Out of Water – Chapter Four

Lauren and Herrigan had gotten half way out the door of the Third Ward offices when Lieutenant Holly Newcastle, Australian Army, caught up with them.

Herrigan managed to suppress a disgusted sound. Not because he disliked the Lieutenant or had really wanted to go somewhere alone with one of the Australians but because the young woman – more of a girl in his mind – kind of creeped him out. In spite of a month plus of reminding himself that a lot of the ideas trenchmen had about the surface were based on hyperbole and out of date information there were some things he hadn’t gotten past. An intense dislike of professional armies was one of them.

Oscar had pointed out the irony of that coming from someone who was a Deputy Justice and a militia officer and so, technically, in the same line of work. But in Herrigan’s mind fighting wasn’t his job, it was something he did to keep his job. In theory, fighting was Newcastle’s job.

“Lauren?” Holly poked her head past Lauren’s shoulder, a quizzical look on her face. “Are you going somewhere? Ambassador Sudbury doesn’t want any of us wandering alone.”

She sounded more like a schoolmarm than a soldier to Herrigan’s admittedly untrained ear. Lauren didn’t seem to mind because she smiled back and said, “Herrigan just thought we should take a break and grab some refreshments. We’ll be back in a little while.”

“Forty five minutes, tops.” Herrigan put in.

“What kind of refreshments?” Holly asked, clearly skeptical.

“Well.” Lauren gave him a questioning look and said, “If there’s any kind of civilization left down here hard liquor will at least be on the menu.”

“Guaranteed.”

Holly clasped her hands together and said, “Take me with you! If I have to listen to one more word about the complexities of getting all your stupid Chiefs in one place and I’m sober, someone’s going to get shot.”

“Wait.” Herrigan’s brow furrowed. “Who gave you your gun back?”

“My sidearm hasn’t been returned yet. That’s another thing that bugs me.”

It wasn’t going to get fixed any time soon, that he was pretty sure of. But mentioning the fact probably wasn’t going to be helpful so Herrigan ignored the issue of arming her for the moment and considered her request. Ultimately, he didn’t see what it could hurt. “Well,” he said, “you’re probably not getting your gun back until you’re sober again but I’m not one to take booze from someone who has to deal with the Chiefs. Let’s go.”

——–

The sign said that the bar’s name was Orpheus. Holly gave Herrigan a skeptical look. “Orpheus?”

“Third Ward’s very own roving bar,” He said with a grin.

It was Lauren’s turn to look skeptical. “Does it move places?”

“It did in the past.” Herrigan waved at the circular hub room they stood in, ringed with what she guessed were store fronts and other public buildings. “This plaza only opened a couple of years ago. Before that, Orpheus was located one floor up. Whenever the Ward built a layer down into the Trench then the owner would buy up a business plot there and move shop. Orpheus is always as close to the underworld as it can get.”

Holly snorted. “Figures. Randal mentioned that one of the other Chief Executives was named Dante and from Inferno Ward. Are all the naming conventions down here so cheerful?”

“Most of ’em. It fits a place like this, don’t you think? Besides, Inferno Ward is where the Geothermal plant is, so it fits.” Herrigan stepped forward to open the door for them, then turned back and said, “By the way, until we can officially announce that we have Australian visitors to the public you might want to save those kind of questions for when we’re alone.”

Lauren took a quick glance around. Fortunately the plaza was fairly empty at the moment and she didn’t think anyone had overheard. “Good point. Lead the way, oh native guide.”

They pushed through the doors of the bar and in to the dimly lit interior. So far she’d mostly experienced the inside of a salvage sub and the docks and stairwells of the colony itself but even that small sampling had been kind of alien.  But pubs were apparently a universal constant. Orpheus was just a big room with booths, tables and a bar along the side wall. There were a few new wrinkles. Alcatraz itself wasn’t as humid as Erin’s Dream had been but humidity was still higher than she was used to and the near ubiquitous Spanish lace dangled from a number of supports throughout the room.

The people there were about what she’d come to expect from the trenchmen, dozens of men with close cropped or shaved heads, women with bobbed hair, all dressed in brightly colored jackets of various lengths. Between the unusual colors the people wore and the plant life trenchmen scattered everywhere the room felt a bit like a tropical rainforest that had somehow gotten lost and wandered down to the bottom of the ocean.

Herrigan led them to the side of the room, towards the bar. They’d gotten most of the way there when a loud, clearly inebriated voice called, “Hey, Harry! Over here!”

Towards the back of the room an arm clad in bright blue was waving lazily. Lauren vaguely recognized some of the people at the table as faces of the crew they’d come in with, although she probably couldn’t have put names to faces. Herrigan muttered something under his breath and said, “Be right back. I need a word with them.”

Lauren and Holly shared an amused glance as Herrigan hustled away, leaving them by the bar. Almost at the same moment a tall, gangly fellow stepped over to them and asked, “What’ll it be, ladies? Any preferences? Or did Cartwright promise you a drink from his stash?”

“Harry said he’d let us sample some of the best drinks in the Ward,” Lauren said, hoping to avoid ordering anything by name.

“The stash it is,” the barkeep replied. He pulled out a fairly normal looking glass bottle and set it on the counter, followed by three shot glasses. “You’re welcome to sit here at the bar until he gets back to you, or his favorite table’s open if you’d like some privacy.”

“Thanks,” Holly said as she took the bottle and headed towards the table he’d pointed out. As they got away from the bar she dropped her voice and asked, “How often do you think he brings ladies here for privacy? That sounded like a pretty practiced spiel to me.”

Lauren shrugged and made a noncommittal noise as she looked the bottle over. The label announced the drink was Selkie, which she’d never heard of, and it was mostly full. As soon as they got to Herrigan’s table, a booth near the back corner of the room, they poured half a glass in each glass and studied the result.

Holly turned her glass slowly in one hand, then carefully sniffed at the beverage and pulled a face. “It’s… I don’t know.”

The liquid sloshed in the glass but didn’t cling like wine or brandy would. Lauren didn’t smell much from it either, beyond a vague hint of the sea that could easily have come from the room around her. “It’s green.”

“Yeah.” Holly nodded. “Green.”

“It’s Selkie. Distilled seaweed and other flavors.” Herrigan slid into the booth on the other side and scooped up the third glass, downing its contents in a single gulp. With a grimace he set the shot glass down and refilled it, then looked at the ladies. “Not going to try?”

Apparently unable to back down from the challenge, Holly downed her glass with equal speed, then nearly fumbled it onto the floor as she half-choked swallowing. Curious, Lauren took a much more restrained sip of her own drink. It didn’t burn like some well aged whiskies she’d had but it tasted a lot more like grass than she cared to think about. “Must be an acquired taste.”

“I think all booze is, to be fair.” Herrigan downed a second glass but didn’t refill it. “We brewed with what we could spare, back in the day.”

Holly wiped her eyes and swallowed hard, then smoothed the front of her shirt and exhaled sharply. “It’s certainly unique.”

Herrigan smirked. “Suits its makers.”

She bristled at that and pulled herself up a bit in her chair. “Mr. Cartwright, could I ask you a question?”

He shrugged. “Sure, why not? I’m probably not going to give you the best answer, but if you wanted that I’m sure you’d have asked Sam or Randal.”

For a moment Holly paused to gather her thoughts, perking Lauren’s interest. The lieutenant wasn’t an airhead but she didn’t give the impression of a deep thinker, either, and Lauren couldn’t figure out what in the last few minutes could have prompted such a serious attitude from her. Finally Holly looked Herrigan in the eye and said, “Why -”

And all the lights in the bar went dark.

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Out of Water: Chapter One

The hull of Erin’s Dream groaned as the tired salvage sub sank down below the edge of the Marianas Trench. Lauren Cochran watched as the ship’s salvage commander, Herrigan Cartwright, wiped the condensation off the shoulder of his bright yellow jacket and threw it on the floor. It was a practiced, unconscious movement, one she’d realized was something between a dismissal and a curse. Barely two feet to his right the ship’s XO, Gwen Bolton, mimicked the gesture. Apparently the ship’s crew didn’t like the noise any better than she did. Lauren knew Erin’s Dream had suffered a hull breach before making port in New Darwin but the repairs had all been cleared by safety inspectors before it headed out to sea again.

