Gordon is determined to find out why a former Olympics teammate is avoiding him. He soon discovers it's a trail of misunderstanding that could change his life...or end it.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9

Chapter 1

Gordon frowned in concentration and frustration. He was almost through the door, but the cutting torch was guttering fitfully. The air was getting foul; the oxygen was just about gone. If the sub settled on its side any more, he'd be unable to disconnect Thunderbird Four's universal escape hatch to carry the other three men he'd already rescued back to the surface. It had simply taken too long to locate the crew! Making a tricky situation even more unnerving, the sub had lost all power just as it passed beneath an undersea cliff and it hung ominously overhead, blocking communication with Thunderbirds One and Two. He was on his own.

The little submarine was experimental, and tests on it had been going well, until a cascade of errors and malfunctions had stranded it and its now-unconscious four-man crew. Ironically, if they had been able to move only a more few feet out from under the cliff before the power failed, they would have been within reach of conventional rescue equipment; where they ended up, a diving bell could not couple to them properly.

The multiple bulkheads had been thought a great idea. If one compartment flooded, which fortunately hadn't happened, the others were still air tight. Unfortunately, they had also isolated each member of the crew, and if the hydraulics and communication failed, which they had, someone unfamiliar with the passageways, like Gordon, would encounter difficulty in finding them.

After a frantic and often futile hour, he had finally located all of them, but with the little submarine settling on its side like it was, he was beginning to wonder if they were all going to get out alive. As if to emphasize his misgivings, the sub suddenly settled again; as he flung out an arm for balance. The oxyhidnite cutter worked fast, but it needed oxygen to work just like any conventional cutting torch, and there was very little of that left.

Gordon had a sudden inspiration, if only he had time to carry it out. He ran back to the hatchway and found a diver's air tank, then carried it, panting for air himself, back to the door he was trying to cut through and opened the valve. In the area he was working, it wasn't much, but the torch flamed up immediately, and he was able to get through the door and get the man on his shoulder before the sub settled yet again.

He hurriedly carried the man up into Thunderbird Four and dogged the hatch closed. Flipping the lever that would detach the clamp holding his underwater cruiser to the sub, he held his breath; were they pitched over too far to release? When the seascape shifted and he felt Thunderbird Four right itself; he exhaled noisily in relief. Finally, he could radio Virgil and Scott and let them breathe, too.

"It took so long to locate the crew!" Gordon complained. Safely back at Tracy island, he sat between Scott and Virgil as they de-briefed the mission with their father and Brains. "If there had only been some way, before I ever entered the sub, to know what compartments they had been in, it wouldn't have taken so long! I had to cut into every section and there were two I wouldn't have needed to enter at all."

"What about that, Brains?" Jeff turned doubtfully to the young genius who had invented almost all of their special equipment. "Can you think of any way to sound out an underwater rescue like he's describing?"

"Well," Brains said slowly, "I recently read that there is a prototype of an underwater sonar imaging system. Among its capabilities, it can penetrate metal walls up to several inches thick and produce an image of objects behind it."

"That's perfect!" Gordon said excitedly. "That's exactly what I'm talking about!"

"You say someone already came up with it?" Jeff held up a hand, trying to rein his son's enthusiasm. "That means we'd have to purchase the rights to use it, if it's not already on the market."

"I understand the prototype has been deemed impractical for large-scale operations, and the electronics corporation has decided to sell it to recoup its design costs." Brains got up and started for his lab. "Now, if I can only remember where I read that ..."

That was how, three days later, Gordon ended up in the New York offices of Electronic Designs North America, rushing in late to an appointment with Gene Gowren, the company's sales agent. Gordon paused in the corridor outside the office doors to catch his breath, and caught a glimpse of his reflection in the glass door across the hall. The new dark suit had been a good idea; he really needed the look of a young professional, and he'd added nothing like that to his wardrobe in years. His composure regained, he nonchalantly pushed open the door to smile at Mr. Gowren's secretary.

"You must be Mr. Tracy," she smiled back. "I'll tell Mr. Gowren you've arrived. Please have a seat?" she gestured to a waiting area with two small club chairs and a small table set between them. One chair was already occupied by an attractive auburn-haired woman in a severe business suit. She seemed familar, somehow.

"Good morning," Gordon said cordially, as he sat down.

The woman was less friendly, but did return his "Good morning."

Gordon reached out his hand. "Gordon Tracy."

She introduced herself, but did not return his gesture. "Caroline Arden."

Gordon tried once more to strike up a conversation; better that than sitting and looking at the ceiling trying not to stare at her. Except for the suit, she really was quite striking. "Caroline Arden," he said thoughtfully. "We've meet before, haven't we?" She wasn't very forthcoming, but suddenly Gordon had it, in a flash of memory. And she was no longer the sun-burned freckle-faced teenager he last saw. "Of course! Caroline Arden! The Olympic swim team! Let's see, you swam the relay?"

She looked surprised. "How did you remember? That was a few years ago. Yes, the free-style."

She recognized Gordon as well. "And you won the gold in the butterfly."

Gordon smiled modestly. "That's right! Nice of you to remember that. And your team earned a medal, too, didn't you?"

"Yes, the silver."

"Gosh, its a small world!" he grinned. "So, what on earth are you doing here?"

She had started to thaw. "Well, I'm with the San Diego Oceanographic Research Institute now. I'm here to purchase a sonar imaging system prototype."

"Oh." Gordon saw trouble ahead, and just when she was beginning to open up a little. "So am I, uh, for the company I work for."

"Really." Sure enough, she frosted up again. "And what company is that?"

"Uh, Tracy Corporation." Why did he feel sheepish?

She almost laughed out loud, which amazed him. Boy, she looked terrific when she smiled. "Let's see, Gordon Tracy, Olympic gold medalist, son of billionaire ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy, who also happens to be the founder of Tracy Corporation. Have I got your resume correct?" she said, almost derisively. "And now you work for your father? I guess you couldn't get a real job?"

That came out of left field. He could sense his ears turning red. "No, I wanted to work in the family business."

"The family business. So, you're not above bragging about who you are, either. I always thought you were pretty full of yourself. With all that money at your disposal, just who did you bribe to get that gold medal?"

Gordon felt his temper rising. "Now, wait a minute. I worked for that gold medal, just like you worked for yours."

She shrugged, and changed the subject. "And what does Tracy Corporation need with a sonar imaging system?" Now she was into corporate espionage?

"Uh, well ..." He had his story for Gene Gowren, he hadn't planned on trotting it out so soon. "We're planning on going into a line of watercraft for leisure fishing, and the imaging system would be built into the boats for locating the targets, uh, fish."

The amusement on her face grew. "Given this a lot of thought, I see. Do you spend much of your time fishing? How nice that you can do that and still work in the family business." she said sarcastically. What was her problem?

"Well," Gordon was trying very hard to keep his temper in check. "What does the San Diego Institute need with a sonar imaging system?"

She drew herself up. "The San Diego Oceanographic Research Institute is privately funded and was founded for pure research. We need the sonar imaging system for our research."

Gordon was getting tired of her arrogant attitude. "Well, I'm sorry but I'm afraid your Oceanographic Institute," (two could play this game) "will need to find some other way to do your research. Tracy Corporation is going to purchase the sonar imaging system."

"What are you willing to bet?" she challenged.

"Dinner at the Club Bonneterre." That sat her back just a bit, she didn't expect her bet to be taken up so quickly, and the Club Bonneterre was a very romantic dinner club. "Loser buys."

She didn't hesitate long. "You're on!"

"Mr. Tracy," the secretary glided over. "Mr. Gowren will see you now."

"Oh." Gordon straightened his tie. "Thanks."

Just twenty minutes later, he came out triumphantly. "See you at seven. Bring your credit card," he said to Caroline and breezed out, waving at the secretary.

Caroline gathered up her dignity and her briefcase, and prepared to go in.

A few minutes later, she got the bad news. "I'm sorry, Dr. Arden, but Mr. Tracy's offer was twice what your Institute has proposed," Gene Gowren told her. "And I was instructed to sell to the highest bidder."

"But, but ..." She was spluttering in dismay. "They're going to use it for pleasure fishing. At least what we're doing will benefit ..."

"I'm sorry, Dr. Arden. The sonar system has been sold."

Gordon checked his watch again; nearly an hour had passed since he arrived at the Club Bonneterre, she was very late. Not that he was discouraged, yet. Caroline was probably still pretty sore about losing their bet, and he would have been, too. The only problem with having won was going to be explaining to his father why his "negotiations" for the sonar imaging system had been so short and so expensive.

After his appointment at Electronic Designs NA, he had several hours to spend before dinner. He put the time to use trying to find information about Caroline Arden. When he accessed the San Diego Oceanographic Research Institute's site, he found plenty. It seemed that soon after the Olympics, she had entered medical school and had graduated near the top of her class. She served her internship as a emergency room physician and then was hired by the largest hospital on the west coast. About the same time International Rescue began operations, she joined the staff of the San Diego Oceanographic Research Institute.

As a result of her work with the Institute, she had published two papers. One had appeared in a medical journal reporting the effects of recompression therapy on scuba divers. She also co-authored an anthropological paper based on the 500-year-old bones from an Inca settlement found undersea off the shores of Peru.

Her father died a few years after after the Olympics, but her mother and older sister were still living in San Diego. Now she was the shipboard physician on the Institute's research vessel Lady of Venice, under the command of Captain Seth Connelly. That name made him stop to reminisce and marvel. It was indeed a very small world; Seth Connelly had been his commander during his formative tour with the World Aquanaut Security Patrol.

Gordon was quite impressed by Caroline's resume. No wonder she was so derisive about his apparent lack of achievement since the Olympics. Well, after the Olympics he had done two tours of duty with the WASP before the hydrofoil accident that earned him a medical discharge. But all that was old news, and, as far as achievements since then, his "real" work had been International Rescue. He had saved lives and designed equipment that made that possible, and he was understandably proud of those accomplishments, but International Rescue was strictly off-limits as a topic of discussion.

Something intangible had re-awakened in him as he sparred with her that office, and he found himself wanting ... no, needing ... to be near her again. But how was he going convince her that he wasn't the lazy playboy she seemed to think he was without bringing up the subject of International Rescue? As a physician, the hydrofoil accident might pique her interest, at least in the short term, but he did not want sympathy, and certainly not mere professional interest, to be the foundation for their relationship.

Relationship? His mind lurched in its train of thought. Wait a minute. She was barely civil toward him and he was thinking about a "relationship"? Still, he did invite her, although somewhat against her will, to one of the most romantic dining spots on the east coast. And it took a considerable amount of charm and doubtless the Tracy name to get reservations on such short notice. So what else could he have been thinking?

He suddenly realized that he wanted far more than to simply impress this woman to heal a bruised ego. He wanted her to see beyond a handsome face, a famous name, and money. He wanted her to see a man who had never forgotten the first girl to put him in his place. Most things that he wanted usually came his way, and if they didn't, until now, he hadn't let it bother him. But with several years behind them, he had rediscovered something, and he felt compelled to pursue it, to seek after it with no thought to whether that goal was attainable.

As badly as he'd wanted to join the WASP even against his father's wishes, as badly as he wanted to walk again after the hydrofoil accident, as badly as he'd wanted to win that gold medal at the Olympics, he wanted badly for Caroline Arden to see him as a man. Suddenly, it was imperative that he find out what was important to her, because whatever it was, now it was also very important to him.

He had managed to make excuses to the waiter for his dinner companion's tardiness, but when he saw him coming again, he knew a different tactic was called for, and ordered a nice wine. As soon as it arrived, he saw her. She had exchanged the severe suit for a disappointingly sensible dress, but it was at least in a shade of green that played up her eyes.

He remembered their color from years before, a deep green that currently was glowing in barely-controlled anger. The maitre d' escorted her over to the table. Gordon intended to be the perfect gentleman, rising to come around the table help her take her seat; but she plopped down without ceremony before he could reach her. She definitely was not in the mood for the playful banter at which Gordon was a master.

She sat glowering at the table in silence, while he tried to decide how to defuse her. "Care to try the wine?" he asked finally, pouring some into a glass. The look in her eyes when he presented it to her was meant to throw daggers, but its effect on him went straight to his heart. He gulped and nearly choked; in catching his breath again, he didn't hear her response. She let out a long-suffering sigh and took a sip from the glass.

Gordon covered his discomfiture by signaling the waiter to bring the menus. True to the restaurant's reputation as a romantic supper club, the menus were the old-fashioned variety: one menu had the prices, the other did not. Gordon had already decided to blunt her disappointment from the morning's incident by buying her dinner, but she was again too fast for him and picked up the menu before he could. He could see her jaw drop when she saw the listed prices.

"Listen," he started, reaching for the card. "Let me ..."

"No, a bet's a bet." She snatched it out his reach. "And I'm not about to give you a reason to feel I owe you any kind of favor!"

Gordon winced. Favors? Boy, did she have him figured wrong!

She misinterpreted his expression, however, and stood abruptly as she looked at her wine glass suspiciously. "Oh, I see ...You didn't think I'd figure it out so soon, did you? What'd you do, drug my glass?" Caroline threw it across the table at him and the wine splashed down the front of his new suit.

He jumped up, more startled than wet. "Hey!"

"Ruined your suit? Well then, we're almost even! You've ruined my day!" She turned on her heel and marched out of the restaurant.

Gordon started after her, but the maitre d' grabbed his arm angrily. "Don't expect to leave without paying, not after a scene like that and upsetting my patrons!"

Gordon groaned, whipped out his wallet and gave him two one-hundred-dollar bills, enough to cover the wine and any business the Club could have lost during their altercation. He ran outside the restaurant just in time to see her climbing into a cab. "You haven't heard the last of this!" he shouted.

She rolled the window down to shout back, "I better have!" and the cab sped off.

"Well, you haven't!" Gordon yelled uselessly after her. Then he flagged down another taxi. "Follow that cab!"

The cabby did as he was told, and Gordon arrived in time to see her get out at her hotel. He sat in the taxi for a minute, thinking, as the cabby turned and looked at him quizzically. "Wait for me, I'll be right back," he said finally, handing him a twenty.

He entered the hotel and went to the registration desk. "I need to leave a message for Dr. Caroline Arden."

The clerk handed him a message form and checked the computer for the room number as Gordon picked up the pen to write on it. He pondered a moment, then simply folded it, leaving it blank. He slid it back across the desk with another twenty on top. The clerk's eyes widened when he saw the currency and he made sure Gordon see him write 707 on the folded paper. Gordon gave the clerk a conspiring smile. "Any rooms available tonight?"

The clerk checked his computer again. "Let's see, seventh floor. Ah, 709 is available. Right next door."

"No," he said slowly, "that's a little too obvious, don't you think?"

The clerk nodded and grinned. "How about two doors down?"


He signed in, the clerk gave him the key, and he walked back out the waiting cab. "The Carlton," he said. They drove to the other hotel, then he made the cab wait again.

"Anything wrong, Mr. Tracy?" the Carlton clerk worried, as Gordon checked out. "Your reservation was for two nights."

"No, the service was excellent as usual. I have some research that's going to keep me out all night, that's all. Good night." He picked up his bag, and got back into the waiting cab. "Back to the Webster," he said. The cabby shrugged and drove him back to Caroline's hotel.

Sleeping turned out to be out of the question; he tossed and turned. Memories of the Olympics where they'd met kept running through his mind, especially the last time he saw her, still trying to get her phone number before he caught the plane back to Kansas. Then he re-lived the moment when those green eyes flashed, glaring at him in the restaurant, and the way his heart raced. No woman had ever stayed in his memory like she had.

But now, it was almost as if he could feel her presence emanating from down the hall, but still cold as an arctic wind. How was he ever going to get close enough to thaw her out? He couldn't hang around the corridor hoping to catch a glimpse of her like some rock star groupie.

It was almost daylight when an idea finally occurred to him. When he checked at the desk, the sympathetic clerk was still on duty. He was told that Caroline had left a wake-up call for seven that morning, so he asked for the same, but Gordon was wide awake when the phone rang. By the time she came down to the lobby, he was showered, shaved, and waiting. Fortunately, he saw her first, and ducked behind the paper he was pretending to read. When he saw her walking into the coffee shop, he waited a moment and then followed.

She'd barely glanced at the menu before her appetite was spoiled. He was standing at the entrance, and both he and the hostess were looking her way. They were smiling; she scowled.

Gordon sauntered over. "Good morning, Dr. Arden!"

"Look, I know what you're after, and you're not going to get it, Mr. Gordon Tracy!" Caroline said angrily. "I've got a flight back to San Diego at nine, and you'll never see me again!" She threw the menu down on the table and stalked out, past the bewildered hostess.

Gordon sat down at the table and ordered breakfast, but only picked at it when it came. He left a big tip, paid his bill, and found a quiet place to call his father on his telecom.

"What's wrong, Gordon?" Jeff evidently had been in bed; he had forgotten about the time difference.

"I thought I'd better let you know that I'll be another day."

"Oh? Didn't you get the bid for the sonar imaging system?"

"No, I got it all right. But I need to go to San Diego."

"San Diego? What's in San Diego?"

"Well, I need to do something there ..." His father was frowning, his reason was as lame as they came and they both knew it. "Look Dad, it's really important to me, and surely I've earned some leave time? If what I'm trying to do works out, I'll tell you all about it when I get home, okay?" He was pleading, which rather surprised both of them.

Jeff considered the request as he studied his son's anxious face. Gordon had been a team member for the last few rescues, and the one underwater had been rather stressful; perhaps the young man did deserve a break.

But there was obviously something else afoot here. Gordon, like his brothers and father, rarely revealed his inner emotions, but there was no mistaking the determination in his eyes. Jeff recognized it well; it was the same look he wore when he told his father that he was going to join the WASP, and that he was going to walk again after his accident. Yet underlying the determination was another thought; that however much he pursued this, it might be a goal he could not obtain.

Well, well. What was this about? His curiosity was piqued, now, but he knew better than to follow up until Gordon was ready to tell him. Jeff's features relaxed a little. "All right," he rumbled, "but this better be good ..."

Chapter 2

Gordon had been given the coveted permission to fly Jeff's own blue jet, the JT-1, to New York for what was overtly Tracy Corporation business. Now he had it re-fueled and filed a flight plan for San Diego. Caroline's commercial flight would take longer than his, so he planned to re-fuel and get a meal at Phoenix. With the stop, he arrived just after noon San Diego time. Then he rented a car, found a phone booth and got the number for the San Diego Oceanographic Research Institute. Within an hour of his arrival in the city, a friendly young receptionist answered his call.

"Is Dr. Arden in, please?"

"No, I'm sorry sir, Dr. Arden won't be in today. She's flying in from a trip to New York. She should be in tomorrow. May I take a message?"

Gordon sighed. "No, no message." He almost hung up in defeat, his heart at his toes. But then his quick mind, keenly honed from countless practical jokes, came up with a last desperate idea. "Perhaps you can assist me. I'm Gordon Tracy with Tracy Corporation. We were interested in supporting her study of the offshore Inca settlement. She hasn't responded to any of our letters, and I just wanted to make sure they were reaching her."

"Well, I can give you her number at home," the receptionist offered helpfully, "although I'm not sure when she's due to be there..."

"Oh, that would be most helpful. I'd like to get this cleared up as soon as possible." That, at least, was no lie; he wasn't sure how much longer he could tolerate this breathless thudding of his heart everytime he was reminded of those flashing green eyes.

He matched the phone number to those listed under "Arden" in the phone book with hands that were surprisingly shaky. Before he knew it, he found himself staring up at her apartment from across the street.

He was still standing there an hour later when she arrived home from the airport. She barely stifled an urge to drive her car up onto the sidewalk and run him over. He saw her drive by, but she pointedly ignored him, and pulled into the parking lot. Then she yanked her luggage out of the car angrily, and stalked into the building. He was still there when she went out to get her mail, but was gone the next time she looked out, just before dusk.

