Note: The following are excerpts from two chapters in Rising Tide
• • •
Ben awoke to a voice echoing throughout the chamber. “Topside to Ben, come in, Ben.” The transmission repeated. “Topside to Ben. It’s time to rise and shine, sweetheart.”
He moaned and rolled out of the sack. He didn’t have far to roll. The space lived up to its name; it was the size of a tin can. Two bunks, a dry toilet, and a panel to monitor life support, position, and temperature along with numerous small storage bays made up the interior of the Orion.
He reached for the COM and yawned. “This is Ben, Topside, go ahead.”
“Good morning, Ben. So glad you could take time out of your busy schedule to join us.”
“Good morning, Marty,” Ben said, rolling his eyes.
“Ben, it’s time to begin system’s check. You’ll be on the surface in just under thirty hours.”
Ben moved to the control console, yawned again, and rubbed his eyes. “Roger,” he said. “Beginning system’s check.”
He knew this was necessary, but why wake him at four a.m. every morning for the same thing? Couldn’t they do this a little later in the day?
“How are you feeling?” Marty asked. “Your vitals look good from up here.”
“Good overall, just a little dizzy,” Ben answered.
“It’s probably the nitrogen,” Marty countered. “We changed your breathing mixture again last night.” He paused. “Ben,” Marty continued, “don’t forget to check your interior hatch control also.”
“Everything’s operative,” Ben said.
“Good,” Marty replied. “Topside out.”
“Orion out,” Ben replied.
The one thing Ben loathed more than Pete’s cooking were the rations onboard the Orion. These things must have been around since the First World War, he thought. Unwilling to dive into another cardboard-based meal, Ben sat down on the edge of his bunk, hung his head, and closed his eyes. In this position he could sense the capsule’s movement intensify. He moved back to the COM.
“Topside, this is Ben. What’s with the bumpy ride?”
“A tropical storm,” came the reply.
He waited for further explanation. None came. Ben stiffened. “Is that it?” he said. “Why so tight lipped?”
“Ben, this is Marty. A tropical depression formed yesterday morning. We’ve been waiting to see how it plays out before we filled you in. I didn’t want to cause any undue alarm.”
“Well?” Ben questioned.
“The forecast calls for slow strengthening,” Marty continued. “According to our radar, they may have been wrong. The next update is due soon. Just hang tight. I’m confident that it won’t be a factor in getting you to the surface. If it’s any consolation,” he said, “they named this one Benjamin.”
“I don’t care what they call it,” Ben said. “Just keep me in the loop. It’s my butt in this can, not yours.” He started to say more then thought better of it. “Orion out,” he finished.
In this environment, hours seemed like days. Ben thumbed through the rations again and decided on a prepackaged breakfast bar. He sat down, unwrapped the bar, and took a bite. The Orion lurched violently, tossing him into the port wall. “What the—” It lurched again, throwing him to the opposite side.
The intercom brought him back. “Ben, can you hear me?”
Ben pressed the COM button. “What’s going on up there?” he screamed.
“Ben, it’s not up here, it’s down there. There’s been an explosion in the habitat.”
“Marty,” Ben said, “what about Pete?”
“I don’t know, Ben,” he said. “I don’t know.”
Another blast ripped through the Orion, cutting all power and knocking him to the floor. Ben lifted himself off the deck and found it was impossible to stand. He crawled to the COM panel.
“Marty! All systems down! All systems down!” he repeated.
“Ben, your umbilical has been severed. You’ll have to power up onboard support.”
“Understood,” Ben responded. “What next?” he whispered.
The mere push of a button would begin the conversion, but now even the simplest task was proving nearly impossible for Ben with the capsule bouncing violently.
He located the switch and managed to convert all outside life support to onboard systems control. The battery backup kicked in. The lights flickered and then burnt steadily, not as bright as usual, but it was better than the complete darkness that had momentarily filled the cabin. One look at his gauges told him he was still eighty feet down, too deep to blow the ballast and surface.
The Orion continued to bob up and down. Ben pushed the COM button. “Marty, why am I not stabilizing?”
