a casual way of introducing why he was standing there.

What invitation list?” the teenager questioned. “What are you planning now?”

I am having another get together with a few of the crew tonight,” Ben started to say, but saw the immediate change of expression on the boy’s face. “Don’t worry, it won’t be another movie night I promise.”

I am sorry I left there without telling you, it wasn’t you,” Lucas apologised, unable to mask his guilt well enough. “Please believe that it wasn’t anything you did.”

There was never any obligation for last night,” Ben said with some honesty, not wanting to bring up what Tim had witnessed. “On the next movie night, you can pick what we watch.”

Thanks for understanding,” Lucas responded, trying to deflect any further discussion on the topic, he asked a question of his own. “What is tonight supposed to be all about?”

By agreeing to come tonight, you will go some way towards restoring your good name in my books….,” Ben joked, seeing a hint of a smile from the teenager in return. He dropped the act and continued, “Tonight isn’t about anything specific. A very small group of people, mingling with some music, talking and generally just having a good time.”

Ben….,” Lucas said, giving a tired sigh. He didn’t want to sound ungrateful, and Bridger was right about owing him, but he didn’t know if he had another social night in him today. He looked back at Krieg’s grin and expectant face, and felt worse because he couldn’t give a concrete yes or no.

Krieg could see the reaction, and the temptation to say ‘no’ on the tip of his tongue, “Hey, no obligation remember, just like yesterday. Come if you want to, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t.” Although the morale officer was silently hoping that he would agree.

I will be there,” Lucas agreed, but didn’t give any other assurances. “Oh and tomorrow I can start to give you a demonstration of that software that I designed for you,” he added, completely changing the topic of discussion again.

You finished it already?” Krieg said with surprise. When talking to the teenager only a couple of days ago, he had mentioned that he was working on it, but it had only been half done at that point.

All done, and you can start using it once I show you how,” Lucas confirmed, pleased that he had been able to do something for Ben that would make his job easier. “Today, I want to keep working with Darwin for a bit longer.”

No sooner had he made the comment though, the dolphin swam away in the opposite direction, headed out of the moon pool tank.

Or maybe not,” he remarked. The distraction of talking to the Captain and then Ben had taken away the animal’s co-operation on working with the teenager and his vocabulary for now.

Don’t take it personally, Darwin probably had a better offer of a fish,” he said with amusement. I had better get back to work too,” Ben commented, knowing that there was some set up work to do in the recreation room in a few hours.

The teenager gave a small grin in return. For the next few hours, he would have to find something else to keep himself occupied. To be honest, any motivation to start anything complicated had disappeared when his aquatic friend had left.

Krieg was counting on tonight’s activities to keep the teenager’s attention a little longer than the previous night. He was banking on the presence of the Captain and Doctor Westphalen as being the back up plan to help with that.


By the time five o’clock in the afternoon came around, the recreation room was a hive of activity, with Ben Krieg being right in the middle of the chaos. Tim and Miguel were getting the music organized, still deciding between them which genre to play. Both had bought quite an impressive repertoire to utilise. They weren’t sure what would appeal to everybody in the room at the same time.

The food tables had been set up, and Don had brought in a number of tempting platters of finger foods. He had slapped Krieg’s hand away on a number of occasions, telling him to wait until everybody had arrived. The chef himself was asked at the last minute to join them if he wanted to, but respectfully declined. There wasn’t anything on the table that was unusual or too fancy.

The Captain and Doctor Westphalen arrived almost an hour later together, when everything was almost in place. Ben had done a terrific job at setting up the casual night with not a whole lot of time to do so. Commander Ford was one of the last to arrive, dressed in casual off-hours attire.

Bridger walked over to Ben, wanting to ask where the last guest was, but he was beaten to the punch before being able to ask anything.

Lucas was reluctant to agree when I asked him,” Ben commented, “But he said he would come.”

No sooner had he made the statement, Lucas walked through the door of the recreation room, a small smile on his face as he greeted Tim and Miguel. His expression changed to a slight frown at listening to the soft, gentle music playing in the room. It wouldn’t normally be something he would choose, but kept silent about its lack of appeal to him.

Hi,” he said simply to everyone, standing beside the Captain. Kristin was beside Nathan. Everyone exchanged pleasantries, but the lack of spontaneous conversation was evident.

Lucas had taken a hot a shower, hoping the steam would revitalise him and help him to stay awake a little longer. Before turning up to the recreation room, he had been working on Ben’s inventory program back in his cabin, and adding a few last minute touches. After telling Ben that it was ready to put into action, he wanted to double check that it was the case.

By now, he was starting to feel very lethargic. He didn’t want to fall asleep in front of the small gathering like he had done this morning in the mess hall. At the moment, with the messages that were being exchanged between his brain and the rest of his body, that was a distinct possibility.

When Bridger had challenged him near the moon pool he hadn’t felt as tired as he did right now. He was hoping to get away with showing up to apologise to Ben for the movie night, but nothing more. He had never been a social butterfly, and wasn’t interested in being one tonight. An hour should be enough, less than two in mixed company was his goal.

Glad you could make it, Lucas,” Ben declared with enthusiasm. When he surveyed where everybody was standing in the room though, he didn’t like what he was seeing.

Ben swiftly grabbed a cold drink, pushed it into teenager’s hand, “Come on, everybody here has met each other before, this is supposed to be a party, not a nun convention. There is a great big sofa over there to sit on and talk. Some of you go over there,” he instructed. “Other people can stay here near the food tables. We are not mannequins, spontaneous and embarrassing dancing is permitted and encouraged.”

This brought a burst of laughter from the teenager, “To this music, Krieg? You must be kidding. Thankfully I am not much of a dancer anyway.”

Captain Bridger and Jonathan Ford grinned at the energy that Ben was bringing to the event, enough for everybody all on his own. In keeping with his wishes, they moved towards the large sofas, happy to join in some conversation.

Just remember gentlemen,” Krieg warned his two senior officers. “The same rules apply tonight, that there will be no talk of work inside these walls. They are meant for you too, Doc,” he directed at Kristin.

I will be on my best behaviour,” the red-headed woman promised, picking up one of the drinks, and trying to be a little more involved in the social atmosphere Ben was trying to create.

Kristin was trying to figure a way to talk to Lucas and thank him for his efforts in her science department, but with the teenager was still standing next to Ben near the table of food. Adhering to his wishes, and taking into account the teenager’s quiet mood, she doubted that he would appreciate the spotlight. She would have to wait to talk to him on his own another time.

Ben glanced over at Lucas, seeing him standing near the buffet table and surveying what was on offer. There was something else though that caught his attention. The boy appeared almost apprehensive and anxious, looking sideways in either direction, watching for anybody being too close. There must have be a reason for it, but Krieg couldn’t think of a viable answer.

You can try anything you like,” Krieg encouraged, grabbing a plate himself and placing more than a few morsels onto it, hoping the boy would follow and at least try some. “Some of these look great. I must remind myself to tell Don about what a fantastic job he did on the food.”

Lucas gave a small grin, and picked up a plate too, hoping to direct Ben’s attention away from the nervousness bubbling beneath the surface. In the back of his mind though something else caused the half smirk to disappear very quickly. He almost dropped the first piece he selected, and had to alter his grip at the last second to mask his clumsiness.

You can never make them understand!’ echoed back as his mind silently but harshly admonished himself.

Tim and Miguel joined the two of them, grabbing a plate each and perusing what was laid out. They were impressed with the selection as well, making a few appreciative noises at the smells and visual display.

How come there isn’t any chips for dipping and guacamole, Krieg?” Tim asked. “You keep telling Ortiz and me that you are some kind of connoisseur for Mexican cuisine, but I don’t see any of that reflected here on the table.”

Don must have played it safe tonight with the menu he gave us. You can both blame Lucas here for that little omission from tonight’s treats,” he poked in fun at the teenager. “Turns out that our young friend here is allergic to them. I already told him that my Mexican themed nights are ruined.

Lucas coped the jibe without being offended, but didn’t elaborate further.

I am allergic to some foods too, Lucas,” Tim admitted. “Some seafoods, not all of them. In the past, I have had trouble identifying which ones affect me and which ones don’t.”

Carrots for me. I usually break out into itchy and embarrassing hives,” Miguel interjected with slight annoyance. There had often been an disagreement between his mother and grandmother at home when he was growing up. His mother knew of the allergy, his grand-mother didn’t believe that they were the caused a problem.

None of you people are going to be fun at any of my parties,” Ben huffed with mock indignation. He was pleased that Tim and Miguel had shared their food allergies, so that Lucas wouldn’t feel like he was the only one being singled out.


With a few uneaten pieces of food on his plate and what remained of his drink, Lucas took them away from the table, towards the sofas. He didn’t know what Ben and the others wanted to talk casually about and no interesting topics were coming to mind. Tim had gone to change the music to something with a little more beat to it, but kept the volume low enough that it wasn’t being intrusive.

Ben and Miguel were still by the food table, exchanging a few recipes that they had tried in the past. Krieg liked spicy food, as did Ortiz, so there was a lot of common ground between them.

Sitting down, fatigue was washing over Lucas in waves, settling in like a heavy curtain. He was surprised that the Captain and Kristin hadn’t noticed it when he came into the room. Even Ben hadn’t said a word when they were standing near the food table. He doubted he was hiding how tired he was very well from anybody at this point.

Bridger offered a smile when the teenager sat close by. He was pleased to have the company. Kristin and Jonathan Ford were talking about vacations they had taken to various places. Both of them lived and breathed their jobs, even outside of their normal hours. Any minute now one of them was going to stray into work related territory.

Lucas was the first to make a random statement, but with his defences down, he didn’t realise that he was allowing the person listening to learn more about himself. “This is very different to from the investment parties that I am used to attending. At least this looks like real food.” He placed one of the samples into his mouth.

Been to a few of those type of events in the past?” Bridger asked cautiously, noting the mistake that had been made, but waiting to receive a little more detail. They probably weren’t that much different to the meetings he had attended with the Naval brass over the years. Plenty of food and refreshments provided, but usually strictly all military talk and very little achieved from any of them.

Lucas had finished the food, “That was nice enough. The food that the events I was forced to go to was often too rich for my simple taste. Stupid things like scraping dead snails out of their shell with the end of a toothpick, raw fish on tiny little crackers and Caviar served on small triangles of toast,” he added with disgust.

‘Not that I would have been allowed to try any of them anyway’ Lucas conceded miserably to himself as memories started to creep into his psyche.

Business meetings I suspect?” Bridger assumed. The part that of the boy’s speech that he had picked up on was ‘forced to attend’ in addition to the other disapproval voiced from Lucas.

Mostly endless hours of boredom spent with a bunch of stuffed-shirt people who didn’t speak a word of English. Japanese, Korean and a few other nationalities,” Lucas answered. “I wouldn’t recommend going to them to anyone, and there was never any good food and only high priced alcohol flowing from the bar.”

Nathan assumed from those admissions, that Lucas may be capable of speaking more foreign languages than French. How these people were associated with his father, Lawrence Wolenczak and his World Power empire was pure speculation.

Lucas finished the last two pieces of food on his plate, and drained the last of his soda. Tim was filling his own plate at the buffet table, and tasting a few of the samples.

The Captain had been drawn into the conversation with Kristin and Commander Ford, and was currently turned away from him. Miguel and Ben were over where the music was pumping out from, and arguing over the next choices.

The teenager had promised Ben to turn up, and as far as he was concerned, that was what he had done. He had even eaten some of the food, and mingled as much as he felt was necessary. The sofa he was sitting on was inviting, but he didn’t want the same situation as this morning in the mess hall. He needed to leave before he fell flat on his face in front of them. Somewhere in his not too distant future, he saw another much larger face to face apology going to Ben for spoiling another of his social nights.

Thankfully, nobody had glanced in his direction, or saw him stand up from the sofa. Lucas surprised himself with how smoothly his exit was.

A couple of uninterrupted hours of sleep, free from nightmares and current negative thoughts was what he was aiming for. Walking down the corridor away from the recreation room, he headed back to Mammal Engineering and his cabin.


Bridger turned around to say something to Lucas about what Jonathan had said, but noted that the sofa to his left was now vacant. There was an empty cup and plate nearby.

Looking about the room to spot the teenager, there was a new sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.

Oh Ben,” the Captain called out, standing up and taking another glance at the faces around the room. Everybody who was supposed to be in the room was except for one.

Krieg came walking over to Bridger, about to ask why he had been summoned, but Kristin spoke first from behind him.

Where is Lucas?” she asked. Jonathan Ford and her had been enjoying their casual exchange, but had lost track of the time for a few minutes. They had seen the teenager talking to the Captain and sharing a story, but hadn’t heard what they were talking about.

Lucas is missing again?” Ben said with dismay, looking about the expansive room himself. He noted those few people who were present, but the one face he was searching for was not amongst them. “He managed to slip out just as silently as the last time.”

He appeared to be calm when he was talking to you Nathan, not more than a few minutes ago,” Kristin interjected. “I saw him get food from the table at least once before coming down and sitting on the sofa.

Lucas was eating some of the delicious samples that Don provided for tonight,” Bridger reported. “There wasn’t much on his plate, but he did try some of them. After that he was sharing with me some of the experiences he has had with the business parties that his father has hosted. There weren’t too many similarities and according to the strenuous dislike and opposition coming through in his words, they were events he would rather not be associated with.

You know, he is starting to give me a complex concerning the lack of my ability to keep or maintain his attention during any of my social events,” Ben tried to joke, but his attempt at humour fell very short of the mark. He hazarded a guess that there was much more going on with the teenager, and suspected more than just bad memories had been plaguing him for a number of days.

The small group of people were now gathered around the sofa, wondering what may have triggered the teenager to react badly. They had been fairly careful with their topics of conversation, but that may not have been enough on this occasion. Trying to pick up on his mood was still proving to be quite difficult, despite their best combined efforts.

Please everybody wait here, I will go and see if I can find out the problem and what caused him to leave,” the Captain requested, putting his own drink aside.


Bridger made his way down to Mammal Engineering trying to go back over the short amount of time Lucas had spent in the recreation room in an attempt to identify something that may have made him feel uncomfortable. The teenager had inadvertently provided a few small, select bits of information about the business events that his father had hosted at their home, and how boring they were.

The teenager had revealed that most of the guests were foreign, but had not shown any signs of being upset that Nathan had been able to tell at that point. Disgusted and irritated about the length of time he had spent at those events, and the choice of menu, but he had not sounded distressed or strained. Nothing had sounded particularly out of place, but alarm bells were definitely ringing that he had chosen to leave again suddenly for a second night.

On his way past the moon pool, he had contemplated heading down to the science department first. That is where Lucas had gone first last night, looking for sanctuary in Kristin’s domain. This time he took a punt about where the teenager had headed to after the recreation room, hoping that he hadn’t found another designated hiding place yet.

Approaching the small cabin, he paused for a moment, pondering what mood or frame of mind he would find the teenager in. The accusation of checking up on him again without a valid reason could very well be coming his way. If that was the only thing bothering Lucas, then he could accept that criticism.

Knocking on the hatch door to the small cabin, he waited patiently for a few moments, before turning the handle and taking a chance by entering. He was pleased to see that the occupant was at least inside. He wasn’t so sure whether or not he would be on the receiving end of some words of denial that there was a problem and a very closed off attitude. Looking across the small cabin teenager, he now knew the reason for him leaving Ben’s party early.

There was no loud music playing at present, but perhaps that had been an omission on his part and he had forgotten to turn it on this time. Bridger sighed to himself once he was standing close enough to take a good look at Lucas’ face. The boy was currently laying on his bed, on his left side, sound asleep. Apparently too tuckered out to acknowledge the knock at his door.

The teenager had not heard the door open, or anybody enter the cramped space of his room. From previous observations, it was unusual for his senses not to be in a state of heightened alert. They couldn’t be at that level though, unless you were taking reasonable care of yourself, and that included good food and enough rest. Bridger doubted that Lucas was achieving either of those things in the correct quantities since arriving on-board.

The fatigue that had been on display in the mess hall early this morning before breakfast, had returned ten-fold this evening. Getting through the day purely on coffee fumes and stubbornness, the boy was over-tired and worn out. Nathan had seen him working by the moon pool with Darwin, and spoken to him before Ben had shown up. There had been a comment or two made about him carrying out other tasks during the day.

They may have been acting like concerned friends, but the Captain had the impression that they were missing meaningful clues, and bypassing some of the self-explanatory signs. They were taking the time, but failing to come up with the right answers. None of them could claim to be making great crossroads or being successful by looking carefully beneath the surface.

Then another reason for the Lucas’ tiredness crept into the back of Bridger’s mind and presented as a valid alternative. His eating schedule was still somewhat irregular, and his sleeping pattern unpredictable and hard to nail down. Maybe he was coming down with a virus and getting sick and didn’t want anybody to notice, especially Kristin.

Nathan didn’t want to disturb the boy from the sleep he obviously needed, but he wanted to make sure there wasn’t something more sinister starting to brew that they should know about. Very gently, he laid the palm of his hand on the teenager’s forehead, checking for the tell-tale sign of a fever.

The Captain was relieved when the temperature of his skin felt normal, without any heat present. A more plausible reason for Lucas leaving Ben’s party early could be that he was worried about dozing off in front of other people. Wanting to avoid any embarrassment in front of the few crew members he was in contact with on a daily basis.

Lucas must have felt someone’s presence in the room on a subconscious level, and the hand, because he began to stir at the intrusion. Bridger was rewarded with a sliver of blue appearing from beneath barely raised eyelids. Tired eyes, opened and drooped twice, before closing one final time. There was no fever, but Nathan felt a shiver run through his body. It was clear to the Captain that the boy was merely exhausted.