When Caroline arrived at the Institute for work the following morning, she found Gordon in the Institute's Visitor Center. She stalked over to where he was standing, studying a display of Inca artifacts. "Quit following me," she said quietly, her green eyes burning in anger, " or I will call the police!"

"I'm not following you," Gordon said reasonably, carefully avoiding her glance; he wouldn't have been able to speak. "I got here before you did."

"You know what I mean!"

Gordon gave her his most winning smile. "Actually, I don't. May I take you to lunch later and let you explain?"

"I will not have anything to do with you, you ...you ... fair-haired playboy!" she said through gritted teeth and stomped to her office. Around noon, she peeked back out into the Visitor Center and breathed a sigh of relief. He was gone. When she came back from lunch, however, there was a huge bouquet of roses on her desk. On the card, he had written: "All I'm asking for is a chance to talk to you. Please." In the envelope was his Tracy Corporation business card. She tore it up and threw both cards and the roses in the trash.

"Dad, I need to talk to you." Gordon was wearing an anxious look familiar to Jeff; he'd seen it on Alan when he and Tin-Tin had a fight, but he'd never before seen the look on his next-youngest son. His explanation of his adventure in San Diego was anti-climatic, especially since he was so desperate not to let his brothers know what he'd been up to, but the look of determination was still there; the story was not over yet. This was getting interesting. Apparently, this girl had finally hooked previously carefree Gordon.

Jeff glanced about the kitchen where the family had all just eaten breakfast. They were the only ones there, even Kyrano had finished the dishes and had gone out to the garden while the morning was still cool.

He put down his newspaper and took another sip of his coffee. "What is it?"

"I need a month off to make another trip to San Diego. "

Jeff put his cup down in its saucer and looked at him in surprise. "A month off? And this is your third trip to San Diego in as many weeks."

Gordon took a deep breath and tried to explain. "The woman I met in New York last month, Caroline Arden ..."

"Pretty auburn-haired girl with the green eyes?" Jeff fought down an urge to smile; he didn't think the unusually serious Gordon would have appreciated his humor right now. So, this was serious indeed. He was really smitten, and by this girl from his past, one of only a very few that had managed to ignore him.

His son nodded and spread his hands in a helpless gesture. "Dad, I don't know what to do anymore. I can't seem to get her off my mind ... It's like ...well, treading water in the middle of the ocean. Everywhere I turn, there's only emptiness, and no relief in sight. But she won't have anything to do with me. I've sent her notes and cards, even flowers. I've tried to call her and she either doesn't answer her phone or I reach her answering machine. I've tried to visit her at the Oceanographic Institute where she works but she ignores me, and she won't take my calls there either."

"This sounds pretty serious." Jeff folded the paper and leaned back in his chair.

"Well, as strange as it seems, I am. But she thinks I'm some kind of worthless playboy. You know the type: can't keep a real job, making one-night stands, throwing his money around ..."

Jeff arched an eyebrow. "Well, she's got that part right."

Gordon grinned sheepishly in acknowledgment, but grew serious again. "Dad, I just can't seem to get through to her. So, I found out that the Institute is going to take a month-long research voyage off the coast of Peru. I thought if I could get work aboard that ship ..."

"... She'd be a captive audience where maybe she'll see you at work enough to realize that you aren't some lazy playboy." Jeff finished for him, then pursed his lips thoughtfully. "Okay, I suppose we can arrange for you to take more leave time...which, I might add, I'm not going to explain to your brothers; that's up to you this time. But even if I do give you a month off for this voyage, how do you know you can even get on that ship?"

"Well, Captain Connelly is her skipper ..."

"Seth Connelly, your first CO in the Aquanaut Patrol?"

"That's him. I hoped I might be able to talk him into taking me on as a crewmember."

Jeff studied him thoughtfully for so long that Gordon began to squirm; he was sure the answer was going to be an emphatic no. Finally, his father took a breath and exhaled it forcefully. Gordon braced himself for an arguement, but his soft answer surprised him. "Gordon, I'm afraid that you may actually get your heart broken this time. Do you really think she's worth it?"

Gordon didn't hesitate. "Yes, sir. I do."

Captain Connelly had planned to stop by Caroline's office to check that all the gear she needed was requisitioned and stored aboard the Lady of Venice. He was about to knock when he heard a loud crash inside. Something had fallen with a great deal of force. Not certain what he'd find, he quickly pushed the door open and rushed in. Caroline turned about with a guilty start.

"Oh, Uncle Seth. I didn't hear you knock."

"I guess not, what with all that other noise. What happened?"

"Oh, I just lost my temper, that's all." She knelt down and began to pick up the vase and yellow daisies that she'd slung across her office floor.

"Where'd these come from?"

"A guy named Gordon Tracy," she said through gritted teeth. "He's been stalking me."

"Stalking you?" The captain couldn't believe his ears. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, he sends me cards, and notes, and flowers, and about once a week, he's out in the Visitor Center, and when I go home the same day, he's standing across the street from my apartment! That's what I mean!" As she spoke her voice rose in frustration and volume until her last words were shouted.

The card that had come with the flowers had fallen to the floor. The captain picked it up and read it. "Gordon Tracy?" he said finally. "Works for his father? Red hair?"

"Yes, that's him!" Caroline was feeling less frustrated and more surprised. "You know him?"

"He was one of most impressive cadets I ever worked with in the Aquanaut Patrol." He handed the card back to her. "He says he just wants a chance to talk to you. Have you talked to him?"

"Of course not!"

"I know you Caroline; this has become one of your competitions, hasn't it? A game of who can be more stubborn. You know if you don't talk to him, it will only continue. Why won't you talk to him?"

"Because, he's a stuck-up, full of himself, worthless playboy!"

Captain Connelly chuckled at her description. "That doesn't sound like the Gordon Tracy I know. The Gordon Tracy I know sends flowers, and cards, and notes to a girl he's serious about. And he's a fine young man I'd be proud to see you go out with! When was the last time you went out on a real date with a man?"

"Uncle Seth!" She was shocked. "That's none of your business!"

"Isn't it? My sister asked me to look out for you, not put you in a convent!"

She just snorted and threw the last daisy and the card in the trash can. He was less sympathetic than she thought he should be, so she changed the subject. "So, what did you really come to see me about?"

He was not surprised at the sudden change of topic; nothing his niece did surprised him anymore. "I just wanted to make sure that you had everything for the infirmary that you needed before we got underway tomorrow."

An hour later, Gordon knocked on Captain Connelly's office door at the Institute. When the captain looked up from his desk and saw who it was, he rose to his feet with his hand outstretched and a huge grin on his face. "Well, Gordon Tracy. This is a coincidence! I was just thinking about you."

Gordon was very surprised as he shook his former commander's hand. "Me, sir?"

"Uh, just wondering what you were up to these days," he gestured to a seat. "What brings you to see me?

Gordon sat down, rather nervously, it seemed. He took a breath and plunged in. "I have a month off and I understand the Institute is planning a month-long research voyage. I'd like to be part of it."

The captain pulled at his neat gray-flecked beard, trying to hide a smile. "Well, I don't know, Gordon. I'm sure fairly sure I have all the personnel we need." He pulled out his record book and pored over it a few moments, then shook his head. "I'm sorry. I'd be happy to have someone of your caliber aboard, but I don't seem to have a place for anyone with your qualifications."

Gordon was crestfallen. "You're sure? I'll take any position you have open ..." His voice had a desperate note.

Captain Connelly couldn't suppress a small smile. Perhaps Caroline had finally met her match; it was obvious he wasn't going to give up easily. "Well, maybe I do need a deck hand. Had one call in with a virus."

Gordon answered a little too enthusiastically. "That would be great, sir."

"You remember what a deckhand does, don't you? And this is at the very bottom rank."

Gordon grinned. "I remember. Just about anything he's told."

"And why do you want to do this?"

Gordon was trying hard not to babble; he was so close to getting aboard, he didn't want to blow it now. "Well, I never had the opportunity to work on a research vessel before, and this voyage sounds rather interesting: Inca ruins and all that."

The older man studied him with an expression not unlike Jeff Tracy's the day before. Gordon was beginning to feel uncomfortable again, when the captain turned and pulled a contract form out of a drawer. "Well, if you're certain this is what you want. Sign this and we'll get you set."

Gordon signed and dated the paper, then handed it back. The captain looked over the form and initialled it, then stood up to shake Gordon's hand. "We sail tomorrow morning at seven hundred hours from the dock at the Institute. Be there at six. Uniform is provided; all you'll need is your shaving gear and skivvies."

"Yes, sir. I'll be there."

"Good. I'll take you to meet Chief Stone and let you get a uniform to wear for tomorrow." He pushed the office door open and led Gordon down the corridor.

"You know Gordon, you are still a really lousy liar." He chuckled as they walked. "Unless it involved one of your practical jokes, you were a pretty poor liar when you were in the WASP and you still don't lie very well now."

Gordon gave him a puzzled look. "I'm not sure I'm following you, sir."

"We both know that the real reason you want to take this trip is to be near Caroline."

Gordon stopped dead in surprise. "Sir ...?"

"She's my niece. The reason I was thinking about you today is because she told me how you've been "stalking" her this morning."

Gordon was very embarrassed, but also very desperate. "Sir, she's really something special. And I'm crazy about her but she won't even talk to me. She's got the idea that I'm some kind of useless..."

"...Playboy." The captain nodded. "So she's told me. Well, if she still thinks so after this voyage, it'll take a better man than you or I to set her straight. Between you and me, though, I am pleased that you think so highly of Caroline, even after she's tried to discourage you. I agree that she's something special, but let me warn you; she's also one of the most stubborn females I've ever met. Once she's made her mind up about something, you've got a hard way to go to convince her that she's wrong." He stopped and placed a fatherly hand on Gordon's shoulder. "It's not too late to back out. Are you sure you want to do this?"

Having learned the captain's relationship with Caroline, Gordon had been afraid he was going to discourage him from trying to see her. He was grateful for his former commander's unexpected vote of support. He grinned and blew out any misgivings in a single breath. "Yes, sir. I'm sure."

At 6:30 AM, a mist was moving in from the Pacific, rolling over the deck of the Lady of Venice. Captain Connelly had rushed Caroline aboard with the excuse that she needed to inventory her infirmary. Gordon boarded with some of the deck crew, none of them questioning the last minute addition. Chief Zebadiah Stone, who acted as both the quartermaster and crew liaison, was with them. He was a bald sailor from the old school with a squinty eye. Gordon heard the other three new deckhands refer to him as "Popeye" behind his back, but Captain Connelly called him Stoney.

Gordon stowed his kit in the locker he'd been provided and took in the crew quarters. Engineer Jakob Stein and Chief Stone shared a cabin, as did the two assistant engineers, Eric Peterson and Bill Hendershott, but the hands had a common ten-bunk compartment and shower. At least they didn't have to share bunks, as he had on the WASP submarine. When he learned that the deck crew would be working five men at a time in 8-hour-on, 8-hour-off shifts, he began to have some misgivings about his plan. He was not going to have much time to try to talk to Caroline.

He went up on deck to get oriented before the ship sailed and found the ship's control center or bridge, the galley, and the scientists' instrument cabin on the upper deck. The entrance to Caroline's infirmary was on the mid-deck on the starboard side, located forward of the officer and passenger cabins, including the one she shared with another female scientist, and above the crew quarters, which were separated from the engine room by a thick bulkhead. A steep deck ladder near the galley led down to the mid-deck near the infirmary, another entered the engine room aft from the mid-deck, and a third gave access to the crew quarters from the mid-deck in the forward part of the ship.

The diving platform was located in the aft section on the upper deck and was lowered to the water hydraulically. All the diving gear was stowed in lockers just forward of the platform under a canopy that wrapped partway around the platform in an inverted J-shape. At the bottom of the "J" hung the divers' wetsuits and other gear. The dive tanks were filled from a compressor on the starboard side of the canopy. On the port side sat a bullet-shaped structure about eight feet high and ten feet long, with three thick round windows along its side above a series of gauges and keyboard control switches: a hyperbaric recompression chamber.

Gordon stood studying the recompression chamber controls and remembering a similar chamber that became his lifeline during one of his training ordeals while in the aquanaut patrol.

"Brings back unpleasant memories, doesn't it?" asked a familiar voice.

Gordon broke his reverie and turned with a broad smile to greet the speaker. "Chaz Morgan! Man, it seems like a long time! You one of the divers?"

"Worst than that, I'm the dive master." The dark-skinned man in casual shirt and jeans shook Gordon's hand warmly. They had been in the same class of aquanaut cadets and ended up in the same squad their first tour of duty. His smile faded into a puzzled expression. "I don't recall seeing you on the divers' roster."

Gordon shrugged. "That's ‘cause I'm not. Signed on as a deck hand." He indicated his uniform of cotton work shirt and slacks.

Chaz was shocked. "Under Stoney?"

"Chief Stone, to me," he grinned. "Speaking of whom..." Gordon checked his watch. "I better get forward. Don't want my tail chewed before the voyage even starts."

"Watch yourself, Gordon!"


The lines were cast off, the engines came to life, and the Lady of Venice was under way. Gordon was surprised to find his first shift of duty was down in the engine room monitoring indicator dials under the watchful eye of assistant engineer Peterson. He did not know this was Captain Connelly's doing, to ensure that Caroline would not see him until they were well out to sea.

When Caroline finished her preparation of the sick bay, she came out on deck. Captain Connelly saw her and joined her at the rail, then both watched silently as the shoreline receded.

"As often as I have sailed, I never get tired of watching this," the captain said softly in a wistful tone. "At sea, you're always sailing into the unknown. You become the subject of Poseidon and must submit to his whims, be you the richest man in the world or the poorest beggar. Many's the man or woman changed for better or worse, or simply lost in Poseidon's realm."

"Uncle Seth, you're an incurable romantic, you know that? Caroline responded, laughing.

"And what's wrong with that?" he laughed back.

"I just want to keep a firm grip on reality, that's all. Someday, I want someone to be able to say that I accomplished something that mattered: something that lasts, something that helped others live better lives." She took a deep breath of the sea air. "Boy, am I glad to be getting away from land. Who knows what we'll find this trip ... and I'm finally where that playboy can't bother me!" She gave her uncle's hand a squeeze and climbed down the ladder to the infirmary without seeing the bemused expression on his face.

When Gordon's duties in the engine room ended, he too came up on deck. The shoreline was now a misty line in the east. Trying to cool off before he took his rest shift, he wandered back to the dive platform and stood looking at the divers' masks and regulators. International Rescue's equipment was far advanced from the ordinary scuba gear he saw displayed here. Gordon himself had invented a mask that fit over the whole face, with the air supply attached to it. This freed the diver's mouth so he could speak over a multi-channel intercom system that could communicate with the other Thunderbirds or divers via earphones also built into the mask.

He looked up as he heard someone come up behind him. It was one of the divers. Gordon had seen him earlier as he came on board, one of the last to arrive, with his dive bag slung over one shoulder. He was a big man, broader and taller than Gordon by about four inches, with close-cropped black hair a strong contrast to his very pale skin, and dark stubble on his face; it appeared he hadn't shaved in a few days.

"Interested in learning to dive?" the diver asked.

"Oh, I have some experience already," Gordon responded with a grin. He stuck out a friendly hand to introduce himself. "Gordon Tracy."

The diver was studying him, but didn't take the proffered hand. "Harley Black. Say, you're not the same Gordon Tracy who was in the submarine service a few years ago?"

"Yep, that's me."

"I was in the service myself, for a while." Harley said slowly. Gordon couldn't place the man's face, but recognized the name; suddenly he remembered why. They'd served on different boats, but at about the same time. Harley Black had accepted a dishonorable discharge from the submarine branch rather than face charges filed by a female Navy nurse.

Gordon was distracted by a glimpse of Caroline coming into the galley. She couldn't see him from where he was standing, but he moved back to stay out of her line of sight. Harley saw what he was doing and followed his gaze back to her. He gave Gordon a wink and nodded in her direction. "Quite a looker, ain't she? Wonder when's the last time she had any action?"

Gordon shrugged, but he was disgusted with Harley's implication. "I wouldn't know." He checked his watch. "See you around, I gotta get back below."

"Sure, Tracy. See you around." Harley watched him go and then swaggered into the galley.

Chapter 3

By early next morning, at the end of his second shift, Gordon was exhausted. During his first shift, he'd been running on excitement, then he didn't sleep well his first 8 hours off. Consequently, when he began working his second 8 hours on, he was already tired. He went below to clean up a little before he went to breakfast and was coming back up the crew ladder when Caroline came around the corner from her cabin toward the infirmary. She was fumbling with her keys and did not look up as she came toward him.

This was not how he had envisioned their first meeting on the ship. He had two choices: either run back down the ladder and hope she didn't see him or meet her as she got there. He was too tired to run, so he decided to face the inevitable.

It took her a second or two to believe her eyes, and then the green fire that enflamed his heart sparked to life. "You! How did you get on board?" She quickly found the key to the infirmary and unlocked it, then scurried in, as if she could hide from him there.

Gordon shrugged and grinned. "I work here, what's your excuse?"

Caroline's eyes grew wider. "Work! You? You probably never worked for anything your entire life!"

"Now wait a minute." He stepped up onto the deck from the ladder. "That's what this whole thing has been about, hasn't it? Why do you believe that I've been given everything and never had to work for it?"

"Because you've got a pretty face and money! You can buy whatever you want with your father's money and influence: clothes, cars, an education, girls, maybe even a gold medal. I know you and the Captain are old friends, but I don't know how you talked him into letting you on board. Gave money to the Institute or pulled some strings for someone on the Institute's board somewhere, I would imagine. Well, you may have bought your way on board this ship, but you can't buy me! And don't you come another step closer to me or I'll knock you into next week where your grandchildren will remember it! You just better not show your face where I have to look at it during this voyage, or so help me, I'll come up with enough charges to have you in jail for a very long time! Now get away from me before I scream bloody murder." Then she slammed the door in his face before Gordon had a chance to say anything in his defense.

Tired and discouraged, he climbed wearily the rest of the way up the ladder to the galley. He was already exhausted and it was apparent he wasn't going to have much time to talk to her anyway, even if he could convince her to do so. He was beginning to think he'd made a big mistake. When he entered the galley, however, every eye turned to him and conversation abruptly ceased; Caroline's tirade had carried right up the ladder, and they'd heard every word. He had made a huge mistake.

Caroline was just beginning to breathe normally again, when there was a sharp rap at the infirmary door, which she had locked again. "Go away!" she shouted, thinking it was still Gordon.

"I'm the captain of this ship and I will not go away." Captain Connelly's voice carried through the door, and it had a sound to it that Caroline had never heard before. She hurriedly unlocked and swung the door open.

"How dare you let that man on board ..." Caroline said breathlessly, and trailed off as she saw her uncle's face.

"How dare I?" He was almost livid. "How dare you undermine my authority on this ship! When I hire men for a voyage, I choose the best men available. For you to even imply that one bought his way on board is not only ludicrous; it's dangerous. I do not give anyone on board preferential treatment, not even you. Now, this is a direct order: you will treat everyone on board in a civil manner and I mean everyone!" He gathered his composure and his features softened somewhat. "And for heaven's sake, lower your voice. Everyone on board heard your little tantrum a minute ago."

Caroline's eyes got wider. "Everyone?"

"Even Jakob Stein in the engine room could have heard you!"

A couple of mornings later, Caroline was climbing toward the galley when she heard voices out on the foredeck. More specifically, she heard Chief Stone, and when she heard who he was talking to, she decided that she just had to see for herself. She walked through the galley to the other side of the deck and went just far enough forward to be able to peer around the bridge.

Stoney ran a clean, tight ship. Weather and other duties permitting, his deck crew scrubbed every inch of the ship every three days; even the walls were swabbed down. This morning they were working on the foredeck. All of them held a mop or polishing cloth, but at the moment, none of them were doing anything. Stoney's face was literally inches from Gordon's, and while the other deck hands were a safe distance away, they had stopped their work to see how the chief would handle the cocky rich man's son in their midst.

