Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea Part 14

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SPARKS: Operator!

VOICE: Ta ta.

Click!

[Background noise.]

THE AVERAGE TEMPERATURE RISE WAS NOT quite the two degrees a day predicted in the UN debate-but it was 1.9 and a hair over; close enough. The random radiation, all through the radio spectra, and far into the ultra-violet, increased by the hour as the ozone layer was consumed by the firebelt. Electronic circuits began developing odd quirks-little squirts of corona, unexpected inductances and those non-connected, duplicated signals called "ghosts." Sparks and Reynolds, the Second, and something or an electronics wizard in his own right, pa.s.sed more than one miracle in insulating and isolating components, and keeping the whole complex going.

All hands had their jobs, and all hands made it their second job to inspect critically the jobs of the others. Pipelines were sanded, steel-wooled down to the bare metal and that polished, then abraded, undercoated, coated again, finish-dressed, waxed and buffed. The submarine was in a perpetual state of detour and re-route, like the streets of New York, constantly dug up; every coat of paint meant a section sealed off by the water-tight doors and signs posted to direct traffic around the work.

There appeared a great deal of what the old sailors used to call scrimshaw. Bone-carving. Inlay.

Hand-lathed machine work: a miniature automobile engine, one-sixteenth normal size, with microscopic cams, capillary-diameter sleeves for hydraulic valve-lifters which really worked. Kaski, the Second Engineer, found a wooden broomstick-a real treasure-and freehand, whittled it into a chain.

Dr. Hiller watched everyone. Cathy Connors kept an odd, unaccountable distance from the Captain, and when at last he called her to account she said, in a complete departure from her usual open manner, "I'll write you a note." Shocked, puzzled and hurt, he b.u.t.toned his lip and waited a day and a half for the note, the message of which he felt he had to accept-and its second sentence a salve, though not a cure, for his feelings: Lee, it's just not fair to the others. I had to write it because I could not bear to tell you and watch your face while you thought of me this way. your face while you thought of me this way.

The last part was kind, at least: she cared for him. But it made him angry, too-not so much at Cathy, who was, in the last a.n.a.lysis, doing what was best for the s.h.i.+p; but angry at that glowing coal of animalism which illuminated everything that lived, and most especially men confined. And of all men confined, it glowed brightest in men in danger. Every war, every major disaster, like burning pa.s.senger s.h.i.+ps, forest fires, floods-all have their tales of flickering, unpredictable, brutal, explosive s.e.xuality. The Seaview Seaview's personnel were superior even in comparison with submariners as a whole-and of all human groups, submariners are the friendliest, the most tolerant, the most understanding.

Yet they were men, they were alive, they were confined, and they were in danger; their very species was in danger. Crane could be angry, but he could not, even deep within himself, completely denounce their increasing awareness of the female. Their feelings were only the voice of life itself, only the current of mankind's immortality as mankind.

They took the Straits of Magellan instead of rounding the Horn, and this was one other occasion where the Old Old Man publicly countermanded his orders: "But Admiral! Those shoals are sure sudden death to anything draws as much water as we do!" he had protested, and the Admiral had looked at him icily and had said, with profound scorn, "What shoals, Captain?" and had left him to face the sounding charts which he, the Admiral, had been studying and which Crane inexcusably had not. Crane, his ears burning in the presence of O'Brien and Hodges, pored over the charts and the logbook, open beside them. The perpetual soundings entered in the book, compared with the ones marked on the printed chart, showed that there was now eighteen to twenty feet more water everywhere in the Straits, eliminating two shoals out of three as dangerous.

A third of the Magellanic shoals are, however, no inland waterway. It was a painstaking, hairsbreadth pa.s.sage, with red lights often aglow on the consoles, and the one unforgettable experience they had of thrusting their transparent nose gingerly into the mangled carca.s.s of a super-gigantic blue whale which blocked their pa.s.sage in the very narrowest of the channels. It was Emery who noticed what was gorging on the mountain of flesh-darting, cruel, ravenous schools of barracuda.

Barracuda, hardly anything, ever, but a tropical fish: barracuda in the treacherous water between Tierra del Fuego and Arenas!

It was Emery, too, who wondered what had killed the whale. Even the ripped, tattered evidence of the 'cudas at work could not conceal that the whale had been riven, blasted, crushed. Someone aboard might certainly have thought of an answer if it had not been for the murder of O'Brien.

Black-haired, red-browed O'Brien, with a touch delicate as an electroscope, steady as an H-beam; taciturn O'Brien, who had little to say and who said it the way he did everything else, with efficiency; who would stand his watch until he was relieved, and if not relieved would stand the next man's; who could be given an order and forgotten about; O'Brien was garroted with a loop of stainless steel wire twisted up, tourniquet-like, by the cork handle of a diver's knife.