Of course none of those inspectors had been told its final destination was a half forgotten prison colony built near the bottom of the deepest chasm in the world.

With eight people crammed into a space that couldn’t be more than twelve by twelve, plus the control consoles and station chairs, the bridge was cramped and tense. Given the distant attitude the crew had shown them so far she wasn’t sure why the small Australian delegation had been invited to watch the ship make port at Stalag, the Third Ward of a prison colony turned self governing state calling itself Alcatraz. For that matter, she wasn’t entirely sure why she had been sent with the delegation at all. She was an assistant harbormaster, not a diplomat. Her only qualification was the amount of time she’d spent around the crew since they got into port and even on that count she was sure Ambassador Sudbury had her beat. He’d spent a lot of time with the ship’s owners during the weeks it was laid up for repairs.

“All engines stopped,” the XO announced. “How’s her back, Graham?”

“Hull looks fine,” Gwen’s brother replied from the ops station, “but give her a second to get her feet under her. It’s been a while since Eddie was this deep.”

Herrigan pulled a headset out from under his console and put it on. “I’ll call in and let the lockmaster know we’re coming.”

“Lockmaster?” Sudbury asked.

Captain Duffy leaned back from his work station to give the ambassador his full attention. “He’s somewhere between a harbor master and an engineer in charge of keeping the sea locks in working order so subs can get in and out of the Ward.”

“Did you rename everything in your society?” The grumpy man asking was the Sergeant in charge of the small Australian army detachment – really just two people – sent along to keep Lauren and the Ambassador safe. Most people seemed content to attribute his generally surly attitude to the fact that he felt dangerously understaffed for his responsibilities.

“We didn’t rename anything. We just didn’t feel any need to borrow from existing surface societies when inventing entirely new things.” Herrigan was the one exception to the spirit of good will Lauren had noticed, perhaps because he was kind of the opposite of Sergeant Hathoway. Both men had spent a fair portion of the trip watching each other suspiciously and not talking much. He was friendly enough with the rest of the delegation but something about Hathoway seemed to rub him the wrong way.

“What happened to calling in?” Gwen muttered.

Ambassador Sudbury stepped in to break up the tension. “I thought your subs maintained radio silence as a way to stay hidden.”

“Once we’re in the trench we have relays that let us talk to Alcatraz without risk of detection,” the captain said. “Without real time contact we’d have a hard time navigating the hazards between us and home.”

Lauren suppressed a shudder. “What kind of hazards do you have down this deep? Predators?”

Gwen laughed at that. “Nothing big enough to hurt Eddie, even with the bad shape she’s in. There isn’t enough for something that big to eat, assuming we weren’t past it’s crush depth. We have smaller fish, crustaceans and jellyfish running around but nothing like monster sharks or kraken or stuff like that. Most of the dangerous stuff comes from us.”

“What kind of trash do you leave laying around down here?” Lauren asked. “I thought Alcatraz sent out salvage subs because it couldn’t afford to leave stuff lying around.”

“It’s not trash,” Herrigan said. “It’s other things.”

Before Hathoway could ask what he meant Herrigan keyed his headset and said, “Hello, Alcatraz control. This is the Erin’s Dream, requesting an approach lane and permission to dock from Third Ward’s lockmaster.”

——–

“I told you your cousin would be fine.” Randal hopped down stairs two at a time trying to keep up with Sam as his friend clattered down towards the lock levels at full tilt.

“I wasn’t worried about him. Herrigan’s tough as nails. But Aunt Martha practically went gray this month and the family’s been hopping trying to keep her spirits up. He shouldn’t be worrying his mother like that.” Sam shot Randal a look over his shoulder. “This is personal business, Chief. Don’t you have other things to be doing? Like getting a campaign in order?”

Randal chuffed a laugh out in between deep breaths, trying not to show how much the pace was taking out of him. “I’ve spent four and a half years of my life as the Third Ward chief executive, that’s long enough thank you. Not sure why I wanted to be a politician in a colony full of stubborn political prisoners, it’s worse than wrangling cats.”

“You’ve never seen a cat before. We don’t have them here. How would you know?” Sam was sounding a bit winded himself, although at nearly ten years Randal’s senior he had a decent excuse.

“I’ll concede the point if you’ll quit trying to talk me into running for office again.” After six flights of stairs, going down or not, both men were glad to reach the door that let them in to the control room that overlooked the main sealock control center. Half a dozen faces swivled to look at the two with curious expressions. Randal grinned. “Quarterly inspection, folks. We’re here to make sure you’re parking the boats right.”

The lockmaster grunted and went back to his console. “Interested in one boat in particular, I’ll bet.” He waved absently towards one of the other technicians. “I think Frank’s on the line with Erin’s Dream right now.”

As the two men approached Frank’s station he hit a key on his control screen that switched his audio from his headset to speakers. “-coming in for final approach and requesting docking instructions.”

Herrigan’s voice came over the speaker and Randal saw Sam smile out of the corner of his eye. In spite of what he said Randal knew the Cartwrights were a close family and had been worried as Harry’s ship got more and more overdue. “Eddie’s two months overdue, Cartwright,” Frank said, pulling up the current docking assignments on his screen. “Her usual berth’s taken. Get your ship in sooner if you want her resting easy, I’ll have to see what I can scrounge for you. Guess you got a full hold of scrap after all that time out there, at least.”

There line was quiet for nearly a minute, long enough for Sam and Randal to exchange curious looks, before Herrigan’s voice came back. “Some scrap, control. Also, perishables.”

The sealock controller sat back in his seat and scratches at his head. “Perishables? Did you find an intact medical shipment or something?”

“No. It’s foodstuffs. Mostly vegetables. A few head of livestock. And four passengers.”

Sam leaned forward and cleared the docking assignments from Frank’s screen, leaving him looking at the sonar profile for Erin’s Dream, as if that would give him some kind of insight into what was going on. “Where did he pick up that kind of stuff?”

Frank’s thoughts must have been running along the same line because he said, “How did any of that stuff survive salvage depth? It’s well past crush depth for any of it.”

“We picked it up in Australia. Long story. Look, the four passengers are a diplomatic envoy from Canberra and they want taken to our leaders or something. Have the lockmaster call the Chief Executive up and let him know what’s going on then find us somewhere to park and order a repair crew. Eddie needs her hull looked at.”

Frank switched off his headset and gave Randal a questioning look. Randal looked around and realized that everyone else in the room was mirroring it. A huge mess had just landed in his lap. There weren’t rules for receiving diplomats, no one had ever really anticipated it being a necessity. He wasn’t even sure the other Chiefs would be able to agree on a way to deal with foreign negotiations, they had a hard enough time agreeing amongst themselves. And given that everyone in the room had just heard that contact with the surface had been reestablished keeping that little fact under wraps was now a pipe dream. For a moment Randal stood stock still, trying to juggle variables and figure out what they should do next.

Naturally, the first thing he asked was, “Think they brought any cats with that livestock?”

Code Red (Part Two)

“Out of all the Euthanasia Wars, China’s was the worst.”

Herrigan stopped in the center of the amidships ballast pumping compartment to give Lauren a disbelieving look. “Euthanasia Wars? As in more than one?”

“Yes. That’s why there are two countries where the United States used to be. Several nations fought them as recently as ten years ago.” She gave Herrigan a little push aft before continuing. “But China’s was the worst.”

“Did they still have that stupid family planning policy with one kid each?” Herrigan asked, taking the hint and continuing on his way. “Even we never went that far and we had limited oxygen in the early days.”

“Yes, the one child policy still existed and yes, it was a big contributing factor to what made the war so vicious. The population was so heavily skewed towards young men at that point that, when the government started putting down the elderly, there were riots.” Lauren shrugged, although Herrigan couldn’t see it. “I guess they figured they weren’t going to put up with a society that didn’t care about whether population manipulation stiffed them out of a wife and wanted to kill them once they got too old.”

“No one saw this coming?”