"...This isn't a pleasure cruise, remember? You're not in your daddy's mansion, and nobody's gonna pick up after you, you got that? You're on this ship to work! Okay, Tracy, let's see you clean that deck again. And do it right this time."

Gordon's face was flushed and his amber-brown eyes were smoldering, but his reply was a quiet "Yes, sir," as he carefully pushed the mop over an area that was already wet and spotless.

Caroline walked back into the galley and got her coffee with a grim smile. She knew Stoney would put him in his place and fast, but why did she feel like she was somehow responsible for harassment? Then she shook herself inwardly and dismissed the thought. No, he probably deserves every bit of what Stoney can dish out, she thought with satisfaction.

Chief Stone wasn't as sure as she. Bawling Gordon out hadn't been getting the reaction that he expected. The way Dr. Arden had described him, he'd assumed he was a flabby playboy out on a lark. He had intended to make his life miserable, but he found that Gordon was stronger and possessed more discipline than the sailor had seen in a long time.

Stoney as yet was unaware of Gordon's WASP experience, so he was surprised to observe him follow orders without question, and respond respectfully. The other new hands the captain had hired clearly were not in the same league, and were complaining about everything. Stoney was not directly responsible for the hazing Gordon was enduring, although he was aware of most of it and had not interfered. He was also very impressed that Gordon hadn't mentioned it to him either.

Stoney finally put his perusal aside when he noticed the rest of the hands were not doing much beyond smirking behind the unfortunate Gordon's back. "What're you lookin' at!" Stoney shouted. "Get back to work ...!"

The pranks had begun when Gordon had gone back to his bunk after that first meeting with Caroline. The bunk's mattress, thin though it had been, had mysteriously disappeared; all that remained was the hard metal platform of the bunk and the pillow and blanket. None of the other hands would tell him where the mattress had gone, and he was forced to sleep on the hard surface. By the end of the next shift, the pillow had disappeared, too. The next day, his shoes were filled with water, his towel was soaked and his can of shaving cream was emptied into his kit while he took a shower. Fortunately, his locker was programmable and only he knew its combination, or its contents probably would have been tampered with also.

It didn't stay in the crew compartment either. He began to understand why his brothers found his practical jokes so annoying. He had water (and nastier things) dumped on him. He didn't dare look up when any of them called his name, because something was usually coming from the other direction. His uniform was tied in knots when it came back from the laundry. Anything he put down was moved when he came back to it. Stoney seemed to constantly find fault with any job he did, and the other hands were quick to blame any dereliction on him.

In addition, Caroline had managed to almost completely avoid Gordon, and ignored him when she did see him in the galley. She noticed that the other deck hands also shunned him by sitting as far from him as they could manage. The rest of the scientific team and most of the divers aboard were not particularly friendly, either. They'd all heard her telling him off that morning, and it hadn't yet occurred to them that she might be wrong. When his off-shift coincided with their schedules, only Chaz Morgan or the diver Harley Black had been sitting with him, but she could tell that Gordon didn't like the latter much. On that point, she had to agree, she didn't much like the way his eyes shifted toward her as he talked.

The next day, they dropped anchor at the site they had designated Inca Cay, 200 miles off the coast of Peru. The island had once been high above sea level and the Inca ruins dated to a period just following the Spanish conquest of the 1500's, but earthquakes in the following centuries had undermined the island's foundations and it finally sank underwater, seemingly lost to history.

Then, four years ago, archeologist Dr. Dominica Alvarez convinced the governing board of the San Diego Oceanographic Research Institute to embark on an expedition to find the remains of the island based on her studies. Her research had been so thorough that they had found the site during the first week of the expedition, and they had returned every year since for more exploration. This month-long expedition was shorter than the others had been, as funding was scarce this year, but Dr. Alvarez had again convinced the Institute's board that this find was important enough for another voyage, however short it might be.

The first few days anchored at the submerged island were spent hurriedly repairing a grid of thin white rods that had been left from the last season of exploration. The rods allowed the scientists to reconstruct the layout of the island graphically for the computers. Items removed from the site were carefully labeled with the grid square from which they were taken.

Surviving wall paintings and other artifacts taken from the site corroborated written records Dr. Alvarez found in Spain. The settlement had been started by a small group of Incas that had been captured, along with much of their wealth, and were being taken to Spain as possible slaves, when the ship was blown off-course and wrecked during a storm. What the Institute's expeditions found indicated that the Spaniards who had survived first the shipwreck and then the Inca slaves' revolt that followed were first isolated on the western side of the island, but were later integrated into the Inca population.

Some fifty years after its founding, evidence indicated, the settlement was destroyed by an earthquake, and subsequent earthquakes had caused the island to sink below sea level. Dr. Alvarez suspected the settlement existed from reports found in Spain of the missing ship and its projected course and later reports from a Spanish governor who had heard a rumor of the island and its riches that had been intended for Spain. This governor had sent out three expeditions seeking the island, but nothing was ever found, probably because they were seeking the island after it had sunk.

Knowing the greed that fueled these early conquistador voyages, the archeologist was certain at least some the gold and other riches the ship had carried had been removed before it sank and were to be found in one of the settlement's buildings. Many of the building walls had started to crumble with time and seawater and their original purposes had become obscured. She was sure they should be looking for a building where the Incas performed religious rites. Most of the disagreement was over which building they should examine first.

They were often the only women aboard, so Caroline and Dr. Alvarez had shared a cabin on several previous voyages and had become good friends, their age and other differences notwithstanding. Dominica was small and wiry but very strong, barely five feet in height, with short straight hair that had once been black but was now streaked nearly white. She had a ready smile and temper: Caroline had heard her vent a stream of Spanish expletives that could take the paint off walls. Dominica had never married, and Caroline had latched on to her as a mentor, greatly admiring her work and dedication.

The rest of the scientific team was made up of ocean geologist Mike Fletcher and biologist Dr. Norman Benjamin. Mike was rather ordinary-looking, but anyone who spoke to him for more than five minutes discovered an adventurous spirit with a raucous sense of humor. Although no older than Caroline or Gordon, he already had an outstanding career with several published research works. White-haired "Dr. Ben" had been a landbound college professor. His love of the sea and its environs had for years inspired him to sponsor an annual summer-long oceanographic camp for his students. The sea finally wooed him into full-time research after his wife died several years ago.

Besides Chaz and Harley, there were two more professional divers, one of them a woman. This could have made cabin arrangements on board rather awkward, but Georges Cherot and Akiko Takamaru were married. They met on the Lady of Venice during the second expedition here and Captain Connelly had performed their wedding on board last season. The divers were conducting most of the grid repair, but the three scientists, all of whom also had scuba training, were assisting when they weren't modifying the computer models or arguing over how best to proceed.

Caroline could dive, too, and occasionally did, but her duties primarily revolved around the infirmary and taking care of the occupants of the Lady of Venice. She saw them all: the blistered and seasick new members of Stoney's deck crew, the usual bumps, bruises and scrapes of everyday living on or diving from a ship, the occasional burn or cut from working in the kitchen, and the even more rare severe injury or illness.

The infirmary consisted of two main compartments. The first compartment was entered from the starboard corridor; she'd divided this space with a short portable wall. The side closest to the door was her examining room with a strong light where she saw most of her shipmate patients. The other side of the compartment was her very small office with a desk, a file cabinet, and the intercom hook-up and monitor for the hyberbaric chamber on the top deck. It was crowded, but there was enough room to walk completely around the desk and divider to come back out on the examination side of the compartment.

The other compartment contained a fully equipped, but rarely-used two-bed sickbay. It could be entered from the first compartment but the door from the port corridor was locked. She habitually locked the starboard infirmary door whenever she was not there, but when she was "open for business", she donned a white clinic jacket and the door was left wide open.

So far, to her relief, Gordon had not been one of those who had found an excuse to come by; but she was beginning to believe she would prefer his company to that of Harley Black. Harley came by to "visit" almost everyday, always with some filthy joke or perverted, off-color comment, and managing to brush against, reach past, or touch her in some other fashion that made her skin crawl. She could feel him leering at her, even in public areas like the galley, whenever he was nearby. It wasn't always possible, but she did her best to make sure she was never alone with him for any length of time.

A week on site had passed and Caroline was sitting at her desk wondering if she could just lock up and hide somewhere, as Harley's dive shift would soon be ending. She heard someone walking along the mid-deck past the scientists' cabins, and was desperately trying to think of something she needed in another part of the ship, but it was Gordon that poked his head in the infirmary door. She scowled at him, although in part to cover her relief that it wasn't Harley.

"I'm sorry to bother you, but Chief Stone thought you should look at this." He had a bloody rag wrapped around his left arm which he pulled away to reveal a deep gash along the radius of his arm.

Gordon and three others had been detailed to clean the portside mid-deck walls before mopping the deck. As part of the continuing hazing, Dave, a fellow deckhand, "accidentally" bumped the ladder Gordon had been standing on. He hadn't intended to knock it over, but Gordon had been reaching upward and the nudge was enough for him to lose his balance; then the ladder landed on top of him. He'd been bruised but mostly unhurt with the exception of this cut. Stoney was surprised that his only order Gordon seemed even inclined to disobey had been to report to her for treatment.

"I suppose it'll need stitches?" Gordon offered helpfully.

She snorted irritably. "Yes, I suppose it does. Come over to the examining table and let me have a better look." She dashed some antiseptic on it and took a warped pleasure in hearing him sharply draw in a breath when it stung. Next she dabbed a topical anesthetic around the gash. Without waiting for it to take effect, she quickly put in several neat stitches, pulling them tightly in annoyance, then wrapped the arm expertly in white gauze.

Gordon gritted his teeth throughout the procedure, but not another sound escaped him. Then she gave him a bottle of pills from a locked cabinet. "These are for pain if you need them. Come back in three days to have the stitches removed. And I better not see you again before that!" she warned.

Gordon shrugged and pulled his sleeve back down. "We've just got to quit meeting like this," he said under his breath as he turned to leave.

"What did you say?" she snapped.

"Nothing," he said, but loud enough for her to hear this time. "Thanks, Doc."

Chapter 4

"Dr. Arden?"

What was he doing back again? Caroline thought with irritation. Her instructions to Gordon were plain enough; he was not to return to the infirmary for three days. Only two had passed.

Her back was to the door, but even accounting for that, it occurred to her that Gordon's voice sounded wrong. When she turned around, she saw why. He was leaning heavily against the wall, flushed and sweating despite the cool of the morning fog. His left arm was hanging uselessly at his side, his hand swollen to nearly twice its normal size and fiery red. In alarm, she hurriedly stripped the bandage off his arm to examine the stitches she'd placed two days earlier. She bit her lip at what she saw.

The skin around the stitches was bright red and puckered with infection. She pulled him into the sickbay and helped him sit on the edge of one of the beds.

"How long has it been like this?" she asked.

"Yesterday ..." he said faintly, the word trailing off.

She looked up just in time to see Gordon's eyes roll back in his head and keep him from tumbling to the floor. As she rotated him around to lay down on the bed, she realized he was burning up with fever. She quickly removed the stitches, but the skin had sealed itself despite the infection, forcing her to hurriedly unlock a drawer to grab a scalpel. When she sliced the wound open again, a sickening odor filled the air and a nasty yellow-green slime poured out of it.

She mentally kicked herself as she grabbed an irrigation bulb and a bottle of sterile saline to rinse the rest of the yellow goo out of the wound. She hadn't disinfected it properly in the first place and then stitched it so tightly that it couldn't drain. Quickly stripping off his uniform and shoes, she pulled one of the backless hospital-style gowns on him; he was going to be there a while. Then she inserted an intravenous needle into a vein in the back of his right hand, started a fast drip of saline and antibiotics, and loosely wrapped the open wound again. There was very little blood, only what had come from the skin edges that she had sliced apart. The only way to clear up the violent infection was to get fluids running back into the arm and force it out.

It wasn't long before the fluids were doing what she hoped, making the wound ooze, forcing the infection to move out of his body. She changed the sodden bandage with relief; already the putrid odor was fading and the liquid leaking out was less cloudy, although his temperature was still out of control. She wrapped more gauze over the wound, and added a fever-reducing agent to the I-V line.

The bed contained sensors that detected his pulse, respiration, blood pressure and temperature, then recorded that information on a panel above the bed. She knew without looking at it that his temperature was off its scale. That fever had to be brought down and fast.

She placed a bag of saline in the chiller and set it for 20 degrees Celsius, slightly cooler than room temperature. Grabbing a washing bowl, she threw in some dry compresses, and dumped a bottle of rubbing alcohol over them. She turned on an electric fan and turned it so it blew over Gordon's bed. Then she began placing the alcohol-soaked compresses on his face and neck, even pushing the gown down from his chest to apply some there as well. The evaporating alcohol would cool his skin, which in turn, would help cool his blood and help bring his temperature down. When the buzzer on the chiller went off, she shunted the cooled saline into his I-V as well.

She worked intently, replacing the compresses with new ones as soon as his skin had warmed them, and continued for a good thirty minutes. When she looked up to check the monitor, his temperature was beginning to approach the normal range. The bandage on his arm was changed again, and she took a short break from the routine to call Chief Stone on the intercom.

"What were you thinking, letting a man work with an arm like that?" she exploded. "A fever like that could have killed him!"

"Not guilty, Dr. Arden," he replied coolly. "Look, I didn't know anything about it until I saw he was trying to polish brass one-handed this morning. Don't know why, but he refused to report to you until I gave him a direct order."

Probably because I told him not to, she thought guiltily. "Sorry, Stoney," Caroline apologized. "I assumed he'd been whining about it."

"Didn't happen. He's pretty tough ... for someone who's never worked for anything." he said.

She cringed, those had been her own words. Stoney was nothing but respectful, as always, but it was clear from his tone that he didn't understand her opinion of Gordon. "Yeah, I guess he is," she admitted. "Listen, he's gonna be laid up for at least a couple of days and then light duty for a couple more after that."

"No problem, Doc, I'll just put him in the galley when he's back on his feet." Then he made a surprising request. "Take care of him and keep me posted, okay? He's a good man -- a real good worker."

Two more hours brought more bandage changes and alcohol baths, and another bag of saline. His temperature was finally hovering just slightly above normal and she sat down at the desk in her office with her now-lukewarm cup of coffee to fill out the medical report. Suddenly, she heard movement in the next room. She went in to find him barely conscious, trying, with one hand uselessly swollen, the other with an I-V needle sticking out of it, to lift the disposal bottle from where it hung on the bed rail.

"Here," she said gently. "Let me give you a hand." She placed the bottle and moved his right arm so his hand was in proper position to take care of that most basic of needs.

"Thanks," he whispered, not even aware of who had helped him, then drifted back to sleep.

He'd probably been about to burst, she realized as she recorded the volume on his chart and winced in sympathy. She dumped and rinsed the bottle and took it back into the sick room. As she replaced it on the rail, she paused a moment to gaze down at him.

Her chilly demeanor in Gene Gowren's office in New York that day, over a month ago, had been a desperate attempt to keep her fluttering heart under control. She hadn't dared to even shake his hand; hers had gone clammy and shaky the moment she saw him walk in. She had recognized Gordon immediately; he was taller, and his hair lighter, but he was still the same boy she fell for during the Olympics, now fully grown into manhood. His confident good looks, then as now, would make most of the girls on the swim team giggle whenever he walked by, even ones much older than he. She wasn't the only one who developed a crush on him that summer, though he was friendly to everyone, the girls on the team no more than anyone else.

Then her coach entered the picture, describing him as a "fair-haired boy", and rather disparagingly. Coach McKay didn't care for him at all and discouraged Caroline from having anything to do with him. Gordon had the potential and drive, to be sure, but he also had money and prestige. Caroline's father and mother managed to give her and her sister a very good life, but they had worked and scrimped to be at the Olympics.

"He'll be a bad influence, trust me," Coach had warned. Caroline made a quick end of her infatuation; Gordon was the unworthy competitor, the one who had gotten there on his father's name and money. It didn't matter that the only time she ever saw him was during the workout swims (the same ones in which she worked so hard and only got the silver for her pains); he had won the gold because of who he was.

Gordon the adult had a child-like innocence when asleep; like a wolf in sheep's clothing, she mused. She was reminded of the times as a teenager baby-sitting the mischievous little boy that had lived down the street; he'd looked angelic when he finally went to sleep, too, but was a holy terror when awake. Still, she felt an unaccountable urge to brush back the coppery hair and kiss his flushed forehead, as she'd done that little boy, as she'd daydreamed about kissing teenage Gordon Tracy years ago. She made herself content with tucking in the gown around him again and pulling the sheet over him.

Gordon's fever finally broke in the night; Caroline having kept vigil over him from a chair beside the bed. Now that it was morning, however, she wasn't sure whether she was relieved or not. She was enough of a professional to feel chagrined over her mistake that had him there in the first place. Now that he was conscious, though, she might actually have to talk to him, which had obviously been his plan all along. His left arm with its messy bandage and swollen hand couldn't be used properly, and the I-V in his right hand rendered it almost useless also. Caroline was stuck: there was little he could do for himself, and there were no nurses here; she'd have to help him.

She managed to say only two words to him as she fed him some soup, and she noticed with a kind of warped satisfaction that he seemed uncomfortable with the situation, too. He slept a lot that day, waking only to eat and use the disposal bottle, which he thankfully managed by himself, I-V shunt and all; so that eliminated any other conversation. She also dialed back the saline drip to a slower rate, which meant that his bandage didn't need to be changed quite so often.

By the third day, his hand had returned to its normal size and color, and she removed the intravenous line. Later in the afternoon, she stitched the wound closed properly. His hand and thumb were stiff and clumsy but the muscles and tendons were mostly undamaged, and use would soon return them to normal. She covered his arm with a bandage and returned him to light duty at Stoney's discretion.

It seemed the accident had mellowed the deck hands' attitudes toward him slightly, and Stoney's definition of light duty evidently meant an extra 8-hour shift off. Gordon was relieved of his night shift and next morning was assigned to the kitchen.

Cook's name was really Jerry Crocker, but even Captain Connelly just called him Cook, and it was embroidered on his white chef's uniform. He was a tall, rangy sailor with rough looks and manner that hid a gentle nature. His flair with food was sorely missed in the WASP when he took his option and signed on the Lady of Venice under his old commander.

Gordon had helped both Grandma and Kyrano in the kitchen at home, so working in Cook's kitchen was not a stretch for him. The chores he was given to do allowed him to sit at a table most of the time: cutting vegetables for the stew Cook was planning for lunch, making sandwiches ahead for the midnight snacks of the scientists, preparing a fruit salad. He did the dishes for the noon meal, but Cook dismissed him after supper and Stoney brought in another man for the greasy pans and to mop the floor.

He was off the next shift, then worked in the kitchen the next morning, too. The following work shift Stoney had him doing the ship's laundry: towels used by the crew and divers, bed linens from the infirmary, tablecloths and towels from the galley, and the crew's uniforms. By the third day, Stoney had him back mopping decks and working in the engine room. He had been ordered to report back to the infirmary at the first sign of any flare-up, but there was none, and he didn't see Caroline again until the stitches were removed.

The real work of the expedition was continuing. Each day the divers and scientists brought up more finds to tag and enter into the computer. The gold and silver that Dr. Alvarez was certain had ended up in one of the buildings of the Inca settlement had thus far failed to turn up. However, they were finding other important artifacts that revealed the day-to-day life on the island.

An altar of tiny baked-clay oil lamps was found in front of a crude icon in the Spanish section. Most of the little lamps had disintegrated to mud in the ocean but a small number had survived and were being carefully preserved. The Incas too had apparently clung to some of their religious rites, but some ceremonies had obviously been combined. Grave markers were often in both Spanish letters and Incan pictographs, and revealed the intermarriages between the two groups. Other artifacts such as these were the types of evidence Dominica was seeking to support her theory that the settlement was integrated before it had been destroyed.