It took Commander Emery eight minutes to bring out the plentiful fingerprints on the blade of the knife.

It took Dr. Jamieson four minutes to match them in his files.

He and the captain went to the murderer's cabin to get him. When they opened the door, they stopped and looked, and turned to each other and stared, and then Jamieson went in and picked up a small bottle. "Call Dr. Hiller, will you, sir?" and he knelt by the bunk and, taking a penlite out of his s.h.i.+rt pocket, turned its needle-beam into one of the rigid, staring eyes.

Crane saw young Smith in the thwarts.h.i.+p corridor and sent him for Dr. Hiller, and then returned, watching Jamieson work.

Dr. Hiller came. "Yes, Captain Crane?" Crane stepped aside and she went in. Her eyes flicked from Jamieson to the body and then to the bunk shelf, where the small bottle stood. "Hodges?" she asked.

"Dead," said Jamieson.

"Did- did he-"

"Did he kill himself? He did. Did he murder O'Brien? He did." Dr. Jamieson rose slowly; he looked, somehow, a good deal taller than usual. "Dr. Hiller, did you give him that stuff?"

"Only to make him sleep. To let let him sleep." him sleep."

"You had him under some sort of therapy. Did you have no evidence of murder and suicide in the man?"

It was a rough question, especially coming from one doctor to another. One answer would be that such information was privileged; no ethical psychiatrist would answer a question like that. Yet... to say Yes was to admit a horrendous oversight; Hodges might have been prevented; others certainly might have been warned; such knowledge on her part, properly conveyed, might well have saved two lives. To say No was a profound reflection on her professional ability; even a layman would raise .ABBYY.com eyebrows at the idea of this degree of violence being present and escaping the supposedly searching techniques of psychotherapy. Crane could sense the tension rising, compounded, as all things were compounded, by the desperate unreality of all things in all the world just now, by the crash and clatter of Jamieson's shattered idolatry, and above all by Susan Hiller's very presence: Crane thought, is it loving Cathy, or approaching old age, that has made me never notice before how beautifully Hiller carries herself, how full her b.r.e.a.s.t.s?

"I find evidence of murder and suicide in every man I examine deeply enough," she answered quietly; and the part of Crane which always stood off and watched, applauded her-not especially for the worth of what she had had, but for its cleverness. For Crane's part-that-watched was a childlike thing, and was filled with wonder at jugglers, and violin virtuosi, and suspension bridges and the men who built them, and at anything else surpa.s.singly deft. Jamieson's blunt question had had her at a disadvantage, demanding as it did a blunt answer-and Yes and No and I don't know were all equally damaging. But her answer, which was no answer, demanded a rephrasing of the question, which was a lessening of the bluntness, which was a widening of the field, an opening of loopholes, a tack for maneuvers.

And turning to see how Jamieson would catch this ball, Crane realized that the doctor had in him, in this special case, enough ethical harshness to ask the blunt question once; that to maneuver with this woman whom he admired so extravagantly was to lose to her. He looked back at her; her face was still, her eyes wide. He saw her nostrils dilate, nothing else move; it was, he thought, a species of smile. "He should," she said professionally, "have left some sort of a note."

Jamieson turned his gaze away from her face. It seemed to cost him something, as if the gaze must stretch and check him briefly before it broke. He pa.s.sed his hand across his eyes and then fumbled along the bunk shelf, glanced at the settle and turned up a pillow, and finally returned to the bunk. The dead Third Officer's hands were cupped and clenched together; he gently moved them, raised them, plucked at a white ear of paper which protruded between the left thumb and forefinger, and worked it loose. He unfolded it and glanced at it, then handed it to the Captain.

It was G.o.d's will. I did not hate him.

Crane pa.s.sed the paper to Dr. Hiller. "Would you like to interpret that?"

She flicked her wide eyes over it. "It speaks for itself, I think."

"Was he saying he did not hate G.o.d?"

"I shouldn't think so. It would be more as if he referred to O'Brien. It says, I think, that he felt he must kill O'Brien, and he could not survive his remorse. But his compulsion was stronger than anything else...."

"His compulsion was what he called the will of G.o.d. What does that mean?"

"It means whatever his conviction was of the will of G.o.d."

"The will of G.o.d," said the Captain, low in his throat. And he went to see Alvarez.

At last, he went to see Alvarez.

"STOP ALL!" CHIP MORTON THUMBED THE hooter and called into the general p.a.: "Condition Yellow. Condition Yellow." He snarled into the Main Control mike, "Both inboard, slow astern. Stop her, d.a.m.n it."