“Some people think they didn’t, some think they had plans to deal with it that weren’t enough, and the possibilities go on.” Lauren paused a moment as they moved through a compartment with a few other crew in it. She didn’t want too many people hearing her story. It was common knowledge on the surface but that didn’t mean they liked talking about it. Once they were in the next compartment she continued. “Early on, while people were still picking sides, there was a mutiny on the nuclear submarine Guan Yu.”

“Nuclear powered or armed with nuclear weapons?” Herrigan asked.

“Both. It left port one day and no one heard from it for nearly two weeks. Then there was a string of massive detonations in or near the Aleutian Trench and-”

“Wait.” Herrigan tried to stop in the middle of the aft auxiliary electrical compartment but this time Lauren didn’t even let him come to a full stop before pushing him on. He didn’t let a little shoving keep him from his question though. “How can you have a nuclear winter caused by undersea detonations?”

“That trench is right along the tectonic plates. The detonations caused massive instabilities resulting in new volcanic eruptions and, in turn, warmer seas and much more violent storm seasons. To say nothing of the earthquakes and other problems.”

“The Big Shake was caused by this Guano ship? I remember that. I was six.” Herrigan tilted his head to one side. “But that was nearly forty years ago!”

“The most recent wars ended ten years ago, some of them have been over longer.” Another shrug he was in no position to see. “And some of this stuff has taken a long time to sort out.”

“And that was enough for an ice age?”

Lauren sighed and rushed through the next part. “Okay so some radical enviroterrorists released huge clouds of sun scattering nanoparticles into the upper atmosphere twenty years or so before that to try and combat global warming and the two may have stacked together to make undesirable results.”

“Like an ice age.”

“Yes.” She bit out the words. “Like an ice age. Now you know why your ship is illegal in most ports the world over. Can we please get my boss and work something out before he causes an international incident?”

“You realize we run on a small reactor. Can’t even melt down creditably, much less cause an explosion.”

“And you have no idea what the ice age has done to people. To civilization.” They were stopped outside a door marked “O.P.” that didn’t quite muffle the sound of shouting from inside. Lauren realized there was an edge in her own voice and did her best to reign it in. “People are going to be weirded out by this. Try to cut them a little slack.”

Herrigan gave her a strange look and said, “Right. Slack.” Then he grabbed the handle on the door, cranked it around to unlock it and pushed it open.

Chaos greeted them.

Bainbridge lay sprawled on the floor, he was soaking wet and covered with some kind of dull red lace or ribbon. An old man in a black jacket, the first of the color she’d seen, was yelling at him about meltdowns and responsible fissioning and qualifications all while shaking a stepladder at the harbormaster like some sort of geriatric lion tamer.

The captain, first mate and a third crewman faced off against the two harbor security men that Bainbridge had brought with him. The XO, Gwen, had pulled a knife from somewhere while both guards had drawn their ionizers. With a sudden twitch of panic Gwen wondered what would happen if they used the electrically based weapons in an environment as damp as Erin’s Dream. Especially with Bainbridge already sopping wet.

It was surprisingly easy to concentrate on the question since all shouting stopped as soon as the door banged open. Herrigan took advantage of the silence to say, in a surprisingly stern tone, “Put down your weapons, you two. You’re under arrest.”

The two security men looked at him in disbelief, something Lauren was sure was echoed on her own face, then one of them started to point his ionizer at Herrigan only to step back in surprise when a huge black blob appeared on his arm with a soft whuffing sound.

While Lauren had been distracted by what was going on in the compartment Herrigan had apparently drawn his own weapon, which was clearly not an ionizer, and was now carefully pelting the security men with whatever it was his gun fired. Whatever it was it crackled like popcorn and swelled up quickly, turning from a small black dot to a large sphere in just a second or two. The guard tried to bat it away only to wind up with his hand stuck to his sleeve.

Almost as fast as things had started it was over, with both security men tangled in a mess of black sticky foam, glued to themselves, the floor and sides of one tank and even each other. Neither one had their weapon pointed at anything important. Lauren cleared her throat and addressed them. “Why don’t you gentlemen go ahead and put the safety on your weapons? If they go off now there’s a good chance you’ll be the only ones hurt.”

“What’s that?” Bainbridge demanded, his tone not quite matched by his new reddish hairstyle. “Don’t be ridiculous, Lauren!”

“Mr. Bainbridge, we’re bordering on an international incident.”

He pulled a handful of red seaweed off his shoulder and tossed it aside, “The Living States of America won’t care if we impound an illegal nuclear vessel and arrest it’s crew.”

“No,” Lauren said, glancing at Herrigan. He nodded slightly and she said, “But the Alcatraz Pact might.”

“The what?” Bainbridge asked, going suddenly still and pale.

Lauren tried to remember if she’d ever seen him so disturbed. She didn’t think she had. “Former penal colony? They live under the ocean, around the Marianas Trench? Do you know something about this you’d like to share with the rest of the class?”

“There have been rumors…” The harbormaster glanced hurridly around the room, as if viewing it’s occupants in a new light. “I didn’t think the Marianas ghosts were real, though.”

The ship’s captain cleared his throat. “Deputy Cartwright? Could I have a moment?”

——–

“You told her about the Pact?”

“Just the name.” Herrigan glanced over at Lauren. At his insistence they’d moved the whole discussion back to the galley for the moment, in part because as soon as Bainbridge had remembered they were sitting next to an active and leaking nuclear reactor he’d gotten very, very nervous and edging close to some kind of breakdown. “Oscar, we’re running blind here and we’ve already made a lot of mistakes. We just didn’t know enough about the current situation up here to pass as surface men. It was better to tell her the truth than let her draw some kind of weird conclusions.”

Oscar looked skeptical but all he said was, “It’s your call to make. Just be ready to explain it when we get back. You cousin might not appreciate it, to say nothing of the Chief Zeke or any of the other Ward leaders.”

“I can handle Sam and he can handle the Chief Executive. The other Wards…” Herrigan shrugged helplessly. “We did start as a settlement of political dissidents. When have the Wards of Alcatraz ever agreed on anything?”

“Just remember that if the Warden ever calls you up to Alcatraz proper for an explanation. You’re deputized, sure, but I dunno if that was ever meant to cover something like this.” Duffy’s tone was light but his expression was grim. This was all new territory for everyone involved. “Let’s go talk to our friends, shall we?”

Bainbridge had put himself back together fairly well over the last ten minutes and he once again looked less like a frightened man and more like a self-satisfied official, albeit  a damp one. He harrumphed a bit as the other two men settled in across from him, breaking off a quite conversation with his assistant harbormaster. “Gentlemen, I think I have a better grasp on the situation now.”

“Excellent,” Duffy said with a quick and easy smile. “I hope that means we can set aside all this talk of impounding my ship.”

“Unfortunately, while I am convinced that you had no ill intent in bringing your ship and its…” The harbormaster hesitated for a moment. “Its dangerous power source here, that doesn’t mean I can just allow you to retain possession of it. It’s still my intention to impound Erin’s Dream until the government can decide exactly what to do with it.”

“Now wait a minute,” Herrigan said, holding up a hand. “Does the prohibition on nuclear power apply to warships as well? Because the Alcatraz Pact views all existing subs as part of its Reserve Navy as well – we just don’t have the resources to maintain a full Navy and a healthy construction fleet – so Erin’s Dream counts as a deep patrol sub in our books.”

“That’s preposterous! Little better than privateering.”

“There’s some similarities, sure,” Herrigan conceded. “But it’s not against international law as far as I know. ‘Course, our knowledge of surface law is out of date, hence our problem here…”

Bainbridge’s expression grew thunderous even as his voice grew quiet. “This ship is armed?”

“Maybe it is, maybe we have to install the right modules before we ship out.” Duffy spread his hands casually. “We’re not actually required to tell you, I believe.”

“Well think again-”

“Actually, sir, he’s right.” Lauren handed the harbormaster her tablet. “U.N Security Counsel approved it in 2033 in order to help deal with African and Indonesian pirate vessels, since good Navies were out of the price range of many countries involved. The laws are still on the books. And they’re right, warships can carry nuclear reactors.”