“Ben, the tropical storm has been strengthening rapidly for the past few hours. The blast bounced you up almost sixty feet. You’ve gotten close enough to the surface to feel part of what we’re getting up here,” he said. “We’ve got twenty-foot seas, going to thirty.” There was a long silence.
“Give it to me straight this time, Marty,” Ben said.
“Ben, the storm’s going to get stronger, maybe a cat five, or worse. On top of that, with the new protocol in place, everyone on board the platform moves into the Ark. We’ll lose our COM link,” he said. “You’ll be on your own, Ben. I’m sorry.”
The Ark was a self-sufficient life station positioned beneath the drilling platform. It could support up to thirty people for a maximum of five days. With limited propulsion it could even be cut loose and move away from OZ if necessary, tethered by a one-inch, two-mile long cable that could be winched in when the “all-clear” was given.
“Great,” Ben said. The chamber lurched again, this time slamming into one of the oilrig’s massive legs. “Marty, I’m still tethered to the sea floor. I’m too close to the rig. I’m gonna have to cut loose from the cable and float free before this thing beats me to death.”
“Ben, do not blow your ballast. Repeat. Do not blow your ballast. You’ll need another sixteen hours minimum to complete your decompression cycle.”
“Roger that,” Ben said. Beads of sweat gathered on his forehead.
“What about Pete?” Ben asked.
“As close as we can determine, the storm wrenched the habitat’s life support umbilical loose, allowing the atmosphere to escape,” Marty said. “Once the pressure reached a critical level … ” his voice trailed off. “I’m sorry, Ben; no one could have survived that implosion.”
“Orion out,” Ben said. His mind was blank, his body numb. He disengaged the quick connects from the cable and began to drift. The oilrig’s stabilizer scraped the side of Orion, seemingly to say goodbye.
Marty transmitted one last time. “We’re moving to the Ark,” he said. “Good luck, Ben. Topside out.”
Overwhelmed, Ben didn’t answer.
The jolt knocked Ben to the floor. “Talk about a rude awakening,” he said. He rose and popped his head through the hatchway. The scene was surreal. A large vessel had planted itself firmly into the side of the Orion. Neither vessel was moving. It’s as though they’ve been fused together on contact, he thought. There was a man hanging over the side clutching the rail. Another leaned over and pulled the first man up. Within minutes three faces were peering over the side of the ship at him.
“Ahoy!” Ben yelled.
“Ahoy,” came the response. ”Can you leave your vessel?”
“I’ll have to blow the side hatch,” Ben said.
“Very well,” a voice replied. “We’ll ready the lifeline.”
A boom swung over the edge of the ship and began lowering a line with a survival harness attached. When the harness touched the water, Ben dropped into the chamber and made ready to make his escape. With his hand poised over the switch, he thought of the capsule filling with water and taking him to the bottom along with it. Before he had a chance to change his mind, he slammed his palm down.
There was a brief delay, and the hatch blew free from its mooring. Ben lunged for the opening, but he wasn’t moving. His boot had become wedged under the console’s toe kick. He fought off panic and reached for his boot to free it. It wouldn’t budge. He removed his foot from the boot. He looked toward the hatch expecting to see a wall of water.
Amazingly, there was none. The cabin was bone dry. The water had been nearly halfway up the hatch when he’d blown it, but it wasn’t filling the cabin. He looked closer and couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It was as if a piece of glass had been placed across the hatchway. The sea level remained constant, drawing a straight line across the opening, but no water entered in.
Ben pushed his hand into the impossible then pulled it back. It was wet. He twisted his boot free and laced it back onto his foot, still mesmerized by the sight before him. He shuddered, then, thinking more clearly, decided that he’d better get out before whatever was holding the water back changed its mind.
Ben emerged at the surface and started to swim toward the harness. He strapped himself in and gave the thumbs-up. As he was lowered onto the ship’s deck, a lone figure approached. He was tall, fiftyish, with a neatly trimmed, slightly gray beard, and a uniform complete with cap that almost appeared military. He saluted and extended his hand.
“Welcome to the Morning Star,” he said. “Captain Evans at your service.”