In addition, Dr. Ben had discovered that a group of sea lions was feeding in the region, many miles from shore. It wasn't fish they were pursuing so far from land and eating with such relish, either, but a species of jellyfish he'd never seen before. Either the sea lions were immune to this jellyfish's sting or its poison was very weak. He and Georges spent a lot of their shift diving from the inflatable motor boat, observing and photographing the sea lions, and trying to capture some of the jellyfish without damaging them.

As dive master, it was Chaz's rule that all the divers, professionals and scientists alike, worked in pairs. Harley was a problem: they all had complained to him that Harley rarely stayed with his dive partner, often swimming out of sight. The Institute didn't have the budget for the expensive radio-equipped masks that had become popular; so if either diver had gotten into trouble, without visual contact with his partner, the result could have been disastrous. Chaz spoke to Harley about it several times, and he apologized, but soon went back to his own agenda, whatever it was. Chaz ended up being Harley's partner most of the time, as well as sharing a cabin; by the second week the others refused to work with him.

One morning dive, Chaz lost track of him while they were working along the foundation of the buildings Dominica thought might had been used for some religious rite. He looked for him, more annoyed than concerned. As he searched, he noticed a cloud of debris floating near one of the walls, someone had been digging and stirring up the sediments. He swam over to investigate, but before he reached the location, whoever it was had stopped and moved on. He soon found Harley idly moving the sand near a part of a wall that had been previously excavated.

Chaz checked his dive computer hanging over his shoulder from the regulator connection to the air tank. At this depth, each diver needed to make a five-minute safety stop on the way back up to the boat. This allowed their bodies to "off-gas", allowing nitrogen that had dissolved into their tissues at depth to dissipate before it could form bubbles in the bloodstream, causing the painful and possibly fatal condition known as decompression sickness --"the bends".

In looking for Harley, Chaz had used more from his tank than usual; he needed to start toward the surface now if he was going to include a safety stop. He pointed to the face of his computer, then pointed upward. Somewhat to his surprise, Harley seemed eager to surface also, and started immediately toward the dive buoy anchor line. They waited at the safety stop at fifteen feet and soon made their way back to the surface.

As soon they were on board, Harley hurriedly removed his dive gear and, leaving it in a pile for the deck crew to sort out, pulled a t-shirt over his wet trunks and went to his cabin, carrying a rolled-up towel. Gordon and one of the other deck hands helped Chaz out of his gear.

Chaz handed Gordon the two empty tanks. He carried them over to the air compressor and refilled them, while Chaz and the other hand rinsed the salt water out of both wetsuits and hung them up to dry.

At the same time, in the wheelhouse, Captain Connelly noticed his first officer and the radio operator in a worried conference. "What is it?"

"Maybe it's nothing, sir," the radio operator replied, "but every few days or so, I've been picking up this low-band carrier wave. It seems to be coming from a couple of miles north-north-west of us, but whoever it is, they're far from the regular shipping lanes. It's a very strong signal, too. It just seems odd, that's all."

The captain agreed; it was odd. "Well, try to pin-point its origin or termination, if it happens again. It may not be important, as you say, but we should be the only vessel out here for some distance."

Later that afternoon, Caroline locked the infirmary door, preoccupied as usual, and nearly collided with Harley lounging just forward of the ladder to the galley. She stepped back, apologetically, as he took a step away from the wall. "What's your hurry, Doc?" he said, blocking her path to the ladder.

"No hurry, Harley," she replied warily. "I just wanted to get some coffee from the galley." She tried to walk around him; but he again blocked her path, placing his hand on the wall before she could get past him and trapping her between his body and the wall.

"I know a better stimulant," he said in a voice that he supposed was suggestive.

"I think I prefer the coffee," she said brusquely, trying to push his hand out of the way. He held firm, and brought his other hand to rest on the wall next to her shoulder, pressing in uncomfortably close to her.

"He bothering you, Dr. Arden?" It was Gordon. He stepped up from the crew quarters ladder and moved toward them, as Harley backed well away from her.

"I'll catch you when you're not so busy, Doc." Harley promised as he retreated in the direction of his cabin.

Caroline lifted her head high and glared at Gordon. "I am perfectly capable of looking out for myself," she said angrily. "I don't need any help from you."

"I noticed how well you were handling that situation," Gordon responded drily. "Look, Caroline, watch yourself around him. He's been in trouble before."

"Thank-you, I will." She turned on her heel and stormed up the ladder.

Gordon watched her go, shaking his head. He was going to keep a closer eye on Harley; it was obvious what his intentions were, and she was going to get hurt or worse. If she would only listen to him, without misinterpreting his concerns.

The ship's company had developed a kind of camaraderie that came from working with the same people day to day. Gordon had been included in it as well; most of the ship's company had realized that Caroline's opinion of him was unfounded. He laughed easily, helped readily even off-duty, and worked hard at whatever he was told to do. It was Caroline that was finding herself being looked upon with puzzlement. Why did she dislike him so much?

Only Akiko had been bold enough to ask her. Caroline tried to explain, inadequately, about his past and what type of man she thought he really was. She could tell Akiko still didn't understand by her response: "Okay, so he's wealthy and he's handsome, and he could buy just about anybody. Then why has he gone to all this trouble just for you?"

Another week passed. Engineer Stein, Gordon, and the second assistant engineer, Eric Peterson, had been working in the engine room all morning. Having learned of his experience in the WASP, Stein had decided that Gordon could be trusted with his engines while the other hands were "morons". He requisitioned him from Stoney's deck crew frequently.

One engine ran constantly, supplying generator power for all the scientists' equipment and instruments and other power throughout the ship, so the engine room was hot even on a mild day. Since it was also a very hot and muggy day on deck, they had all stripped off their shirts.

Eric was preparing to tighten down the last greasy nut on the cover of the nonoperating engine, when it squirted out of his hand and landed in a nearly inaccessible corner under the other running engine, just out of reach. Someone needed to crawl into that hot, grimy space and retrieve it. Stein looked at Eric, who looked at Gordon. Gordon shrugged and grinned, he was the lowest in rank. "I'll get it," he said unnecessarily. Then the engineer decided that since he was already under there, Gordon could clean the area too.

By the time his shift was over, he had rust and black grimy streaks from his hair to his shoes. When he climbed up from the engine room to the mid-deck he had to walk down the corridor past the infirmary to get to the crewquarters deck ladder. As it happened, Caroline stepped out of the infirmary at the same moment he walked past, his shirt draped over one shoulder. She stared open-mouthed at this filthy apparition that shrugged apologetically as he went by.

Well, Gordon thought to himself, she can't think I haven't been working.

Caroline barely saw the dirt, reminded only of the well-defined muscles of his shoulders, chest, and arms she'd observed when he was unconscious in the sickbay.

He obviously hadn't given up his swimming, she decided as he began to descend the second ladder. And what had he done to get those awful scars on his back? Then she surprised herself by idly wondering how it might feel to be held in those arms, and against that chest.

"Don't be a fool, Caroline," she mumbled to herself, and continued up to the galley.

Chapter 5

The days of the expedition were drawing to a close. The scientists were feverishly trying to get the last of the data entered into the computers and managing to squeeze in an extra dive each day. Much of what they had found and catalogued confirmed several of Dominica's theories. At least two scientific papers were being planned; Dominica's, of course, and Dr. Ben believed he had indeed discovered a new species of jellyfish. Great things had been accomplished this trip, despite its short duration, but many of the ship's company spoke wistfully of the precious metals that Dominica still believed were somewhere to be found at the site. She was very puzzled that they had not been uncovered this trip.

Late in the afternoon, Caroline unlocked the infirmary door for business again and donned her white clinic jacket. As she turned to go to her desk, she noticed two drawers open in the cabinet next to it. One held rolls of white bandage tape, the other should have been locked, as it held surgical tools. When she checked both drawers, she found that a 1-inch wide roll of tape and a scalpel appeared to be missing. Then she heard a noise behind her. She whirled to see Harley coming out of the sickbay with the scalpel in one hand and the tape in the other.

"How'd you get in here?" she managed to say.

He shrugged and cocked his head in direction of the port-side door. "That's an easy lock to pick, if you know how." He slowly circled the desk, blocking her way to the door, then turned and locked it from inside. "I figured this was the only way I was gonna get you all to myself for a little while."

She backed away from the cabinet and walked completely around the portable wall from that side, but Harley saw what she was doing and cut her off from the door again. She had nowhere to go as he backed her into the wall next to the examination table.

"Everyone else is scurrying around doing just what they're told, we won't be bothered for a long time." He set the scalpel against her neck as she drew breath to scream. "Now, you don't really want to give us away..."he grinned lecherously. He lowered the scalpel long enough to slice off a piece of the tape, which he placed firmly over her mouth. Pushing her forcefully around to face the wall, he placed the scalpel between his teeth, and yanked her hands behind her. Wrapping several turns of the tape around her wrists, he let the rest of the roll dangle. Then he roughly pulled the collar and sleeves of the jacket inside out over her taped wrists.

Fear and anger were beginning to brim up in her eyes when he turned her back around and laid the scalpel down on the desk. Then he lifted her up onto the table, and the stubble on his jaw abraded her throat as he began to unbutton her blouse.

Gordon had been mopping down the galley when he saw Caroline go down to the infirmary. He had also seen Harley go down the same way just moments earlier. He couldn't help feeling uneasy. Harley had made his intentions toward her abundantly clear, and now that they were almost ready to head back to port, Harley had little else to do on board and too much time to act them out.

He mopped his way over to the ladder, then propped the handle against the wall. He would only be gone a minute, just long enough see where Harley was. Stoney wouldn't notice he was missing right away, as he was kidding Cook about the soggy sandwiches he'd served at lunch.

Gordon walked quietly toward the infirmary, and hearing Harley's voice, stopped just outside the door. Suddenly all was quiet, too quiet, and he carefully turned the handle. It was locked from the inside. He pushed off the opposite wall and kicked the door in.

Caroline's eyes were squeezed shut, as if by not looking she could endure Harley's depredation, but an angry tear had rolled down one cheek over the tape on her mouth. Harley swung around; Caroline's blouse was open, but that was as far as it had gone, and from the look on Gordon's face, it was clear he had determined it would go no further.

Gordon charged at Harley with a roar, as Harley took a wild swing with his right that glanced off Gordon's chin and made his ears ring. Still, Gordon was better trained and in better shape, so despite Harley's weight and height advantage, in the close quarters they were evenly matched. Harley took a fist in his chest that sent him flying into the medications cabinet, which he used as a springboard to shove Gordon into the portable divider and nearly over Caroline's desk. Gordon bounced back, and they grappled, neither having an advantage, until Gordon was able to jab between Harley's ribs with the knuckles of both thumbs. Harley's grip loosened with a gasp, and finally Gordon swung him around with a right upper cut into the jaw. Harley spun to the floor, hitting his head on the desk, and he fell behind it, out cold.

Caroline's eyes were wide as Gordon took up the scalpel and came toward her with it, misjudging his intention. Was this the frying pan or the fire?

"Are you all right?" he asked anxiously as he turned her around and pulled the jacket up enough that he could saw at the tape around her wrists with the tiny surgical blade. He managed to cut through the tape, but the jacket was still holding her arms pinned back when Stoney burst in.

Stoney didn't see Harley sprawled under the desk, but he did see Gordon backing away from Caroline, a scalpel in one hand as he held them high. Her eyes were wide with fear and her cheek was moist. There was tape over her mouth and her blouse was opened to her waist. Under the circumstances, from he could see there was only one possible conclusion.

Intentionally or not, Caroline had planted seeds of doubt in Stoney's mind. It suddenly occurred to him that perhaps the doctor had reason for her distrust of this deck hand. Not understanding the circumstances he saw now, his anger boiled over. He'd trusted this stalking playboy and allowed himself to be played for a fool. "Just biding your time weren't you, Tracy?" he said angrily.

While Caroline struggled to get a hand free to pull the tape from her mouth, he dealt Gordon a savage blow into his midsection. The scalpel clattered to the floor as Gordon doubled over and fell to his knees with a painful groan. Stoney was a trained military man, Caroline suddenly remembered; his next blow, as he stood over Gordon, could be lethal.

"Thought you had me fooled, did you?"

Caroline desperately pulled her arms free and was finally able to rip the tape from her mouth before Stoney could deal. "Stoney! Stop!"

Gordon's eyes were wide in distress; he couldn't draw breath, an agonized wheeze was all he could manage. Caroline quickly did up her blouse as Stoney stood in confusion. She grabbed an oxygen mask from beside the exam table and turned the valve to full, then clapped it over Gordon's nose and mouth; his face was turning gray. The oxygen should have helped immediately, but didn't. Caroline suddenly realized Stoney had struck the nerve mass in his abdomen; his diaphragm was paralyzed and he couldn't draw it in.

"Quick, Stoney, help me get him up on a bed!" Caroline grabbed one arm, Stoney the other, and they dragged him into the sickbay ward and lifted him up onto the same bed he'd used before. She was thinking fast; if they could just get his lungs inflated, then his autonomic system would force him to breathe normally, painful or not.

He stared up at her as she bent over him, placing her mouth over his and pinching his nostrils closed. Then she blew in a quick breath; just enough to force his chest upward. The pain was agony and he passed out, but then his body took over and exhaled. He was breathing on his own again.

She took advantage of his unconsciousness to check that the diaphragm was not torn. To her relief, it wasn't, but the bruising was not allowing him to inhale deeply enough to make up the oxygen deficit he'd accumulated fighting Harley. She placed the oxygen mask back over his face again until his breathing rate and color returned to normal.

Stoney still wasn't sure what had happened, until Caroline had time to explain it to him. The chief's eyes grew wide as she spoke, then he finally saw Harley and realized his mistake. He made a quick intercom call to the captain.

When Gordon came to a short time later, the captain was standing beside the bed, with a relieved look on his face. "Well, Gordon, you wanted be near Caroline. I'd certainly say you're getting more than your fair share of her time."

Gordon didn't say anything for a minute, he was just amazed to be breathing. He was lying in a familiar bed in the infirmary, and a cold chemical compress had been applied just below his breastbone to ease the damage to his solar plexus. "Where's Harley?" he finally managed to croak.

"Stoney's got him locked up in his quarters, and he'll stay there until the police arrest him at San Diego."

Caroline came up from behind her uncle. "I guess I should say thanks," she said, but it sounded forced and she gave the captain a meaningful look. It appeared that she had been coached to apologize, and that was not what he had hoped for.

Gordon slowly sat up and got up from the bed, still holding the cold pack in place. "Well, I guess I better get back to my mop, I don't want to waste any more of the doctor's time," he grunted, failing to keep the bitterness out of his voice. Still slightly bent over, but on his feet, he walked stiffly out of the infirmary, and did not see the captain glare angrily at Caroline.

Gordon was half-way up the ladder when the captain turned to her. "Well, Caroline, I guess you've won your self-styled competition. I can't say I hope you enjoy your victory." And he stalked out the sick bay.

Caroline stared after him, her mouth still open. She didn't feel victorious at all; in fact, she felt like she'd lost something.

His mop had been moved and it was full dark; his shift had been over for an hour or more. Most of his shift crew and Stoney were sitting huddled in the galley, some still lingering over their meals.

Stoney spotted him checking the whereabouts of the mop and called him over. Several of the deckhands looked up eagerly and waved him over in friendly fashion. He smiled back briefly, but shook his head; he didn't have the heart to join them. Then he climbed uncomfortably down the crew ladder and threw himself onto his bunk with groan. Then he realized he had a mattress again, and a pillow.

It didn't matter: the ache in his chest was more than just that of his body. His throat constricted and he stuffed the pillow up to his mouth to stifle the sob that threatened to escape. He swiped at his eyes savagely, angry that he'd been so naive. He had been so cocksure, so certain that she just had to get to know him to win her over, but it appeared his father had been right after all.

The voyage was nearly over. All he'd gotten was abuse from his fellow crewmates and heartbreak. He'd done all he knew to do to try to get close to her, but even trying to protect her from Harley was unappreciated. The whole trip had been a waste of time and he was exhausted. He sagged back, spent, then set the no-longer-cold pack aside and was soon asleep.

The radio operator stared in shock at Captain Connelly, his hand still on the switch that shifted the signal he was hearing on his headset over to the bridge speakers. It was after midnight, but there was that signal again. They had been puzzling over the mysterious radio signals that had appeared regularly every three days for the past few weeks. But this one, while certainly from the same source, was out off the previous schedule. Something was taking place; they just wish they what it meant. The signal had always been of short duration, seeming to indicate it was in some kind of code, but also making it difficult to pinpoint its origin.

It had taken the few weeks they were anchored to locate their source and their termination point. The source was different each day, although usually within a mile of each other; but it was the signal's termination which they had at last found that had them disturbed. And hoping they were wrong. It looked like someone on board the Lady of Venice had a signal encoder and had been communicating with another boat.

Gordon was left undisturbed for several hours. From the light diffusing from the hatchway when he awakened, he could tell that it was past daybreak. Surprised, he looked at his watch and then leaped to his feet. He'd overslept. To his amazement, no one else was in their bunks. Where was everyone? He climbed up the ladder to the mid-deck and found most of ship's company silently gathered around the infirmary door.

Mike Fletcher, the gregarious geologist, quietly filled Gordon in. Cook had taken some breakfast to Chaz and Harley's cabin on the mid-deck, where Stoney was guarding the door. Stoney was not there and Harley's door was unlocked. Cook found the chief unconscious on the floor of the cabin and what was left of a small fire in the cabin's sink. Harley had taken no chances and had bound the chief's hands and feet with two of his ubiquitous t-shirts and stuffed another in his mouth.

Stoney was embarrassed that he'd fallen for one of the oldest tricks in the book. Harley's fire managed to produce just enough smoke to fill the room and escape around the door that Stoney had to investigate. When Harley didn't answer him, the chief opened the door and got hit over the head with something hard.

Harley's diving gear was missing, and his dive locker had been emptied, so it was presumed that he had donned his gear and left the Lady of Venice with no intention of returning. He'd been very clever, waiting until it was just about dawn, but still dark.

After he took care of Stoney, Harley had gone up on deck where he apparently struggled with Dave, who'd been on watch. Dave had gotten several ribs cracked before Harley hit him in the head with whatever he was using as a bludgeon, then locked him in the recompression chamber and dogged the hatch from the outside.

Evidently, his next move had been to put on his gear and steal two air tanks. Then he'd gone into the water without using the diving platform, which would have alerted the whole ship. Stoney was awake now, but Dave was badly hurt and still unconscious.

Chaz squeezed past everyone to say something in Captain Connelly's ear, then both hurried out of the infirmary. Chaz grabbed Gordon's arm as they went by, a silent request to follow them.

In the cabin that Chaz and Harley had shared, Georges stood next to a cabinet that Harley had kept locked but Chaz had just forced open. The contents weren't unusual except for a small black box, which Captain Connelly, Gordon, and Chaz all recognized as a signal encoder, and several round objects that Harley had evidently dropped in his hurry to leave the ship. The objects were nearly perfect gold Inca medallions.

A few minutes later, Captain Connelly addressed the hastily assembled ship's company in the galley. " ... As near as we can tell, Harley left the boat two hours ago, but hasn't been seen on the surface since then. There's been another boat a few miles away signaling him every three days, but in the past hour alone, there have been three messages and no response. Harley obviously found Dr. Alvarez's treasure, but whether he's still down there or gotten the gold and left is anybody's guess. My concern is that he destroyed the site or booby-trapped it for anyone else who goes down there. Chaz has volunteered to go down and check ..."

"Sir, he shouldn't go down there alone." Gordon interrupted. "Someone should go with him."