“There you have it.” Herrigan folded his arms over his chest and did his best to match Bainbridge’s grim expression, although he felt mildly ridiculous just having to argue about something as fundamental as keeping ahold of his livelihood. “Our ship is legal and safe. An attempt to impound it would be a blatant disregard of the rights of Marianas Trench Colony citizens. Our reactor is spinning down right now and will be ready for patching by the end of the day after tomorrow. Give us a little breathing room and we can be out of here in a week.”

“Marianas Trench Colony?” Bainbridge quirked an eyebrow. “Is that the official name for you fellows?”

“Not many people like it,” Duffy said. “Since all that’s really be done is scrubbing the word ‘Penal’ out. For all that it says pretty much the same thing most people like ‘Alcatraz’ better. Maybe because we picked it ourselves.”

The harbormaster braced himself against the table, as if to shove it away, but all he did was say, “Foreign warships are expected to declare themselves when they arrive in port, not sneak in and tie up with the civilian ship. Particularly not when we find they’re leaking radiation into my harbor. And-”

“My engines aren’t leaking nothing into your waters!” Old Phil bellowed from the other side of the galley where he and his grandson waited with the two security guards Bainbridge had brought along. He made as if to cross over to the other foursome’s table but the younger Phil restrained him. “You’ll be throwing-”

“You will all stop interrupting!” Bainbridge shouted. Herrigan bit his tongue and did his best to make the statement true. He was sure Duffy was doing the same beside him. After a moment’s quiet the harbormaster went on, his tone once again quiet and dangerous. “Furthermore the Alcatraz Pact has no relations at all with the government of Australia, the U.N. or any nation thereof. Correct me if I’m wrong.”

“No, you’re right on target there,” Herrigan said.

“So we could just as easily interpret your presence here, undeclared and possibly armed, as a declaration of war. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Duffy suddenly turned to one side and spat, a sure sign he was getting seriously angry. Lauren and Bainbridge started slightly at the sudden move and Bainbridge’s lip curled down in disgust but otherwise the silent tableau held. A part of Herrigan’s brain was already mulling over Eddie’s actual armament, the potential capabilities of the destroyers they’d spotted in port as they came in and whether the reactor could actually be patched when the ship wasn’t in port. If the harbormaster did decide to try and take possession of the ship was there really anything they could do to prevent it? Erin’s Dream wasn’t helpless but a daring escape under the nose of a working military port wasn’t exactly something she was designed for, either.

“Mr. Bainbridge.” The three men turned to Lauren as one. “Let me point out that the crew of the Erin’s Dream had just cause to suspect they wouldn’t be viewed in a friendly fashion. On top of that, they have still dealt with us in a fair fashion, to the extent they knew how, and haven’t threatened us in any way.”

“Except for attacking two security guards,” Bainbridge pointed out.

“In my defense,” Herrigan said, “Riot foam is proven nonlethal technology that came down with us from the surface. They were never in any danger.”

Lauren leaned in closer to the harbormaster, saying, “And they are a salvage vessel equipped with a nuclear reactor. If they wanted to be nasty I’m sure they have equally unexpected methods to do it with.”

Bainbridge mulled it over for a minute then finally said, “We would still have to notify the Commonwealth. I’ll admit I’m inclined to let you go, if for no other reason than to make sure rumors of nuclear reactors in private hands don’t get out. But I can’t just let you wander off without approval from Canberra.”

Herrigan and Duffy exchanged a look. The captain asked, “What do you think, Harry? You’re the closest thing to a government officer on board.”

“And don’t I know it.” He said it more to buy time to think than anything else. Ultimately there was no way for Erin’s Dream to escape New Darwin if the local authorities and the Australian Navy were determined to keep them there. Even a fully equipped war sub was meant to fight as much by stealth as power and, as much as he loved her, Herrigan knew he couldn’t count on his ship for even a quarter of the firepower of an Alcatraz tactical sub. At the moment their only leverage was having the harbormaster and assistant harbormaster on board and effectively in their power.

Announcing the existence of the Marianas Trench Colony to the Australian government just to get permission to leave port didn’t really appeal to him. But sometimes being smart meant knowing when to back down and see what happened. “We’ll want to keep working on repairs while we wait to hear.”

“Of course, Mr. Cartwright.” The harbormaster clearly liked that idea. “The sooner that reactor of yours is patched the better. How long do you think the patching process will take?”

“Two days to finish cooling the reactor,” Duffy said absently, “Maybe another day to patch it and three more days to spin it back up. About a week?”

Bainbridge raised his eyebrows. “That quickly?”

“If you banned nuclear power nearly forty years ago then you’ve fallen a fair bit behind the times.” Duffy shrugged. “Phil could explain the process better than I could, but I’m pretty sure he’ll back my numbers. Will we know if we can leave by then?”

“I’d expect to have the answer in three to four days, if not sooner,” Bainbridge said.

“Four days.” Herrigan leaned back and glanced down the narrow galley at Old Phil. “Can we be ready that fast?”

He nodded gravely. “If I have to break my heart to do it.”

“I expect to be leaving port in four days, Mr. Bainbridge.” Herrigan pushed himself up from the table and waved for the rest to gather up. “Now you two are probably very busy people so I’ll see you on your way.”

——–

To his surprise, Herrigan found himself out by the gangplank the very next afternoon, welcoming Lauren back to the ship. “I have to admit,” he said once the usual rituals were observed, “I wasn’t expecting you back quite so quickly.”

“No one was expecting an answer so soon,” she admitted. “But apparently someone in the Prime Minister’s office drafted a contingency plan for your reappearance about the same time the surface cut off contact with you and it only took a few hours of debate to settle on using it now.”

Herrigan absently rubbed his hand along his chin. “Really. After what, sixty years?”

“It may have been revised some.” She handed him a thick manila envelope. “The details are in there but the general gist of things is, they want you to take an ambassador down to you colony when you go home in order to facilitate opening friendly relations.”

He gently took the envelope out of Lauren’s hands and turned it over once or twice, as if that would somehow reveal that this was all a joke. “Who’s the ambassador?”

“We haven’t heard yet. I think that part is still being worked out.”

“Well.” Herrigan slipped the envelope into his back pocket and tried to think of what to say. He hadn’t really expected them to have a policy primed and ready. Hopefully he’d have at least another day to figure out what to do with an ambassador before one showed up on his doorstep.

“I need to be getting back to my work.”

“What’s that?” He jerked out of his thoughts and realized he’d been quiet for a minute or two while Lauren stood and waited. “Right. Sorry, didn’t mean to keep you. Thanks for letting us know the outcome so fast.”

“No problem.” She favored him with a very pretty smile. “Bainbridge is kind of chomping at the bit to get you out of his docks as soon as possible. Calm seas, Mr. Herrigan.”

“Wait.” She paused, turned halfway back towards the gangplank, her head cocked in an unspoken question. “I didn’t get a chance to ask yesterday. You didn’t seem to care much for us when you came on board but you still put in a good word with the harbormaster for us. Why?’

She thought for a moment, looking over the cluttered, kind of grubby deck of Erin’s Dream as if seeing it for the first time. Then she shrugged. “I suppose I just thought you should take second chances anywhere you can get them.”

Herrigan broke into a grin. “That you should, Lauren. That you should.”

Fiction Index
Part One

Code Red (Part One)

Well here we are just two stories into the summer plans and we’re already off schedule. This story took me all of two and a half days to write so I figured it must be short – but when I went to post it I discovered it was about twice as long as what I would consider ideal post length. Looks like it’s perfect for a two part story!

——–

The position of chief technician on a Trenchman sub was a weird blend of chemical expert, mechanical engineer and botanist with a smattering of really weird expertise thrown in for flavor. They were very smart, very well respected people who the crew listened to as a matter of course, even when they didn’t personally like the technician in question. Captain Oscar Duffy had always gotten on fine with Old Phil, his chief tech, so when Phil called him off the bridge Duffy assumed it was important and made his way down the length of the Erin’s Dream to the rear Oxygen Processing compartment without protest.

“It’s turned red,” Phil said, as if that explained.