Thankfully, this time around he had not scared Lucas to death by disturbing him. The boy’s half-hearted attempt to wake was tough to watch, and a sign that something else was happening right under their very noses. Instead of lifting his hand away too quickly and losing the contact, he carded it softly through the boy’s hair. The tactile gesture only bringing about regret that he needed to use such a method in order to gain a truthful, non-verbal answer to the question of whether he was sick. Bridger intended the action to be soothing and would help ease him back to sleep with an unspoken apology.

Bridger watched him silently, growing more concerned by what they were not able to see going on internally, ‘Why are you doing this to yourself?’

The small cabin was still much too cold for his liking, thankfully this time, one of the blankets that Ben had delivered was hanging over the foot end of the bed. He reached for the fluffy polyester fabric and gently spread it out over the youth. Lucas gave a contented sigh at the additional warmth and buried his face deeper into the fabric of the pillows.

‘What are you not telling us?’ was the unspoken question he wanted to voice out loud. Nathan was fairly certain if he was awake and more alert, Lucas would pull away from his harmless action with suspicion and unfamiliarity.


The Captain returned to the recreation room, “I am sorry, Ben, but you can scratch any further participation from Lucas for the next several hours and the remainder of the evening.”

They were surprised that Nathan had returned so quickly, especially after assuming that Lucas may be needing someone to talk to or listen to what was bothering him. Bridger was the only one that the teenager would allow to provide any level of comfort and support.

Too exhausted to even wake when I knocked on the door and entered his room. He is sound asleep in his cabin,” Bridger informed them. For a few minutes, I was worried he might be coming down with a virus, but he didn’t have a temperature. He couldn’t even wake himself up to protest or object when I checked.”

Tim O’Neill looked down at the time on his watch, “But it is barely seven o’clock at night?” he stated.

He looked exhausted this morning in the mess hall,” Kristin replied. “I should have checked up on him a little more throughout the day and made sure that he was taking better care of himself. His stitches and bruising needed checking again, so the opportunity was there to me to use subversion to achieve that. Unfortunately there was only so much hovering I could do before tempers were at risk of fraying.”

Your not to blame, Kristin,” the Captain replied to the doctor. “None of us are. Despite the positive inroads we have already made collectively, the majority of the time Lucas is still keeping the doors to his world firmly closed.”

I have a hunch about what has been going on over the past several days,” Ben spoke up. All eyes within the small group turned towards him, keen to hear his suggestions and ideas.

You know what might be going on?” Bridger questioned. Shedding light on the problem would be most welcome. Ben was probably the most observant of any of them when it came to Lucas and noting his actions and moods. The boy had even shared a few of his angry and unhappy thoughts with the morale officer.

Until now, that is all it has been based on a few little things that I have witnessed,” Krieg answered. “With your permission, I would like to conduct a little covert operation later tonight. Even as tired as you describe Lucas being now, I doubt his sleep will last long.

It may take a little altering of my day shift roster for tomorrow, Sir,” Ben noted, “I will watch his nocturnal activities for a few hours without drawing attention to myself.

Can that be done at such short notice, Commander?” Nathan asked Ford in relation to the duty roster.

That can be arranged, Captain,” Ford confirmed. “The lieutenant can be given some extra time off during the day tomorrow to catch up on his own sleep.”

Tomorrow morning, around breakfast time, let us all meet early in the Ward Room,” Krieg suggested. “I will make sure there is plenty of hot coffee on hand.”

Commander Hitchcock will be on the Bridger at that time, Captain, so she would be capable of maintaining control as the crews commence their shift change. She would also be able to cover the time that you and I would be absent,” Ford explained. “I can inform her later in the day about what was discussed to keep her in the loop so to speak.”

Does anybody else have any objections to this plan of action?” Bridger asked, looking over at Tim and Miguel. He didn’t like them sacrificing their free time so early in the morning. From what Jonathan said about the roster and such an unorthodox method of surveillance, he was grateful for Ben’s input about what might work.

I will make the time whenever it needs to be, Nathan,” Kristin declared. For Lucas she was willing to be as flexible as necessary. She was apprehensive about how the teenager would react if he spotted Ben following him around.

Miguel was already thinking the same as Doctor Westphalen, “I don’t envy the position you are going to be in Krieg when Lucas finds out what you are doing.”

Same here, Ben, but I don’t have a problem with turning up early before my shift begins,” Tim O’Neill replied.

Thank you all for your co-operation,” Bridger said sincerely.

If I fail and get it wrong, then my actions will only be a reflection on me, not anybody else. I am willing to take any flack from Lucas that may be headed my way if that happens,” Ben said in answer to their concerns about his shadowing activity being discovered.

I will either be able to confirm or deny my theory of what the problem is with our young friend. However be warned, that if I am proven right, then none of us are going to be happy with what I have to to report,” he gave as a final remark.


Twenty minutes before nine o’clock at night, Ben Krieg and the Captain were having a discussion near the moon pool.

Are you all set? Do you need anything else to carry this out?” Bridger asked. “I am about to head to my cabin in a few minutes to read.” It was going to be difficult not to be involved in Ben’s plans, but he wanted to give the Lieutenant the best chance possible for this to work in their favour. With more than one person involved, they would probably both be discovered, and gain nothing for their efforts except an unhappy and distrusting teenager.

No almost set, Sir,” Ben answered. “I don’t really have a concrete point of attack in mind. Mostly I will be guided by what Lucas himself is doing, or wants to do. I just have to make sure that I stay out of sight and earshot. “I know your nerves are probably going to be on edge, but try and relax. I am doing this for him because I want to help Lucas, not set him against us.”

Thank you,” Bridger said with genuine gratitude. He was thinking again that Ben definitely had his heart in the right place when it came to the teenager’s well-being.

Kristin reported that everybody in the science department should have finished their day’s work and left the area within the next half an hour,” the Captain told him. “She didn’t schedule anybody to do testing or sampling work tonight. It is going to be difficult for her not to check up on the both of you, but she understands the reasons why this is a one person operation.”

Commander Ford gave me a run down on which crew members will be around tonight in specific areas for the night shift,” Krieg stated. “Tim and Miguel will have their usual day-shifts scheduled after the meeting in the Ward Room tomorrow morning. Both have offered any assistance during the night should I need it.”

That goes double for me,” Bridger asserted. “If you need anything from me or if Lucas decides he wants to talk at any time tonight, you know where my door is. Good Luck.”

I have one more stop to make on the Bridge,” Ben commented. “Katie is still there on duty, and I want to talk to her before my observing begins.”

Ben made his way towards the Bridge with a confidence to his footsteps.

Good evening, Commander,” Krieg addressed Katie Hitchcock cheerfully, knowing that the tone of voice he was using would bug her to no end.

Jonathan Ford told me you wanted to see me about something before my shift ended, Lieutenant,” she said in an authoritative voice.

Then he should have told you that it is for a very good reason,” Ben countered. “I want you to give me the tablet device that you use to monitor the progress Lucas is making on repairing the door locks.”

I don’t really have any objection,” Katie replied with some puzzlement. “Why can’t you ask Lucas for the one that I gave him?”

I want to use it in the Ward Room tomorrow morning as part of the demonstration that I am setting up for the Captain and other crew members who will be present,” Ben answered. “I know you will be here so that Ford and Bridger can attend. I can’t ask Lucas for the one you gave him, or he will become suspicious about what I am going to do tonight.”

Lucas has been doing some good work, Ben,” Katie said in defence of the teenager. Her opinion had completely changed about his skills over the past few days.

Even she had to admit to being surprised that he had been working solidly and without complaint for a couple of days on the assigned task. When the Captain was trying to involve the teenager more into the day to day activities of the vessel, she felt a little ashamed about judging his ability based on his age. Since then she had seen first-hand for herself that he was quite capable of tackling some of the more complex computer bugs that had been plaguing them recently.

Commander Ford had him work on Miguel Ortiz’s station when it was showing signs of malfunctioning. After offering to rewrite the coding and uploading the patch, the station continued to operate within normal parameters. Lucas had saved her team from needing to take on more additional work when they didn’t have the technicians to spare at the moment. There was no monetary benefit coming him way for any of the assistance that he had been providing, which was a little unfair.

I have no doubt about that, Commander,” Krieg returned. “I have the utmost belief in his abilities from what I have witnessed myself, but there is something else going on at the moment. Something that has me worried about him, and definitely has Bridger and Kristin concerned. No data will be altered or erased while it is in my possession. I promise to return it as soon as the meeting is finished.”

I will be holding you to that, Lieutenant,” Katie said as she handed him the tablet, but held onto it for a few moments longer before releasing it to him.

Nowadays she was loathe to admit that Ben possessed a natural charm that often put others at ease. She had been one of those people to be drawn in when she married him. This time around she hoped that he would be able to help their newest crew member.

I hope you can help figure out what is bothering Lucas,” she added, in a friendlier, more personal tone shared quietly between just the two of them.


By six a.m in the morning, Ben made his way towards Mammal Engineering and Lucas’ small cabin. It had been a long uneventful night, but during that time he had managed to confirm what strategy the teenager had been employing. Now came the time when he had to share what he had observed. Part of him wished he had noticed it before now and spoken up sooner, but hindsight was a fickle thing sometimes.

Before heading to the Ward Room to set up the meeting that the had arranged, he wanted to make sure that Lucas was in his cabin, and hoped that he would remain so for the next couple of hours. The kid had only gone to bed a short time ago, and there was a very real chance that he was still awake. Out of habit he knocked lightly on the door and waited for a reply, but was pleased when he didn’t hear a voice on the other side inviting him in. Ben opened the door and silently entered, unable to shake the feeling that he was intruding.

Music was playing inside the small space, and Lucas was laying on the top bunk, facing towards the hatch door. Thankfully he was sleeping and hadn’t heard his early morning visitor. Maybe his sleep wasn’t quite deep enough yet, as Ben saw his facial expression change from being peaceful to a frown. There was no blanket covering him, but Krieg didn’t want to take the risk of disturbing the teenager. Lucas mumbled something incoherently and tossed about restlessly, trying to find a comfortable position.

Forgive me, but you can’t keep going on like this,” Ben quietly pleaded with his sleeping friend. There was a sense of guilt associated with what he was about to do this morning, but the flip side of that same coin told him that as a good friend he had no choice.


Half an hour later, Ben was putting the finishing touches to the hot coffee that was brewing in the Ward Room. The cups were laid out in a neat row. Now all he had to do was wait.

Kristin was the first to arrive, “Good morning, Ben,” she greeted him warmly. Upon closer inspection of his face, she could see that he had kept up his end of the bargain and been awake all night.

Morning Doc,” he said to her in return cheerfully. “Would you like a cup?”

Definitely, but this time I will return the favour. You go sit at the table and I will bring you one along with my own in a minute,” she offered.

Plenty of sugar this morning please,” he requested.

The Captain was the next person to arrive, “Hello to you both. I sure could use one of these myself,” he added, going about fixing his own coffee.

The three of them took up the same positions around the table they had occupied during the first meeting in this room. There was no awkwardness between them, but they hadn’t brought up the question yet that was showing on each of their faces.

Bridger was about to speak as they waited for everybody else to join them, but the morale officer got in first.

I just came from checking on him in his cabin,” Ben commented. “He was in there but hasn’t been in there all that long. The music was playing again, but he was quite restless. I am hoping that he will stay asleep while we are in here.”

I was going to go there myself, but kept chastising myself not to,” Kristin replied. “Let us hope that he does get some rest for a few hours.”

Before the Captain could make any further comment about him wanting to check on Lucas before coming to the Ward Room, Jonathan, Miguel and Tim all arrived together.

Morning pleasantries were exchanged between them, but nobody mentioned the early hour start to the day. The coffee pot was the first place they congregated around for a few moments, before taking their brews to the table to join in the discussion.

So how did everything go?” Tim O’Neill asked casually, but then thought that perhaps he should have waited until Bridger had addressed them all.

This is Ben’s show this morning, so I am going to let him control everything that goes on in here,” Nathan commented. “I am sure we are all anxious to hear the outcome.”

Ben was about to stand up to talk, but then changed his mind. “Thank you, Sir. There isn’t a right or wrong method to doing this today, but I have to conduct this in my own way.” As he glanced around the table, he was pleased to see people nodding their heads at his approach.

I am going to tell you what I saw, but also mix in a few questions to each of you as I go,” Krieg informed the small group. “For those of you coming in after the Captain, Lucas is currently in his cabin sleeping, but has only been doing that for a short time.”

Firstly, I want to point out that Lucas wasn’t doing anything wrong last night. I mean none of us sitting around this table thought that anyway,” Ben started to explain. “Everything that I saw happening falls directly into the category of what I was talking about in the mess hall yesterday morning.”

And what is that?” Miguel interrupted. “I don’t think any of us thought he was doing something he shouldn’t be.”

Lucas is doing all of this to prove himself, and it would be safe to say that his actions were being done deliberately.” Ben answered plainly. “Or course he doesn’t see it that way, and is probably trying to convince himself most of all. There were other reasons apparent too that I was right about too, but I will get to those shortly.”

Let’s start at the beginning of the night shall we, after most of you had gone back to your own cabins,” Ben began. “I finished talking to Katie on the Bridge about nine o’clock.” For the first time those gathered around the table could see an electronic tablet laying in front of Krieg. As he spoke, he was fidgeting and running his hands long the cover and spine.

It was assumed that he would bring up its purpose in time. Ben rarely used one in his day to day activities as Supply Officer, so its presence now was intriguing.

Katie may have made the mistake of being dismissive and reluctant to let Lucas work on the computer systems a number of days ago, but she has definitely changed her tune since then. Last night she was telling me how happy she was with the help that he is giving. That has been the exception of course, compared to some other people in the last couple of days.”

Unlike the Captain, I couldn’t just stand outside the kid’s cabin and wait until he made an appearance. There was no way to know what time he may show up or if he was going to come out of his room last night at all.” Bridger smiled at his Lieutenant over the reference of him having overheard Lucas’ conversation with his mystery friend.

Lucas may have been exhausted earlier in the night when you followed him, but it was only about fifteen minutes after I began my surveillance that he emerged from his cabin. Two hours sleep was all he probably gained in total, and I doubt that was anywhere near enough of what he should be getting. The first port of call was to spend twenty minutes with Darwin near the moon pool. He didn’t bother using his vocorder, and was happy enough to pet and talk softly to the animal. I was too far away to hear the one-sided conversation.”

Kristin wore an expression on her face that demonstrated how less than happy she was with the amount of time that the teenager had been asleep. She refrained from interrupting Ben’s report, but somehow they needed to come up with a better solution that was going to work about his sleeping pattern.

After that, he walked to the mess hall, where he took advantage of the coffee pot like we are doing right now. After heating up one of the noodle packs, he sat at the same table as yesterday. The area was dark in there except for recessed lighting coming from the back of the kitchen. He didn’t bother turning any other lights on and was content to spend the next thirty to forty minutes eating a small light dinner on his own.”

I know he has only been on-board a short time and isn’t exactly comfortable around us yet,” Tim remarked. “Surely it cannot be healthy for anybody to spend the majority of their time alone. How does someone his age become so accustomed to being in their own company?”

I do know how you feel Tim, and I have asked myself that very same question before today,” Bridger replied. “Obviously it is a less than an ideal situation, but hopefully one that we can start working towards changing as a team.”

Before ten p.m., he returned briefly to his cabin and grabbed the corresponding tablet device to this one, and the electronic tool he has been using to decipher the numerical code. There were still a few crew members moving about in the main corridors, so he chose one of the more isolated sections of the boat and began working away on those door locks. From what I could see, the time frame for each varied from forty minutes, to over an hour.”

You will be a little more relieved to hear Doc, that the bruising to his hip wasn’t causing him as much pain as it was two days ago. He went back to sitting in the middle of the grated floor for some of the time. Something definitely on the positive side in all of this.”

Now, my first question is directed to you Commander,” Ben said to Jonathan Ford. “When Lucas first approached you to help, how many doors did you and Katie work out he would be able to accomplish?”

Lucas came and saw me after he repaired your door lock, Krieg,” Ford answered. “That was before he even did the extra coding work on Miguel’s station. And it was before he headed back up-world.”

Yes I know that, but originally you told him that the number of doors that may need fixing was over two hundred. Since starting this little campaign of repairing the locks, how many do you estimate he should have completed by now?”

Well that is a little difficult to do. When we found out he was injured, I didn’t want to put any additional pressure on Lucas or make him feel obligated to do them when he wasn’t feeling well. Doctor Westphalen would not have wanted him doing any task with his stitches being sore. The Captain was advising us that he wasn’t sleeping a lot and wanted to allow him flexibility. Which I was prepared to do for as long as he needs.”

He was the one who approached me in the mess hall over lunch about working on Miguel’s station because we were short handed. Lucas has been fairly determined to keep contact with any of us to a minimum where he has a choice and there hasn’t been a whole lot of time pass since then to make any great inroads,” Ford pointed out.

I told him that I expected the whole process to take several months to finish them all, and that is a time frame that I am adhering to, given the number of other bugs that have been creeping through the systems lately. I have seen him standing in the corridor working on the problem at least once, but that wasn’t for too long because he admitted that he was hurting. To answer your original question though, I would hazard a guess that he may have completed ten locks,” Jonathan presumed.

Ben picked up the tablet and turned it on, knowing Ford would be able to read the screen. “You know what this is of course,” he began for others around the table so they knew. “This is how Katie has been monitoring Lucas’ progress.”

Jonathan nodded his head, “Yes, I showed this to him when he first started. Where he has to record the locks that he has repaired and the details, time and date stamp each entry and put his initials. I told him that it is necessary for all of that to be done because the brass uses the data to determine the budget that is allocated for such projects next time.”

Take a look at this then,” Ben instructed, handing over the tablet, and waiting for Ford to scan the data. “I will let you tell everybody what you see with the maintenance work logs.”

Ford thought that Krieg may be exaggerating a little at first, but as he concentrated on what was in front of him, he reached a concerning and stark point when a pattern began to stand out. He emphasised his confusion more by sitting up straighter in the chair and using a finger to trail down the small screen.