The captain's expression softened and he almost smiled. "I agree. And I hope you'll volunteer, Gordon." Gordon looked surprised, but Georges and Akiko were nodding. The divers had been a tight-knit group, except for Harley, and spent much of their mealtimes and breaks together. With Gordon aboard, Chaz remembered a number of their exploits together in the WASP and shared them with the other divers.

"You two were the best in your squad, as I recall," the captain continued. "I can't think of anyone else, aboard or otherwise, better qualified." Then his expression sobered. "But only if you're up to it."

"I'll be fine sir. You remember the motto of the Aquanaut Patrol," Gordon responded. "Uh, there's just one problem; I haven't any gear."

"You can use mine," Mike Fletcher offered quickly. The scientists worked closely with the divers; they weren't completely out the loop where Gordon was concerned either. "We're about the same size."

Caroline was listening, but couldn't or didn't want to believe her ears. This was definitely not the Gordon Tracy she had been avoiding on the ship and before during these past weeks, a spoiled playboy who used people for his own gain; this was a man risking his safety for others. And what did her uncle mean that he didn't know anyone better qualified? Even Georges and Akiko, professionals in their field, obviously agreed with the captain's assessment. How could some good-for-nothing playboy be better qualified than they?

Gordon and Chaz went out to the platform to prepare for the dive. Georges and Mike went with them to help don wetsuit, weight belt and buoyancy compensation vest. Mike and Gordon were nearly identical in size, as it turned out. Mike's neon yellow wetsuit fit Gordon perfectly; all that needed adjustment were the mask and fins. His air tank and regulator had already been prepared for the morning's dive, and he helped Gordon get into the BC vest.

Meanwhile, Georges connected a fresh air tank into Chaz's regulator, then into the BC, and helped him pull it on and fasten it in place over Chaz's blue and gold wetsuit. Gordon expertly checked Chaz's connections, then Chaz checked Gordon's, and both fitted their regulators' mouthpieces in to inhale and exhale, checking the air flow rate.

Then Georges pulled his bag out of his dive locker and unzipped it. He reached in and pulled out a long flat object, a diving knife in a leg sheath. He held it out to Gordon, handle first. Gordon exchanged a look with him, but left the thought unsaid. Harley could be waiting down there for someone to come after him or he could have set a trap for whoever tried to follow him.

Gordon took the knife and strapped it on his left leg, while Chaz found his knife and did the same. Gordon then requested one of the scientists' underwater slates and tucked it into one of the pockets of the yellow BC. Since they didn't have radios and were uncertain what they'd find, they might need some other means of communication besides the usual hand signals.

Akiko and Georges accompanied them down on the dive platform, Akiko operating the controls. The rest of the ship's company crowded silently to the rail as they descended to water level. Georges jabbed Gordon's and then Chaz's shoulders with his fist, a final salute. "Bon chance," he said quietly in French, but his eyes were worried. Akiko gave them both a quick hug.

Gordon shot a glance up to the upper deck, looking for Caroline. She stood silently at the rail beside the captain, her face pale. He gave Captain Connelly a thumbs-up and grin that was more confident than he felt, then he pulled on the mask, wedged the mouthpiece back in his mouth and followed Chaz in a wide stride off the platform.

The water was clear and cold. They bobbed to the surface, gave Georges the divers' universal OK signal, then turned fins up and dove.

Releasing the air from their BCs through the valves, they tucked arms in at their sides and used powerful strokes of their legs to swim swiftly downward, following the diver buoy line. They frequently evacuated vests and equalized the pressure on their ears as they descended. The water was clear but the light grew gradually dimmer and murkier the deeper they went.

At the fifty-foot mark, Harley's mesh diving bag was tied to the line. Floating within the black webbing, Gordon could see several plastic bottles of water; some items in water-proof containers, probably clothes and food; and a large packet that could only have been one of the ship's emergency rafts, with its two tiny gas cylinders. He pointed out another water-tight container to Chaz; it protected a small two-way radio. Harley had evidently gone down to the site, planning to return for these items, then call an accomplice and escape. One item weighed down the bag, but it would have drawn their attention anyway; it was a silvery metal bar.

Leaving the bag tied where it was, they continued to follow the buoy line down until they reached the anchor at 100 feet and quickly looked around them. They found one of the stolen air tanks, still full and unused, tied to the anchor, but there was no sign of Harley. Chaz pointed out a murky region in the water several hundred yards away from the anchor and slowly shook his head. Gordon interpreted that to mean that it wasn't normally like that.

They swam toward it and discovered a section of wall had fallen, stirring up the sand and sediments around it. On closer inspection, Chaz pointed out an area that had once been the foundation of the wall that had been dug out. In the hole, there was a glint of something shiny. Gordon could see the glint was caused by more bars of metal, both gold and silver, about four inches long and two inches thick. Around them were several more medallions like those they had seen in Harley's cabin.

Evidently, Harley had discovered this cache of precious metal during one of his dives and had covered it over with sand. He'd come back to get it, but he'd greedily dug too deep into its foundation, causing the wall to tumble over. Gordon swam the length of the fallen wall and stopped short. He motioned Chaz over, then grabbed his arm and pointed down. A hand had clawed its way out from under the wall, its wrist clad in Harley's red-sleeved wetsuit, but it was now deathly still.

Gordon grabbed the wrist and held his watch in position, seeking Harley's pulse, while Chaz looked for bubbles, a sign that Harley was breathing, in a routine that they hadn't rehearsed since their days in the Patrol. Gordon finally dropped the wrist and shook his head. He pulled the noteboard from his vest and wrote, "Need gear to dig body out."

Chaz agreed, but grabbed the message board, waving his other hand in the direction of the rest of the site. "No hurry now," he wrote, meaning since Harley was already dead, there was no hurry to get him back to the surface. "Check for booby-traps," he wrote underneath; they should check to make sure Harley had not done any other harm before he was killed.

Gordon nodded, but pointed to his watch; they shouldn't take much time.

Chaz made an "OK" with his fingers as he handed the board back. Then he clenched all 10 fingers twice in quick gestures, then made a sweeping motion. They should do a sweep of the site twenty feet apart.

They covered the site quickly in this way and found nothing suspicious. Finally, they began to swim back up to the dive buoy. At fifty feet, they stopped and cut Harley's mesh bag loose from the line to take up with them. Then, at fifteen feet they paused again for a safety stop. They'd been down 100 feet, but for barely 30 minutes, so just a short stop to off-gas before going to the surface was necessary.

They could clearly see the aft section of the hull, where the engine room was located, from the buoy line. Suddenly Gordon grabbed Chaz's arm and pointed urgently. There was a small dark mass that plainly didn't belong on the light-colored hull. With some misgivings, they swam over to investigate.

They both recognized it as a type-W bomb from their days in the WASP; one of the many duties of the Aquanaut Patrol was underwater bomb and mine removal. A type-W bomb had enough explosive force to rip a ship twice the size of Lady of Venice in two. Worse, it had three default mechanisms for detonation: by using a timer, by severing its magnetic connection with the hull, or simply by floating to the surface. They looked at each other in alarm. The timer showed 22 minutes remaining, and, since the Lady of Venice was strictly a research vessel, there was no bomb removal kit on board.

Gordon pulled out the message board again. "Need some sheet metal. Can slide behind and detonate at depth."

Chaz made an "OK" with his fingers; he knew where he could find something suitable. He indicated they should both surface, but Gordon shook his head, pointed to his watch, then himself, and made a twisting motion near the bomb's cover plate with his other hand. They didn't have much time, he would begin the ticklish process of removing the cover and preparing the magnetic connector for transfer to the metal they planned to slide behind it. Chaz reluctantly agreed, then swam quickly toward the surface.

As Chaz surfaced, he threw Harley's bag onto the platform. Georges leaned out over the water to help him climb out, but Chaz removed his regulator mouthpiece. "Harley's dead. Tell the captain he's attached a type-W bomb to the hull, and it's got less than 20 minutes on it! We need a metal tray from the galley, and quickly! We're going to remove the bomb and detonate it well away from the boat."

He intentionally didn't mention how difficult removing the bomb would be. Once he understood the type of bomb, Captain Connelly would make the decision whether the crew could be gotten to safety in time. Georges scrambled up the emergency ladder from the dive platform to the deck, it was faster than raising the whole platform, and quickly passed on the news. Cook soon handed a tray to him. He climbed back down with it and gave it to Chaz.

Captain Connelly dispatched the radio operator to stand by to send an SOS. Then, as a precaution, he gave orders that everyone should put on their life vests and the inflatable rafts should be distributed. He was confident of the young men's abilities, and decided they could wait to evacuate and call for help if it became obvious that Gordon and Chaz couldn't dispose of the bomb in the next 10 minutes. He knew that the only other boat within miles was that of Harley's accomplices, and they would probably not respond to their SOS until the bomb went off, if at all. Either way, help would not arrive until they were in the water.

Chaz carried the tray down to the hull as quickly as he could. When he got there, however, Gordon and the bomb where nowhere to be seen. As he looked around in puzzlement, he could dimly see the yellow wetsuit moving west and downward in the distance.

Chapter 6

As soon as Chaz left, Gordon began to gingerly twist the cover off the bomb. It seemed to move too much in his hands, and once he got the cover off, he knew why. The indicator for the magnetic code was dark; for whatever reason, Harley had never entered one to attach it magnetically to the hull. The bomb was being held in place simply because it was buoyant and the hull was between it and the surface. Gordon exhaled forcefully, creating a cloud of bubbles in a sigh of relief; now all he had to do was get the bomb away from the boat where it could be detonated safely.

He carefully pulled it away from the hull and began swimming out to sea with it. He was thinking fast; how far away was safe enough? He was not feeling particularly suicidal; he had to get it far enough away from the boat that damage would be minimal, and still give him enough time to get away. He could see Dr. Ben's sea lions swimming above him; detonation at the surface would surely kill them. Not that it really mattered, the deeper the explosion, the more the pressure would contain it. Gordon had no choice but to move it away and down from the boat and hope he could find something to which he could attach the bomb deep in the water.

He continued to swim downward and away from the Lady of Venice, holding the bomb with both hands. As he went deeper, it became increasingly more difficult to hold down. Its flotation was due to air trapped inside the housing, which wasn't allowing the water around it to compress the air inside. The deeper he went, the greater the upward force the air was creating. In addition, his ears were beginning to hurt, because he didn't dare let go with either hand to equalize his ear pressure with the water.

This was a bad time to realize that he was unfamiliar with the region's undersea topography. He could see that the bottom was dropping away below him; the continental shelf upon which the island rested had come to an end. The only thing west of him for many hundred miles was open ocean. He was not going to be able to find anything to which he might attach the bomb.

Desperately, but still swimming, he tried to come up another plan. At last, with only five minutes left, he occurred to him that he could wrap his weight belt around the bomb to take it deeper, and he could swim upward at an angle away from it.

He gripped the bomb carefully with one hand and tried to remove the weight belt without losing his grip on either; one to float upward, the other to sink, both out of reach. There was a bad moment when the belt slipped from his fingers, but he caught it and was finally able to wrap it around the bomb in a manner that would stay in place.

He saw the time left and nearly gasped: only a minute and a half remained for him to put any distance between it and himself before it went off. He let go of the bomb, which slowly began to descend, and turned back toward the boat, tucking in his arms and swimming with all the speed his legs could muster.

Chaz returned again to the surface with Cook's tray and threw it up onto the dive platform as Georges helped him climb out. Every eye on the deck was on him, bewildered. "I don't know how he did it! It's suicide! Somehow he got it loose from the hull and now he's trying to carry it away from the boat." He pointed out to sea, in the direction he thought he saw Gordon swimming. Then he collapsed to the deck with his head in his hands.

At Chaz's first words, Caroline went completely white and her knees gave way; if Captain Connelly hadn't caught her, she would have fallen. If he was killed, she'd never forgive herself. To a man, everyone on the ship now turned, watching the horizon. And wishing they could take back the earlier misunderstanding that caused them to treat Gordon as they had.

About the time Chaz had regained his breath and composure, about half a mile away, a tremendous water spout erupted the surface with a deep rumble. Caroline screamed and clung to her uncle, as all around her, the rest of the ship's personnel reacted in their own expressions of shock and grief. Caroline found herself crying hysterically in her uncle's arms, her own legs too weak to hold her own weight.

Assistant Engineer Eric Peterson stood with his head bowed at the rail. He had been one of the first to come around and see Gordon for what he was, and that it was not what Dr. Arden had proported. He wished he'd gotten the chance to have a beer with the good-natured deckhand, who had turned out also to be a skilled mechanic and diver. He looked up with a sigh, then suddenly shouted and pointed.

The rest all looked out in disbelief to see a yellow object bobbing on the surface.

"My wetsuit!" Mike shouted. He fell part of the way down the emergency ladder in his haste to get to the dive platform. His activity helped others to shake off some of their shock. Georges grabbed the inflated motor boat that Dr. Ben and he had used only yesterday, put it in the water, and yanked the cord to start the little motor. Then he, Chaz, and Mike bounded off over the waves toward the distant yellow object in the water as fast as it could go.

Caroline would have followed Mike down the ladder, but Cook and Captain Connelly held her firmly. There was no telling what condition Gordon would be in, or even if there would be enough of him left to recognize. She fought desperately to free herself, but they were implacable. At last, she collapsed into her uncle's arms, crying as if her heart would break.

Gordon had been counting down in his head. When time ran out, he was nearly two hundred feet from the bomb and angling upward, some fifty feet from the surface. He knew he wasn't far enough away to escape the pressure wave, and that it would send him careening upward. He gritted his teeth around the mouthpiece and held on to it with both hands, still swimming with all his might; if he could keep his air supply intact when the shock wave hit him, he might survive the trip to the surface. Time seemed to slow, as his mind continued to race.

As if the danger from the blast weren't enough, he'd been deep enough that he needed a safety stop to keep nitrogen bubbles from collecting in his blood. Even if he survived the explosion, being taken to the surface so abruptly would probably give him the bends.

He learned the results of recompression sickness the hard way, in a carefully controlled training dive when he joined the Aquanaut Patrol. First came an itching as the nitrogen formed tiny bubbles in the capillaries of his skin. This was followed by a deep ache that gradually spread to every joint in his body as accreting bubbles cut off the circulation to his limbs.

During that training dive, a bubble embolism had blocked an artery to his brain and he'd blacked out. The training officer quickly pulled him from the water, and he awakened in a hyperbaric tank under an oxygen mask with a terrific headache. He, Chaz, and the two other volunteers from his squad had to sit through a five hour recompression before they were released. He was the only one who had been unconscious.

The dive, though dangerous, reinforced the trainees' lessons, and Gordon never forgot it. On another occasion, he had risked the bends to save a man's life during a rescue, but recognizing the symptoms, he had been able to avoid blacking out.

Then all thought ceased when the pressure wave hit him, ripping the mask from his face and knocking him out. No longer swimming and without a weight belt to keep a neutral buoyancy, his body's natural flotation and that of the wetsuit and BC carried him to the surface like a cork.

He was face-down in the water when the inflatable boat reached him. Chaz dove in with Georges close behind. They gingerly turned him over and discovered he was unconscious, but in one piece. By some miracle, his regulator was still in place, but Chaz was alarmed at the rash-like discoloration of Gordon's face. It was caused by nitrogen that had percolated into the capillaries of his skin, causing a mottled look.

"We've got to get him into the recompression chamber and fast!" he shouted. Georges clambered out of the water to help Mike pull Gordon, and then Chaz, aboard the little boat. They sped back to the Lady of Venice as fast as the tiny motor could take them.

"How deep do you think he was?" Mike shouted over the whine of the motor and the wind in their ears.

"Hard to tell," Chaz shouted back. "The bomb went off at depth, all right; maybe a hundred and fifty feet. The explosion wasn't big enough to have happened at surface. He was making for depth, and he couldn't have been more than seventy feet when I saw him last. And he couldn't have been holding the bomb; there'd be nothing left of him. He had to be moving away from it..." Chaz gazed down at his unconscious friend lying in the bottom of the boat, trying to figure it out, then he saw it. "His weight belt!" he exclaimed suddenly. "That's how he sent the bomb deeper!"

When they reached the ship, Mike slewed the little boat around length-wise to the dive platform and Georges leaped out, turning to help the others lift Gordon out. "He's alive!" he shouted to Akiko, who waited only long enough for them to lift the inflatable out of the water before she hit the controls that raised the platform.

"Get the recompression chamber ready!" Mike urged the anxious-looking crewmembers crowded at the rail as they rose. Caroline was the first to reach them, her professional composure seemingly restored and with a portable life signs monitor, but the charade was spoiled by her shaking hands as she unzipped the top of Gordon's wetsuit to place it on his chest.

They had plenty of help getting him to the chamber. The monitor showed his heart and breathing was normal, to her relief, but the unusual color of his skin showed all was not well. He was still in serious danger; if a nitrogen bubble had formed in an artery to his brain, it could kill him.

The thick door to the recompression chamber swung open, then Chaz and Mike carried Gordon in and laid him on one of the chamber's two cots. Chaz steered Mike out, then stopped Caroline as she started to enter. "You know that he's gonna be in here several hours, Caroline. What if Dave or Stoney need you?" he asked gently. "I've done this before; I know what to do."

Reluctantly, she backed away, watching in a daze as the door was closed and the handle turned tight.

Mike started the pumps that increased the pressure inside the chamber. He flipped the radio switch to speak to Chaz inside. "How deep should we go?"

"Better make it a hundred." Chaz's voice was tinny over the radio with the pressure already increased.

"Right, one hundred feet," Mike confirmed, entering the commands into the chamber's computer. In a few minutes, the surge of the pumps stopped, and a slight hissing sound indicated the air pressure was slowly being reduced. "Ascending at 10 feet an hour," Mike reported to Chaz.

"Good," Chaz's voice was a barely understandable squeak, its high pitch due to the pressure inside. "See you in about 10 hours."

Sometime later Caroline realized she was the only one still standing near the chamber. Through the thick glass windows, she could see Gordon lying very still, with the oxygen mask over his pallid face. Georges had stuffed a couple of t-shirts and shorts into the chamber's tiny airlock that was now Chaz and Gordon's only connection to the outside. Chaz had stripped off his wetsuit and changed Gordon out of Mike's; then he had covered him with a blanket. With pressure less of a problem, the shock from the explosion was the next concern.

Cook had herded everyone else into the dining room, trying to reduce the level of anxiety with the balm of food. Still, the conversation was muted; very few felt like talking or eating much. The captain noticed Stoney was sitting as far from the rest of the crew as possible, picking at his breakfast tray, his head down. He got up and went over to him. Stoney gave him a bleak look as he sat down next to him.

"How's the head, Stoney?"

"I'll live, sir, but I feel like I don't deserve it. I almost killed him ..." he nodded in the direction of the chamber, unseen from where they sat. "... And he was only trying to protect the doc. I never got a chance to apologize. I had him pegged as some spoiled rich kid that needed his ears pinned back, but I never saw a man work like him. On top of that, he saved the whole ship! I feel like the worst kind of heel."

"Trust me, I understand, Stoney. You know, he fooled me, too, the first time I met him several years ago. Took me some time to learn that there's a lot more to him than meets the eye. Quit kicking yourself and try not to worry; you've seen for yourself how tough he really is. He'll pull out of it."

At this point, Caroline walked quickly through the galley to the other side of the deck and down the ladder to the infirmary. Captain Connelly watched her go, and he knew he wasn't the only one. The atmosphere changed as soon as she passed through. Suddenly here was something to discuss: Caroline's confusing response to Gordon. One of the conversations the captain could overhear was between Akiko and Georges at the next table.

"I just don't get it," Georges shook his head. "Even I could see that Gordon was nuts about her, and she wouldn't even give him the time of day. And then the way she reacted when we thought he'd gone up with the bomb ..."

"I don't understand either, darling. Everything she said about him was negative, but still he was all she could talk about. And I could almost see walls go up whenever he got near her, as if she was afraid to let her defenses down or couldn't be herself around him."

