Out of Water – Chapter Twelve

Sudbury waited until Halloway had dropped a good fifteen paces back, with Sam and his deputy to keep him company, before broaching the topic. When he did he went about it in a suitably diplomatic way. “Mr. Holman, I know that here in Alcatraz things work a great deal differently than on the surface. But I have to admit that, much like Sergeant Halloway I find Deputy Cartwright’s priorities a bit… strange. I wouldn’t question them,” he hastened to add, “but in this case someone he and I are responsible for is at risk. So I have to ask…”

The two men hurried down the dark hallways of the station for a moment, Randal’s flashlight – borrowed from the equipment locker back at the engineering hub – turning the normally drab back halls where maintenance personnel spent most of their time into a bizarre maze of dancing shadows and half-seen paths branching into the dark. Even as a lifetime resident, Randal found it eerie. Sudbury wasn’t finishing his question so Randal gave him a nudge. “Well?”

“Let me put it this way…” Sudbury took a deep breath and settled his shoulders. “In Australia today suicide is considered a human right. Anyone who feels their life has lost meaning is free to leave it. It’s considered an act of compassion for those who are suffering.”

Randal gave the ambassador a sharp look, a flash of pure revulsion nearly driving him to step away before he controlled himself. Instead he demanded, “Is this going somewhere, Ambassador?”

A careful, placating gesture was the first response. Clearly finding a response that properly articulated his points was taxing even a professionally trained diplomatic mind. After another couple of steps Sudbury continued. “I know that, sociologically speaking, frontier settlements tend to insist on as much as the community surviving as possible so the notion of suicide becomes extremely unpalatable so it may not be a comfortable subject for you-”

“Historically Alcatraz has overcrowding problems, not understaffing ones,” Randal put in woodenly, the part of him that insisted on right facts being on the table at war with the part that was mildly horrified by the other man’s line of thought. “In the early days there were a lot of times when we nearly ran out of oxygen to breath. People were paid if they volunteered to get sterilizations and slow down population growth. There was talk of other measures.”

“I… see.”

For a brief moment Randal indulged his urge to make Sudbury just as uncomfortable as he was. “I’ve always suspected that the neoenvironmentalists who led the push to jail us enjoyed the irony of putting us at the mercy of one atmosphere after all the time we supposedly spent damaging another.”

“You must appreciate the irony of the current ice age, then.”

“I think you’re trying to avoid going back to talking about suicide. Weird, since you brought it up. Go on.”

Sudbury nodded. “Of course. My point is just… that your fish out of water has clearly suffered a serious breakdown in mental health. Many who are healthy would find a loss of mental health on this scale to be justification for suicide and we make it a point not to stand in their way if that’s what they choose. It sounds like you could let that happen for your fish and still keep everyone else in this section safe. Instead, Deputy Cartwright has put himself, Lauren Cochran and possibly the rest of this section in danger in an attempt to interfere with the human right of a person who’s name and circumstances we don’t even know. It seems to me like an overreaction. I don’t mean to judge-”

“You should.” Sudbury stopped in surprise but Randal kept going, forcing the ambassador to struggle to keep up. “In Alcatraz a man without judgement gets no respect from anyone. We judged the policies of the government we used to live under repressive and evil and decided exile was better than living under them. In the early days we judged not being the kind of people who encouraged euthanasia and suicide more important than finding an easy solution to our air supply problems. And right now I’m making a judgement.”

He let the statement hang in the air for a moment. “I’ve decided that, whether I know his name or not, that our fish out of water has a life worth living if I can only convince him to live it. Now. Whether that’s worth Lauren Cochran risking her life or not is something you’ll have to judge for yourself.” Randal threw a glance back, not at Sudbury but at Halloway beyond him. “At least one of you already has and I respect that. But if you want to just sit there and not judge your welcome to do it. Just do it from outside the hull access. I don’t want someone without good judgment getting underfoot in there.”

——–

“How much of this is there?” Lauren asked as she waited for Herrigan to work the hatch between the section of hallway they were in and the next.

“Well, a section is shaped like an oval on it’s side and the internal hull access is at the top, bottom and the middle. The big hatches at top and bottom are all mechanical and have to be accessed from outside once a section’s in use and there’s three floors worth of these corridors around the outside.”

Lauren groaned. “You mean we have other floors to cover?”

Herrigan swung the hatch open. “It spirals up and down.” He looped his finger through the air to illustrate. “You may not have noticed but we’re going up at a slight incline right now. This next chamber is actually the top. And no, before you ask, we don’t have to backtrack to where we were. There’s a ladder in every fourth section you can use for quick access to other levels.”

“I’d wondered what those were for,” Lauren said, following him into the final section of hallway which was anticlimactically empty.

“You could have asked.”

“Didn’t seem like a good time.”

The end of the hallway had some kind of computer access built in to the wall over a large footlocker arrangement in the floor. Herrigan pulled out a set of keys and opened the footlocker. After a moment’s rummaging he pulled out two electric torches, both at least twice the size of the one he was currently carrying, and handed one to her. “These will probably let us see better. Let’s head down. We’re more than halfway done.”

Lauren nodded wordlessly, not feeling particularly encouraged by his reassurance. The torch was nice though. As she started down the ladder she asked, “Why put the hallways on an incline? I’d think level flooring would make getting equipment around easier.”

“You may have noticed it’s a little humid down here.”

“Not particularly.”

Herrigan snorted. “Flattery gets you nothing. Anyway, since the hull is so much cooler than the interior there’s a lot of condensation that forms in this section. We have to drain it away through the channels in the floor. While we’re at it we run it over a series of small hydroelectric turbines for whatever extra power we can get out of it.”

“And you need the incline for that.” She shook her head. “That’s a lot of effort for a couple of kilowatts of electricity.”

“Believe me, we need all we can get.” Herrigan stepped off the ladder two floors down. Lauren gamely tagged along. So far sections of the access halls were pretty much repeats of four basic themes. Empty hall, hallway with ladder, hallway with inner hatch, hallway with exterior hatch. The section beyond this one would thus be an inner hatch, presumably the one they entered through. Beyond that would be an exterior hatch… which now that she thought about it was the most likely place to find their quarry. “Say, Herrigan -”

He swung the hatch open to the next section and stepped ankle deep into water.

” – never mind.”

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