Ford looked up briefly at Krieg, “There has to be at least………,” falling silent again as he continued to read downwards.

Ben nodded, seeing that the man understood was he was trying to say. “Take a look at the time and date stamps too. They ones we are interested in are easy to identify.”

There has to be at least twenty marked as being completed,” Ford said with complete amazement. “When did he find the time to do all of these, going by the time each of them were taking?”

I counted closer to twenty five, but yes, at least that number that you mention,” Ben agreed. “All with his initials beside them.”

Let me take a look at that, please,” Bridger instructed. Ford readily handed over the tablet, knowing that the Captain would be alarmed as he was. Kristin stood up from her chair and was looking over Nathan’s shoulder.

From what I was able to personally observe last night, he completed at least five overnight,” Ben informed them. “He stopped about three a.m. this morning, but I think that was because his leg was cramping up on him from sitting too long.”


Everyone seated in the room was stunned to hear Ben’s version of events. Despite being over-tired earlier in the night according to the Captain’s own words, Lucas had been working well in to the early morning hours.

Where did he go after that, back to his cabin?” Kristin asked, starting to pick up on a worrying trend about the boy’s work habits.

Oh if only he did that,” Krieg reported. “He went back to the mess hall and had another cup of coffee. Then I followed him down into your department.”

What was he doing in the science laboratories at that time of the morning?” Bridger queried. “There would not have been any experimenting going on for him to watch. In fact there should not have been any staff about at all.”

There wasn’t anybody about,” Ben confirmed. “He was in laboratory three, where all the living plants and the hydroponic system is set up. I couldn’t get into the room itself without being spotted, but in his hand he was carrying a pen and some small labels and a roll of protective tape. He was only there about an hour before leaving. I didn’t get a chance to check what work he was doing in there.”

I know he was doing in there,” Kristin spoke up, drawing everyone’s attention again as she sat down at the table. “I wanted to thank him personally yesterday for the efforts that he has been making. After breakfast, I didn’t get the chance to see him until your party last night, Ben, and that seemed to be the wrong place to bring it up.”

What has he been doing for you?” Nathan asked. “You told Ben and I that he was working on a software program to set up a scheduling program for your staff. And a way to allow them access to the database from more than one area at a time.”

Yes, that is true, and what he negotiated with me to gain some time to work on his own experiments. As far as I am aware, he has not started those yet,” Kristin replied. “Jane, one of my technicians came up to me rather excited yesterday morning after breakfast when I returned to get started for the day. She thought I had done the work.”

What work?” Tim O’Neill asked, though everybody else was thinking the same question.

Although I haven’t been able to establish an extensive testing and sampling schedule yet with my people, there were already hundreds and hundreds of specimens that had yet to be labelled. The laboratories house all of the natural specimens and all the geology samples and somehow, Lucas has taken the time to carefully and correctly label them all,” Kristin advised.

How do you know it was him?” Miguel questioned. “Depending on how long he has been doing it, that would be a significant amount of writing to do. How does he know all the correct names?”

Oh he is smart enough to know them, he and I played a little game before he went up-world,” Kristin said with a fond smile at the memory. “Computers maybe his true passion, but Lucas is a very bright boy and demonstrated a vast general knowledge of scientific terms. It was his distinctive neat and small hand-writing that gave away who had done it all.”

The living plants and specimens in laboratory three was the only area that hadn’t been done up until last night,” the doctor reported. “My staff would not have had the time to achieve that amount of the labelling for several more weeks at least. It was considered a lower priority in the scheme of other projects.”

When he left the movie night and came down to my department, he told me that the software program for me was almost finished. He was trying to mask how he was feeling by telling at the time. But in the small conversation we shared, he was quite pleased that he was almost finished. He revealed that he shouldn’t be long before he would be able to show me and my staff how to use it,” Kristin continued.

You are not the only one he has been creating software for either,” Ben announced. “After fixing my own door lock, he has been working on creating a program for me to use for my inventory. This was something that only he and I knew he was working on. When I spoke to him earlier yesterday near the moon pool, he told me that it was finished as well.”

That is some kind of work load that he has taken on,” Tim remarked, going over what had been discussed.

Does anybody else here have any other work that he has been completing on their behalf?” Ben enquired.

Lucas completed that coding work for my station and uploaded the patch,” Miguel mentioned. “He did ask to complete the coding in his own cabin from a downloaded file. Come the start of my shift the next morning, it had already been done. I spoke to Commander Ford about it.”

Thats right,” Ford agreed, “Because I expected him to come and inform me once it was ready. He had anticipated that there was quite a few hours of work to do to fix the problem. In that instance there isn’t any work log that would show how long he was working, or the times.”

Krieg continued to give details of his shadowing activities. “By that time I was getting a little drowsy myself and would have gladly joined him for the second cup of coffee in the mess hall. He was finished with the labelling and the door locks, and it was closer to four a.m. and I thought he might be heading to bed.”

I assume he didn’t do that?” Bridger commented. In the back of his mind he was still trying to add up all the different projects that he was working on, both for himself and the crew.

No, he went back to sitting on the small staircase leading down to moon pool, leaning against the wall. Staring off into the water, deep in thought about something by himself. Darwin must have been out feeding at that time, but Lucas didn’t make any effort to find out where the dolphin was at that hour. He didn’t look like wanted company, but he desperately looked like he could use a friend or two,” Ben remarked with a touch of regret that he hadn’t been able to make his presence known.

He sat on those stairs for more than an hour. It was closer to five-thirty a.m. before he made any effort to go back to his cabin and attempt to sleep. Half an hour later, I am checking on him before coming here. “So after a long night, my gut feeling was unfortunately right,” Ben filled in.

Here we have someone who is living through what can only be described as a very traumatic and uncertain time in his life, coupled together with being shoved amongst a virtual group of strangers. In his own words he is trying to fit in, so he spends time during the day in his cabin, working on these various projects for everyone. Pushing and pushing himself.”

There you have stated previously, Captain, there has been too much upheaval for Lucas recently and not enough time for him to sort it out in his head. From incidents like what happened on the Bridge twice, like you mentioned, it is clear that he is still scared and afraid. Even though we have been doing everything we can to offer support, he isn’t sure who he can turn to talk to.”

We can probably collectively guess at a list as long as your arm of what might be on his mind. What is going to happen once his father becomes involved? How long he is going to be staying here on SeaQuest? Valid concerns, but short on any answers for Lucas to be satisfied with.

Not only is he secretly working long hours throughout the day and keeping busy without many breaks in-between unless one of us is insisting or encouraging otherwise. We can see from those work logs for the door locks how many were completed and the times. At night time, he continues to working different hours opposite to everybody else, thinking that few people are going to notice. He is probably happy enough to work in the middle of the night because it means less people that he has to deal with.

For the last several days, Kristin may have been taking great care of his physical injuries. And the Doc is probably in a much better position to stimulate his thirst for knowledge and cater to the high demand of his brain. The Captain has been doing his best to encourage him to eat more on a regular basis. Our best combined efforts haven’t been a raving success yet, even with Don helping too.”

As for sleeping, I would go so far to say that he is actively avoiding it,” Ben said. “All of that work and the stress that he is carrying around has culminated in what you saw last night, Captain, after he left the recreation room. That probably explains why he fell asleep in the mess hall yesterday morning. Maybe he mistimed going back to his cabin before being found out. Lucas is working himself too hard, just to fit in and to feel like he is contributing, but it is also to forget all the other uncertainty and turmoil he is facing.”

Since learning the awful truth about what his father has been doing, I am sure that some of us have been asking the glaring question in front of us about how he is coping. How has he been doing that? It has been clear at times that he has taken a step backwards and hasn’t been coping so great. At other times, it would be fair to say that he has been acting with a lot of maturity for someone his age. With some understanding of the burden head, we now have the answer staring us directly in the face…..” pausing and looking at the faces listening from around the table.

Lucas is working himself into a state of exhaustion because it is the probably only way that he can gain a few hours of restful sleep during the early morning hours. Then the same relentless routine begins again all over again the next day. He is trying to compensate for the chaos, fear and anxiety that is going on inside of him. Why? Simple, he is doing everything he can to mask what he is feeling, and denying the battle within.”

The faces that stared back at Ben could scarcely believe the Morale Officer’s very candid outline. Their emotions were a bubbling cauldron. The silence in the room was deafening as they digested everything that had been said to form their own personal points of view. And more importantly trying to gain a sense of what Lucas was putting himself through. Everybody at the table was stunned with the accuracy that was being thrown out onto the table in front of them about Lucas.

Ben spoke again, seeing that his words had hit home.

I didn’t tell you any of this to make anybody here feel guilty. That is not why I volunteered to do this in the first place,” he promised. “All of us seated here are trying to make a difference and become his friend, there is no denying that. And we have all been making some positive steps forward to help him adapt. But we have to be realistic that there is a long way to go and the road ahead is going to get a lot rougher before it smooths out. Lucas isn’t exactly going to make it easier to gain his trust, or show on a map which direction he plans to go.”

Tim O’Neill asked the obvious question that they all wanted to ask, “What do we do then? Does anybody have any good suggestions?”

We can’t very well confront him out in the open about all of this,” Miguel pointed out. “And its not like he has been doing anything wrong, like you said Krieg.”

You are correct Ortiz, we cannot say anything, because that would have the total opposite affect on him. He would only view anything like that as treason and with suspicion. It wouldn’t be long before he would be trying to hide from everyone again, or maybe doing something worse. None of us wants that. This has to be handled very delicately and keeping Lucas’ wants and needs as the focus on any solution,” Ben responded.

Captain, I think this is where I throw the ball into your court,” Krieg said, turning to speak directly to Bridger.

What did you have in mind?” Nathan asked, noting the Ben had already come up with at least a partial plan.

Lucas needs to get totally off SeaQuest, even if it is only for short time or a few days. I know the schedule at the moment is crazy with everybody being under pressure to get the vessel fully operational. As Captain that falls to you most of all,” Krieg explained. “I know how important computers are to him, but it would act like a circuit breaker, giving him time away from anything that resembles work. Somehow we need to convince him that such a move is a good thing for a bit of true relaxation.”

Even if that was remotely possible,” Ford interjected, trying to think how it could be achieved. “The Captain has been promising Lucas that he doesn’t need to leave until he feels safe. Given the unknown situation with his father, that may be a tough ask.”

Which is why the request has to come specifically from the Captain,” Ben agreed. “And wherever you decide is a good place. Lucas probably wouldn’t go anywhere without you being there, Sir.”

Nathan was looking back at Ben, mulling everything over in his head. He also considered what Jonathan had said about the promises he had made to Lucas. He was adamant that the teenager wasn’t leaving this vessel unless his safety could be guaranteed.

With the software he had been working on for me complete, and the same with yours Kristin, maybe that will free up a little of his time. But he will probably find something else to fill that void left behind quickly enough,” Ben reasoned. “Assuming we can get him away for a break of some kind, when he comes back we approach things day by day until we can hammer out a better solution.”

Just as Ben finished speaking, the Captain’s PAL communicator chirped.

This is Bridger,” Nathan answered.”

Sir, this is Hitchcock contacting you from the Bridge.”

Is there a problem, Commander?” the Captain asked. Katie knew of the meeting they were having, and he doubted she would have felt it necessary to interrupt unless the matter was important.

Chief Crocker just reported to me, Sir, that Lucas was speaking to him on the Bridge a short time ago,” Katie informed him. “I don’t know how suspicious he was with O’Neill and Ortiz both missing from here as well.”

That is only about two hours sleep he has had,” Kristin quietly commented, looking down at her watch and noting that the time was almost seven thirty in the morning.

Did Crocker mention what he was there for?” Bridger asked. “Is he still there now?”

Lucas was looking to speak to Commander Ford about the door locks, but couldn’t find anybody about, including you, Sir. That probably seemed more than a little odd to him. Chief didn’t want to outright lie to him either. Crocker told him that a few of you were having a meeting somewhere to explain you all being absent at the same time. I thought it prudent to let you all know that he may be headed that way because he did leave a few minutes ago. I don’t know if he will go searching as far as the Ward Room.”

Thank you, Commander, we will wrap things up here now, and go back to where we need to be,” Bridger advised her. “I will find Lucas after I leave here so he doesn’t come looking for everyone. I will attend the Bridge just as soon as I can.”

Yes, Sir,” Katie said, before ending the conversation.

Well then, you all heard her, and we had better scatter,” Bridger said, getting up from the table. “Leave everything with me, Ben. I don’t know what I am go to be able to arrange, but I will come and find you when I know more. Thank you everybody for your time this morning.”

The other crew members followed suit, getting up from the table. Coffee cups were now empty. The team members from the janitorial crew would take care of cleaning them and clearing them away and returning them ready in time for their next use.

Jonathan Ford and Miguel were the first two people to leave, telling the group that they were headed back to the Bridge.

Mr O’Neill, when you start your day, can you please contact Admiral Noyce for me, and set up a conference with him. I want to be able to talk to him as soon as he has a spare moment,” Bridger instructed. “I will take that call in my quarters on a secure channel.”

Yes, Sir,” Tim answered. “I will contact his office as soon as I leave here.” The young lieutenant then followed his fellow crew members, leaving the Ward Room and intending to start his shift.

Now there was only Ben Krieg and Kristin Westphalen left with the Captain. The expressions on their faces said so much that they didn’t need to put how they were feeling into words.

I am headed to bed and for a few hours of sleep myself,” Ben said tiredly. Krieg was pleased that everything was on the table, but not happy with the measures that needed to be taken to find out the answers. He had seen the concerns and worry on the faces of the Captain and the doctor as he spoke to the group.

Despite there being a small network of people involved, everybody was looking to the three of them to lead the charge. No matter how much support they had already offered to Lucas, and how many positive steps they had taken, they were both blaming themselves for not seeing the additional signs early enough.

Ben, I can scarcely put into words how much I want to thank you for your efforts last night, and from the beginning,” Bridger said, trying to encapsulate the man’s kindness as a friend into a sentence or two. “Please get some rest for a few hours today. I took what you said about trying to get Lucas away from here for some relaxation. I don’t know how successful I am going to be. But if what I have in mind plays out, then I am going to need you soon.”

You know you can count on me any time when it comes to doing anything for the kid,” Krieg promised. Giving Doctor Westphalen a cheeky grin as he left the two of them, and headed back to his own cabin.

He really did some great detective work last night,” Kristin commented. She could see the concern for Lucas on Nathan’s face, as she gave his shoulder a friendly squeeze.

Yes, he did,” Nathan answered, “You have been too,” he added, turning to her and appreciating that she was just as invested in Lucas’ well-being as he was.

Nathan, when you do see Lucas, could you please send him down in med-bay. I would like to check on his stitches please,” Kristin reminded him. “I won’t give away anything that was discussed here this morning.”

What are you planning to do? Kristin queried, having heard the man tell Ben that he had formulated some kind of plan. After his instructions to Tim, she knew it involved the Admiral somehow.

Bill said he was willing to help where he could,” Nathan stated, “So here is the first chance he is going to get to show he means it. I am going to call in one of the many markers he owes me. I will come and find you later,” he added cryptically.


back in Bridger’s quarters:

Thank you, Lieutenant,” Bridger said as he took the video-link call from his communications officer.

Good Morning, Bill,” Nathan addressed him, in a tone that he knew his long time friend wouldn’t be able to ignore.

How is everything going on-board the SeaQuest, Nathan?” Admiral Noyce answered. “Sorry to disappoint you in saying that I don’t have any more information at this stage about the case with Lawrence Wolenczak.”

The vessel nor that poor excuse of a man is why I am contacting you this early, Bill,” Bridger stated. “Lucas is the focus though. You and I are going to have a little discussion about what is in his best interests.”

How is he coping?” Noyce enquired. “What do you mean by saying his ‘best interests’, Nathan?”

Bridger spent the next several minutes giving the man an outline of the surveillance that Ben Krieg had carried out and the conclusions that he had drawn in direct answer to the Admiral’s question. Nathan didn’t leave any details out, and filled him in on the details of all the programming and other work that Lucas had secretly been doing for the crew.

The Captain also went on to explain about the two separate incidents that had occurred after Robert Cooper’s departure. He described what Lucas had said to Ben about how he was feeling about his placement aboard SeaQuest. He also told Noyce about the trouble the teenager was experiencing first-hand about trying to fit in and the work load that he was placing on himself. Bridger was convinced that he owed it to Lucas to make sure that the Admiral was kept appraised of everything, no matter how difficult it was to accept.

The details of the movie night were truncated to protect Ben and the efforts he had gone to about creating a relaxing atmosphere. Nathan reinforced his earlier statement about how much fear Lucas was carrying around, by reiterating what Krieg had added.

What do you want from me, Nathan?” Noyce asked. After hearing how exhausted the teenager was and given the uncertainty of the situation with his father, he wasn’t going to have much of a choice. Guilt over his role from the beginning was strong, and he hadn’t made any substantial moves yet towards making amends to Lucas.

Time, Bill,” Bridger answered with a sly smile, “I know the maintenance schedule is shot due to the number of bugs that are still plaguing Commander Hitchcock and her team. You probably already have your little calendar full of days that you are marking off, waiting for us to be ready. However, this is about Lucas, and that is one area that I am not willing to compromise on at the moment. This time it is going to cost you.”

Where would you take him if he agreed to go?” Noyce queried. Nathan had just informed him that he wanted to take Lucas away from the SeaQuest.

Bridger told him of his plan and where he was thinking of taking Lucas. “Kristin would probably come too if I asked her. When I first came on-board she told me had she had tried to find me to discuss my research. At the time she was quite skeptical that my location kept being reported as unreachable. Maybe it is time I showed them both what I have been partially working on for the past six years.”

Noyce spent the next few minutes thinking about Bridger’s offer, and suggestions. He shuffled a number of the papers around on his desk as he tried to work out something that would suit all parties involved.

I am prepared to give you what you seek, Nathan,” Noyce replied. “I think there is a way for you to get what you want, and for me to get the best use out of your crew and vessel while you are absent.”