Their observations made the captain consider. And remember: Caroline's behavior where Gordon was concerned had been just as baffling at the Olympics when they met for the first time.

At the time, Seth Connelly had entered the command structure in the World Aquanaut Security Patrol, but he was able to attend some of the Olympics events with his sister and her husband. Together they'd watched Caroline's time trials, then later she excitedly pulled him aside to see another of her teammates in action. He would never forget the look in Caroline's eyes was they observed one of Gordon's training sessions. She excitedly told her favorite uncle about this "gorgeous guy" she'd met as she pointed him out in the pool.

Nor could he forget his confusion over her response only a few days later, when he asked her about the same young man. "Oh, him! Coach says he's only here because his father has money! I've got better things to do than waste my time over somebody like him."

Captain Connelly thought he finally understood. He punched Stoney's broad shoulder reassuringly as he got up to leave. He was going to try to talk some sense into his headstrong niece, for her own good.

Caroline pretended she was doing paperwork, but she could barely draw her eyes away from the monitor on her desk that revealed the interior of the recompression chamber. The camera and intercom in the chamber allowed her to see what was happening and to communicate with those inside if needed.

The air forced into the unit simulated the pressure at 100 feet. This pressure pushed the nitrogen bubbles out of Gordon's bloodstream, and back into solution in his tissues. Now a gradual decrease in pressure would allow his body to rid itself of the gas naturally, even more safely than it would have if he had been able to stop briefly during his ascent from the water. With the recompression ascent set at 10 feet an hour, though, Caroline felt it was going to be a long 10 hours.

She watched as Chaz checked the instrument on Gordon's chest, then his eyes with the tiny flashlight from the medical kit; if a nitrogen embolism had formed, then his pupils would respond differently. Chaz nodded in satisfaction, unaware that Caroline could see him. She interpreted the nod to mean that Gordon's eyes were reacting normally, and sighed in relief. Chaz's lips were moving, although the radio was off, so he had to be talking to Gordon, giving him something to focus on, something to respond to.

"That young man is one of the finest I ever had serve under me," said Captain Connelly from the door Gordon had broken through to save her from Harley, less than twelve hours earlier. Caroline jumped a foot in the air. Lost in her own thoughts, she hadn't heard him coming.

The captain turned the chair next to her desk toward the monitor, and sat down to watch with her. He was silent for a long time. When he did speak, it was almost as if he was talking to himself; he did not meet her eyes at all. "You made his job on this voyage much harder than it already was by broadcasting what you thought he was all over the ship that first day. I think you've badly misjudged him and treated him shamefully on top of that, Caroline.

"You've never once stopped to look past the fact that he's the son of a famous, wealthy man, or forgiven him for being either one, have you? And neither did your swim coach. She was a wonderful woman, but she never worked with Gordon. Who was she to pass judgement on his character?"

Now he did turn to look at her, his gray eyes angry. "She was wrong about him then, Caroline. And you're wrong about him now."

She opened her mouth to retort, but he silenced her with an angry hand gesture. "Listen to me, Caroline. I've watched you grow up and I know you better than anybody else on this ship. And I'm not the only one who saw you give yourself away earlier. You're in love with him, but you can't bring yourself to admit it. And despite all he's been through this voyage, he loves you; although right now, I can't understand why. I don't know what you're afraid of, but for once in your life, you're going to listen to me."

"You already know that he served under me in the Aquanaut Patrol. When I met him, he was barely 18, and knew exactly what he wanted; you hadn't even decided whether you were going to medical school or business college at that point. Fresh out of cadet school, he was one of only eight men, all the rest older than him, to get through the training session without washing out once. Then he served a full tour with me before he switched to the submarine service. In all that time, none of his mates ever knew he was the son of Jeff Tracy the astronaut. He never told a soul, and only those few of us who bothered to check his records ever knew. He was the most unpretentious, talented, and hard-working man I ever saw.

"I'll bet you also didn't know that during his last weeks in the submarine service he was in a hydrofoil accident that nearly killed him. The doctors said he'd probably never walk again, but he wouldn't give up. It took him four months in rehab, but he walked out of that hospital by himself. Despite that, he was given a medical discharge, so he went to work for his father."

"You know, I was disappointed when he left the WASP, but I'm not anymore; I've realized during this voyage that he hasn't changed a bit. Except for one thing...he's broken his heart over you."

He turned the chair back to its original position and stood up as if to leave. "Caroline, I've done my best to fill in since your father died. I'll be frank with you: not only could you do much worse than to let yourself love Gordon Tracy, I also believe you'll live to regret it if you don't. More than that, if you let him walk away without even talking to him because of your stubborn pride, I'll be disappointed in you." He went out the door, leaving her too stunned to say anything in her defense.

Her thoughts were in turmoil, but she could hear Dave stirring. He'd returned to consciousness earlier, but his head pain left no doubt he suffered a concussion. In addition, his broken ribs had him in agony; morphine was obviously indicated. Now he was drifting in and out of wakefulness, restless, talking in his sleep. She hoped he wouldn't remember any of her uncle's words to her.

"I'm sorry, Gordon..." he mumbled as she entered the sickbay. "I bumped the ladder...Gordon! Look out...!"

So it had been Dave who was responsible for getting Gordon to the sickbay in the first place! If he'd been conscious, she wasn't sure whether she would hug him or slap him. Turning over that ladder had also turned her world upside down. "Thanks a lot," she told him drily.

She went back to her desk, to see that Chaz was out of the camera's line of sight; all she could see was Gordon, still unconscious, the blanket over his chest rising and falling evenly. The surroundings faded around her, as her whole existence became watching him, waiting for his next breath.

And then, she remembered an incident at the Olympics, a memory she'd pushed far back in the recesses of her mind. She was surprised to find Coach McKay watching Gordon train in one of the practice pools, scowling at the numbers on the stopwatch in her hand. "Well, of course; he could afford the best," Caroline overheard her grumble under her breath. "But the boy has the goods..."

Looking back, it should have been so obvious that Coach was envious of Gordon's talent, and bitter that her own "glory days" were long past. She drove her girls relentlessly, trying to pull a gold from them, but none of them could pull it off. Evelyn McKay, herself a gold medalist, retired right after that, leaving Caroline and many of her teammates devastated and confused.

So Gordon wasn't what Coach told them he was, but Caroline had completely believed her. She so trusted that woman, they all had. But looking back, now other questions began to arise. Especially questions about her true feelings for Gordon. She'd never forgotten him, not after all this time; her heart still raced and her hands shook whenever he came near her. Had anyone else ever effected her that way?

And what about her behavior earlier today? The whole ship probably saw how hysterical she became when the bomb exploded. Could she really have been so blind to her own emotions? So many questions... And now there were more; questions she feared the answers to: Was it too late? Did he still care? Or had she finally driven him away?

Caroline sat down behind her desk again with the monitor in front of her and put her head down on her folded arms. It was only 10 AM, but the emotional roller coaster she was on this morning made her feel like she'd worked hard all day. Once she'd learned Gordon was aboard, she'd tossed and turned in her bunk every night; sleeping had never been a problem at sea before. But now she fell asleep, her arms cradling her head on top of her desk.

"Dr. Arden? Hey, Doc!" Chaz Morgan was trying to contact her via the intercom. She raised her head and found her neck was stiff. How long had she been there? She checked her watch; five hours had passed since Gordon was pulled from the water. She glanced up at the monitor, as she sought the intercom switch with a trembling hand, but all she could see was Chaz's face looking impatiently at the camera.

"What's happened, Chaz?" she tried to ask in a calm voice.

"Doc, he's gonna be okay!" Chaz grinned broadly when she finally responded. "He just came to. His eyes are right, there's no headache, and his hearing checks out fine. And he says he's hungry! Come to think of it, so am I! Can you get Cook to make us up some sandwiches and put them through the airlock?"

"Okay, Chaz. I'll see what I can do." Caroline cut the connection, then put her head back down on the desk and finally allowed her pent-up emotions to storm through her in relief.

Dominica happened by the warped infirmary door and saw Caroline's head down. "If you're that tired, you should close up and go to bed," she said solicitously. Then she saw her shoulders heave. "Oh, Caroline," she rushed in and pulled the younger woman into her arms in sympathy. She glanced at the monitor on the desk, but could only see the back of Chaz's dark head. "What's happened? Please don't tell me it's Gordon ..."

Caroline drew in a shuddering breath. "No, Dominica. He's going to be all right. Chaz just talked to me... I ... I'm just not sure I know what to do now..." she trailed off.

Dominica smiled knowingly, understanding immediately. "You love him, don't you?" she asked gently. She'd seen through Caroline's facade weeks ago.

Caroline nodded, and began to cry again.

"Then, what's the problem?"

"Well, there's actually two problems," Caroline tried to compose herself. "First of all, I've treated him horribly. I don't know if he'll ever forgive me."

"Well, there's only one person that can answer that," Dominica replied, nodding toward the monitor. "But if he's half the man I think he is, I think I know your answer. What's the other?"

"How can I continue my career? No man ever interfered with your plans ..."

Dominica's face fell. "Oh, Caroline. I must tell you a story." She sat down on the edge of the desk and drew Caroline's head down to lay in her lap where the younger woman could not see her face.

"Many years ago, there were two archeology students. They loved each other very much, and even talked about marriage, but they were young and with the shortsightedness of youth, she kept putting him off. She wanted to at least have her doctorate before thinking about marriage. But when both had earned their doctorates, she found other excuses. At last he gave her an ultimatum: either she would marry him or they had to part ways. After only a few days, she finally made up her mind that marriage could only interfere with her work. To her surprise, he reluctantly let her go. Several years went by before she realized her mistake, but by then it was too late, and he had married someone else.

"She still saw him occasionally at social events, his doting wife on his arm. After a few years, he lost track of her, although she followed his career for a long time. He became a professor at a small college and never made any great contributions to archeology, except to inspire his students. He had four children and eight grandchildren and probably more by now. She, on the other hand, made a few remarkable discoveries, kept at her work ... And had many years to regret her decision."

Caroline raised her head to look up at her friend, surprised at the change in her voice and even more surprised to see tears running down her face. The older woman returned her look and smiled sadly. "His name was Emilio; he died last year..."

Dominica gripped Caroline's shoulders emphatically. "Caroline, listen to me. If you love Gordon, and he loves you, you belong together; wherever on the map does not matter. Perhaps whatever work you do together will be greater than anything you could have accomplished alone. And even if you accomplish nothing great in your own eyes, to live and love together is a wonderful thing in itself. Please, learn from my hard lesson and don't fool yourself: if you force love away, it will leave a hole in your soul that can never be filled, no matter what great accomplishments you try to pour into it."

"Oh, Dominica ..." Caroline she pulled the older woman into an embrace and they both cried together for loves lost and, hopefully, found. When Caroline finally pulled away, she gave her a sad smile. "I'm so sorry for you and Emilio. Thanks for trying to warn me. Uncle Seth was trying to tell me, too. I've learned my lesson." Then doubt filled her heart. "I just hope it's not too late," she said softly.

"How much time is left?" Dr. Alvarez nodded at the monitor again, as she wiped her eyes.

"About 5 hours."

"Good. Plenty of time to make your face presentable again," Dominica patted her arm. "... And to rehearse what you need to say to him."

Chapter 7

Caroline washed her face, then went up to the galley and asked Cook to arrange for some sandwiches and coffee. "Make sure the coffee isn't too hot or it'll boil as soon as it hits that pressure in the chamber," she warned him. When he had the tray ready, she carried it to the little airlock near the control panel, set it down, and wheeled the airlock securely closed. Mike was back at the control panel again and entered the command to equalize the pressure inside it, so Chaz could open the airlock from the inside.

Caroline came back around to the windows in the side of the chamber, but couldn't bring herself to peer in. She was afraid to meet his eyes, fearing what she might see in them, or worse, what she might not see.

Captain Connelly found her sitting in the galley with her own cup of coffee a few minutes later.

"Caroline, Chaz says that Harley's still down there, so I'm sending Georges, Dominica and Dr. Ben went down to the site to bring him up. I hate to ask you, but I need an official documentation from the ship's doctor to go with my report for the authorities."

Caroline shuddered, but nodded. "What will we do with the body after that?"

"This isn't for common knowledge," he said quietly. "We'll have to put him in Cook's meat locker until we get back to port." Caroline looked at him in horror. "Don't worry, most of the food is out of there and we're leaving tonight to head home. Cook's clearing out a space for him now, well away from everything else, and he'll be well-wrapped. Only a few of us will know."

Georges soon appeared at the surface with a canvas-wrapped bundle. Mike and some of the deck crew carefully took it down to the infirmary; then the Captain stood nearby, while Mike waited in her office while she did the autopsy. Caroline was glad they were there, Harley's remains had begun to bloat somewhat and it wasn't a pleasant sight. Fortunately, it wasn't difficult to find the cause of death.

"He received a severe blow to his head and there's a lot of water in his lungs. He probably was knocked unconscious when the wall fell, and as it settled, it pinched off his regulator hoses." Caroline wrapped the body in the canvas again, then pulled her gloves and surgical garb off and threw them in the disposal bin with a sigh.

"Are you all right?" her uncle asked, sympathetically.

"Right now, I just feel a little numb, I guess. What time is it?"

"There's about two more hours left. About what I said earlier..."

She gave her uncle a shamefaced smile. "You were right. I've misjudged him, but I also realized that I misjudged how miserable I've been trying to ignore him." Then she was shockingly insubordinate and kissed her captain's cheek. "Thanks for getting through to me. But how I am I ever going to speak to him, after the way I've been acting?" Her voice dropped, until he had to strain to hear her. "I'm afraid, Uncle Seth. Wouldn't it be the perfect irony, now that I realize how stupid I've been, if he doesn't even care anymore?"

The captain shook his head. "Caroline, I've never lied to you and I won't start now. I believe he loves you, but I'd never seen him as downcast as he was last night. If you're serious, you'll have to swallow some of that pride of yours and apologize. He might forgive you, he might not. You've made your bed, as they say, now you'll have to sleep in it."

When the recompression chamber door opened, Gordon and Chaz had a reception committee waiting for them. Despite the bitter revelations of last night, Gordon had to hide his disappointment that Caroline was not among them. Then he pushed that ache to the back of his thoughts and grinned sheepishly at the polite applause. There were handshakes and claps on the back, and Akiko gave him a hug.

Suddenly, the group parted as Captain Connelly and Caroline approached. Gordon could not quite stifle the hope that rose in his heart. Caroline looked uncharacteristically apprehensive and looked up to the captain for support, but he only gave her a stern look.

"Gordon." She couldn't meet his eyes. "... I need to talk to you ..." She hesitated. For a brief instant, Gordon entertained a thought that he could brush her off, to give her a glimpse of how much it hurt. There was silence; the others were waiting for his response. Caroline bit her lip and finally looked up at him, her emerald eyes about to brim over.

"I'm so sorry ... I don't know if you could ever forgiv ..."

Any thoughts of requital were drowned in the tears in her eyes. Gordon took her in his arms and kissed her thoroughly, cutting her off in mid-word. A cheer went up around them, but neither of them paid any attention, oblivious to all but each other. Caroline felt something cold and hard begin to melt within her; then the warmth filled her heart and flooded over into her eyes, and apparently even washed over those around them. Akiko was crying and even Stoney wiped an eye, when he thought no one was looking.

When Gordon finally pulled away, she was laughing and crying at the same time, and she was amazed to see that he was too. Then the thought struck her: now she knew what it was like to held in his arms at last. It was all she'd ever imagined it to be and more. She knew she'd never be able to live without it again.

Unexpectedly, a shout was heard from the dive platform.

The winch was pulling something heavy up from the sea floor. It was another large bundle of canvas, but this was much heavier than the bundle that Georges had brought up earlier. Dominica and Dr. Ben climbed out of the water beaming and hugging each other, but Georges was shouting inarticulately in French, too excited to even pull his mask up. When the winch finally pulled the bundle clear of the water, and it had been deposited on the platform, Georges finally calmed enough to bring them up to the deck, as water streamed from the platform.

Dominica and Dr. Ben began to unfold the canvas before the platform stopped. More of the ship's company had gathered, and now the cheers really went up. Caroline and Gordon, each with an arm around the other, and everyone else added to Georges's commotion. The divers had found the treasure, and how it glittered in the sunlight after all these centuries buried at the bottom of the ocean!

The Lady of Venice would be back in port tomorrow, after a three-day voyage from Inca Cay. Gordon and Caroline spent as much of their time together as they could manage around Gordon's duties, although Stoney had given him the first evening shift free after his release from the recompression chamber.

They had so much to catch up on. They started with what they had done after the Olympics (though Gordon tended to hedge about what he'd done since taking his option from the WASP), their families, and what their growing up years had been like. Although Caroline had attended a large public school on the west coast, and Gordon a smaller school in his father's native Kansas, she discovered they had very similar experiences. The first chance they'd been given to talk today came during lunch. The meal finished, they were standing at the rail, looking west out to sea.

"I really do look up to my sister," Caroline was saying, "even though she's only two years older. At school, it seemed I was in competition with her again; at least until the Olympics. And, of course at medical school, there was competition of a different type." She sighed. "I guess I don't know any other way of dealing with people. Still, it was a relief finally to graduate from high school and go someplace where I wasn't Catherine Arden's younger sister." She sighed. "And now she's with the space agency-- my sister, the astronaut."

Gordon nodded. "I understand. It was very difficult to explain to my father, the astronaut, that my aspirations weren't leaning in that direction at all, especially when my four brothers' did. Talk about competition! I practically had to run away from home to join the WASP. And it still took some time for my dad to finally take my ambitions seriously. We're still competitive, but my brothers and I couldn't be closer. It's a good thing, too, we really have to depend on each other in our work. But I'm still the only one who hasn't had formal training as an astronaut."

Caroline stared at him. "The only astronaut named Tracy that I've ever heard of is your father. Do the others go by different names? I'll have to ask Catherine if she knows them!"

Gordon swallowed hard. "Uh, don't. They are named Tracy, but they're not with the space agency. Actually, I've probably been too free with what I've told you. I really shouldn't tell you any more about what we do. Someday, I hope to be able to, though."

Caroline's eyes were beginning to acquire a familiar green glow, she was getting frustrated with his evasions. "Do you know that this is the third or fourth time that you've put me off about what you and your brothers do working for your father? What are you, International Rescue or something?"

Gordon glanced frantically around them, then tried to cover it with a nervous laugh. "Don't be ridiculous! Please, I can't tell you any more," he said earnestly.

"What do I have to do to find out, marry you?" she persisted. "Look, if that's what it'll take, I'm ready. Uncle Seth can marry us right now."

"Wait a minute, this isn't something to rush into! We hardly know ..."

Caroline didn't let him finish, but pulled his face down to hers and kissed him. His arms went around her almost of their own accord, and it was some time before they came up for air.

"It's not just that I want to know what you do ..." she said finally, her cheek snuggled against his neck. "I'd always thought marriage would end my career, but I've changed my mind. Marriage is a beginning, where two people really start to learn about life."

She lifted her head to look at him. "Look, Gordon, we've known about each other since the Olympics. I love you, and I know you love me; you've proved that several times over. Do we really need to know more than that?" She paused and brushed her fingers through ginger-colored hair above his ear. She'd been thrilled to learn how soft it felt, after dreaming about it so long. The touch of it was something else she would never be able to live without. "Why can't Uncle Seth can marry us here, on the Lady of Venice, before we even get to port?"

"Is that really what you want?"

"The rest of my life with you, yes, that's what I really want. We ... no, change that, I ... have wasted so much time. Now I want us to be together as quickly as possible." Then she snuggled her body close to his seductively. "I've already decided that we are very compatible."

He laughed and pulled her into a less erotic posture. "And how could you know that?"

"Who do you think got your uniform off in the infirmary that day?" It seemed ages ago!