“I can see that,” Duffy said. He was, unfortunately, unenlightened by his chief tech’s explanation. “Unfortunately we’re not going to have a replacement on hand any time soon. The salvage bays are going to be mostly empty on our return run, though. Could we just load some extra air in tanks and use that to get us home? We could run part of the way on the surface.”

Old Phil gave him a disbelieving look. “You don’t know what this means, do you?”

“Assume I’m not entirely current on the nuance of every system on this ship.”

“Fine.” He rapped his knuckles sharply on the bulkhead just a foot from where the two men were standing. “You know what’s on the other side of this?”

“Oh.” Duffy felt himself turning pale. “That’s bad.”

“Yes, Captain, it certainly is. The pressure hull isn’t the only thing that’ll need fixing when we get to port.”

——–

Lauren Cochran looked up when Vern walked, or rather shuffled, into the assistant harbor master’s office. He wasn’t the type to intrude without cause, in fact he wasn’t the type to do anything at all to draw attention, so there was really only one possibility if he was crossing her threshold of his own volition. “Something the matter, Vern?”

Vern cleared his throat twice, an annoying but predictable sign of nervousness, and said, “Yes, ma’am. You know we’ve got a sub in port right now?”

“New Darwin’s always had a little Navy presence, Vern,” she said, fingers absently skimming over touchscreens as she tried to bring up the current listing of Royal Australian Navy ships in port. Was there an attack sub at dock just then? “Are they causing problems?”

“Not that I know of.” He fidgeted for a second. “Actually, I’m talking about a civilian sub?”

Flicked fingers sent the military berths away and she started flipping through the larger public listings. “A research sub or a salvage vehicle?”

“The latter.” He handed her the tablet he was holding and said, “The dock inspector found something you should see.”

Lauren grimaced as she took the tablet. It was clammy and sweaty and she did her best to surreptitiously wipe her hands dry as she woke up the device. “You could have just copied me the memory stick, you know.”

Vern shook his head vigorously. “You don’t want this running around the wifi, Lauren. Trust me.”

Erin’s Dream, huh,” she muttered, thumbing through the screens of data. She stopped when she reached the fourth. “Does the harbormaster know about this?”

“Not yet.” Vern looked down at his hands as if ashamed of the fact. “He was in a meeting with the deputy mayor when we noticed. He should be back in half an hour but…”

“You didn’t want this in the datastream. Okay, you made a good call.” She pushed herself up and out from behind her desk. “Have him meet me at Pier 42 as soon as he can.”

“Do you want security there?” Vern asked tentatively. “Or the police?”

“If it was going to be anyone I’d have the military there. But there’s still a chance this is a misunderstanding.”

“You think so?” Vern asked hopefully.

Lauren sighed. “No. Not really.”

——–

The cramped surface deck of Erin’s Dream was cluttered with equipment, parts and crew. With the sub at dock there wasn’t much call for the Waldos so Herrigan found himself doing his best to keep order among the chaos. “No, not the welding equipment. What if Graham needs that to patch the hull? Put it aft with the other stuff going back down into engineering storage.” He scowled around at the rest of the junk on the deck. He’d thought nothing could be as tough as keeping an underwater salvage op from tangling in it’s own power and communication cables but he didn’t even know what half this stuff was, much less whether they’d need it below decks in the next few weeks. “Keep the spare parts for the Waldos and Eddie separate. I don’t want to try seeing if a Waldo battery is compatible with our power supply system, you hear me? Don’t get them mixed up!”

“Hey, Harry?” Herrigan looked down from his vantage up on the conning tower to spot Tank, one of his salvage sub drivers, down on the main deck by the gangplank, waving for his attention. “Harry, some guys here to see you. One of ’em says he’s the harbormaster.”

“Coming!” He rattled down from the conning tower muttering curses. He’d chosen his salvage pilots for experience, since bad salvage pilots were almost entirely weeded out by their first two jobs. If you survived that long you were good. That was the way the job went. But that kind of competence didn’t always come with good manners, something people like harbormasters tended to appreciate.

It was pretty easy to tell with a glance which one the harbormaster was and, just as Herrigan had feared, he didn’t look happy at Tank’s offhand way of referred to him. The kind of man who came out to look at a salvage sub in a three piece suit most likely expected to be addressed with respect, too. There were maybe half a dozen people with the harbormaster too, a pretty large group just to pay a visit to a lowly salvage sub. To say nothing of how unusual a personal visit from the harbormaster was, period.

For the second time that month Herrigan was hearing damage control alarms. Problem was, this time they were entirely in his own mind and he wasn’t sure what kind of damage he was dealing with.

“Hi, I’m Herrigan Cartwright,” he said, holding out a hand to the harbormaster. “Welcome aboard the Erin’s Dream.”

“A pleasure, Mr. Cartwright,” the harbormaster said, giving the offered hand a quick shake, his tone making it clear they were just words. “This is a fine looking ship you have.”

Eddie’s got it where it counts…” Herrigan racked his brains quickly and, just as he was about to skip it remembered the name he’d heard during the ship’s initial inspection. “Mr. Bainbridge. What can I do for you today? Or are you perhaps a connoisseur of submersibles? Ours is a pretty unusual model.”

Bainbridge’s expression sharpened momentarily. “It is at that. We weren’t able to find anything like it in our records.”

Which was because Erin’s Dream had been build in Purgatory Ward’s shipyards at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, something the Australians weren’t supposed to know existed. Herrigan mentally kicked himself for that slip up, comparing submarine design and customization was a typical middle class topic of conversation for Trenchmen but he couldn’t expect others to share it. “She was a custom job, actually,” he answered, hoping it didn’t come off as lame as it sounded. “Would you like a tour?”

“Actually, I would. In a manner of speaking.” Bainbridge gestured behind him to a tall, careworn woman with gray streaks beginning to work through her black hair. “This is the assistant harbormaster, Lauren Cochran. We’ve come down here because there were some discrepancies in your registration we’d like to sort out. The two of us would like to take a look through your vessel if you don’t mind, Captain Cartwright.”

He flicked his gaze from the harbormaster to his assistant and back again. Best to buy time to work out a clearer picture of what was going on. “Actually, I’m not the captain. He’s below decks with our XO, getting a feel for some repairs that need doing.”

“You’re not the captain or the fist mate?” Lauren asked. “Then why did they call you over?”

“Because I am part owner. Captain Duffy and I each own half shares in the ship. So far as business decisions go I’m just as capable of making them as he is.” Herrigan offered her a casual shrug. “Tank must have figured this was about some of the repair supplies we’d requested.”

“Well, ‘Tank’ was close but not quite correct.” The harbormaster held up a flat device about the size of a notepad. “Our visit is related to the salvage you’re offering for sale. I notice you haven’t visited New Darwin before, so you might not be aware of some of the rules we have governing what kind of salvage we can and can’t take. We’ll need to inspect it, and do a second inspection of your vessel for possible illicit salvage.”

“Illicit salvage? That some kind of joke?” A glance between the two officials faces convinced him that no, it wasn’t. Herrigan sighed and waved to get Tank’s attention again. “Ring down to the galley and get Duffy up here, will you?”

“The galley?” Lauren asked.

“Yeah, like I said we’re doing some repairs down there. It’s a long story. I’d take you there but the place isn’t in any shape for company.”

“This is an inspection, Mr. Cartwright.” Bainbridge crossed his arms over his chest. “We’ll need to see all sections of the ship eventually.”

“All right,” Herrigan said, keeping a firm grip on his building annoyance. “We’ll go meet Duffy there. Then, since I’m sure we’re all busy people, I’ll take Mrs. Cochran to inspect our salvage holds and Duffy can give you the grand tour. Sound good?”

“Splendid,” Bainbridge replied. “Lead on.”

——–

The crew of Erin’s Dream was almost as strange as the ship itself. Almost everyone they passed in the corridors was wearing the same kind of slick, plastic shelled jacket that Herrrigan wore. Lauren hadn’t seen that many people on deck wearing them but that may just have been to keep cool. It quickly became apparent why they wore the jackets, temperatures belowdecks weren’t that bad but the humidity bordered on stifling. The jackets collected condensation and wicked it down to the floor quickly. She couldn’t tell what happened to the moisture after that, there certainly weren’t any puddles visible leading her to assume some kind of drainage system was at work.