How so?” Bridger commented, in the back of his mind he was a little irked at Bill. ‘There always has to be a catch’ The man was still trying to figure out a way where the U.E.O. could take advantage of the situation.

Noyce could see the less than impressed expression on Bridger’s face, and could see the man about to give him an earful. “Hear me out,” he pleaded first.

The U.E.O. is desperate to see her back in the water operational, Nathan,” the Admiral pointed out. “Some smaller, undecided nations are looking to us to provide the proof that we can deliver the protections in the oceans that we promise. Then they will be quite happy to counted amongst the league of countries that have already joined in peace. After all that nasty business with Stark, we need to be seen as coming out on top again.”

Not at the expense of Lucas’ emotional and psychological well-being you don’t,” Nathan shoved back defensively. “I am not going to let him be used as some pawn. We are doing everything we can here to prevent that at the moment with this father. I am not going to let you turn around and do exactly the same thing so you can gain some political ground.”

No no, you have it all wrong, let me explain for a minute,” Noyce said, hearing the determined words, but knowing that his friend was more worried about Lucas than causing waves.

Bridger sat down at the small desk near the holographic screen, waiting to hear this idea that the Admiral was about to share.

I am sure that you are aware of the Naval Air Station situated at Key West?” Bill prompted.

I am familiar with the place, but haven’t been there for a long time in an official capacity,” Nathan answered. “There have probably be a number of changes since I was there last. The last time was before Carol and I were told about Robert. I think he spent some time there during his training.”

No doubt he probably did, Nathan,” Noyce agreed. “Referred to as N.A.S. Key West, it is recognized as a training facility for air-to-air combat fighter aircraft of all the military services. There have been a considerable number of changes of the top personnel there since you left the service, and Robert would have been stationed there after his time at the academy at Pearl Harbour.”

What has that got to do with me wanting to get Lucas off SeaQuest for a break?” Bridger asked. Robert had wanted to fly since he was a very small child, and eventually he had seen that dream become a reality. Unfortunately his time as a pilot was short-lived, but now wasn’t the time to spend wallowing on lost opportunities. He was still very proud of what he son had achieved, and that could never be taken away.

Key West is chosen for that kind of training because the nearby aerial ranges offer favourable flying conditions in that area year round,” Noyce started a long-winded explanation. The station and the associated offshore air combat ranges are equipped with some of the most sophisticated combat training systems available. They can track and record all kinds of aerial manoeuvres.”

On a broader scale, it also involves the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security including many of the other federal agencies that were overhauled when the U.E.O. came into effect. The United States Coast Guard,Air National Guard, Army National Guard units and allied military forces. There was so much red tape involved before with each of them having a slightly different mandate about operations and their mission.”

The station plays host to quite a number of Fighter Squadrons, and a detachment that I know you and your crew will be more associated with, the Special Forces Underwater Operations. There is a school based there and their headquarters,” Noyce finished his monologue.

Bridger knew some of what Bill had spoken about. They both had first-hand dealings with a number of the personnel from some of those specialised branches during their younger years, and later when they became more senior figures of the service.

Nathan was about to repeat his question of ‘What does that have to do with anything…..’ before Bill finally brought up his idea.

SeaQuest and your crew could head down there to Key West. You and Lucas would be close enough to leave for your break. Whilst you are away, I am sure that either Commander Ford or Commander Hitchcock would be in a position to be able to demonstrate her capabilities to a few senior military faces through her corridors.”

Bridger made sure that Bill could see his dramatic eye roll at the tactics he was employing. “How long are you planning for?” without making any firm commitment one way or the other about attending the station. “With a good speed and smooth conditions, the distance could be covered in about twenty four hours. But I would be looking to leave here earlier than that. I would have to talk to the both Commanders about what you are arranging at N.A.S.”

I can give you four days, Nathan, sometime after that, once you have made your way back at Pearl, I plan on making a personal visit to SeaQuest. I won’t be able to complete the tour in Key West due to some other important meetings that have been scheduled during that time,” the Admiral advised.

Bill Noyce then thought for a minute about Lucas’ age, and added an alternative suggestion in case Florida was not a place that Bridger had in mind to take the break.

If you wanted to take Lucas somewhere else, Nathan, then there are options there too. I can arrange some suitable accommodation for the three of you. A separate room each for Kristin and the boy and a private rental car to take them to some of the tourist spots. I am not up to speed with what the best adventure parks are, but I could do some digging on some teenager friendly places and activities.”

Nathan gave a small smirk, noting that the Admiral was doing his best, given the difficult pressures he was under, and coupled with his sudden request for leave at an inopportune moment. “Not an enormous amount of time by any stretch of the imagination, but I am thankful that you are giving it to me and it is a start I suppose,” Bridger said with gratitude.

I am honestly not sure what fun activities he will want to do, but I was going to try the relaxation route first. I have a few ideas in mind that don’t involve being on time or somewhere specific. Hopefully I will be able to stimulate his senses, but get him to slow down and take some time out. If Lucas wants to go to an adventure park or other touristy places, then that might be something else to consider for another time when the schedule isn’t so hectic.”

Since the vessel is going to be in that area anyway, on that fourth day, I may arrange for a few specific people to join us for a first ‘unofficial’ get together. We can all head back on the launch early on the fifth day. SeaQuest won’t be that far away for us to meet back up with them and continue back before your arrival.”

Are you finally prepared to let a few other people into your world, Nathan?” Noyce teased. Bill knew where his friend was intending to go, and knew that it was a huge step forward for the man.

The Admiral had personally scrutinised each of the crew members left over from Stark’s darkest hour, and made the decision to leave some in their chosen roles. The two senior officers on-board were driven by their own aspiring ambition, their sense of duty and their desire to succeed. They relished situations that demanded a cool head, to take control, problem solve and think outside the box. Both Katie Hitchcock and Jonathan Ford were both highly respected and well qualified individuals, and hand-picked to provide a multi-faceted and dynamic challenge for Bridger. All fine qualities that would serve the SeaQuest and the rest of her crew on any mission.

Individually, they provided different approaches and methods of command. Together, they would bring out his best skills, and support him superbly in the role as Captain. Nathan had allowed some trust to grow between himself and some SeaQuest team members in such a short space of time. Bill could only view that as being something positive.

Bridger may say that he was doing this solely for Lucas’, but it was also proving to be a huge benefit to himself as well. A man like him had so much to offer in life yet, both as a leader of a military vessel. And he was too valuable to lose for the contributions he was making in the scientific community with his dolphin research. More importantly, he had so much to offer someone younger as a teacher and a friend who would listen.

I was only planning on inviting Lucas and Kristin if she is agreeable, but given how close we are going to be, it seems silly not to show them,” Bridger answered. “They wouldn’t need a launch to get there from the SeaQuest. I have a know someone who conducts daily tours from Miami through to Key West. He will know where I am and be able to bring there.”

When are you planning to leave the SeaQuest?” Noyce asked.

I have to broach the subject with Kristin first, and Lucas most of all. Maybe they will both turn me down,” Nathan replied. “But if they do choose to come, I should be able to commandeer a launch before tomorrow morning. Doing it that way will cut down the travel time on the launch considerably.”

I could arrange a helicopter to get the three of you there if you choose,” Noyce offered. “You are back to being a higher ranking naval officer now, Nathan. There are perks that are associated with that and can be utilised if you choose to do so. I used one of the Air Shuttles to get to you last time to invite you back.”

Not at this stage, thank you,” Nathan said. He thought using either method was a little over the top, but want to stomp all over the Admiral’s generosity, so he didn’t voice that opinion out loud. “Lucas told me himself that he gets air sick quite frequently on planes. I am not sure if he has ever been on a helicopter before, but I imagine flying around in one may have a similar outcome. He has travelled on the launches before without feeling nauseous, so I will choose that method of transport.”

Well I am sure you know him a little better by now than I do by now,” Noyce conceded. “I know you and Kristin will make the best choices you can on his behalf.”

I am not so sure that Lucas is going to be all that happy to hear that you are planning to come on-board when we get back, Bill,” Bridger voiced. “I will omit that little detail until we return. Hopefully by then he will be better rested and be more willing to accept you being here in person. Maybe I can build it into the conversation during our break so that it isn’t so much of a shock.”

I will advise you as soon as the arrangements have been made,” the Admiral promised. “That should give you enough time to talk to Lucas about the reasons for my presence.”

I will stay in touch and keep you informed,” Bridger stated, preparing to end the video-link call. There were a few things to do first before any trip could be organised.

I will do the same, Nathan,” Noyce affirmed. “Hopefully I will hear some positive news from you before tomorrow. I will be in my office for the remainder of the day, and you know where to contact me after that. I may need to reach you while you are away in case there is any developments on the legal side of things.

After severing the connection, Bridger tried to make a mental list of the things he needed to do, and in what order. Of course he wanted to rush right down to the teenager’s cabin, but that may not have the result that he was hoping to achieve. He needed an ally on his side first, so that would be his first point of call after leaving his quarters.


As Captain Bridger left his quarters, he used his PAL communicator to page Jonathan Ford on the Bridge.

Yes, Sir?” Ford asked, answering the chirp from his corresponding personal communicating device.

Jonathan, I am sorry that my meeting with Admiral Noyce took a lot longer than I originally planned, I have only just finished talking to him,” Bridger apologised. “I have to talk to Kristin down in the science department, then I will make my way to you. We have a new course to start plotting and I want to be under-way as soon as possible, please.”

Acknowledged. A new course. Can I ask where we are headed to, Sir?” Ford queried. The Executive Officer had to admit that he was more than a little curious. Up until yesterday there had been no plans for the SeaQuest to head out into open waters.

Somewhere nice and tropical, Commander, the Florida Keys,” Bridger answered. “I will be along to give you more details as soon as I can. There are some other things that need to be arranged before tomorrow morning.”

I will start plotting the course now, Sir, and advise Commander Hitchcock,” Ford confirmed. ‘The Florida Keys’ that piqued his interest even more about what Noyce and the Captain had planned for the crew.


Now that he had spoken to Jonathan about setting a designated course, he could afford to take some more time for his next task this morning. He was headed down to the science department to talk to Kristin as he had advised Ford. He had to cross his fingers that she would be willing to listen to his unusual offer.

Entering the science laboratories, there were a number of Kristin’s staff traversing the area with various pieces of paraphernalia in their possession. Test tubes and glass beakers were the accessory of the day. Bridger didn’t know which area she would be in at this time of the day.

Luckily for the Captain, Kristin was in the small staff kitchenette, talking to one of her staff members. “Good morning, Nathan, I wasn’t expecting to see you this early in the day down here,” the red-headed doctor greeted him. “This is one of my technicians, Jane Edwards,” she added in introduction.

Nice to meet you, Captain, Sir,” the young woman said, feeling a little flustered at having to meet the person in charge of the whole vessel. “Doctor Westphalen has told me so much about you.”

Painting me in a positive light, I hope,” Bridger said, giving her a warm smile. He could see she was nervous.

Oh my, yes,” Jane replied enthusiastically. “She has told me about some of the remarkable work you have been doing with your dolphin,” she gushed.

Thank you. I would love to talk to you more about it, but at another time. I am a little pressed for time this morning,” Bridger said with reluctance. He usually had a lot of patience and time when the subject was brought up and would share as much as he could. But unfortunately not today.

Could I please speak to you privately?” Nathan asked Kristin. “I apologize Miss Edwards, the matter I want to discuss needs Doctor Westphalen’s personal input,” he added tactfully.

No problem, Captain, I have some work to carry out to fill my day,” the blond-haired woman said in response. “I will go over those samples you showed me this morning, and give you my best analysis by this afternoon.”

Thank you, Jane,” Kristin said to her. “I look forward to hearing your thoughts and the data that came from the experiment that you have been conducting.”

The Captain and the doctor watched the young technician leave the kitchenette, leaving the two of them on their own. “A little over zealous at time, but she is a great worker and a tremendous asset to my staff.”

Follow me to my office, Nathan,” Kristin instructed. As they walked, the doctor gave a verbal run down to some of the work that her and the scientific team were setting up in her department. After a short walk, they arrived outside a small door. The lettering on the outside had her name, her title as Chief Medical Officer, and as the head of the scientific personnel on-board, and a number of letters.

As they entered, Bridger couldn’t help but read it all, impressed what he saw. “With all of your qualifications and the different hats you wear in this place, sooner or later you are going to need a bigger door,” he said with a good-natured laugh. He would have liked to heard more about the work she was planning to do, but he didn’t have the time to indulge at the moment.

How did your meeting with Admiral Noyce go?” Kristin asked as she offered him a seat. The Captain refused, not planning to stay all that long. “I assume whatever the two of you discussed is behind the reason for your visit into this area.”

Bridger didn’t answer straight away, thinking for a moment, and trying to get the words in the correct order first.

Surprisingly well,” Nathan commented casually. “I was expecting a lot less co-operation from him.” Then he decided that he was probably going to get this all wrong anyway.

Kristin could see his momentary hesitation, and wondered if the meeting had not gone as well as Nathan was telling her.

What is your own work schedule like down here over the next few days?” he asked, knowing that Kristin liked to keep herself busy on a regular basis.

Kristin wasn’t quite sure how to reply at first. Obviously there was more to his question than what could be drawn on face value. “I thought you were supposed to be working out a solution for Lucas. Why are you asking about my work schedule?”

Nathan threw caution to the wind and knew he would just have to lay all of his cards on the table. “Bill has been told about what has been happening. There still isn’t any word from the legal department in relation to making Lawrence Wolenczak accountable for his actions. I have convinced him to give me four days leave to take Lucas away on a break away from SeaQuest.”

That is good news. So you thought Ben’s idea of him needing to get off the vessel had some merit,” Kristin remarked, still wondering how she fit into the plan. “Four days isn’t a long time, but I guess anything is better than nothing.”

Oh don’t worry, it comes with whole list of strings attached of course,” Nathan said, his tone of voice having a slight edge to it. “I was able to negotiate the time away, but in return the SeaQuest and her crew are headed towards the Florida Keys today.”

Today?” Kristin said in shock. “Why so soon?”

Bill wants to show off the SeaQuest, ready or not to the personnel at the N.A.S. Station, located at Key West,” Bridger told her. “He wants to dangle a carrot in front of them to prove that she is capable and ready. The admiral is intending to use Jonathan and Katie as the glorified tour guides for these people.”

I take it you don’t approve of what he wants to do?” Kristin asked, still feeling a little lost in the conversation.

That’s the best part, I won’t be there to have to worry about it. Jonathan thrives on that sort of military protocol, I don’t. Katie will enjoy showing them all the technological advancements that are on-board, and know how to pronounce their names,” Nathan said with a grin. “I don’t have to play Mr Nice Guy at all whilst they are on-board.”

You don’t?” Kristin asked sceptically. “Wouldn’t Admiral Noyce want you to be there because you are the Captain? And I have it on good authority that you are a nice fellow once in a while,” she joked.

I want the four days I have at my disposal to begin tomorrow morning,” Nathan explained. “I am intending to take a launch when we are closer. From there it will only be a few hours travel time. Bill was willing to provide a plane or helicopter, but I don’t think Lucas would enjoy either mode of transport if given a choice.”

Tomorrow morning is rather short notice, have you even discussed your plans with Lucas yet? Does he know where you intend to go for this break? Has he even agreed to go along?”

Nathan could see that she didn’t quite understand what he was trying to say, and wasn’t reading between the lines enough. “I came here to ask you to come along first.” He could see the impact his words had on her. “I need to know I have an ally on my side, before I do go and ask Lucas if he wants to come. I have no idea what I am going to do if he turns me down.”

Kristin shoved her hands deeply into the pockets of the white laboratory coat that she was wearing. If Nathan had been able to see her hands, he would note that they were clenched tightly together as fists.

Nathan, I don’t know what to say,” she replied, see the hopeful look on his face. There was a lot of work that she was supposed to be doing. “I am very flattered of course that you would consider asking me.”

Say you will come,” he urged with a grin. He saw Kristin looking about her office, taking in what was sitting on her desk, and probably thinking about the rest of the expected workload. He could see the inner struggle of wanting to agree, but feeling guilty for her team needing to cover her absence.

This is for Lucas, remember,” he pointed out. “He needs us to be working together as a team.”

That is not even remotely fair,” Kristin tried to argue, knowing that by using the teenager’s well-being as a bargaining chip, the man had practically guaranteed her co-operation. She wouldn’t be able to turn down the chance to help Lucas. “Where are you intending to take him?”

To the place you have been so keen to go to all these years. My place, my island. I can show you some of the research that I have been working on with Darwin,” Bridger answered. “Bill offered all kinds of teenager fun activities if I wanted them. Accommodation and vehicle hire. I turned him down, and told him that I don’t think that is the type of break he is needing right now.”

Four days it is,” Kristin said, reaching a decision and holding out her hand to seal the deal. “I will talk to my staff today and appoint someone to act in my place.”

Thank you. There is plenty of room at the house, with enough guests rooms for you and Lucas,” Bridger informed her. “I will get Ben to make up enough supplies for us for that amount of time. Hopefully it will provide you with a little relaxation as well.”

Do you really think he is going to agree?” Kristin asked. “Should we be taking anybody else with us?”

The best I can do is ask him,” Bridger answered her first question. “He is still fearful about his father, so I honestly don’t know how he is going to react when I ask. If he refuses, then all of the plans that I have going around in my head won’t even be needed. I am not going to pressure him into leaving, even for a break he desperately needs, if he doesn’t feel safe.”

I told Bill, that since the SeaQuest is going to be based near Key West, on the fourth day, I intend to invite some of the crew to join us,” Nathan continued. “Only a select few that Lucas will feel comfortable with. If they come in the morning, then I can organise a few activities on the beach, and then end with a barbecue. Now that I am Captain again, I am going to have to allow people to get to know me better as well. Part of that is to lift the veil of secrecy that I have been clinging to about my island.”