"Oh." Gordon gazed thoughtfully out to a sea for a few minutes, as if weighing something in his mind.

When Tin-Tin had married Alan, she understood from the beginning that she was also marrying International Rescue. Helen found out accidently what Virgil did, although under the circumstances, it was as if they both learned it at the same time. Caroline planned to give up her career with the Institute, and having shared that much of Dominica's advice with him, explained: whatever he did, whoever he was, did not matter, as long as she was part of it. So, should he tell her now, or should he wait? Did it matter?

Suddenly, he turned her about, placed his arm around her shoulders and marched them in the direction of the bridge. "Let's see if he's busy ..."

The captain had a inscrutable expression when they told him what they wanted. Then he checked his watch. "Tell you what, can you wait about five more hours? I'll be a little busy until then. Besides, it should be a beautiful sunset."

Caroline and Gordon looked at each other and shrugged. "Sure," they answered in unison, much to the amusement of the first officer and radio operator. They rolled their eyes, unseen except by the captain, who spared them a glance, biting his tongue to keep from laughing himself.

"Fine, then I'll meet you at my quarters at 1800."

Gordon glanced his watch and groaned. "Oh, no. Stoney, I mean, Chief Stone is gonna kill me; I'm late from lunch again!"

"Just tell him you were talking to me," the captain advised. "That should square it with him."

"Yes, sir, I will. Thanks."

As soon as they left, the captain reached for the intercom. "Cook, we're on!"

Stoney accepted Gordon's excuse for reporting for duty late with a thoughtful nod and assigned him to the engine room. "Tell Stein that the flags are up," he ordered cryptically. Engineer Stein accepted Stoney's message with a long look at Gordon, then put him to work watching a meter and then some other inconsequential tasks. He didn't dismiss him until 1730; with Gordon anxiously checking his watch. He'd have to hurry to get a shower and still be on time for their appointment. To his amazement, usually taciturn Bill Hendershott walked with him all the way to the crew compartment, talking volubly.

Caroline was puzzled. Not thirty minutes after she got back to the infirmary, she had a steady stream of ship's personnel reporting with various ailments of the digestive tract. None of the symptoms were similar enough to draw any conclusions, but it appeared everyone had eaten something at lunch that disagreed with them. Furthermore, Cook's intercom was mysteriously malfunctioning. She was kept too busy to even leave the infirmary for a cup of coffee the entire afternoon. It was 1700 before she finally got the paperwork finished, and then realized she wanted to freshen up before she met Gordon and her uncle.

She showered and primped, laughing at herself in the mirror. Three days ago, she never dreamed she'd care what she looked like for Gordon Tracy, much less be marrying him. The thought stopped her for a moment. Married to Gordon Tracy. How was she going to explain that at the Institute after her behavior of the last two months? Then she shrugged and sighed; she'd just have to swallow her pride and go on. Actually, swallowing her pride hadn't been as difficult or unpalatable as she'd always feared; she was getting quite good at it, she realized.

She hurried to the captain's cabin and knocked, but instead of her uncle, Dominica opened the door. Without a word, she pulled her in and then Caroline saw that Akiko was there too.

"What are you doing here?" Caroline asked, but thought she already knew the answer. She and the captain hadn't been the only ones busy those five hours he put them off.

"We're here to help you get ready for your wedding, of course," Akiko answered her with a giggle.

Gordon quickly took his shower and decided he had time to shave. As he was finishing, Chaz clattered down the ladder.

"Hurry it up, man! We've got things to do!"

"What are you talking about?"

Chaz rolled his eyes. "Come on, you're not planning to get married in that?" he indicated Gordon's uniform, faded by a month of hard work.

Gordon stared at him. "How'd you ...?" then he stopped and grinned in the direction of the bridge above them knowingly. He shrugged, grinning. "As to what I'm wearing, I don't have a choice, do I?"

Chaz snorted in exasperation, pulled him up the ladder, and practically dragged him the long way around the corridor to his own cabin on the port side. Mike and Georges were waiting for them. Georges contributed a crisply ironed pale green shirt and Mike a pair of fresh white slacks, while Chaz somehow transformed Gordon's badly stained deck shoes to near their original white. By the time they were finished, Gordon had to admit he felt more like a bridegroom.

Now they led him up the ladder toward the galley. When they reached the upper deck, however, the galley door, which usually stood open, was closed; and the rails had been wound with strings of tiny lights. They continued to the foredeck, where Gordon found the entire ship's company assembled; even the first officer and radio operator had a view from the bridge's big windows. The ship's ceremonial flags were flying from a line passed around the radar mast and tied off at two points on the rail on either side of the foredeck. The ship was turned in a western heading, rocking gently at station-keeping, and the sun was just beginning to set.

Georges and Mike took their places with the rest of the company, while Chaz brought Gordon forward and then stood beside him in front of the captain. Gordon turned to Captain Connelly and grinned. "So this is what that business of waiting five hours was all about! Time to get this set up and then Mr. Stein kept me down in the engine room out of the way. So, how'd you keep Caroline busy?"

The captain smiled broadly. "I'll let her tell you. Here she comes."

From the ship's speakers issued the familiar strains of the Wedding March, and Dominica came in measured steps around the corner of the bridge, as the ship's company, on cue, parted to make an aisle. Finally, Caroline came around the corner, as Akiko faded into the back of the group to find Georges.

Gordon felt a lump rise in his throat as Caroline, smiling shyly, came toward him in a white skirt and pale blue silk blouse, carrying a bouquet of white paper origami flowers. As she neared him, the pale green of his shirt was reflected back in the green of her eyes. Suddenly, his heart was pierced again by those eyes, and he found himself short of breath, just as he had been that day in New York, as he had when he met her all those years ago at the Olympics.

The sun was a bright memory in the west as the captain spoke the final words to the simple ceremony and pronounced them man and wife. They performed the obligatory kiss, accompanied by applause, and hoots and whistles from Chaz, Mike, Stoney, and the deckhands. Captain Connelly was right; the sunset had been beautiful.

They turned as if to return down the aisle. "Hold it," the captain stopped them, grinning broadly. "I didn't say you could go yet!" They looked back at him quizzically, then Chaz and Dominica, both beaming, produced rings for Gordon and Caroline to give each other. The lovers gasped when they saw them.

"Dominica ...!" Caroline exclaimed.

Gordon was equally surprised. "These are from the Inca artifacts! You can't just give these away! Their value is far more than just the gold itself!"

"Well, according to maritime law, the treasure is to be divided equally among the ship's company, so consider these rings as wedding presents from all of us," Captain Connelly responded.

Gordon shook his head stubbornly.

"Look, Gordon, it hadn't been for you, we might not even be having this discussion," Dominica argued. "Besides these rings are only a minuscule portion of the treasure. There are a few of us who are going to donate our share to the Institute anyway. We aren't going to need any help with funding for a long time!"

Caroline touched his arm. "You may as well give in, Gordon. You can't win an argument with her. Believe me, I've tried." This brought a laugh from the assembled group, including Dominica herself.

Now Chaz led them to the galley, where Cook swung open the doors with a flourish. The galley also had been decorated in the tiny lights, and one table in the corner was set with candles and a bottle of wine. In the middle of the room was a small wedding cake and at the serving line Cook had prepared a buffet worthy of a great hotel.

Gordon and Caroline stood speechless. "It's beautiful, Cook," Caroline finally whispered, and stood on tip-toe to kiss the rough sailor's cheek.

"Well, go on in," Cook ordered brusquely, but he was touched by their obvious delight at his handiwork.

It was a party more appropriate to a cruise ship than a research vessel, but the captain didn't mind. He did order his first officer to put the ship back on course, which meant that Bill Hendershott had to leave to watch the engines; and Stoney set the watch. There was music, but dancing was a little awkward, since there were only the three women. Akiko and Dominica soon set that right, allowing Gordon the first dance with his wife, and then all three danced with the few other men who wanted to. Of course, Caroline partnered her uncle, then Stoney and finally Cook, before she could return to Gordon. Norman Benjamin surprised Dominica by asking her to dance, not once, but twice, a few minutes apart.

"Dominica, you really ought to get to know Dr. Ben a little better," Caroline teased her after their second dance. "You make a great pair!"

At 2100 hours, in deference to the working men, the party began to disperse. This left Caroline and Gordon in an awkward position of how to spend their wedding night. They finally parted, reluctantly, outside Caroline and Dominica's cabin.

When she entered, however, Caroline found Dominica packing a small bag. "Dominica ...?"

Dominica looked up sheepishly. "Oops, I meant to be gone before you got here. I just wanted to get a few things so I wouldn't need to disturb you."

"Disturb me?"

Dominica laughed. "Both of you. It's your wedding night, remember? Your husband should sleep here, not some old woman!"

There was a firm knock on the door, and Chaz pushed a nonplussed Gordon inside. "Look what I found trying to sneak back down into crew territory!" Chaz grinned. "Now, you stay here and don't come out until morning! Captain's orders."

"Dr. Alvarez, I'm not going to keep you from sleeping in your own cabin ..." Gordon stubbornly began.

"It's already been arranged," Dominica interrupted him and explained. "Georges is going to bunk in with Chaz and I'm staying with Akiko." She held up her hand to keep them from protesting. "We'll be back in port tomorrow, so even Georges and Akiko will be apart only one night." Then, she smiled ribaldly. "Perhaps you were right, Caroline. Norman and I do have a lot in common. Maybe I won't be sleeping alone much longer, either!"

"Oh, Dominica! You're impossible! Just when I think I've got you all figured out, you come up with something else!" Caroline hugged the older woman affectionately. "Thanks for everything. I'll never forget it!"

"Don't you forget what I told you; what isn't as important as why!" Dominica said cryptically as she hugged her in return.

Chapter 8

Dominica had been right. Caroline lay in her sleeping husband's arms and knew she was in the right place in all the world. It didn't matter what decisions still remained to be made when the voyage ended. They already discussed with Captain Connelly and Dr. Alvarez that the Lady of Venice would need a new ship's doctor. She also knew she would be giving up her apartment in San Diego and moving to Tracy Island, somewhere in the South Pacific.

She glanced up at Gordon's sleeping face. He wasn't the wolf in sheep's clothing she had imagined at all. His innocent look came from being at peace with himself. He didn't have the need to try to be anything, he had enough self-confidence to simply be who he was. She, on the other hand, lacked that self-confidence, leading her to find competition in everything she did. She had thought that some great discovery would make her into something, competing even with herself. His self-assurance had both attracted and repelled her from the very beginning. Now that she understood her own heart, just being with Gordon made her confident and happy; she found she wasn't as driven to compete. She understood Dominica's assertion that they would accomplish something good together, and although she barely had any idea what that might be, she found she was finally content. She had a premonition that she would somehow be involved in Gordon's mysterious occupation with his brothers, whatever it was.

It did not surprise her that he was a gentle and gifted lover, taking her to a place she'd never been. Then she'd laughed when they finally came back to earth, as he thanked and complimented her for what she'd done for him! She had been correct, they were very "compatible".

That day in the infirmary when his arm was infected now seemed so long ago. The reminder made her glance at his left arm wrapped around her. The scar above his wrist would be with him a long time. Would it always remind him of all he went through to convince her and how he'd nearly gotten killed before she saw it? Could he ever really forgive her? Suddenly she was filled with self-recrimination and began to cry softly.

He stirred. "Here, what's this about?" he asked gently.

"Oh," her voice broke, her throat constricted to a whisper. "I was just thinking what a fool I was ..."

"Shh, hush." He squeezed her close and kissed her hair. "We're together, now. That's all that matters. No regrets, okay?"

She sniffled. "But ..."

Gordon shook his head. "No regrets," he said firmly.

"Okay." She wiped her eyes and tried to smile up at him.

You got me all wet!" he complained teasingly.

"You can get your own towel!" she was smiling now.

"Oh, that's how it's going to be, huh?" he grinned back. "Well, we'll just see ..." He grabbed a pillow and began to pummel her with it, as she grabbed the other and returned blow for blow. Finally, weak from laughter, they settled on her bunk again. They caught their breath quietly for a few minutes, then Gordon rolled over and kissed her suggestively; she couldn't help but respond again.

The Lady of Venice docked in San Diego before dawn, but it was after noon before they left her, and only after Captain Connelly convinced them that the ship was nearly unloaded. As soon as they disembarked, Gordon went to the disbursements office and signed his paycheck over to the Institute as a donation. Caroline called her mother from her office while he was doing that, then found a box and packed her few personal belongings. She gave the amazed receptionist a hug and introduced Gordon, to whom she had spoken only over the phone. Gordon apologized for deceiving her on his first call. She apologized for lying to him when Caroline wouldn't take his calls. Then Caroline had to apologize for making her do that. Finally, they had to laugh about all the apologies and Caroline promised to visit soon.

At last, they carried Caroline's luggage from the voyage and the box from her office out to her car in the Institute's parking lot, Gordon's small bag slung over his shoulder. They waved to Dominica and Dr. Ben, who were leaving the building hand in hand, and exchanged a knowing look when the two scientists got into the same cab.

"Well, I think that's everything," Caroline remarked as they finally got into the car. "I can't think of anything else that we need to do, can you?"

"Just this!" Gordon leaned over and kissed her until she was breathless. It took a moment for Caroline to put the car in gear, and then they pulled out of the parking lot.

"Let's go to my mother's first. Mom is so anxious to meet you!" she said excitedly, then saw Gordon's face. "What's wrong? You're not afraid to meet your mother-in-law?"

"Worse than that. I've forgotten to call my Dad!"

"Shall we go back to the Institute to use the phone?"

"No," Gordon smiled slyly, "I can get a better connection than that. But you better pull over first. We need to talk. Is there a park or someplace else where we can walk along here?"

Caroline shot him a puzzled look, but turned north. "We can go to Balboa Park. Since it's a weekday, there should be some secluded places where we can walk and talk."

They rode in silence for several miles. Whenever Caroline glanced over at him, Gordon seemed lost in thought and her anticipation grew. Finally, she pulled into the park and drove until she saw a picnic area. It was late afternoon, and there were no picnickers there yet. "Okay, so what's all this about?" she asked as she turned the engine off.

Gordon took a deep breath and then both of her hands in his. "Caroline, I love you and I trust you, but you've got to promise me that you'll never tell anyone what I'm about to tell you ... not even your mother or sister, and especially not Captain Connelly. This is going to sound dramatic, but sometime our lives or theirs may depend on it."

Caroline laughed nervously. "A week ago, I might have thought you were making all this up!" She had only seen a hint of this serious side of Gordon, but he waited patiently for her answer. "Okay, I promise, but it sounds ridiculous. What is so important?"

Gordon kissed her and grinned. "Do you remember a few days ago, on the Lady of Venice, when I wouldn't tell you what my brothers and I did?"

"Yes. I made a joke and asked if you worked for International Rescue ..." her voice trailed off at Gordon's ironic grin. "... Do you mean to tell me that you really do work for International Rescue?"

"That's right. My family, and some very close friends ... And now you. If you're willing, of course. But before you consider that ..." he held one finger up to forestall her answer.

It took a long time to explain everything. They sat in the car for awhile, then got out and walked around the picnic area, and ended up back at the car. A young family arrived, had their picnic and left while he talked. It started to grow dark. Caroline was silent for the most part, asking few questions. When he finally finished, she regarded him thoughtfully for a long time.

She took his hands again. "I had no idea how International Rescue was able to do so much and still have so little known about them. Or why it was important to be so secretive. Of course I promise not to tell anyone." She glanced down at her hands doubtfully. "As to whether I want to be a part of International Rescue..."

Gordon's heart fell to his toes; he'd assumed that this was settled. "Well, Dad has some guest houses on the island that aren't connected to the base at all. We could live in one of them and I can come home to you between rescues. Or ..." He twisted the Inca gold ring on his left hand hesitantly, "... You can stay on the mainland if you choose, as long as you keep our secret, and I'd see you whenever I could. But I really hoped ..."

Caroline pulled him into her arms and stroked his hair, her own unique token of affection. "Oh, you goose! Of course I want to live there! And who in their right mind wouldn't want to be part of International Rescue! I just meant that it sounds like everyone has certain jobs to do. Is there anything left for me?"

Gordon grinned in relief. "Well, Brains and Tin-Tin have done their best and it's always been enough, but think that the operation needs a real doctor!"

Caroline laughed. "Oh, so that's it! So, did you marry me because I'm a doctor or for something else?" she teased him seductively.

"If you remember, you were the one who decided we needed to get married right away because we were so "compatible"," Gordon teased back. "I fell in love with those amazing green eyes of yours when I was sixteen years old, it wasn't until much more recently that then I realized how great you'd fit in. Say, I wonder if my father thought of that ...?"

"Speaking of whom, isn't that how we got on the subject? How do you contact him if you don't need a phone?"

Gordon lifted his wristwatch to his mouth. "Watch this!"

Jeff wasn't completely surprised that Gordon and Caroline were together. He was surprised that they had gotten married. "Well, Grandma's certainly going to be disappointed," he said with a twinkle in his eye. "You know how she's got all these grand plans for one of you to have a great big wedding. Now only John and Scott are left to fulfill her dream. And I definitely want to be present when you explain all this to your brothers!"

"Don't remind me," Gordon groaned.

"Well, how long do Grandma and Tin-Tin have to rearrange your room? You'll certainly need a larger bed ..." his voice trailed off and he rolled his eyes meaningfully. "And John and Alan need to trade off in a couple of days. You know how short-handed we are when they and Scott are up in space, even for a few hours."

"I think I can be back by then," Gordon glanced at Caroline as he spoke. "Hopefully, we can get Caroline's things organized so she can come with me."

They met Caroline's mother for dinner that evening. She was almost exactly what Gordon envisioned; a plump, blonde, wisecracking version of Caroline, who insisted that he call her Lorraine: "Mrs. Arden is just too formal!"

Despite what Caroline had already told them about him, her mother and sister remembered the Olympics, and they knew the truth every time she mentioned his "stalking", which had been every time either of them spoke to her. They knew that if Gordon persisted, he'd win at least her attention; he'd already won their admiration for even attempting to get through to headstrong Caroline. However, they didn't know that Gordon had been on the voyage until Caroline called her mother to tell her that she married him. Lorraine told them Catherine planned to drive in the next day from Edwards Field, just to meet him.

Her mother would have loved him anyway, Caroline mused, watching the two of them interact. Lorraine Arden never met a stranger anywhere and, when she found out that Gordon didn't even remember his own mother, her gentle nature took him straight into her heart. It was going to be very difficult to keep Gordon's secret from her; Caroline had to keep reminding herself that Gordon was certain their lives depended on it, although it still seemed like a distant possibility.

Lorraine enthusiastically agreed to find someone to take up the rest of Caroline's lease on her apartment, and thought she and Catherine could sell the car. "As a matter of fact, Catherine and I might have to flip a coin, we both need new cars! Maybe one of us should keep it and sell one of our own instead!"

They spent the night in Caroline's apartment, much as they had in her cabin on the Lady of Venice. Gordon's lovemaking made her grateful once again that he had not given up on her. They fell asleep in each other's arms. The next day was awhirl with packing. Since Caroline was often gone for months at a time, she'd leased a furnished apartment, so what needed to be packed was simply her personal belongings and clothes. However, that was not quite as simple as it seemed.

Catherine arrived, and they stopped for lunch and to visit. Soon after, Lorraine showed up also, and before long the boxes stacked up. Lorraine would be taking the bulk of them back to her home to be sorted out later, because the cargo space in the jump jet Gordon had parked at the hangar was limited. It was dusk when they finally finished. Caroline gave the apartment keys to her mother and they all drove together in Caroline's car to the airport.

Goodbyes were rather rushed, since Gordon was anxious to keep his promise to his father to be back at base by the second day. "Give us time to get a routine, and we'll bring you out to visit Tracy Island," Gordon promised. He got a kiss goodbye from both his mother- and sister-in-law and then the three women clung to each other and tried not to cry. Then Gordon and Caroline climbed into the little jet and flew off south and west.