The humidity was probably the driving force behind the almost total lack of hair on all of the men she’d seen. Most had just shaved their heads bald but some, like Herrigan, had enough fuzz on the top of their heads to be confused for a peach. The one woman she’d seen so far, the XO by all accounts, wore her hair short enough to be mistaken for a man most other places.

That might make things seem drab except the crew all seemed intent on wearing the brightest colors possible. Herrigan and at least half the crew had chosen a bright canary yellow for their waterproof jackets, most of the rest were an equally bright shade of blue. As nearly as Lauren could tell, the color didn’t correspond to job description in any way. While clothes tended to be loose cut and shapeless the crew seemed to favor crazy patterns on the fabric and, when mixed with tools sticking out of pockets,  bandanas on heads or broad leather belts, the whole crew had a vaguely piratical air.

Even Captain Duffy, who out of the whole crew wore the only gray waterproof jacket she’d seen and wore a button down shirt, accessorized with a bolo tie and iron gray hoop earrings.

Herrigan’s black trimmed, yellow clothes would have made him unremarkable in comparison to the rest of the crew except for the fact that he was armed.

Lauren caught sight of the weapons as he cranked open the pressure door leading into what he called the salvage bay. On the side of his belt he wore what looked like an ionizer with an unfamiliar control scheme. A knife handle stuck out from behind his back. She couldn’t tell more because as soon as she realized what they were he was pushing the door open and his jacket fell to cover them again.

“Tell me, Mrs. Cochran, what exactly is illicit salvage?” He asked, ushering her into a comparatively large compartment that, for all it’s size, was nearly crammed full with a set of six minisubs painted the bright sky blue she was starting to suspect was the signature color of Erin’s Dream.

Lauren cleared her throat, suddenly a little nervous. Herrigan Cartwright didn’t strike her as a particularly dangerous man, with no hair on his head his ears seemed comically prominent and the rest of him was a bit too gangly and awkward to be really threatening. If anything he looked kind of like a forty year old man who’d never outgrown his teenaged gawkiness. But an armed man was an armed man, and he might not like what he was about to hear.

“Australia has a law against salvaging any vessel that’s been on the ocean floor less than five years. Ships that do so can be barred from our ports and scrap companies that purchase such salvage can be fined.”

Herrigan’s brow furrowed. “Really? How can you tell? It’s not like they’re dated when you find them on the ocean floor, after all.”

“We have a process for that,” Lauren said, waving the tablet she’d brought with her and hoping Herrigan didn’t want any details she didn’t have. “It won’t take more than an hour to run the inspection, depending on how much scrap you have.”

“We only got the front hold half full before we had the mishap that brought us here,” Herrigan said, waving to their left. “There’s nothing in the aft hold right now, although you can have a look there if you want.”

“We can do that after.” He didn’t seem interested in what the tablet was supposed to be doing in all this and that was a relief. “Lead on.”

“You got it.” He threaded his way between the minisubs and the wall of the bay, taking a moment to stop and examine the manipulator arms on the vehicle as he went past. They passed a total of three minisubs and Herrigan stopped to look at each one.

“Can I ask what exactly it is you do?” Lauren said as he straightened up from inspecting the arms on the third sub. “You said you’re part owner of the ship but if that was all you are I think you’d be back at home, letting the crew do the earning for you.”

Herrigan laughed. “I’m not sure a crew like this would work for a guy like that. Still, since you asked, I’m the salvage team commander when we’re working on a wreck. The rest of the time I’m the deputy and assistant – well, chief cook now, I guess.” Lauren’s face twitched towards a scowl before she could catch herself and Herrigan caught it. “The food’s not that bad, honest.”

“I’m sure it’s not,” she said, absently rubbing at her wrist. “Deputy, you say? Are you a union man or something?”

“Or something,” he agreed, nodding vaguely. “But mostly, I cook.”

“I just don’t like the idea.”

“Of cooking?”

“Salvage.”

“Oh.” He was quiet for a moment as the finished crossing the bay. As he cranked the next pressure door open he asked, “Any particular reason?”

She mulled over what to tell him as he swung the door open and ushered her into the next compartment. The lights clicked on as he stepped in behind her. Finally, Lauren said, “My husband died at sea. I wasn’t… I didn’t really think anything about salvage before. But after… I have a hard time with the idea of total strangers pulling his ship apart around his body.”

Herrigan was quiet for a few minutes, leaving her with her thoughts and the sight of a dozen or so racks of neatly cut hull plates, crates of more complex parts like pumps or electrical boxes and who knew what else. Finally she gathered herself together and brought her tablet to life, pulled up the utility she needed and went to work.

“Ever heard of Erin McClain?” Herrigan asked after she’d been engrossed in looking over the salvage for a minute or two.

“No.” Lauren glanced up from her tablet. “Did she design this ship?”

“Not exactly, although it is named after her. She died a good five or six years before it was built.” Herrigan offered a casual shrug. “Kind of well known in shipbuilding circles. She was a big advocate of recycling. Said reusing what others left us furthered their legacy, rather than harming it. When Eddie was built I guess the christeners thought a salvage ship ought to be named after someone like that.”

“A nice sentiment, anyway.” Lauren went back to the salvage and tried not to think about where it came from or who it might have once belonged to. Or, for that matter, whether it was radioactive.

——–

“This is spare parts storage but most of that is up on deck right now. You’d be amazed how that kind of thing gets jumbled up over the years.” Duffy forced a smile. “Finding the patches and equipment to fix the hull breach you saw in the galley gave us a good excuse to sort it.”

“I was amazed to see a part of your ship look so… empty,” Bainbridge agreed, a hint of condescension in his voice.

“It’s a salvage sub,” Gwen said, ice in her voice colder than the Trench itself. “Space is at a premium.”

“Of course.” Bainbridge peered around at the empty shelves for a moment, boredom evident on his face. “Forgive me, Captain Duffy, but I’m beginning to suspect that this whole visit is a waste of everyone’s time. Maybe-”

“Captain?” Young Phil’s head poked through the pressure door at the other end of the compartment.

Duffy resisted the urge to try and shoo him away, after twenty minutes of the ship’s most boring features they’d almost gotten rid of the harbormaster. But shooing the young tech away now would look bad. “Yes, Phil?”

“Gramps wants you down in aft oxygen processing.” Old Phil and Young Phil were actually related, grandfather and grandson, and they had certain qualities in common. A tendency to ignore anyone that didn’t strike them as important was one of them and, given the fact that he didn’t even glance at Gwen or the harbormaster meant that whatever Old Phil wanted it was strictly Captain’s Business.

“I’m sorry, if you’d excuse me for a minute, my-”

“Captain, in case you’ve forgotten this is a total inspection,” Bainbridge said, immediately attentive. “We’ve started, we may as well finish. Let’s have a look at this oxygen processing compartment, shall we?”

“If you insist,” Duffy said, hiding a smile.  This might be to his advantage after all. It looked like the snappily dressed harbormaster just needed one more push to get him off the boat and oxygen processing would do nicely. “Right this way, gentleman.”

Their destination was several compartments aft and one deck down, requiring a little backtracking and a lot of edging past damp, sweaty crew. Once, when Graham came by leading a pair of crewmen carrying bags full of spoiled food from the ruined galley, he thought the harbormaster was about to bolt. But Bainbridge sucked in his stomach, smoothed down the front of his snazzy suit and let the three men by. A few moments later Duffy cranked open the pressure door into oxygen processing and let the harbormaster and his two men in first, sharing a smile with Gwen behind their backs.

“What is this?” Bainbridge exclaimed a moment later, a hand going over his mouth and nose in a vain attempt to combat the smell of compost and seawater. “Captain Duffy, why do you have a compartment full of seaweed?”

“It’s oxygen processing,” the Phils said in unison. The younger finished the thought, pushing into the compartment and trotting over to his grandfather. “We pump air through here and the seaweed breaks down the carbon dioxide into breathable oxygen and emergency food staples.”