I thought about arranging for Ben to join us from tomorrow and pilot the launch, in case Lucas was looking for a friend a little closer to his own age,” Bridger commented. “But if he does agree to come, I think the two of us can manage to keep him occupied for the first few days without needing too much extra help.”

Bill also advised me that when this little exercise in Key West is completed, then he is planning a personal inspection of SeaQuest,” Bridger forewarned. “I have no intentions of tell Lucas that today. That is something that the two of us are going to have to prepare him for.”

That is not going to be a smooth or well received visit when the admiral does come on-board,” the doctor predicted.

Tell me about it,” Bridger agreed. “But at the moment, I want to focus on one day at a time. Dealing with any of that is going to have to wait.”

Are you going to ask Lucas to come once you leave here?” Kristin queried. “Do you want me to be present when you do so?”

I am going to go and find him now,” Nathan answered. “Let me try asking on my own first, and see how that goes. I want him to be able to make the choice without feeling pressured or obligated.”

Don’t forget to remind Lucas when you do find him, that I want to check on his stitches,” Kristin reminded. “If you need me to help organise anything for the journey once he agrees, please come and tell me.”

Thank you,” Nathan said as he opened the door to her office. “Keep your fingers crossed.”

Good luck, because you are going to need it,” Kristin stated.


Leaving the science department, Bridger’s stride was a little more confident. Kristin’s positive response had been the first major hurdle to his plan, and he was grateful for her participation.

Looking down at his watch, the time was now nine a.m. in the morning, and the Captain headed toward Mammal Engineering hoping that the teenager may be still in his cabin. Reaching the small hatch, he listened, trying to detect any music playing inside the room. He couldn’t hear anything. He politely knocked and waited. After a few moments of continual silence, he opened the door, but alas the small cabin was empty.

Although Ben had reported him asleep earlier, now he was awake again and the time difference suggested that he wasn’t maintaining a long enough period of rest. The Captain hoped that he hadn’t chosen to start any work already today.

Bridger walked past the moon pool, but the teenager wasn’t there. Darwin wasn’t in the tank either, so his search continued.

Entering the mess hall, he inwardly relaxed when he spotted the person he was looking for, sitting at a table, facing away from him and talking quietly to the head chef, Don.

Good Morning, Captain,” Don greeted him.

Lucas raised his head and turned in his seat at the mention of the Captain. “Hi,” he said with a slight smile. There was a fork in his hand, which he laid aside on the table.

Come to join us for a coffee, Sir?” Don queried. “Lucas was just enjoying another one of my mother’s recipes. Lasagne, made with loads of cheese on top. Probably the wrong time of the day for such a heavy dish, but our young friend here doesn’t seem to mind.”

No, I am afraid not, Don, maybe later. I have already had my two cup quota for the morning before ten a.m,” Nathan answered.

Bridger moved around to the other side of the table, taking in the almost finished plate of food in front of the teenager, and the half-empty glass of juice. He was very pleased to see him eating, no matter what it was.

I hope I am not interrupting you from finishing, Lucas?” Bridger commented. “Carol used to make quite a mean lasagne herself. It is one of my favourites. I will have to try your mother’s recipe sometime to compare, Don.”

Anytime, Captain,” Don replied. “There is plenty available, and I will have to make a few new batches before the hordes descend on this place for dinner tonight. I asked this young man to be my taste tester for the morning, making sure that my efforts were satisfactory. Lucas here has been trying my first attempt of the day.”

Are his efforts satisfactory, Lucas?” Bridger asked, playing along. It was great to hear that Don had taken positive steps forward this morning in encouraging the boy to eat. He may not have bothered if they waited for him to make the decision himself.

It’s great,” Lucas reported. “I don’t think I am going to be able to do your portion sizing the justice it deserves, Don. But in my humble opinion, you can never have too much cheese,” he added with a grin. He picked up the glass and finished drinking the juice, but pushed the plate of remaining food away.

No problem, Lucas, I think you did just great,” Don remarked. “Apart from judging my food, Captain, the two of us were sitting here discussing ex-wives. Or in his case, yet to be girlfriends,” he directed towards the shy teenager.

Lucas coped the joke and was happy enough to reject the premise with a healthy helping of sarcasm. “Let me see, fourteen years of age, the place where I currently live is classified, and I don’t know how long I am going to be here. I don’t have a driver’s license or my own car , no money on hand to buy flowers or presents, and no job with a steady pay-check. I am not totally sure what poor girl would be interested with all those sparkling positive traits. I am definitely not looking at the moment, but maybe some day,” he added, laughing at the very suggestion.

‘Thank the heavens for that’ Bridger thought to himself, not wanting to dash the young man’s romantic future entirely. There was enough on his plate at the moment, without trying to complicate it any further. Lucas didn’t believe that where he was living was a permanent option, so that was an opinion that needed work in order to change.

Please don’t listen to any of Krieg’s advice on that subject,” Don pleaded. Ben was a fine person and very charismatic when it came to paying attention to the ladies, but he was known for his many spectacular failing attempts at flirting. Although he had been married once, Ben wasn’t ready for another serious relationship or settling down either.

Bridger and Lucas were both smirking at the chef’s idle remark.

Wherever Ben is right now, he probably feels like his ears are burning, and has no idea why,” Don commented casually, chuckling as he tried to envisage the indignant scowl on Krieg’s face if he was seated at the same table.

Lucas stopped laughing, and turned his head, glancing around the room and towards the doors, “I haven’t seen him yet this morning at all. Where is Ben today anyway?”

I haven’t seen him in here for breakfast either,” Don commented, but then saw the brief expression that crossed the Captain’s face. Apparently Bridger knew the answer.

I have some matters I need to attend to on the Bridge,” Nathan announced, skipping over the teenager’s question about Ben. “I came in here because I was looking for you, Lucas.”

The teenager fired two short questions back at Bridger, “You did? About what?”

Kristin wanted me to remind you that she needs to see you this morning,” Bridger answered. “When you are finished there, I have something I wanted to talk to you about in my quarters.”

The Captain’s subterfuge didn’t seem to working, with the boy’s expression changing to one of suspicion. The part about Kristin was straightforward enough, he expected that she might be checking up on him sometime today. Bridger was being entirely too vague, and there was nothing accidental about the choice of venue. Bridger was choosing somewhere private for the two of them to ‘talk’, so his wariness level had been raised.

I will come with you to the Bridge before going to see Kristin,” Lucas stated. “I want to talk to Commander Ford about the work that I have been doing for him.”

Don, I have some other matters that I need to discuss with you later today as well,” Bridger commented, hoping that the chef wouldn’t ask for him to elaborate in front of the teenager.

I am always here, Captain,” Don answered, but didn’t miss the expression on Lucas’ face.

Thank you for the food, Don,” Lucas said as he got up from the table, and headed out of the mess hall.

Maybe what the Captain wanted to talk to them about today was completely unrelated, but he could see the wheels of the teenager’s sharp mind turning already. He hoped that Bridger didn’t take too long to tell the boy what was going on.


As they walked to the Bridge, Lucas looked over at the Captain, waiting for him to start a conversation. When the man didn’t, he knew something was definitely on his mind. Suspicion began to change into concern. Admiral Noyce may have been talking to Bridger, and that was the reason for the privacy and the hedging.

Approaching the dome doors to the Bridge, the siren wailed to signal their presence, and the hydraulics kicked into gear, slowly parting the two heavy structures and allowing them access.

Captain on deck,” Chief Crocker announced and providing the appropriate salute of respect along with the other crew members present.

As you were people,” Bridger responded, returning the gesture.

Commander Ford approached, “Good morning, Captain. And Lucas.”

Good morning, Commander, how are the preparations going that I ordered?” Bridger questioned, deliberately leaving out the place name.

Proceeding nicely, and we should be under way within the next hour, Sir,” Ford answered dutifully. “Commander Hitchcock has been informed of your orders, but I think she is waiting for a fuller explanation from you about our intended destination.”

Morning,” Lucas said politely. “The SeaQuest is going somewhere?” Bridger may have a valid reason for being secretive, because he had orders of his own to carry out.

Bridger sighed inwardly, wishing that Lucas had not picked up on that so quickly until he had a chance for them to talk.

Didn’t you tell me that you wanted to discuss something with Commander Ford?” Bridger asked, changing the subject.

You wanted to see me, Lucas?” Ford asked the teenager. In the back of his mind, he was going over everything that he had heard in the Ward Room.

Ah, yes I did, but its not that important right now. It sounds like you and the Captain have other work to do,” Lucas replied. Back in the mess hall he had made a mental list of things he wanted to bring up to the Commander. Having heard that SeaQuest maybe going somewhere, he found his mind wandering and forgetting what they were.

There was one other matter that he did want to bring up before exiting the Bridge. Halfway through the silent walk he and the Captain had taken, Lucas realised that Bridger had completely glanced over his earlier question about Ben’s whereabouts.

Commander have you seen Ben this morning during your shift?” Lucas enquired. “I haven’t seen him at all, and Don says he didn’t have breakfast this morning either.”

I did see Ben this morning,” Ford answered truthfully. “Krieg reported to me this morning that he didn’t get much sleep last night, so he asked me to change his roster. He is in his cabin at the moment, catching up.” The man could see Lucas mulling over his answer, trying to decide if he was being told the full story or not.

Was he feeling sick?” Lucas asked with concern. “Did anybody try and find out if something was bothering Ben?” Krieg wasn’t the type of person to feign illness, or let a lot of things get under his skin. Usually his personality was the opposite and Ben was able to put a positive spin on most situations. If his friend was awake during the night, then there must have been a reason behind it.

Ford and Bridger were beginning to see Lucas’ worry about his friend grow. They wished that he kept half of that for himself.

I was planning on showing him the completed software program that I have been working on for him to help with his inventory system,” Lucas explained. “I was going to use a few hours this morning to demonstrate to him how to use it. But it is not urgent, it can wait. I went past his cabin when I first woke up to tell him, but nobody was there when I knocked. If he is sleeping now, I will wait until later in the day to tell him.”

I am sure that Krieg is just fine, Lucas,” Ford said, trying to quell the teenager’s worry for the absent Supply Officer. “Ben reported to a few of us, including the Captain that he was awake for a considerable amount of time last night.”

That is correct, Ben did mention that, and he looked tired to me this morning,” Bridger commented, thankful that Jonathan had kept to the basic facts.

Well I wish he had come and found me, I would have kept him company if he couldn’t sleep,” Lucas remarked. “I was wandering the corridors myself last night at various times, but we didn’t cross paths.” Both men were confirming what he already knew, but nobody was coming up with a valid enough reason.

You were awake a lot last night too?” Bridger asked, trying to sound like the teenager’s admission was something he was hearing for the first time. “Was there something bothering you that you want to talk about?”

No,” Lucas answered a little too quickly. The one word response giving him away that some problem had been plaguing him. “Like I told you near the moon pool yesterday, sleep is over-rated. Some nights it takes quite a while for sleep to find me.” ‘If it ever does at all’ echoing inside his brain.

The Captain and Commander exchanged knowing glances at the teenager’s comment of having trouble sleeping. They were surprised at his minor slip and how honest he was being.

I have some boring Captaincy work to do here for the next fifteen minutes,” he told the boy. “Why don’t you head down to see Kristin and I will meet you in my quarters after that like we arranged?”

Sure, I can do that,” Lucas replied. There was an air of mystery surrounding everything the Captain was doing this morning. “I will go and see Kristin before she comes looking for me.”

The two adult men watched the teenager walk towards the dome doors, but they also saw him turn his head around and look directly back at them with a questioning expression as he exited the Bridge. Thankfully all of the secrecy would soon be over.


Lucas is already guessing that something is going on, Captain,” Ford pointed out. “He has this natural intuitiveness and can pick out small details that other people wouldn’t even think twice about.”

Yes, so I noticed,” Bridger commented in return. “Let’s really hope that he agrees to my offer, because I haven’t got an alternative plan to fall back on if he refuses.”

Ford was standing by respectfully, but like the teenager, he was hoping to hear a whole lot more about this plan that Bridger was hatching and counting on to work. He was the first crew member to be advised that the SeaQuest was pulling out of Pearl Harbour and headed elsewhere.

Commander, I know you are wanting to know the details too,” Bridger started. “Admiral Noyce has given me four days leave. As I mentioned to you earlier, our destination is the Florida Keys. How long do you estimate before we reach them, taking into account the weather, ocean currents and the speed of the vessel?”

From the calculations that I made over the last hour, Captain, I can report that we should cover that distance with no trouble. The seas around that area can be unpredictable this time of year, but we should be there within the next twenty-four to thirty hours.”

Thank you, Jonathan, at this stage, I have managed to convince Doctor Westphalen to accompany me on this little excursion. Now it is just Lucas that I need to talk to,” Bridger explained. “The other details that I hinted at, include arranging to borrow a sea launch for use in the early hours of tomorrow morning.”

Kristin is speaking to her people now and appointing someone appropriate to take her place for that short time,” Bridger advised. “Once I have spoken to Lucas, I also need to have Ben arrange the launch and make sure that it is fully stocked. I told Don, the head chef that I need to speak to him as well, but couldn’t give him any details yet because Lucas was in the mess hall finishing a meal.”

Ford was surprised that the Captain had spoken to the doctor and that she had agreed to come along. He would have thought that persuading her would be just as tough as Lucas.

Walking over to his Captain’s chair and sitting down, Bridger brought up a map of the Florida Keys area. “I gave you orders to head towards here,” he pointed out to his second-in-command. “I am sorry that I couldn’t be more specific until now. This is where you and Commander Hitchcock will be headed to with the rest of the crew on-board.”

Key West,” Ford recognized, following the Captain’s finger trail.

I am sure that I don’t have to tell you or Katie what is there?” Bridger commented.

N.A.S. Naval Station, Sir,” Jonathan answered, nodding his head. “I am familiar with the place and how big it is. I have been there, but I believe Katie has spent more time there than me.”

That probably works more in my favour then, Commander, because I am going to ask you to be a gentleman on this occasion and for you to step aside for her,” Bridger replied. “When you reach Key West, I would like Commander Hitchcock to take over the Captaincy for that few short days.”

Sir?” Ford questioned. He had no problem with Katie taking over the top job, she was a skilled officer. There were times when they co-operated together and shared command as Captain. Both of them were aspiring to reach such a rank in the future based on their service records and experience.

Getting the leave from Admiral Noyce came with strings attached, just like I told Doctor Westphalen,” Bridger explained. “Upon arrival there, he is expecting either yourself or her to conduct a number of tours for some of the top brass and personnel there. The Admiral cannot be there himself due to other commitments, but he is wanting us to put on a good show for some of the ambassadors. He wants to show SeaQuest off, and prove to them that she is operational whenever we are needed.”

I am certain Katie will relish the opportunity, Captain,” Ford remarked.

You are a fine commanding officer, Jonathan, and I am not trying to steal your thunder, or take away your chance to command when I plan to be elsewhere,” Nathan asserted. “I thought her thorough knowledge of the SeaQuest’s external and internal workings and electronic systems on this occasion were what the Admiral was looking for. I promise that was the only reason.”

Will you be requiring anybody to pilot the launch for you, Captain?” Ford enquired. “I can arrange anybody you like. Tim O’Neill, Ben Krieg, even Miguel Ortiz all have the required experience and skill.”

Thank you but no, I did consider asking Ben Krieg to accompany us, especially if Lucas does agree to come,” Bridger answered. “Upon further reflection, if he does say yes, I am going to pilot the launch myself, for just the three of us. I am sure that Ben will try and object loudly to being left behind.”

Krieg will certainly be trying to put his name forward to pilot the launch,” Jonathan agreed. The Captain’s assessment of the Morale officer wanting to go with them definitely correct.”

I am planning to take Kristin and Lucas to my island, Jonathan,” Bridger stated. “I know that many of you have been curious about where it is. I don’t want to broadcast its location to everybody in the world, but it has become apparent that I cannot keep it a secret forever either.”

Wow, that is very generous of you, Sir,” Ford remarked. ‘So, they were about to find out where this mysterious island was that Bridger had been living on before being lured back by Admiral Noyce’ he thought to himself.

The Admiral was offering other teenager friendly alternatives for Lucas, but I turned him down and told him that I have other more mundane ideas in mind,” Bridger explained further. “Plus with the SeaQuest being that close to home, Darwin can be allowed to make his own way back to the secluded lagoon he is familiar with. He will know where to go, and I hope that having him there will be of benefit to Lucas.”

I will speak to Katie myself and tell her about taking over command in my absence. Unfortunately by doing that, she will have to wait just a little longer to find out the location of my island.”

On the fourth day, I will make arrangements for yourself, and the members of our little network, including Ben to join me on my island, along with Kristin and Lucas. I will arrange for some additional supplies to be brought with you so that we can have a barbecue. It will be an overnight stay for those who choose to do so. I don’t have enough extra guest rooms at the moment to offer everybody who comes, so tents and sleeping bags it is for those who agree to attend.”

I cannot see there being many objections to that type of lodgings just for one night, Sir,” Ford responded. “Will we need to take a launch there as well and directions from you?” With this statement, he had already confirmed that he would be accepting the invitation. He couldn’t deny that he was more than curious himself, and it offered a way of learning more about Bridger. The U.E.O. files on the Captain provided by Noyce may have given some background information, but that didn’t make up for first-hand observations.

Bridger smirked widely at the Commander. “No, Jonathan, I am going to keep the location a surprise even from you a bit longer yet. Along with yourself and Ben Krieg, the other people to attend if they say yes are Miguel and Tim. I want to maintain a relaxed atmosphere by inviting crew members that Lucas is already comfortable spending time with, and keep the numbers low.”

Once I have spoken to Lucas and he agrees to come, then I will approach Tim and Miguel in person to invite them along.”

On that fourth morning, I will arrange for a man by the name of Eddie Adamson to pick up those attending from Key West, along with anything else that I will need. He is a long time friend, and has a large cruise boat called the Sally. He conducts daily tours that start from Miami and continue throughout the Florida Keys. He will know where to bring you.”