Nelson came bursting out of the wardroom. Morton had a fist raised, a thumb pointing forward, all ready for the O.O.M.'s quick glance. Nelson stared forward. "Stop that swing!" he barked. "Watch her head!" snapped Morton into the mike, in his turn. An engineering officer with navigating experience, Kaski was now divemaster. He was a good man, very good. He was not as good as...o...b..ien. The admiral had said, the day before after they had buried the two dead, submariner style, through the torpedo tubes, "If they gave me my choice to sail without O'Brien or without engines, I think I'd sail without engines..."

Captain Crane came in, outwardly alert, inwardly, if anyone cared to look closely, a little dazed.

"What is it, sir?"

The Admiral pointed forward.

They had threaded their way through the Straits of Magellan, running deep to avoid as much of the wild water as possible, navigating by chart and by contact. Although they had not again met a channel as narrow as the one from which they had nudged the whale, there were still some tight ones to be negotiated, and the last of these was dead ahead. It was broad daylight above, and at 150 feet there was plenty of light to see the channel ahead, which looked a little like a mountain pa.s.s, with peaks on either side, and beyond a wide emptiness that, after these nervous days, looked like the promised land to them-better than land-it was sea room.

Morton had already turned on the floods, and was manipulating the searchlight controls. The twin white beams, integrated so that their divergence could give range, shot through the V-shaped pa.s.sage and turned a dim thread out there into a silver chain. Following it upward, it showed what bobbed there, spherical, horned, waiting.

"Now wouldn't you know," said Crane. "We're just lucky, I guess. Of all the places for a mine to drift to, of all the times for it to happen-"

"I don't think luck had much to do with it," said Nelson. "Depress that light, Mr. Morton. Right down to the floor."

The beams came down, scythed along the floor of the pa.s.s. It rose, then fell away like a road going over the crown of a hill. Dead ahead, just where it fell away, lay a second mine on a short chain.

"n.o.body lost that egg, Captain. Somebody laid it there." He met Crane's eyes, and, without any humor, he chuckled. "I must say, I'm flattered."

"The Southampton woman wasn't altogether crazy. Dr. Zucco really has scrounged up a task force then."

"The Southampton woman was altogether crazy," said the Admiral, "and also altogether right-something which can happen."

"I couldn't take it seriously," Crane confessed. "Zucco-"

"Zucco is wrong," said the Admiral. "Either he doesn't know it, in which case he thinks he's right as much as I do-and I won't be stopped, you know-or he does know it, which is ten times the reason he'd do a thing like this. He's never been publicly wrong about anything in his whole life, and he isn't about to start now.... I wonder how they got here in time to lay mines? Chanced flying, I guess, to some South American port. Knew we'd try the Straits."

"I think I know now what happened to that whale we nudged aside."

"That whale... oh, but you... are... right," said the Admiral slowly, always a sign that his brain was working fast. He pointed. "If we rise enough to clear that lower one, we'll be sc.r.a.ping the chain of the other."

"They could be magnetically armed, horns or no horns," said Crane. "Just getting near would be enough. We can't chance that. Either we go back and try some other way, or we get them out of there."

"We don't go back," said the Admiral positively.

"Might send 'em a fish," Morton chimed in.

"We can take a whole lot," said the Admiral, "but I think one torpedo plus two mines plus a rock gradient about 60 per cent sure to slide-I wouldn't want it."

"I'll take out the minisub and cut the chains."

"You'll send out the minisub and cut the chains." The O.O.M. turned what the fo'c's'le called "the icy eye" on him. "Or have you taken a course in that too?"

"Well, sir, I can certainly-"

"Mr. Morton, ask the CPO to step up here, and Seaman Smith."

Morton turned to the intercom, and the Admiral said softly to Crane, "You don't have to be the whole crew, Lee."

As softly, Crane said, "Why not? I can't be the Captain."

At the look of pain which, in swift spasm, crossed that rocky old face, Lee Crane could have bitten off his tongue clear back to the inner ear. Ordinarily he would have been incapable of thinking such a thing, let alone speak it. Shocked and miserable, he stood silent, his face as rockbound as the Admiral's now was, until the Admiral said quietly, "It's all yours, Captain," and started aft.

Crane was after him in two strides. "Admiral-" Nelson stopped, looking aft as if plotting a course. Crane meant it to sound something like an apology, but his throat was tight and it came out harsh, little-boy-smart-alecky: "I'll get you to the right place at the right time."

Nelson turned then and smiled like an old man. "I'm sure you will," and walked out.

Crane scowled and went into the greenhouse to look at the mines, like great big lollipops, standing on their stems and s.h.i.+ning in the floods.

"He had that coming, and boy howdy, you handed it over," said Morton.

"Shut your mouth," said Crane, and only as the air reverberated around him did he realize how loud he had shouted.