Darkness overtook them flying over the Pacific to Tracy Island. Caroline snuggled against Gordon's shoulder and gradually grew drowsy in the twilight. Suddenly, Gordon straightened and she sat up to see the lights of the island.

"Welcome home, sweetheart," Gordon said softly.

"Oh, Gordon, it's lovely," Caroline whispered back.

"Wait until you see it in daylight ... or coming back from a rescue," he grinned. He flipped on the radio. "Tracy One to base. Request permission to land."

"Permission granted." It was Scott's voice. "Welcome back, Gordon. We missed you, buddy ... And welcome Caroline!"

By the time they landed and pulled into the hangar, the rest of the family had assembled, and Caroline got to meet everyone, except Alan, who was up in Thunderbird Five. However, her eyes kept being drawn back to the huge green bulk of Thunderbird Two. Since Gordon had already revealed all to Caroline, Jeff had not initiated Operation Cover-up and the false wall concealing Thunderbird Two's bay had not been moved into place. Jeff noticed her distraction.

"Go on, Gordon, show her around," he chuckled. "We'll make sure your luggage gets to your room."

"When are you planning supper, Grandma?" Gordon asked.

"Well, marriage hasn't changed your appetite, I see," Grandma quipped. "It'll be ready when you are. Take your time."

So Gordon put his arm around his new bride and took her first to see Thunderbird Two, then Pod Four with Thunderbird Four inside it, and the other Thunderbirds on the base.

Dinner was a celebration for Caroline and she indeed felt welcomed, but it had been a long day and she wasn't on island time yet. She was grateful, then, when Gordon noticed her subdued behavior and showed her their room, after bidding everyone goodnight.

Tin-Tin and Kyrano had unpacked her things and arranged them among Gordon's while Gordon showed her the Thunderbirds earlier. Gordon was impressed that they'd managed to get delivery of a king-size bed so quickly, but Caroline climbed into it gratefully.

"Are you too tired for me tonight?" Gordon asked gently.

"Never," she murmured, rolling over into his arms.

Chapter 9

Next morning, Caroline was surprised that everyone again gathered for breakfast. The morning meal when she was growing up was usually a hurried affair, if they sat down at all. They'd barely finished their coffee, however, when a loud beeping was heard coming from the lounge.

"Emergency call," Gordon explained quietly. "Now you'll really get to see what we do!"

Everyone except Kyrano and Grandma, who began clearing dishes, now hurried to the lounge. Caroline arrived in time to see what appeared to be large paperweight on Jeff's desk flip up on its end and the portrait of Alan change into a real-time video image of him from the satellite.

"Father, there's been a mid-ocean collision; a fishing boat and a freighter. The freighter is largely undamaged, but the fishing boat is wedged underneath it and two men are trapped in an air pocket in the engine room. One of them is badly burned."

"Okay, Scott, off you go," ordered Jeff. "Get the coordinates from Alan," Caroline watched in amazement as Scott pivoted around on a portion of a wall and disappeared. "And it sounds like Thunderbird Four will be needed," Jeff went on. "Gordon, sorry to cut your honeymoon short." Then Jeff gazed thoughtfully at Caroline. "It also sounds like your expertise would be helpful. What do you say?"

"I say, show me how I get there!" she said eagerly.

"'Atta girl," Jeff said approvingly. Now Caroline watched as Virgil's access to Thunderbird Two was revealed, a tall photograph of a rocket launch assembly that tipped backwards, with Virgil sliding headfirst onto a conveyor.

Caroline looked questioningly at Gordon, who laughed. "No, we go this way..." and he started down the corridor to the passenger lift.

"Wait a minute!" Caroline stopped him. "Do I go like this?" she indicated her jeans and T-shirt, hastily donned for breakfast.

"Grandma's got you covered," Jeff assured her. "You have a uniform waiting for you in Thunderbird Two, just like Gordon does."

"Well, you certainly do anticipate!" Caroline marveled. "I didn't even know I'd be here three days ago!"

"That's how we've managed to pull off so many rescues successfully!" Gordon smiled, then quickly grew serious. "Come on, those poor guys in that trawler are gonna die if we don't get there soon!"

The pod conveyer stopped moving as the passenger lift descended, with Pod Four directly underneath Thunderbird Two. As soon as Gordon and Caroline stepped off the lift platform, Virgil flipped the lever that lowered the huge green craft down around the pod. Caroline marveled at how quickly Virgil had changed into his uniform with its yellow sash, and was curious to see what hers would be like. Gordon showed her how to strap into the passenger seats as the big transport trundled down to its launch platform. She was tipped back into her seat as the platform lifted and then pushed back into it as the craft launched into the air. Gordon couldn't help but grin at her expression, a mixture of excitement, surprise, and discomfort.

As soon as they reached altitude, Virgil reported in to get the coordinates of the rescue site and Gordon showed Caroline where her uniform was stowed. Then he led her to the living compartment behind the cockpit, where she was surprised to find sleeping bunks and a small kitchen. She changed into her one-piece blue jumpsuit uniform with its wide belt in the same color. The sleeves were a trifle long, the seat was a little baggy and the tall blue boots were slightly too big, but, considering they didn't have her measurements, she was amazed at how well Grandma guessed at the size.

She glanced questioningly at Gordon, who had also changed clothes, not into his uniform, but to a grey wetsuit trimmed in red. Then she realized that he was anticipating again; he might have to leave Thunderbird Four to get to the trapped men.

Gordon also proudly showed her the sickbay compartment. She was amazed at the supplies and state of the art resusitation equipment and other gear. Gordon had not indicated that they were trained in paramedicine and she was suitably impressed.

Then she followed Gordon into the tiny lift that took them down into the pod, where he quickly set about readying Thunderbird Two for its deployment.

"Nearing Danger Zone," Virgil radioed down an hour later.

"F-A-B," Gordon responded. "I'm nearly ready."

"F-A-B?" Caroline asked. "What does that mean?"

Gordon grinned. "I think Scott came up with that. It's just an acknowledgment, like "roger". We use it instead of "yes" and "a-okay", as well. It kinda helps us identify our own operatives, when they are helping us, too." The grin faded to a sober expression. "Now, I want you to go back up to the flight deck and follow Virgil's directions. I'd love to let you come with me in Thunderbird Four, but there's no passenger seat, and I'll need room for the men from the trawler, okay?" He kissed her and watched her leave the pod. "Ready to go, here, Virg."

"F-A-B," Virgil acknowledged, and gestured Caroline back to the seat she'd vacated earlier. "Releasing pod now." He moved a lever, and she heard a loud clunk as the electromagnets holding the pod in place released, then it dropped from between the twin booms that connected Thunderbird Two's nose section to its engines. The large craft lifted ever so slightly, as he made adjustments in the hovering jets to compensate for the sudden loss of so much weight. He then pointed at a monitor showing the view from Thunderbird Two's underside as the pod hit the water, creating a huge splash. As soon as the pod stopped its ungainly rocking, Caroline saw the large flap fall downward from the front of it.

"Launching Thunderbird Four," Gordon announced. She watched as a ramp protruded beyond the flap, then the bright yellow underwater scout glided down it and under the waves.

Now Virgil moved Thunderbird Two so that it was hovering above the enormous freighter. In the relative lull, Caroline took a look out of Thunderbird Two's wraparound windshield. They were out in open ocean, she saw, not a speck of land in sight. The only other vessel besides the freighter was a Coast Guard rescue ship bounding over the waves toward them. She could also see Thunderbird One hovering about 40 meters away. Scott must have been operating Mobile Control from that vantage point.

"Thunderbird Four to Thunderbirds One and Two," Gordon called over the radio a few minutes later. "The sonar imager is showing the men in the fishing boat's engine room, all right. There's no movement, I hope they are just both unconscious. To save time, it might be best if I attach the universal hatch to the hull directly under them and cut through to get them out. The boat's been moved aft, almost to the screws, and looks like it might come loose at any moment."

"Would some magnetic grabs help to stabilize it?" Scott entered the radio link from Thunderbird One.

"I think so," Gordon responded, "it's sure an awful mess down here. Don't want it coming loose with Thunderbird Four under it."

"What if I lower a couple of lines and then you can place them where they will do the most good?" Virgil offered. "I won't be able to get both sides, the freighter's too wide."

"Yeah, that'll help," Gordon answered. "Drop them on the starboard side, I'll use the grapple and attach them to the wreckage to help keep it in place. Give me plenty of slack and then winch up slowly on my signal. It's hard to tell where the center of mass is and I may have to adjust."

"F-A-B," Virgil answered again, and turned to Caroline. "Ever run a winch before?"

"On the Lady of Venice, I have," Caroline responded, "but it's not as sophisticated as yours, I'm sure."

Virgil shrugged. "Most are pretty simple to operate." He flipped a switch and Caroline could hear hydraulics operating beneath the cockpit, opening one of the many hatches Gordon had pointed out to her yesterday. Now Virgil reached over to his left and pushed two buttons marked "Mag. Winch". Both glowed amber and then Virgil showed her how the lever controls could operate any of Thunderbird Two's winches and extension arms from that main control panel, depending on which system was engaged. He moved a slide downward, then they heard the twin whine of winches putting out cable through the opened hatch. After a moment, Caroline could see on the monitor the square blocks of two magnetic grabs, each dangling at the end of a cable.

Now Virgil pushed the slide to the middle position, stopping the winches and the grabs attached to the lines also stopped in mid-air. "Now, you watch the monitor, while I move us over to the starboard side. When we get in position, push the slide back down to lower them into the water. Once they're in the water, watch the indicator and let out about a hundred meters or so. Gordon will tell us when he has enough cable."

Virgil turned back to the flight controls and Caroline braced for a lurch that never came; the big Thunderbird slipped so smoothly sideways under Virgil's control that the only way she knew that the craft moved was that the image of the freighter on the monitor moved as they passed over it. "Okay, Caroline," Virgil ordered, as the image on the monitor stopped, and again, she did not feel the cessation of movement, even though the inertia of the big machine must have been tremendous.

Rather gingerly, she slowly pushed the slide in the proper direction, and the magnetic grabs slowly began to descend. "A little faster," Virgil urged, watching their progress on the monitor. Caroline slid the knob a bit lower and their speed increased. Then the blocks slipped under water. "Good, now watch the indicator."

The numbers scrolled upward, until just short of one hundred meters, Gordon's voice came over the radio. "Okay, stop there." Caroline moved the lever back to its middle position. Then one of the lines moved slightly; he had taken hold of it with Thunderbird Four's grapple and was moving it into position. "Engage grab one," he ordered after a moment. Virgil pushed the glowing amber "Mag. Winch 1" button, and its color changed to green. He gave Caroline a wink and she grinned back; now she knew what to do. She watched as the other line moved in the water to a position about eight meters aft of the first.

"Engage grab two," Gordon ordered again. Caroline pushed the appropriate button, and it also turned green. "Okay, now slowly winch up the lines." Caroline shot a questioning glance at Virgil as she placed her hand on the lever. He responded with an encouraging nod, and she raised it slowly upward. As the line tightened, she could hear the hovering jets change pitch slightly, as Virgil again made adjustments to counter the strain from the weight of the boat under water.

"Okay," Gordon ordered, "hold it right there." Caroline moved the slide again to its center position and the winches stopped. "Looks like they're going to hold. Moving into position now," Gordon reported. Then a few seconds later: "The universal hatch is attached, and the air lock is clear. I'm putting Thunderbird Four on automatic for station-keeping. Keep those lines steady."

"F-A-B" Virgil acknowledged again.

When Gordon spoke again, a minute or two later, it seemed to Caroline that his voice quality changed. She realized that he must have put on the scuba mask that he'd designed and was now using its radio to speak to them. "Drilling pilot hole." A few seconds later: "Pilot hole through. Whoops, I've got water coming in around the seal. Air pressure in the engine room was less than I thought, I need to adjust the pressure in the airlock. Okay, that's got it, pumping out now ... Cutting rescue hole."

Caroline wondered at Gordon's constant commentary, but noticed that Virgil seemed to listening to every word. Then she realized that since they couldn't see what was happening, for safety, he needed to keep everyone informed of his activities. She settled her mind and tried to imagine what he might be doing, based on his cursory descriptions from the day before.

"Rescue hole almost complete," Gordon continued. "Okay, that's it. Entering engine room."

Suddenly, one of the lines in the water pulled tight, and Thunderbird Two dipped slightly. Caroline drew in a breath sharply, and heard Gordon do the same.

"Debris shifting, Gordon," Virgil reported. "Hurry it up!"

"Yeah, I noticed," Gordon responded. "One man in the airlock." His breathing was heavier. "Now for the other ... Caroline, his hands, arms and part of his chest are completely black. I can't tell if its all burn or residue from the burnt fuel. The skin on his face and neck is red, but doesn't look quite as bad. That seems to be the extent of his injuries. And both men probably inhaled a lot of smoke, it's still pretty hazy here... Okay, we're all in the airlock. Closing hatch."

There was another abrupt shift in the wreckage, and Thunderbird Two swayed again. "You okay, Gordon?" Virgil asked.

"F-A-B. Moving out of the airlock ... Ready to pull away," Gordon responded, his voice changing again as he went back to the scout's radio; they could hear Thunderbird Four's engines surge in the background. After a moment, he swore mildly. "Well, it appears the shifting debris has locked onto us someplace, I can't budge. I'll have to go out the lower hatch and see what needs to be done."

Virgil frowned. "F-A-B, but be careful."

A few minutes later, Gordon reported the problem, his voice again taking on a confined quality as he spoke through his mask's radio. "Well, it's not too bad. Part of the universal hatch is just caught in a fold of metal from the fishing boat. Should be able to cut it loose in just a few minutes ..."

Caroline sat tensely, waiting for Gordon to tell them he was safely back in Thunderbird Four. Virgil's face took on a sheen of nervous perspiration as Gordon's few minutes came and went. "Okay, that's got it," he finally reported, and Caroline sighed in relief.

Suddenly, Thunderbird Two lunged violently, and the "Mag winch 1" indicator turned red.

"One of the grabs has pulled loose, Gordon!" Virgil shouted.

"F-A-B," Gordon responded. "It's ..." then the speaker emitted a burst of static.

"Gordon! Are you all right?" Virgil shouted in the direction of his radio pick-up. "Gordon! Come in please!"

"Let me try from my end." Scott had been listening to the exchange quietly from his craft. "Thunderbird One to Gordon. Thunderbird One to Gordon... Come in Thunderbird Four..."

Caroline had risen to her feet and was looking frantically at the monitor, while she had Virgil's arm in an almost painful grip. As if from a great distance, she heard Scott report to base that they'd lost contact with Gordon. Jeff instructed him to try to land Thunderbird One on the freighter, so that he could put on a wetsuit and assist Gordon.

She composed herself and took a deep breath. "No," she said quietly. "There's a wetsuit on Thunderbird Two; I can go." Her voice gained strength as she spoke. "There's no place on the freighter's deck large enough to set Thunderbird One down, anyway." She turned to Virgil, determinedly, belying the dubious look on his face. "I know there's scuba gear on board, Virgil. Gordon showed it to me yesterday."

Virgil reluctantly acknowledged that there was and tapped into the communication link between Thunderbird One and base. "Caroline can dive down, Father. She's suiting up now." As he spoke, he pointed her to the locker where his own gear was stored and gave her a reassuring wink. As Jeff and Scott were protesting and Virgil argued for her, she began pulling it out. Virgil's wetsuit was much too large for her, she decided quickly. She'd be better off in her own jeans, and Virgil's jacket and BC. As she was fastening the jacket, suddenly Gordon's voice came over the radio.

"Thunderbird Four to Thunderbirds One and Two. Surfacing now. Sorry about that, guys." She could hear the sheepish grin in his voice, as his brothers good-naturedly berated him for scaring everyone. When he could finally get a word in, he explained. "When the grab slipped, I was right under the piece it was holding. Nothing to worry about, but I got tapped and it smashed the radio interface. Then it took me a few minutes to get back into the airlock and pump the water out before I could get to the radio." The smile faded from his voice as he asked quietly, "Caroline, are you okay?"

She was pulling the ill-fitting wetsuit jacket off as she answered. "Yes, but you won't be when we get you back on Thunderbird Two ...!"

This got a laugh from everyone, and then Thunderbird Four broke the surface. With Scott spotting from Thunderbird One, Virgil then lowered the rescue capsule for the injured men and Gordon loaded them onto it, leaving the yellow underwater craft floating on the surface when the rescue capsule was raised. Caroline was waiting in the compartment and winced when she saw the burned engineer.

"Good thing he's unconscious," she commented, as Gordon helped her lift him onto the stretcher. The other man soon followed, and was laid on one of the bunks. The burned man was clearly the most in need of attention, and after settling an oxygen mask on the uninjured man, she began to cut away the singed clothing.

Gordon returned to Thunderbird Four via the capsule again, and by the time Caroline had the engineer cleaned up enough to determine that the burns were not as extensive as had been feared, mostly first degree and a small area of second degree damage, Gordon had returned Thunderbird Four to its pod. She wrapped the man's chest and arms in clean gauze and injected them both with a sedative. Then she returned to her seat behind Virgil as he dropped Thunderbird Two down to retrieve the pod floating on the ocean.

Virgil had two of the belly cameras working, one under the nose and one at the tail, to help him position the transport over the pod as he descended. The huge craft barely touched the water's surface as the electromagnets secured the pod to the rest of the fuselage with a clunk, then Virgil quickly lifted off again. "Thunderbird Two to Thunderbird One," Virgil contacted Scott. "Pod Four retrieved."

"F-A-B, Virgil. Set course for Bay Hospital; they're expecting you. They will have the north parking lot secured ..." Caroline left her seat in the cockpit, checked on the injured men again, then went down to the pod. Gordon was finishing his last checks of Thunderbird Four when he saw her approaching, and opened the side hatch to let her in. For the first time, Caroline noticed the cut in his scalp.

"Just a tap, huh?" she asked sardonically, pushing him back into the seat so she could treat him from the First Aid kit.

Gordon shrugged, and then flinched. "You should see the radio interface ... Hey, that hurts!"

"I ought to slug you for scaring me like that ..." she started, as she placed an adhesive bandage over it, and spying the little-boy pout that Gordon was pulling, placed her hand on the zipper-pull of his wetsuit. "But I think I'll kiss you instead ...!" They were still in Thunderbird Four when Virgil radioed down that they were nearing the hospital, and did Caroline have anything she needed to tell the trauma team?

Back on Tracy Island a couple of hours later, Grandma and Kyrano prepared lunch while the others de-briefed the mission.

" ... That was a grave miscalculation on my part," Jeff apologized. "I didn't anticipate any trouble in detaching Thunderbird Four from the wreckage, which left Gordon vulnerable. Since the purpose in sending Caroline was primarily to observe, I should have sent a double crew to cover any difficulties. But I was very pleased how you reacted to the challenge, Caroline. I also agree with many of your suggestions. I'll see what we can do to implement some of them."

"I'll see about getting my own wetsuit sent here, too." Caroline offered, then stopped with a smile. "That is, unless you have an "official" IR wetsuit, too!"

Jeff smiled back at her, but did not answer, for at that moment, he could see his mother waving from the kitchen. "Well, I see Grandma and the others have lunch ready. So, quickly, the assignments for the rest of the day: Brains and Gordon need to see about repairing that radio interface. Caroline, I want you and Virgil to set up some training sessions ..."

As they were sitting down to lunch at last, Caroline leaned over to whisper to Gordon. "Boy, and I thought you sat around perfecting your tan all day! Is it always like this?"

Gordon didn't answer right away. From the lounge, they could hear the same determined beeping that curtailed breakfast earlier. Gordon grinned as they pushed away from the table.

"No. Sometimes, it's really busy!"

<< Back to RL Bird's Page
<< Back to Thunderbird Two's Hangar