Glancing down at his watch, Nathan wrapped up their conversation. “Now I just have to talk to Lucas, and we have already past that fifteen minutes by several more. He will be waiting for me. Anything else that needs to be discussed, can wait until after I talk to him.”

Good luck, Captain,” Ford said with sincerity, hoping the teenager would accept Bridger’s plans were based on good intentions.


Lucas walked into the science department with his hands in his pockets, looking for Kristin. The doctor has finished a meeting with one of her senior staff members, Joshua Levine, asking if he would stand in for her as acting Medical officer. The reason for her absence was kept out of their discussions, and he didn’t pursue matters further by asking her to explain.

Levine had gone back to his own duties, and Kristin was intending to talk to Jane Edwards again about some testing that she wanted to set up. Before she could search for Jane, Lucas approached her from the opposite direction.

Morning, Doc, the Captain said that you wanted to see me,” he greeted her.

Good morning, Lucas,” Kristin returned. “Yes, I did tell him that. Time to me to check those stitches of yours.”

Do we really have to do that today?” the teenager asked with reluctance. “Every time I come down here, you only want take my blood or check up on me.”

It won’t take very long,” the doctor said, noting that he wasn’t going to be combative as the two of them started walking towards med-bay. “Have you eaten today?”

There you go asking that same question again,” he said in mock protest, but with a small smile. “I just came from the mess hall. Don and the Captain can vouch for my presence and confirm that I have eaten breakfast.” He was still getting used to her asking him about his meal times. One way or the other he was probably going to have to get used to it. Someone caring this much about his eating habits and general health was uncharted territory.

Kristin closed the door to the room as they entered, “Shirt please,” she instructed. “How have your pain levels been lately?”

My hip isn’t bothering me so much now. I can even sit down on the floor again, but it starts to ache if I stand too long in one position,” Lucas reported to her. “The stitches don’t hurt, but they have been getting itchy.” Kristin didn’t bring up that Ben had reported him sitting on the floor during the night, a few hours ago.

That is a good sign that your stitches are healing properly,” Kristin informed him as she warmed her hands and began removing the protective coverings. “The bruising is still present, but it shouldn’t get any worse or darker from this point. It is starting to show signs of changing colour on the outer edges, but may take another couple of weeks to disappear altogether.”

My stitches don’t pull when I am moving about now, or lean up against something. I don’t feel them either when someone pokes or prods wrong,” Lucas stated, feeling her gentle touch.

I am very pleased to hear that,” Kristin commented. “In another four or five days, these stitches should be ready to come out. I will make another assessment about them at that time.” The doctor noted that the teenager still needed to gain some weight. Internally, she was still berating his father for the punishment that he had endured.

You can put your shirt back on now,” Kristin advised him. “Anything else going on that you haven’t told me about this morning?”

Nothing comes to mind,” Lucas affirmed. Then he thought for a minute and wondered if she knew about Ben. Seeing as how she was adamant about keeping tabs on everybody on-board, maybe she knew something about his friend.

Can I ask you a question, Kristin?” The tone of his voice made her look up and give him her full attention.

Of course you can,” the doctor said, finishing making a note in his file. It was the same voice laced with concern that he had used the night he had found Nathan asleep in his armchair.

Do you know of anything that might be bothering Ben at the moment? I mean the guy is usually so outgoing about everything. Sounded rather odd to me.”

‘Apart from being worried about you’ she wanted to tell him. “I did see Ben, quite early this morning, he admitted to feeling tired. Why do you ask?”

That is what Commander Ford and the Captain reported about him too,” Lucas replied. “I haven’t seen him about today, and Don confirmed that he hadn’t been to the mess hall for breakfast. When I was on the Bridge not too long ago, Ford confirmed that Ben had asked for his shift today to be altered. Apparently he is in his cabin now sleeping because he was awake for the majority of the night.”

I am sure that Ben is fine, Lucas,” Kristin said, trying to quell his concern. “He organised the party that we attended last night and was pushing everybody else there to mingle and have a good time. This morning, he and I were sharing a cup of coffee and I didn’t notice that anything was troubling him.”

Yeah, well I hope that is the case then,” Lucas commented, pleased to hear the doctor’s observations. Maybe he was just over-reacting. “Like I told the Captain and Commander Ford earlier on the Bridge, I was awake for a considerable amount of time last night as well, but I didn’t see Ben about in the corridors anywhere.”

What was causing you to lose sleep last night, may I ask?” Kristin queried, surprised that the teenager was owning up to his nocturnal habits.

Whatever was keeping Ben awake can’t be all that bad then, as you mentioned, he seemed fine at those other times,” Lucas stated, completely glossing over the doctor’s question about himself. “Maybe I was worrying about nothing. Anyway I can’t stay longer,” he added too quickly, avoiding any further chance to discuss his sleeping pattern.

Lucas headed to the door, but turned around to speak to her, “I promised you yesterday that the software program that I was creating for you was almost complete and ready for demonstration. I can now reveal that it is finished and I can show you and your staff when you are ready.”

Thank you for doing that, and I know my staff will appreciate all the work you have done,” Kristin praised, unable to keep herself from making the next comment. “I hope you didn’t push yourself too hard to get it finished?”

Kristin wanted to address the reason for his haste, but didn’t want to create waves with the teenager. “Do you need to go somewhere now?” she asked. The doctor noted that it may not have been his concern about Ben, or her question about his own restless night that was causing him to act with some hesitation as he prepared to leave.

The Captain asked me to meet him in his quarters when I was finished here with you,” Lucas told her. “He mentioned that there was something that he wanted to talk me about.”

The teenager had not suspected that Kristin already knew the reason behind Nathan’s request.

Do you know what he wants to talk to me about?” Lucas asked casually. “He wouldn’t even give me the slightest hint or a clue.”

Kristin didn’t want to outright lie to him, and released the breath that she was holding as he continued out the door of med-bay without expecting her answer.

‘Nathan, you are doing to need all the luck you can get’ she thought to herself.


Bridger was coming down the corridor to his own quarters, muttering to himself about being late, and predicting that Lucas may not be in such a charitable mood. To his surprise, the teenager himself turned the corner a few seconds later.

Sorry, I got caught up talking to Kristin down in med-bay,” Lucas apologised. He was relieved to see that the Captain was only turning up now too. “I thought you may have been waiting around for me.”

The Captain gave a small laugh in return, “No, seems like we are both right on time. Here I was thinking that you were going to be waiting inside for me. I got caught up talking to Commander Ford a lot longer than I anticipated too.”

The two of them entered the spacious quarters together, with Nathan closing the door.

You can take a seat on the new sofa, or wherever you feel most comfortable,” Bridger offered. The man was pacing back and forth, trying to mask his own wavering and stalling tactics.

This is fine for now,” Lucas replied, choosing to sit on the chair beside the holographic desk.

I trust that your check up with Kristin went smoothly enough?” Bridger asked with genuine curiosity.

From what he could see, the boy appeared to be in fairly good spirits, and had attended this impromptu meeting upon his own accord.

Yeah, I told her that my hip wasn’t giving me so much trouble now except for odd occasions when I stand up too long,” the teenager answered truthfully. “Kristin changed the dressings on my stitches and told me that she may be able to remove them soon. She made a few other comments too, but mostly a good report that everything is healing like it should.”

I am very pleased to hear all of that coming from her,” Bridger remarked with a smile. “Even better to hear that you are not hurting so much any more.”

Ben’s comments about what methods he was using to cope kept echoing back at him. Nathan was finding it difficult to form a structured sentence that wasn’t going to make him sound like a bumbling idiot and tripping over his own words.

The vibe in the room between them started to change and the teenager couldn’t shake the hairs on the back of his neck rising. The teenager was beginning to have that ‘deja vu’ feeling all over again. When Bridger had told him about the crew finding out about his darkest secret. A feeling of dread began to emerge and descend, and he could scarcely sit still on the chair.

The expression on Lucas’ face changed, and he wanted to get this over and done with. “Captain, what is going on?”

That obvious huh,” Bridger said, stopping his pacing, knowing that his own nervousness in broaching the subject was causing the boy to become more suspicious about his true intentions.

‘Just tell me’ Lucas wanted to say, but he found his mouth drying out and he could hear the sound of his own heartbeat in his chest.

Bridger thought the best way to start was to applaud the efforts he had been making in general on the vessel to help others. “Word has reached my ears from a number of different sources about the great work that you have been doing here lately.”

Lucas was about to respond, but decided not to at the last minute, allowing the Captain to continue. He had no idea who had been talking about him or what they had been saying.

Unfortunately his next partial sentence could not have come out more wrong for Bridger.

I have made arrangements for you to be able to leave the SeaQuest……,”

He didn’t even finish before he noted the boy’s complexion turn a few shades paler.

For a moment Lucas felt like all of the air had suddenly rushed out of his lungs at once. He stood up, his face a mixture of displeasure and borderline panic.

With great effort and restraint, and his voice completely devoid of any emotion, he responded as best he could, “I understand. I will go and get my stuff together.”

The teenager was about to take a large step backwards away the Captain, wanting to escape and not stay another minute in the room to embarrass himself. You should have known better! he shouted harshly at himself.

Nathan placed his hand on the boy’s arm, stopping him from leaving, but could feel the muscular tremours. Fear that was what he was coursing strongly through his veins and feeding his insecurity. But why?

Bridger could see the crestfallen face and the sombre mood that was threatening to engulf him. He didn’t want to allow Lucas leave upset this time, like he had done from med-bay a few days ago when Kristin and Ben were present.

Nathan noted the boy’s attempt to avoid all eye contact and his efforts to withdraw from any kind of physical touch. “Hey hey, what is going on? Please talk to me for a minute,” he pleaded, trying to figure out the reason for the boy’s sudden defensiveness.

The teenager’s facial expression changed again briefly to one of contempt and defiance, “Don’t concern yourself about me, Captain! This is nothing that I haven’t dealt with before. I guess I owe you something for putting up with me for this long. I have managed to get by on my own in the past.”

Bridger was taking him off SeaQuest permanently. By allowing himself to grow complacent in recent days, he had forgotten the most important rule that he had set for himself when first coming aboard. Don’t let anybody get too close.

In his mind, Bridger went over the words he had uttered, and then he was silently kicking himself for not making it clearer from the start. Any residual anger Lucas was holding onto, dissolved in an instant.

Slowly lifting his face towards the Captain, he was begging to understand the man’s change of mind. Emotions threatening to take over any rational thought, “I don’t have any place else to go,” Lucas whispered. You promised that I wouldn’t have to go back!

No, no, that is not what I meant at all,” Bridger pledged. “I am sorry, I should have worded my offer a whole lot better than that. Please forgive me.” The teenager thought that he was being removed from the boat. “I promised that you wouldn’t need to leave here unless you felt safe, and I meant that,” he reiterated with emphasis.

Lucas stared back at the man, with a small voice screaming inside his head. For a few moments, the teenager didn’t know if he could to believe him or not, but he was relying so much on and wanting this man’s words to be truthful. Very few people had ever offered to help him before, and he found himself clinging to the very notion with an unquantifiable desperation. Bridger was the first man that he had begun to trust or laid any kind of hope in being able to keep him safe from his father.

I am so sorry, Lucas,” the Captain beseeched. “I was trying to mix up my words and sound positive about how much I have appreciated the work you have been doing on-board lately. In the end all I did was the exact opposite.”

I am going to take a break from SeaQuest for four days, starting from tomorrow morning. I asked you to come in here to talk because I wanted to ask you in person to come with me,” Nathan revealed.

But I thought that you…..,” unable to finish the sentence. Solace was pouring out of him, and his limbs felt like they were turning to jelly. He stumbled backwards, forcing himself to sit down in the chair before he ended up on the floor in an untidy heap. He was unable to hide the sheer relief from his face and body language.

Bridger pulled the other chair near the desk over beside him, sitting down and leaning in closer, and giving the teenager all the time he needed to recover. He wanted to keep apologising and keep saying the word ‘sorry’ but that wasn’t the answer Lucas was seeking right now. He placed a supportive arm across the teenager’s slim shoulders.

For a minute there……..,” Lucas began but stopped. “My heart and brain always think the worst first and occasionally jump to the wrong conclusion. Like I have mentioned before, it is something that happens automatically,” he added with a hollow laugh. Slowly he exhaled, letting out a breath and demonstrating how much fear he had been holding inside for those few brief moments.

You are not going back to him,” Nathan reassured him, placing his free hand over the boy’s and squeezing gently, meaning it as an unspoken solemn vow. He was delighted to feel the teenager return the gesture with his own hand and grasp his tightly in silent thanks.


Bridger allowed the teenager some time to regain some composure, berating himself for such a monumental blunder.

Let me ask you again,” Nathan began speaking softly. “And this time I will do it properly.”

Lucas gave a small smile in return, feeling stupid for such an over-reaction, but knowing that the emotions had bubbled up too quickly and taken control away from him.

Lucas, I am going to be taking a small break away from SeaQuest starting from tomorrow morning. I would like to invite you to come along.”

Before answering, the teenager decided to do a little more background checking and ask a couple of questions of his own. “What is this break you are talking about taking all about? Why did you decide that now was a good time to do it?”

In the back of his mind, he remembered about finding Bridger asleep in his quarters early one evening. He had even mentioned to Kristin that it can’t be easy doing his job all of the time. Even though he had only reclaimed the Captaincy of the vessel in recent weeks, maybe he was feeling tired and stressed. The answer might be taking a few days to relax and recharge.

The Captain didn’t want to dob Ben in completely or blurt out that he was the one needing to take a break.

Admiral Noyce needs SeaQuest to start travelling towards the Florida Keys today, and be ready to give a demonstration to some military personnel and foreign ambassadors over a few days. Commander Hitchcock is going to be asked to show them around and be tour guide. I want to get away while the maintenance work on-board is coming to an end and she is fully operational. After that time, this place is going to get too busy with new missions for me to be able to take leave.”

Where are you planning to go?” Lucas asked, pulling his hand away from Bridger, and standing up. He was trying to get the blood circulating again through his system, and quash any lingering anxiety.

Well since I we are going to be in that vicinity, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to go home to my place,” Bridger answered with a smile. “I was going to show you around my island?”

Your island? The one that you have been trying so hard to keep a secret all this time,” Lucas teased lightly, still silently deciding if he did want to accept. The Captain noted that he hadn’t answered yet.

The teenager was rubbing his hands together, “What would we be doing there if I decide to go?” unable to stop fidgeting as he tried his best to to explain the reason for his cautiousness. Looking back up at Bridger as he spoke, “Nobody has ever asked me to go anywhere before,” he admitted.

With that statement, Nathan could see that it wasn’t a simple case of saying yes or no to his invitation for Lucas, and he understood better the reason for his delay in answering. “Relaxing mostly and slowing down to take in the salt air and the warm water.”

I thought we could both use some good company ourselves, so it wouldn’t be just me and you going,” Bridger forewarned, “I thought there was someone else here on-board who has been under pressure too and could use some down-time too.”

Who else did you invite?” Lucas asked, more than curious. At least that meant that the Captain wasn’t doing this purely for his benefit.

I asked Kristin, and she readily subscribed to the idea,” Bridger replied. “She had been trying to find my island and talk about my research before even coming on-board SeaQuest. I think you will agree that she has been doing some long hours as head of the science department.”

Not to mention having to play doctor to me at the same time,” Lucas interjected. Then deliberately taking a deep breath, he gave the Captain his answer. “I will come with you.” My father shouldn’t be able to find me on a secluded island in the middle of the ocean.

You will?” Bridger said enthusiastically with a grin, but wanting to double check the teenager was comfortable with the decision he was making.

Yes, I don’t have any ideas that I can contribute, but I mean it could be fun. I don’t know if you have enough room at your place,” Lucas said jokingly, some butterflies of excitement of his own beginning to form at the prospect of going to a new place connected directly to the Captain. Up until now the man had been adamant about keeping his personal sanctuary a secret, so to be invited, along with Kristin was something completely outside the box and unexpected.

That is great,” Nathan confirmed, very pleased after the disastrous start he had been facing. “We have spend quite a bit of time today getting everything organised, but we have enough hands to get sorted.

The weather should be to our advantage this time of year. The rains are a month or two away and the humidity should be fairly low. Have you ever been to Florida or the anywhere near the keys?”

No, I haven’t travelled much at all before, and only remember living in California,” Lucas answered.

Our aquatic friend will be joining us too. Once the SeaQuest reaches the warmer waters of the Florida Keys, I will let him out, and he can swim home. It will take a few hours for us to cover the same distance in one of the launches. Don’t worry, Darwin knows the way better than I do and will probably beat us there.”

Darwin is coming too?” Lucas asked the rhetorical question, but then his grin dipped a little, “I won’t be able to go swimming with him once we are there though, due to my stitches.”

The Captain had just confirmed that the mammal would be joining them, which was so great. He hadn’t even given any thought to the dolphin being left behind, and he would have felt guilty in doing so. There were plenty of people on-board who would offer to take care of him, but it wouldn’t be the same thing.

You will be able to see and interact with him everyday, even if you can’t get into the water. There is no way I would be able to stop Darwin from going home, when we are going to be so close,” Bridger commented. “The lagoon is his natural environment and familiar to him and where is spent the most amount of time with me.”

Well I will help out where I can about getting ready,” Lucas proclaimed. “This whole idea is your brainstorm, but I think there is someone else that should be considered for needing a break too.”

Who?” Bridger replied, noting that the teenager had someone specific in mind.

I think that Ben may need a break away from here too,” Lucas replied. “I was worried when you and Commander Ford mentioned about him not sleeping well all of last night.”

Bridger gave a smile at the teenager’s thoughtfulness, “Admiral Noyce isn’t going to let all of my team go away all at the same time, especially when he is trying to show her off. But don’t worry, I already thought ahead for you about Ben.”