Bainbridge looked around at the room in horror. The compartment was actually just a couple of narrow pathways through floor to ceiling water tanks crammed full of fernlike seaweed and clinging pillows of algae. “And this actually provides you with enough oxygen?”

“Well, this and the other two similar compartments throughout the ship handle about two thirds of our needs under normal circumstances,” Duffy said, pulling the pressure door closed behind him.

“Or they would if we could get that leak fixed,” Old Phil said, pulling an unhealthy reddish plant out of one of the tanks and tossing it into a bucket by his feet. Dozens of other dying plants already filled it to overflowing. “Captain if this keeps up we’re not going to be able to count on this compartment for more than half it’s usual output. The plants are dying off and it’ll take weeks, maybe months, for new splittings from the other compartments to get up to full size.”

“So we’ll take on some tanks of oxygen along with the other supplies. We’re already bankrupting ourselves on this run anyways.” Duffy shook his head ruefully. “We can handle running a little heavy in O2 reserves if we-”

A pinging noise from one of Bainbridge’s two men cut him off. The lackey, a big, tattooed guy with enough gut to suggest he spent more time in paperwork than honest work, pulled out one of the tablet computer gizmos that most of the dock workers seemed to carry and consulted it for a second. Then he said in alarm, “Harbormaster, this compartment is radioactive!”

“Well what do you think’s killing the seaweed?” Old Phil demanded. “Our reactor hasn’t cooled down enough to apply a patch yet.”

“It’s not dangerous to humans if we avoid long term exposure,” Young Phil added. “The seaweed is only affected because it’s been stuck next to the reactor for a week and a half.”

Bainbridge slowly turned to look at Duffy, sheer horror written across his features. “This ship is powered by a nuclear reactor?”

“Yes?” He hadn’t meant to be snide but Duffy’s answer still came out more like a question. The growing storm of emotions on the harbormaster’s face prompted the captain to add, “Is this going to be a problem?”

“Is it-” Bainbridge actually sputtered for a full five seconds, his men shifting nervously and exchanging glances as they waited for some cue on what to do. “This is an outrage, captain! Your ship will be impounded immediately! And you, Mr. Duffy, if that’s really your name, you will…”

At that point it looked like no more useful information was forthcoming. And really, after threatening to take his ship what more could there be to hear? Duffy looked at Gwen and said, “Tell Cartwright he needs to get up here. Now.”

——–

“Impound the ship?” Herrigan stared at the intercom in disbelief, as if doubting Gwen would somehow change what he was hearing. “Because of a reactor leak?”

“That’s what it sounds like. I – What?” The last bit was indistinct, not said into the pickup on the other end. There was a click and the speaker went dead.

Herrigan sighed and switched his own end of the conversation off. “Come on, Mrs. Cochran. Your boss is pitching a fit about our reactor.”

Lauren came out of the salvage stacks, her face noticeably paler. She could almost pass for a natural Trenchman. “Your what?”

“Our power plant has been leaking radiation since our accident. We’re planning to patch it tomorrow, once things cool a bit more.” Herrigan looked back through the door way as he waited for Lauren to catch up. She seemed oddly reluctant to get any closer. “I’m not irradiated or anything, it’s not a big leak. We can patch it, at least long enough to get it looked at by someone certified.”

“Who are you people?” She asked quietly. “And where are you from?”

“We’re salvagers,” Herrigan said, stepping back into the salvage bay slowly, wondering what he’d said that was wrong. “Our home port is Norfolk.”

“I thought that’s what your paperwork said.” She held her tablet between the two of them like it was a shield. “But no one calls it that anymore. Everyone calls it the Greater Chesapeake Port Authority, they have ever since the docks had to be moved out. And the Living States wouldn’t let a nuclear powered ship use that as home port.”

“The Living States?” The question was out before Herrigan could stop it.

“Who are you?” Laruen demanded, Herrigan’s confusion apparently making her bold.

He pulled in a lungfull of air and sighed. “Okay, fine. Game’s up. I’m Herrigan Cartwright, part owner and salvage commander of Erin’s Dream. And I’m a fully deputized constable of the Third Ward of the Alcatraz Pact, born and raised on the bottom of the Marianas Trench.”

Lauren stared at him in what he took to be an open invitation to continue. “We’ve been down there for almost ninety years, you know. It was a joint project, mostly Brazil and the US – you still got the US?” She nodded mutely. “That may not be good for us, then. Anyway, back then people were trying to combat global warming and decided to round up all the most committed skeptics and exile them some place where their ‘harmful practices’ couldn’t reach the world at large. And I think the sealed biosphere they were stuck in was supposed to help them see the errors of their ways, force them to adopt sustainable living and be less greedy or drive themselves to extinction. I’m not surprised you never heard of it, the project was kept hush-hush. At least to the public, other governments must have heard about it because we wound up getting people from just about everywhere except Australia – probably have your history to thank for that – and many of the later ones weren’t people exiled for views that didn’t match the political climate.”

Herrigan leaned against the doorframe and watched Lauren’s expression. He’d been hoping for a good mix of conflicting emotions – our at least outrage over his bad joke at the end – but all he was really getting was shock. Maybe a final push. “Funny how that worked out, given as how we finally get back up to the surface and, as near as we can tell, you’re stuck in the middle of an ice age with falling sea levels and everything. What caused that?”

Lauren finally looked him in the eye. “Nuclear winter.”

It was his turn to process things, and he took his time doing it. Then summed up his thoughts. “Huh.”

Fiction Index
Part Two

Emergency Surface

When the hull ruptured and a sheet of super pressurized water cut Brian Parr in half it happened so fast Herrigan didn’t even realize what had taken place until he was half way out of the galley. After ten years on underwater salvage ships, where one trip without a fatal accident was considered a minor miracle, he had gotten to the point where reacting to disaster was a subconscious instinct and it served him in good stead, just like it always had in the past. He was stepping through the pressure door into the mess hall, running a hand along the seal to check it’s integrity through sheer force of habit,  before his conscious mind even registered that Parr was dead.

“Everybody out!” Herrigan yelled as he ducked through the hatch. “Hull breach in the galley, this door’s compromised.”

To their credit, the scattered handful of the Erin’s Dream‘s crew that was in the mess reacted just as fast as Herrigan had, jumping up from their tables without bothering to take anything but the essentials. Men poured out of the hall and into the corridor beyond in a matter of seconds, not that it was a large room, leaving Herrigan to again check the door seal and dog the hatch behind him. He brushed his hands off and said, “This door’s good, we should be okay.”

“If the captain had just McClained the hull before this trip we wouldn’t even have to worry about it,” said one of the men in the hall with him, a skinny fellow who was still clutching the cup of coffee he’d been nursing before being evicted from the mess. “That stuff almost never-”

“Shut up, Drip,” Herrigan snapped. “Has anyone reported this to the bridge yet?”

“On it!” A voice called from in the next compartment. As if to emphasize the point alarms started ringing.

“-I know I would have taken a pay cut on the last run if it would have meant-”

Herrigan grabbed Drip by the shoulder and gave him a hard shove towards the ladder. “I said stow it, Drip. Get to your posts, people.”

“Herrigan!” A head popped out of the hatch just beyond the small crowd. “Bridge wants you.”

With a growl, he reversed course and shouldered his way through the dispersing men and into the small electrical closet just beyond. “What is it?” He asked.

——–

“Captain, we’re showing flooding in compartment 132.”

Oscar Duffy, captain and co-owner of the Erin’s Dream, looked up from his weight management tables, leaving the mystery of the overburdened water pumps in the forward compartments to be worked out later. If it still mattered at all. The cramped bridge of the salvage submarine didn’t have much in the way of space between monitors so he barely needed to stand up and slide a step to the right in order to look over the shoulder of the engineer on watch.

“What’s the situation, Graham?” He asked.

“The galley is flooding fast.” Graham looked up over his shoulder. “I’d almost say it’s a mercy to be spared the chow, except Herrigan turned them out of the mess hall too. Not sure why yet, but if the seal between them is compromised we’re gonna loose ’em both. That could bottom us.”