"Okay, okay," said Morton, his back turned, but the cut of his ears somehow showing that he grinned. "You're the Captain." And then he added, "Really, and if Gleason had not appeared at that moment he would certainly have climbed right up the executive officer's back and hammered him into the deck like a spike into a pine plank.

"Yessir," said Gleason.

"Where's Smith?"

"I'll get'm," said the CPO, and before anyone could move to stop him, he leaned across the console and sang a few wordless notes into the general intercom. "The knee's in the greenhouse," he added, and switched off.

All over the s.h.i.+p could be heard the echoes of laughter. It was too easy to laugh now, to cry, to kill, and where was Cathy just now...? He forced his attention back to the CPO, and his mind repeated to him the notes Gleason had sung. They were the same he had once heard Gleason whistling-and in a rush he recognized the tune-that treacly ma.s.s of excess sentiment called Sonny Boy. He recalled the day-how long ago it seemed!-when Nelson had, with blatant disregard for the consequences, publicly reminded Smith how once he bounced on old Admiral B.J. Crawford's knee. He felt a surge of profound annoyance against the O.O.M., probably because he needed to just then. It made him feel much better. How could the old guy have been so stupid? Had he really forgotten the awful cargo .ABBYY.com of ribbing the youngster would have to carry from that moment on? Didn't he know? In forty years, hadn't he learned anything about the Navy?

"Knock off that horseplay," he snapped harshly. (He did not say "horseplay.") Gleason's good, doggy face turned masklike. "Yessir."

"I want those chains cut."

Gleason peered forward, pursed his lips to whistle, seemed to recall something, and became masklike again. "Will do, sir."

Smith came in then, saw Gleason first, said whitely, "Listen, poochface, you pull that Sonny B- "

" Tenshun! Tenshun! " said Gleason. " said Gleason.

"Sorry, sir," said Smith to the Captain.

"Seaman Smith," said Gleason, "we are going to cut those chains."

Smith looked puzzled, then followed Gleason's gaze out through the herculite nose. His jaw dropped, and then he nodded and said, "Aye-aye, sir."

"On the double," said the Captain, and the harshness was still in his throat, though he did not mean it to be. They tumbled out.

Captain Crane, waiting for the minisub to show itself, stared unseeing out toward the pa.s.s and the mines, and tried hard to get hold of himself. For almost two whole days now, ever since he had stormed aft to the sick bay and Alvarez, he had been shaken, overwhelmed by a sense of unreality and disbelief. His inward condition was a.n.a.logous to that of a man who had for years walked a two-by-four between his house and his barn, until one day someone had pointed out to him that under the narrow timber was a thousand-foot drop. And ever after he took no casual step. Crane was built and trained to do whatever comes next; his world then appeared on both sides of him like scenery, having built itself. But ever since that talk with Alvarez, he had felt compelled to test his every word and pace, every thought and all the meanings of those who spoke to him, to be sure they applied, to be sure they were there, were real.

And these were all feelings, pressures, for which there were no terms as set down here. A man just having learned what a light-year is, and of how many light-years it is across the galaxy, and then that there are other, larger galaxies immeasurably distant across the gulfs of s.p.a.ce; such a man, one night, might lie looking up at the stars and suddenly see them as what they are-something other than pinholes in a black cloth bowl. With his own eyes he might suddenly see that some were near and some far and the blackness between a pool of illimitable emptiness. Such a man might, at such a moment, know fear the like of which he had never imagined before, purely in the realization that he had lived all his life with his bones and his soul on the verge of so majestic an emptiness, and brushed its fringes with his hair.

It was such a void that Alvarez had opened to Captain Crane, though one of another kind; and if all the man said was true, then the fire in the sky was a small stripe to lash his back, and the end of the world not quite severe enough to punish him.

Cathy Connors was beside him. "Lee... Lee, I'm frightened frightened."

Crane stared into the swirling luminous deep. How strange it seemed that nothing out there looked wet.

She said, "One of the men was... after Sue Hiller. She got her door locked and then he tried to break it down. Someone was coming and he ran away. She wouldn't say who."

Crane's lips parted because in the void Alvarez had spread for him lay a word, and in a moment, if it could only be an untroubled and uninterrupted moment, he could lay tongue on it. It tantalized him, coming close enough for him almost to feel its shape-and he closed his lips, knowing it was gone again.

"I'm afraid, Lee. It's going to happen again. A lot."

"Maybe," Crane said distantly, to the herculite hull, "it doesn't matter after all."

"Oh," whispered Cathy Connors, and by the time the minisub appeared, she had gone as quietly as she had come.

"Mr. Morton," Crane barked, "Rig me a remote mike and hang it on the sonarphone."

"Aye-aye, sir."

He came forward, trailing wire. Crane reached back without looking and took the microphone.

Morton said, "Jesus, Lee, d'you think-"

Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea Part 14

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Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea Part 14 summary

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