You did?”

Yes, and I do agree that he has been working hard around here, a lot of the crew have been, given the amount of maintenance that has been necessary. And the continual problems with some areas,” Nathan explained. “On the last morning, I will make arrangements for a friend of mine to pick up a few crew members that I will be inviting along to a barbecue that I plan to host on the last night. Only a few people will be invited to begin with, I am still trying to keep the location of my island a secret for a little while longer.”

That sounds neat,” Lucas stated. It sounded like the Captain had thought things through fairly well in relation to Darwin and addressing the problem of other people wanting to come along too.

I expect for Ben to protest loudly at not being able to go, and I did honestly consider bringing him along from the beginning. However, for the next few days, I will only be inviting you, Kristin and Darwin of course. That will allow the three of us to enjoy a few days without worrying about any work or needing a schedule.”

Have you ever been on vacation before, Lucas?”

The teenager gave an unfinished response as the two of them started walking out of the Captain’s quarters and into the corridor.

Nope, never…….” the teenager replied casually, as though it didn’t make a difference or matter.

Lucas failed to note the disquieted expression on Bridger’s face in hearing the answer to his question. Such lost opportunities during person’s childhood could never be gained or replaced. Parents were only blessed with so many chances involving their children and to make them count. Lawrence Wolenczak couldn’t even be bothered to make the effort in his young son’s life.

Let’s go and tell everybody our good news,” Bridger suggested. “After that, you and I need to start making a list of everything we are going to be taking with us, and anything we could possibly need over four days.”

To be continued…………………………

Jules

Author Notes:

Sorry folks, Lucas isn’t around a lot in this chapter except for a few scenes apart from sleeping. I am still building everything very carefully and slowly towards certain points and I am deliberately taking my time to do it. There are lots of new hints and clues left behind in many scenes for later.

The next chapter will be learning all about Bridger’s Island for future reference in many plots. I am not sure yet if it everything will be covered in one chapter or if there will need to be two. There will be a lot of Bridger and Lucas spending time together. The next chapter will not only introduce the island, but some new and multiple permanent characters.

In a few places now, I have made specific mentions of certain dishes. I know during SeaQuest episodes that real meat products like beef had been outlawed and illegal. I also know that they had meat substitutes, hydroponically grown, modified and genetically altered foods. So any meals in earlier chapters, this one or in future ones, that are meant to look like dishes containing meat, for example lasagne, that we would know now are meant to look like those we would be familiar with. I know some of these dishes could be done without the meat or to look differently, but that is not what I have chosen for now. Please note that any dishes containing cheese are purely invented by me for the story and characters (I cannot consume any dairy foods at all).

The question from Bridger to Lucas directly about whether he has been to Florida before, has specific meaning and reference to a future story Triggering the Nightmare

The ending scene between Lucas and Bridger was only a slight homage to the episode Whale Song where Nathan tells Lucas that he is getting pulled off SeaQuest for other reasons. Lucas is still believing that the whole idea of being on SeaQuest is temporary, no matter how many promises he gets and from who. I need that to continue for a while yet, so I wanted that to be his first reaction to Bridger’s poorly worded offer for a break.

In that brief moment, Lucas forgot about the offer from his friend Shep that was made about coming and staying with him if he needed to.

Thank you for reading. Enjoy. Any reviews gratefully accepted and cherished forever. This story still has quite a while to go yet. The good stuff is yet to come. There isn’t so much hurt in this story for Lucas, but hopefully the angst will start to ramp up nicely. There is a lot more of that to come yet.

Tribute to Richard Herd – Admiral William Noyce – passed away 26th May 2020. Thank you for the memories, your character will live on in my pages and stories forever.

Jules

Chapter Three – Taken

FALSE WITNESS

By Jules

Author Notes – For this story, there will be mentions of stories that are yet to be written but are earlier than this one. This story was written a long time ago (over 17 years ago), but I felt there were parts that needed more and that were rushed or not complete enough, and I wanted some more scenes in certain areas that include some of my new arcs.

For this plot, it is assumed that Adam Cartwright has returned to the Ponderosa permanently after completing his college years. And I want to include some good and caring scenes between Adam and Joe as well as some of the other times.

There are a lot of stories to come in the time line before this one yet, where events have shaped Joe’s personality and caused him to have mixed feelings and emotions for someone of his age in different situations. There are other times where his usual cheeky self shines through as he gets a little older. But I am trying not to give the all of the plots away for those stories, so there are clues, but perhaps not the full story about some characters and events.

There have been a lot of additions made to what was previously written in this chapter. It has more than doubled in size, and I hope you like the new material. This chapter is long, but I couldn’t split it any earlier. There was even more to come that I will now have to be included in Chapter Four.

Sentences from particular characters where the words are mis-spelt or where it looks like a connecting word or two are missing – are deliberate in some cases. The same thing I do when I write dialogue for Hop Sing. It is done for characters when they are under the influence of alcohol like Frank Richards, but also because that is the way that I have them speaking. Charlie the head foreman is one instance. It is also done in limited cases where I deem the character to have a lower level of education.

Chapter Three – Taken

from the end of the previous chapter:

Outside, the gentle spots of rain started to fall and within a few minutes became heavy soaking rain with flashes of lightening that danced across the sky and rumbles of thunder as the clouds released their burden.

And now the story turns another page:

The nightly air temperature changed dramatically with the heavy showers of rain that had resulted from the approaching afternoon storm. Moisture was still in the air, but the humidity had dropped away, leaving behind the fresh scent of pine needles.

Ben Cartwright had quietly entered his youngest son’s bedroom wanting to check on Joe. This was intended to be his last task for the evening before retiring to bed himself.

The storm outside was still producing bolts of lightning, and rumbles of thunder across the sky.

The thunder had been loud enough on more than one occasion to threaten to wake Joe from his sleep. It was no secret within their close knit family that Little Joe often reacted badly during thunder storms. Perhaps from even earlier when Marie was alive. Ben recalled a few nights when neither of them had gotten much sleep during the night until the noise and howling winds had settled down once morning came.

The fear had grown stronger from when he was very young, about six years old, but the cause had little to do with the absence of his mother. Instead it had come about mostly due to the actions of some ruthless men who had come to the ranch with wicked intentions. Their callous actions that night had set off a chain of events where nobody would have been able to predict the lasting outcome that came about. And those same feelings and emotions had endured and survived to resurface again on countless unsettled night’s such as this one.

The Cartwright family had been assured by their doctor, Paul Martin, that time, support and understanding was what Joe needed. The best diagnosis he had been able to give to them was that Joe’s anxiety would gradually subside and disappear on its own as he grew older.

Adam could see his father fighting his inner desire to get up from his desk and ascend the staircase. He had watched his father battle himself for the past twenty minutes with a mixture of wanting to give Joe space, but hating that the idea that his son may be suffering alone. Joe was a little older now at fifteen, and Ben tried where he could to allow Joe to grow in confidence at his own pace.

Hoss and Adam had both done the same, allowing Joe a little more freedom as he grew into a young man. Perhaps it was a little easier for them than it was their father. He loved all of his sons unconditionally, and wasn’t afraid to show it. For Ben, Joe would always be the one to worry and fret more anxiously about because of him being the youngest.

Adam could see that his father was growing weary. After Hoss had gone to bed, the two of them had spent the remaining hours going over the figures and clauses of their bid by lantern.

“Pa, why don’t you go up to check on, Joe,” Adam suggested. “The lamp in his room has probably burned down now, then you can go get some sleep yourself.”

Ben looked up at his eldest son, giving a warm knowing smile. Adam knew who had caused his attention to stray away from the books. They had all received a good scare today with Joe having to get stitches.

“I don’t want to leave you down here finishing this contract off on your own, son,” Ben replied, lifting his arms over his head and stretching at the taunt muscles. “I have been sitting too long at this desk though.” He loosened the knot tying the neckerchief around his throat, and undid the top button of his shirt. It had been a very long day.

“There isn’t much more to do,” Adam reported. “The figures are all accurate, and the clauses that we want have been included. I am about to head up to bed myself shortly. I have a fairly early start in the morning myself if I want to see this document submitted on time.”

“Alright, I might do just that,” Ben acquiesced as he rose from the chair.

Ben clapped a hand on his son’s black clad shoulder with heartfelt appreciation, wanting to say a few final words. “I must thank you, son, after everything that went on here earlier today with Joseph, you have been a pillar of strength. This contract needed to be finished tonight and you have put in an enormous amount of work to see it completed on time. I am very grateful for you sticking with it.”

“With winter approaching in a couple of months, this ranch is going to need the extra financial stability that comes from such a new and important venture in the area,” Adam explained. “All I did was my small part to add up some figures and try and sell our argument that we are ready with the man power, equipment and trees. The hardest part in all of this is yet to come if we win to actually see it through to fruition and we have to start cutting those logs.”

“We can talk more about it in the morning at breakfast, but I just wanted to say ‘thanks’ tonight,” Ben replied. “This isn’t the first time you have taken on such a challenge with the timber operation, and I have every faith that you will help us achieve our goals on this occasion.”

“Thanks, that means a lot to me,” Adam remarked.

Adam watched his father head up the stairs, leaning back against the chair he was sitting in. Once upon a time he found himself in a similar frame of mind to where Joe currently was. He had wanted to prove himself and insist on how ready he was to others; when in fact it was very obvious how unprepared he was.

It really did mean a lot to him to have his father’s unequivocal approval. When he first started with the responsibilities of the timber operation, he had made enough mistakes to cause him to doubt his own commitment to such a large undertaking on a full-time basis. With time, patience and experience, his efforts and aptitude were finally being rewarded from the men that he employed and his own family believing in him.

______________________________________________________________________________________

After reaching the landing at the top of the stairs, Ben made sure that his footsteps were a little softer as he approached the closed door to Joe’s bedroom. Pulling on the handle, he pushed the wooden door open and entered.

Walking over to the bed he noted that the blanket was tangled beneath his sleeping son. He stood beside the bed for a few moments, pondering how he was going to solve the problem. Joe must have sensed someone else in the room, and turned over onto his right-side, towards his father. The boy’s peaceful expression changed to a frown and he gave a soft whimper at the pain due to his injured arm and rolled onto his back, changing positions a second time.

The disturbance to his sleep was short lived and he began drifting back to sleep, and Ben was able to fuss with the bedclothes, laying them back over his slumbering son. He placed a gentle hand on his son’s forehead and could feel the low grade fever that was present. Perhaps that was the cause of the blanket being in disarray in the first place. Joe leaned into the coolness of his father’s hand and gave a contented sigh at the familiarity.

“Goodnight, Joseph,” he whispered as carded his hand through those soft dark curls.

Ben padded over to the window, wanting to check that it was closed. As he adjusted the curtains, a distant rumble of thunder could be heard outside. His last task of the evening was to extinguish the small flame that remained from the lamp.

By three a.m., the house was very quiet inside, with all of the occupants sleeping. Ten minutes later, Joe sat up in bed, listening intently and trying to figure out what had awoken him so suddenly. He rubbed at his throat, grimacing at the dryness. His room felt claustrophobic and hot. The curls at the front of his hair were damp with sweat and stuck to his forehead.

Joe thought about calling out to one of his brothers, but decided that he could manage to get his own drink of water to ease his parched throat. Throwing back the covers, he was surprised to see that he was only wearing his pants and no shirt. It was fairly unusual for him to go to bed without changing into a night-shirt.

The stitches in his arm twinged, reminding him that they were there, and Joe turned his head to note the crisp white bandage adorning his upper right arm. Now that he was awake, it was hurting. Maybe that is what had caused his sleep to be disturbed in the middle of the night.

Standing up, he padded across the wooden floor boards, not bothering to put on his robe or any footwear. He was only intending to go downstairs long enough to get a drink of water. He didn’t need to dress up for something so simple when he would be returning within a few minutes.

Opening his door, he listened intently again as he made his way over to the landing above the main stair case. The rest of the household was silent. For a brief moment he thought about going back to retrieve a robe when he shivered in the cooler morning air. Brushing the damp hair on his forehead aside, he continued down the stairs slowly as his eyes adjusted to the darkness.

At the bottom of the stairs, Joe paused, holding onto the bannister, frowning a little at the disorientation he was feeling. Apart from his painful arm, he didn’t have an answer to describe the change in his equilibrium. He had best get his drink of water and go back to bed. A few more hours sleep sounded good to him.

Making it to the kitchen, he stopped at the sink and water pump. Picking up a metal cup that hung from a hook on the back wall, he held it under the tap with his right hand, grimacing as his stitches protested at the movement. Joe used his left hand and pushed the handle up and down twice before he was rewarded with a splash of cool water. The majority of the clear liquid made it into the cup, but some split over the edges onto his hand.

The temperature of the water was much lower at this time of the morning, and helped to quench his thirst and sooth his dry throat on the way down. He finished most of the contents; some remained at the bottom as he set it aside. He should not have drank it so fast. The water was now sloshing about in his stomach uncomfortably and starting to make him a little nauseous.

Joe didn’t remember having any dinner earlier that night, and maybe it was his empty belly that was reacting because he didn’t have anything to eat. There were are few hours missing from his memory. He vaguely recalled Doctor Paul Martin being in his room and tending to his arm, but he didn’t remember falling asleep. There was a bear cub and Hoss helping him, but after climbing into the saddle, the ride home back to the Ponderosa wasn’t so clear.

Reaching up and brushing aside the sweaty curls again, he was beginning to feel too warm, but was confused because he was certain that he had been wearing his sheep-skinned lined coat when the bear had scratched him. He didn’t know where it was, and now he was standing in the kitchen without wearing a shirt.

Tipping the remaining water down the sink, he rehung the cup in its proper position, his aim at the hook skewed, and he had to do it a second time. Walking slowly out of the kitchen, his intention was to go back to his room and lay down on the cool sheets and go back to sleep. He was hoping that his uneasy stomach would subside soon.

Before he could put together a coherent thought, Joe changed direction from the staircase, and laid down on the settee. His eyes slowly drifted closed despite there being no pillow supporting his head. Laying in this position, his body temperature began to climb, with his sleep not deep enough and becoming more restless.

______________________________________________________________________________________

The grandfather clock standing in the living room had just tolled four a.m. when Ben Cartwright woke up in his own bed. Not alarmed exactly, but something was amiss. He listened from the darkness of his room for a moment, trying to pinpoint the reason for his rest being disturbed. He couldn’t hear anybody moving about on the second floor or on the staircase.

Curiosity got the better of him, causing him to get up and put on his burgundy robe and slippers before exiting his bedroom. He was about to head downstairs when he saw the door to Joe’s bedroom ajar. He remembered closing it earlier in the night, maybe that was the sound he had heard. He went to investigate further.

Pushing the door open a little more, he noted that the bed was vacant, and the blankets had been thrown aside yet again. Joe should have been sleeping like the rest of the family at this time of the night. Leaving the room to go in search for his wayward son, Ben walked downstairs into the living room.

When he reached the bottom of the stairs and entered the cavernous room, he was greeted with an unusual and most perplexing scene. The very person he had come in search of, but not where he expected to find him. Joe was laying on his belly along the settee. Ben had forgotten about his son being only clad in his trousers when he had fallen asleep after Paul’s administration and his pain medicine.

The boy was still wearing the same pair of pants, without a night-shirt or any kind of blanket to ward off catching a chill. The white bandage around his upper right-arm stood out starkly in the low light. The was no way to know how long ago Joe had come down here and fallen asleep.

“Joseph,” Ben whispered softly, loathe to wake him, but wanting to move his son back to his room. The boy would be much more comfortable back in his own bed. He was tempted to just lift the boy’s slender frame and carry him, but knew at fifteen, that his son would not want to be treated in such a manner.

When he was much younger, Little Joe had shared many special times of being carried to bed in his father’s strong and loving arms. Nowadays the affection between them was just as strong and relished by both, but somethings had changed with the passage of time. Hoss taking on the task of carrying his brother, and Joe probably wouldn’t object as strongly. With Adam or himself attempting the same act, it would be viewed very differently, with embarrassment and humiliation.

Joe was caught between growing out of his childhood years and beginning the journey to being accepted as a young adult. And that included everybody, including family. Unless he was sick or injured, and even on those occasions in the past he had tried to argue that point and prove himself.

Ben laid a hand on the exposed skin his son’s back to try and rouse him, but frowned when he found it was much warmer beneath his touch. Very warm, and causing enough concern for him to put his hand on Little Joe’s forehead. His suspicions were soon confirmed, and there was no mistake. Fever.

“Pa?” came the response from Joe as he felt his father’s hand. He began to sit up, half-asleep and wincing in discomfort and reaching over with his with his left hand and rubbing above the bandage encircling his injured arm.

“What are you doing sleeping down here, Joe?” Ben asked calmly. “How long have you been laying on the settee?”

Joe blinked owlishly back at his father, trying to decipher the questions. The expression on his face was one of confusion, and Ben decided that any answer could wait. With his son sitting up, he put his hand on his forehead again, trying to determine how high his temperature was. Noticeably warmer than it had been when Paul was present, and probably why his son was acting more docile at the moment. Tired and feeling poorly; not an encouraging combination.

“Something woke me up……….,” Joe started to explain, pausing half way through the sentence as he gathered his thoughts. “I came down here to get a drink of water, but I don’t know how I ended up here. I didn’t have any supper and I don’t even remember going to bed in the first place.”

Joe used the palm of his right hand to rub tiredly at his eyes, and then looked about the room, trying to gain his bearings before glancing back at his father’s patient face. His father had asked him a question, and would be expecting an answer. The boy was still trying to work out when exactly he had come downstairs.

“I don’t know, Pa,” he answered truthfully, a crease appearing on his forehead as he tried to force himself to think.

Ben used his hand to smooth out that frown, noting the dampness to his curls. Ben sat down on the settee beside his son and wrapped an arm him. A shiver ran across his slim shoulders, despite the presence of the fever.

