Out of Water – Chapter Ten

The hatch swung open with a soft groan and Lauren took an involuntary step back. The cramped corridor beyond faded into the darkness beyond the reach of Herrigan’s torch and the back of Lauren’s brain was quietly reminding her why she’d never gone to sea in spite of years working on the docks. It had taken a lot of wheedling and more than one direct threat to her job for the diplomats in Canberra to convince her to join the group going to Alcatraz. She still wasn’t sure why they’d pushed so hard, her “greater personal experience” with Herrigan’s crew didn’t really make her any better suited to dealing with the totally alien world she’d stumbled into at the bottom of the ocean.

Before he stepped in to the corridor Herrigan dropped to a crouch and shone his light on the floor. Looking over his shoulder Lauren saw that the floor was a grate over a shallow channel with water quietly running through it. She could make out narrow channels in the walls of the corridor where the ubiquitous condensation ran down into the stream beneath the floor. Herrigan hooked his fingers through the grate and flipped a catch hidden along the edge, popped it free and set it aside then dipped his hand in the water.

For a moment he looked a lot like the typical outback roughneck or tracker that she might see on television. Then he shook his head and reached for the grate to put it back. “What was that all about?”

He glanced up as he snapped the floor back in place. “Just checking the local temperature.”

“It is a lot colder here,” she said, pulling her jacket a little tighter around her. Trenchman clothing leaned towards the loose and airy, which was normally a plus in the humid environments they seemed to live in. “Is it because we’re close to the hull?”

“Yeah. Ward Three isn’t anywhere close to a geothermal vent so it’s pretty cool out there and we don’t bother insulating the hull beyond the natural properties of the ceramic. It would just be another thing we’d have to produce that we don’t have the raw materials for.” He pushed himself back to his feet, flicking water from his hand in an offhand, almost subconscious way. “People working here for any length of time tend to bring some kind of heater or something so they don’t catch pneumonia or suffer hypothermia.”

“Or they dress warmly.”

“In this atmosphere, more layers tends to equal more damp cloth on you skin. Heating is the way to go.” He stepped in to the corridor, barely wide enough for to people to squeeze by each other, and motioned for her to follow. “Shut the hatch behind you.”

“I remember the plan, Herrigan.” Lauren hauled the door closed and dogged the hatch. “How do you know this fish out of water guy will heat the section he’s in? If he’s as crazy as you say then he might suffer in the cold just because that’s how he wants to do it.”

“If he’s been down here without a heat source for the last hour the odds he’s going to be any kind of a problem are pretty low. I’ve fished enough dead bodies out of these places after accidents and stupid decisions to know just how fast this place can kill you.” Lauren came to a stop, the rattling of the grates under her feet echoing away into the dark. Herrigan went a few steps more, his own footfalls barely audible over the echoes. She wasn’t sure how he was so quiet, the grates were loose and should rattle under the lightest weight. “Something wrong?”

The corridor was dark behind her and in front the only light was from Herrigan’s torch. The saying was any port in a storm but she wasn’t quite sure she bought that. “How can you be so casual about it?”

There was a quick flick of the eyes around the dimly illuminated area, clearly Herrigan trying to narrow down what the question was about. “Freezing to death in a hull access area?”

She threw her hands up in the air and bashed her knuckles against the ceiling. Muttering, she cradled her hands and shook her head.  “Herrigan, the first time you saw the sun was six weeks ago. You run around the ocean floor in a sub with a leaky nuclear reactor scraping up scraps from lost ships to sell when you get home, where you drink booze made from seaweed and pat yourself on the back for finding the materials to keep your underwater prison colony growing. You’re a part time sheriff and that means you occasionally pull frozen bodies out of dark holes in a prison colony. And somehow you’re completely calm about it.”

“I guess I never thought of it like that.” Herrigan planted both hands on his hips, flipping the torch around with a practiced move so they could still see. “It probably looks strange from the outside but-”

“This isn’t just about perspective, Herrigan.” She waved around at the dark around them. “The government that locked you up here has been gone for years but you people are just as imprisoned as the day they brought you down.”

For a moment he looked thoughtful but then he shook his head and grinned. “That doesn’t add up at all, Lauren. We don’t have prisons down here – kinda rubs people the wrong way – but we all know how they work. You get locked up in a box and you don’t get to do anything. Everything’s decided for you and you shuffle along from place to place marching to someone else’s tune. And you sure don’t stick your neck out for someone who’s in trouble.”

Lauren snorted and waved towards the inside of the hull. “You said yourself that the people there aren’t in trouble if the place floods.”

“I wasn’t talking about them. Come on,” he turned and headed back into the dark, “that fish ain’t getting back in the water on his own.”

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