“You fell asleep after taking Doc Martin’s medicine for the pain in your arm, Joseph” Ben recounted for him. “Don’t worry about anything else for the moment. You need to go back to bed and rest. When you have had some more sleep, you can have something to eat.”

“I got some fresh water from the kitchen pump, but that isn’t sitting in there so well at the moment,” he complained, rubbing his stomach in a circular pattern gently with his hand. He yawned expansively, and then a second time in quick succession.

“Why don’t you go up to bed, son,” Ben suggested, feeling his son beginning to lean sleepily against his shoulder. Any further complex discussion could wait until Joe was feeling better. “Change into a night-shirt and I will be along in a moment.”

Joe didn’t give a verbal answer, but nodded his head, crunching his face up as such a motion caused his headache to spike. He cautiously stood up, waiting for the mild dizziness to subside and walked slowly to the stairs.

Ben watched his son ascend step by step at his own pace until he had safely reached the top landing.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Once he was certain that Joe was in his room, he went to the kitchen, filled a bowl with cool water from the pump. After grabbing a soft cloth, he went back into his son’s room, hoping to do what he could to lower his temperature. He wasn’t alarmed enough yet enough to send for the doctor, but wanted to monitor his son until he was satisfied that the fever has passed.

Upon entering the room, he walked over to the opposite side of the bed and set the bowl of water on the bedside table. Ben moved a chair closer to the side of the bed.

Taking the cloth and saturating it the water first, and then wringing out the excess, he set about trying to bring down his son’s body temperature.

Joe had done what his father has requested about changing into a night-shirt and pyjama bottoms. The trousers he had been wearing were had been discarded haphazardly on the floor in front of his dresser. “You just lay there and go to sleep, Joe,” Ben crooned softly, taking a hold of his son’s left hand, watching his son open his eyes, following the sound of his voice.

Joe was laying on his back, the covers were still laying partially beneath his body. Caught somewhere between awake and asleep, he turned his head on the pillow as the folded damp cloth was laid on his forehead. The relief was almost instant, extracting an audible sigh in respite from the boy, but it didn’t take long before Ben could feel the heat being absorbed through the fabric. He repeated the process of wetting the cloth again.

“Sorry Pa, now I am keeping you awake…….,” Joe apologized, his voice fading away, leaving the sentence incomplete. He wanted to say something else to his father, but as he words started to form on his lips, his eyes drifted closed. Ben gave his son’s hand a gentle squeeze before laying it beside him.

As a father, he would continue this vigil for as long as he was needed. This task was one he had done many times in the past for all of his boys. Giving comfort and reassurance to any of them where he could, even at times when they openly protested about being able to manage without his fussing. Adam and Hoss had grown into confident young men, but over the past several years, like their younger brother, they had their fair share of illnesses and injuries. Each of those occasions had required him to take care of them, just like he was doing now.

Watching any of his children suffer during any kind of ill-heath was unpleasant. Even now, Joe was restless, constantly moving about, but unable to find a comfortable position. The fever had remained stubborn and it had taken another good half an hour before Ben had been able to feel a distinct change that his efforts were working and beginning to make a difference.

One hour later, Ben rose from the chair he had been sitting in, stretching his back muscles that had stiffened from being too long in the one position. He could do with some coffee and hoped that a fresh pot was brewing on the stove.

Joe’s fever, though still present, was mercifully a great deal lower, but he wanted to remain vigilant for the rest of the day. Picking up the top end of the blanket, he covered his son partially to his waist, wanting to keep his feet warm, but not wanting him to become overheated by pulling it all the way up to his shoulders.

Thankfully, Joe had rolled onto his side and had fallen into a more restful and deeper sleep, his head sinking further down into the soft downy pillow. The water in the bowl was tepid and needed to be changed. He felt it was safe enough to leave his son alone and head down to breakfast. He would ensure that Hop Sing had something nourishing ready for his son when he awoke a little later during the morning.

Half an hour ago he had heard sounds coming up from the kitchen to signify that Hop Sing was awake and preparing breakfast for the family. Not long after that, Ben was certain he had heard the heavier footsteps of Hoss on the staircase. Some of the men were due to depart on a cattle drive this morning that would take over a week, and his larger son would want to make sure they had everything before starting his own day of work.

Glancing through the window, the sun had just begun peaking above the horizon to start a new day. The clouds in the sky had been scattered by the new, fresh breeze that teased the leaves of the trees.

Walking to the door, he glanced back towards the bed, and was pleased to see Joe was still sleeping peacefully. A hot cup of coffee sounded very good right now.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

Carrying the bowl of water, Ben made his way into the kitchen, preparing to discard the contents. Entering the doorway, he was met by Hop Sing.

“Good Mornin’, Mista Cartwright,” the small man greeted him with surprise. “Why you have bowl water,?”

“Morning, Hop Sing,” Ben answered. “Though it has not been an entirely good morning so far.”

Seeing the questioning look on the oriental face, he went onto explain further. “I have been awake since four a.m. this morning.”

“Why you wake so early?” Hop Sing queried.

“I came downstairs to find Joseph sleeping on the settee, with no shirt on. His temperature had grown much higher; from his injured arm I suspect. He was confused and complaining about an upset stomach and that he fell asleep without eating any supper,” Ben reported.

“Lil’ Joe get better?” the man asked, his concern for the youngest family member evident.

“He is sleeping a little better now then he was,” Ben conveyed. “I was using the water in the bowl to cool him down for the past hour and a half.”

“I make Lil’ Joe something to eat.” Hop Sing asserted as he took custody of the bowl. “Keep for later when he wake. Need to eat for arm to get better.”

“Thank you, Hop Sing, that would be appreciated. I am sure that Joe will be happy with whatever you decide to prepare.”

“Hot Coffee pot on table already. I bring breakfast out,” Hop Sing said as he went back to bustling about the kitchen.

Ben smiled to himself, knowing that the small man would have everything under control. Sitting down at the table, he reached for a cup and saucer in front of his usual seat and filled it from the coffee pot. The aroma was strong and very welcome, he hoped the taste would be just as good. He needed a good kick start to what was already going to be a very long day.

“Good Morning,” came the pleasant deep voice from Adam as he reached the bottom of the stairs. Most mornings, he made it to the breakfast table before anyone else.

“Morning, Adam,” Ben greeted him with a smile as he put down the cup he had been holding.

Adam sat down on the right-hand side of the table, but as he was pouring his own first cup of coffee, he couldn’t help but glance at his father and note the mild tiredness.

Although he was used to his father putting in a hard day’s work and rising early to match the demands of the ranch, today he couldn’t help but think that there was another reason for being at the table first. Adam decided to wait a little longer before broaching the subject further.

Hop Sing appeared from the kitchen with three large serving dishes, placing them in the centre of the table. “Morning, Mista Adam.”

“Good Morning, Hop Sing. You seemed to have been very busy already this morning,” Adam commented.

“Hop Sing busy, very busy,” came the response, with no further details provided. The small man was muttering in his own language as he went back into the kitchen. His statement wasn’t so out of place. Even on a quiet day, the small cook could be seen working away diligently in the kitchen at a furious pace.

Before any further conversation could be exchanged, the sound of the latch on the front door being opening drew the attention of both men seated at the dining room table. The wooden structure opened and was then closed again a few moments later. The direction of the footsteps signalled someone was entering the house.

From his position at the table, Adam saw his larger, younger brother, enter the house, remove his hat and place it on the credenza. Adam raised an eyebrow that another family member was up early today.

“Morning, Pa, Adam,” Hoss said as he approached the table and took up his seat, ready for breakfast.

“Good morning, Hoss, what has you up and so active this early in the morning? Adam queried. “Hard at chores before you have eaten any breakfast doesn’t sound like your normal routine at all.”

“I had some things to sort out before I got started today that’s all,” Hoss replied. “Those fellas outside are getting ready to leave on that drive this morning, and I wanted to talk to Dan Toliver before they headed out.”

“That yard out there is so muddy out there this morning after all that rain we had last night. The mules were having a hard time getting loaded up ready to leave. Their hooves are caked in the stuff not to mention everything else that touches the ground. Charlie was hollering at the men to make sure they were cleaning out the mud from each animal. Dan had the other men packing down the yard as best they could to smooth out the worst of the ruts. It is probably going to be slow going on the trail for the first few hours until that black soil dries out some,” the large man reported.

“I will try and give you a hand when I get back from Virginia City, but that won’t be until after lunch at the earliest,” Adam offered.

“Morning son,” Ben said as he started to put some of the hot food onto his plate. He held the platter out to Hoss who accepted it.

The comments Hoss made about the condition of the yard were no surprise to him. The problem arose from time to time with heavy downpours, and it made an awful mess. He may have to take some of the men off other less important work this morning to help.

“Thanks Pa, I am so hungry, I might have to eat the dish too,” Hoss said, as he used his fork to serve himself a large portion. He was mindful to leave enough for Adam and his younger brother who was yet to make an appearance.

“You spoke to Dan Toliver, son?” Ben asked with a curious expression on his face, knowing that the head wrangler’s name had been brought up only last night when the three of them were talking in the living room.

“Yeah, what Joe shared with me when we was camping, kept bugging me so much that I didn’t want to wait until they got back to talk to Dan,” Hoss answered, pouring his first cup of coffee for the day. “They will be gone for the best part of week taking those cattle up to that pasture before the weather starts turning colder.”

“What did you say to him?” Adam asked just as curious as his father as to what was exchanged.

Dan Toliver had worked for the Ponderosa for a long time now, and was respected by the men. To those who were unfamiliar with him, he could come off as too surly or hard-nosed. He wasn’t normally one to be swapping small talk with. You told him what needed to be done, and it was carried out. For the men who worked with the cattle, he was the one giving the orders and he didn’t take kindly to anybody who wasn’t about keeping their mind on the job at hand.

“I told him that someone, or maybe more than that, was harassing and causing trouble for Joe,” Hoss stated. “I made sure to tell him that we wanted to find out who it was, and put a stop to it. I also mentioned to him that Joe didn’t know anything me talking to him.”

“That is probably a fairly good idea too, Hoss, about keeping everything low key until we identify the culprits involved,” Ben said after listening to his son speak. “Joseph can be way too secretive when he wants to be, and if he thinks anybody is watching out for him, then we won’t find out what has been happening at all.”

“I sort of thought that too, Pa,” Hoss agreed. “Even with only us knowing. Joe don’t even know I have told you and Adam yet, and I ain’t aiming to do that neither. I let Charlie know too of course, because he will be around the most during the next week outside and around the barn. He will keep a good look out against any of the men left behind from the drive who might be causing trouble.”

“Dan said that most of the men he has now have been working here for a while, so he couldn’t pick out who might be doing it yet. They will have a couple of campfires over the next few nights, and he was going observe their chatter from a distance. He wasn’t very happy to hear that someone was doing it in the first place. He has a soft spot for Joe, always has done, since he was a little tyke,” Hoss commented.

“Yes, Dan has looked out for Joe as long as the rest of us have done, and Charlie the head foreman too,” Ben remarked, a small smile coming to his face as a memory or two came to him of a much smaller Joseph causing problems for both men. Charlie and Dan were two of their longest serving employees apart from Hop Sing, whom he had come to rely heavily on to keep the operation of the ranch as smooth as possible.

“Something tells me that your plan is going to backfire on you,” Adam predicted with a wry grin after lowering his coffee cup. “If there is one certainty around this place, it is that secrets don’t remain that for very long. I plan to do a little observing of my own with some of the men from today as well, and have a talk with Miss Jones. I want to impress on her, that although her intentions may have been for the greater good, they were only in her own mind, and have done some real harm.”

“Whether she admits to it or not, she has played a pivotal role in eroding away our younger brother’s self confidence involving his attendance at school. And none of us want that for what remains of his education. Joe should be able to make his own decision on going to college when he is ready to do so, and not because someone’s perceived notion of that being the route that every student should take,” the dark-haired man continued.

Adam glanced over at his father at his last statement, waiting to see what the reaction would be. He knew his father had been stubborn lately whenever the subject of Joe’s schooling had been brought up, and it had only caused hurt feelings between father and son. Being Joe’s father, it was expected that Ben would make the choice and determine when his youngest son’s schooling years were completed. The decision about college was another matter entirely and should be a discussion that the two of them had together. Joe should have a large stake and the majority say in any final agreement that was reached.

Ben was pleased that Adam intended to address the situation with the teacher who was causing Joe’s doubt in himself, and had been fuelling the disagreements that he had been part of. He sighed inwardly to himself that he had better give the matter a great deal of consideration in the very near future. He didn’t want to argue or fight with his son over what he wanted to do with his life.

Hoss could see that the conversation had changed from finding out which ranch hands had been giving Joe a hard time. At the moment, that was the priority that he wanted to focus on.

“Dan did tell me about one other fella who might have been someone to watch out for,” Hoss began. He was pleased to see that his words at the desired affect, and that both family members at the table now had his full attention.

“According to him, there was someone by the name of Frank Richards, don’t know enough about him, and I can’t recollect him all that much,” Hoss explained. “Last night, Dan Toliver fired him, told him to pack his gear and get before sunrise. I guess that is the reason he hasn’t had a chance to report what he done to you yet, Pa.”

“Did he say why he fired this man? Ben asked, sitting against the back of the chair. He and Adam both had a large hand in employing the ranch hands that were employed on the Ponderosa, and scrutinizing their backgrounds and previous work experience. Loyal and long time people like Dan Toliver and the head foreman Charlie, had the full authority from Ben himself to dismiss any worker when there was a good enough reason.

“It wasn’t because Dan suspected him of taunting Little Joe, just that he didn’t work out,” Hoss stated. “Been living in the bunk house for less than two months and one of the new starters. He was starting fights with some of the other hands at night over card games and didn’t pick up working with the cattle very much during that time. Dan paid out his wages for his short time here, and he is probably going to be in town today at the local saloon, drinking it away,”

“Well then, based on what you said, I respect Dan’s decision. We have enough work to do around here, without having men on the payroll who are not pulling their weight,” Ben said firmly. “Dan didn’t come to me to get any money, so he probably did it out of his own pocket. I will check next week when he returns and reimburse him if he did.”

“Perhaps it might be time to give an overdue talk to all of the men, about the standard of conduct we expect when working around here and living in the accommodation that is generously provided,” Adam suggested. “They have all been told before about conducting card games and causing trouble.”

“You may be right about that Adam, it wouldn’t hurt to remind them all of their responsibilities around here,” Ben remarked with complete agreement.

“I will take care of it for those men left behind when I return later this afternoon,” Adam offered. “The men that are leaving on the cattle drive this morning can have the rules reinforced for them later.”

_________________________________________________________________________

The grandfather clock behind them in the living room, chimed the new time of seven o’clock in the morning.

“Time to head up there I guess………,” he said without finishing the sentence.

At this time every day, he took on the unenviable job of waking Joe to come down to breakfast and then proceed to get ready for school. Hoss started to rise from the table, but Ben stopped him from taking a step towards the stair case, already aware of the task his middle son has assigned for himself.

“Finish your breakfast, Hoss, you won’t need to go up there this morning and wake Joseph for school,” Ben informed him, placing a hand on his son’s lower forearm to stop him from leaving the table.

“I won’t, Pa?” Hoss asked with confusion written across his face, sitting back down.

“Your brother is the reason I was awake at four o’clock this morning,” Ben told the two of them. Adam looked over at his father, and saw the signs of concern that were still visible and now had further details on why his father was looking a little tired.

“Nightmares from the storm last night?” Adam surmised. He had heard the sky rattle for a number of hours himself, and the rain had continued with abatement until well after he retired for the evening. He should have gotten up at least once to check on Joe himself.

“Not that I am aware of,” Ben answered, “Though Joseph couldn’t tell me what had woken him up at that hour, when I asked him. I was disturbed by a noise myself, and went to investigate, only to find his room empty, and the covers in their usual disarray. Then went I came down here to the living room, he had fallen asleep along the settee. He was still wearing the trousers we had left on him and no shirt.”

“Getting a little cooler during the early morning hours to be down here dressed like that, Pa,” Hoss pointed out. His own guilt about the injury to Joe’s arm began to resurface.

“Yes, I know, but when I found him down here, his temperature was much higher,” Ben said. “I spent the last couple of hours before coming down here, sitting beside his bed and bathing his forehead with a cloth and some cool water. When I tried to gauge what he was doing down here, the fever was only making his headache worse. Joe told me he gone into the kitchen for a drink of water, but didn’t remember falling asleep. The water upset his stomach, and he went to bed without supper.”

“I sent him back up to his room and then followed up after him to see if I could start bringing his fever down,” Ben concluded. “At least now he is dressed better now for going to bed.”

“Why didn’t you wake one of us up?” Adam asked. “We could have given you a helping hand if you needed it and Joe was unsettled.”

“I didn’t want to disturb you two unnecessarily,” Ben answered truthfully. “There was no point in all of us losing sleep. You both have important work to carry out today. I was prepared to send one of you into town this morning for the doctor at dawn if his fever rose too high or hadn’t started to come down.”

Adam was satisfied with the explanation given, and was aware that his father would have roused one of them if his concern over his brother’s temperature had continued to grow.

“Joe feeling any better now, Pa?” Hoss questioned, but knowing that his father would still be seated upstairs if Joe was still suffering. Paul would have already been summoned if his brother’s health had deteriorated further.

“Before I left his room, he fever was thankfully much lower and Joe had fallen into a much deeper sleep,” Ben said with a small smile. “Hop Sing has been preparing some breakfast for your brother. Something that will be gentle on his stomach if it is still bothering him when he wakes up.”

“Because of the time lost this morning before he was finally getting some decent rest, I thought I would let him stay home today from school,” Ben said, as he lifted and drained the last of the coffee from his cup. He could see the amused glances from both sons over the rim.

Hoss and Adam both exchanged knowing looks with each other that said everything.

Laughing quietly to himself, Hoss remembered the conversation that Joe and he had shared around the campfire about him wanting to finish his schooling early an