Duffy grit his teeth and restrained the urge to spit, irritation conflicting with a naturally tidy personality, with the knowledge that a part of his ship was already a wreck the only thing that kept him from spitting. “Sound the hull breach alarm, then.”

“Alarms are already going off, Captain,” the XO announced, the blaring sound that accompanied her as she stepped through the pressure door serving to emphasize the point.

“Why isn’t it sounding here?” Duffy demanded.

“Because it’s broken,” Graham said, waving a hand around the bridge to encompass the various monitors. “It seemed like a low priority fix because, you know…”

“Right.” Duffy grit his teeth again. “How much water are we looking at?”

“Captain, taken together those two compartments hold something like four times what a single ballast tank holds.” Graham was working through screens at top speed. “Whatever went wrong down there, it’s cut the galley’s hatches out of the monitoring system. If the storage lockers are standing open we could be looking at more.”

Duffy spun and shot his XO a look. “Get ahold of whoever was on galley duty and find out.” She responded with a nod and took her station. Duffy turned back to Graham’s monitor. “Do we have enough ballast in the tanks to maintain buoyancy?”

“Without dumping any of our haul? I don’t think so…”

——–

“Did we leave the freezer open?” Herrigan asked, incredulous. “I don’t know, Gwen, I wasn’t paying attention to everything Brian was doing! There was an inch thick sheet of water spraying in from the hull, I didn’t have time to check.”

“-really ought to have some kind of wireless system on this boat instead of relying on wiring. Who does that any-”

“Captain’s just trying to figure out how much ballast we need to loose to stay buoyant,” Gwen said, her voice nearly lost under the sound of alarms and Drip’s incessant chattering. “Do you know if Parr would have gone in it at all recently?”

“-and we really should have magnetic seals, too-”

Herrigan threw his hands in the air; even though Gwen couldn’t see the gesture it helped his frustration a little. “About ninety percent of what we cook requires something out of the storage locker and Brian can be a bit absent minded so my guess would be yes, it was probably left open. Even if it wasn’t I’m not sure that they could stand up to the pressure this far down. Can’t you just play it by ear?”

“-shouldn’t be chatting up girls when our stations-”

“I’m sure we could, but you know Duffy. Always likes to have his choice of agonies.” There was a moment’s quiet as Gwen spoke to someone on the bridge. Then she asked, “Who is that? Do you have Drip with you?” Herrigan spared a moment’s attention to smack Drip on the shoulder.

“OW! Watch it, Harry. And since when does everybody insist on calling me Drip? My real name-”

“He’s here,” Herrigan said. “I’m not even sure why you had to ask.”

“Can’t you shut him up?” Gwen asked.

“No,” Herrigan said sadly. “He’s like a good luck charm. As long as he’s still talking, we’re not sinking.”

——–

“Surface?” Duffy asked, incredulous. “We’re not in the middle of the Pacific, Graham, we’re barely four hundred miles from Australia. We can’t just go popping up to the surface, what if we get seen? The Wards already hate having privately owned salvage ships out as it is, they’ll have a field day if we’re the ones that remind the surface Alcatraz is still kicking.”

“What’s going on?” Gwen asked, shuffling around the captain’s chair and crowding the Engineering monitor further.

“We need to surface to repair the hull,” Graham said.

“That’s crazy,” Gwen said automatically. “No Trenchmen have been to the surface in eighty years.”

Graham rubbed his forehead like a man with a headache. “This is why dad says you’re too impulsive. You don’t get all the facts before you make a decision.” He cleared his screen and brought up a basic blueprint of the Erin’s Dream. “Now listen, when she was built ten years ago Eddie was a fine ship. Erin McClain herself couldn’t have asked for more. But even if she wasn’t a decade old she couldn’t handle running the Trench with her belly full of water. Trying to fight the current with the weight messed up and the hull compromised would most likely tear us in half.”

Graham tapped the flooded compartments on his screen for emphasis. “You try heading into the Marianas Trench like this and you’re gonna tear this ship in half.”

“Why can’t we patch the hull?” Gwen asked. “Send one of the salvage subs out to slap a patch over the leak.”

“Because we need to patch the inner layer – the pressure hull,” Duffy said, tracing along the line on the schematics. “That would mean peeling off the outer hull and anything between them. Since it’s all one part that would probably just make the weakness in the pressure hull worse.”

“Not to mention what it would do to our hydrodynamic profile,” Graham added. “There’s no way we could run the currents in the Trench safely with a slipshod patch on the outer hull.”

Duffy pressed the palms of his hands into his eyes, suddenly feeling very, very tired. “All right, Graham. We’ll do it your way.” He caught Gwen’s eye and saw his own apprehension mirrored there. “Give the order to take us up.”

Gwen nodded and stepped over to her station then hit the shipwide intercom. “Attention all hands. Prepare for emergency surface.”

——–

“We’re gonna get shot.” Drip slung his Waldo suit’s mask into place and let it dangle around his neck, tucking his helmet under one arm. “The Japanese are gonna find us and shoot us for breaking Kyoto 3 and-”

Eddie runs on nuclear power,” Herrigan said, giving Drip’s suit a quick check to make sure it was intact. “There’s nothing environmentally unfriendly about that.”

“-cause we’re from the Environmental Extremist Colony and everything we do is bad for the environment!” Drip whipped around and jabbed Herrigan in the chest. “You just see if we’re not buried in cats by the end of the day.”

“What.”

Drip thumped him in the chest once with a snort of disbelief. “Cats. You know, the samurai thing.”

“Drip, no one ever understands what you’re talking about, but today you’ve really outdone yourself.” He snatched his own helmet off the equipment rack and headed towards the door, Drip hurrying to keep up.

“They’re gonna make us do the honorable death thing, Harry, and I don’t wanna go be done in by allergies. No one in Alcatraz has been around a cat in decades, we’re probably all-”

Herrigan smacked himself in the face. “It’s hara-kiri Drip, not hairy kitties. Get in your Waldos people!” He raised his voice to carry through the launching dock. “If you think the Duff isn’t gonna flood this place and dump the subs whether we’re in ’em or not you’re in for a surprise. Eddie won’t be light enough to surface until they’re out!”

“-just the right size to get eaten by a squid or a whale or something, the only reason we don’t is because we stick to the bottom-”

“Get in,” Herrigan muttered, grabbing the loops on the back of Drip’s suit and hoisting him into his salvage sub’s hatch with the ease of long practice.

“-unless the fuel cells give out and drop us straight to the bottom-”

He swung the door shut with an irritated grunt and dogged the hatch shut. A smattering of applause erupted from the handful of other Waldo operators hustling to get in their subs before the launch bay flooded. Herrigan stepped away from Drip’s Waldo and sketched a half-bow. “Gentlemen, I give you silence! Treasure it while you may.”

A quick check of the door seal on the next Waldo over confirmed it was still intact. As Herrigan did so Doug Riggs jogged over to help him in. As he did he jerked his head towards Drip’s sub. “He’s your partner on normal salvage runs, isn’t he? Is he like that all the time?”

“Just when he’s awake and not eating,” Herrigan muttered. Doug and Drip worked different shifts so it wasn’t surprising that Doug didn’t know him that well. “Sometimes he breathes in. I think.”

“Ever considered just gagging him so he won’t drive you nuts?”

Herrigan hesitated, his hand resting on the edge of the hatch. “It’s good luck.”

“What?” Doug’s tone implied that Herrigan might have already gone around the bend.

“It’s like a reverse jinx. You know how you say something bad is going to happen, and then the universe one-ups you?” Doug nodded. “With Drip around he keeps upping the ante so fast the universe can’t find time to actually hit us with anything.”

Doug gave him an unbelieving look. Herrigan shrugged. “At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.”

——–

Duffy raked his fingers through his hair and stared at the balance sheets on his screen.

“Problems?” Gwen asked, leaning back in her chair to catch a glimpse of what was on his monitor.

“Bankruptcy, mostly,” Duffy said with a sigh. “I should have gotten a McClain hull last time in dock.”

“Don’t beat yourself up, boss,” Gwen said with an encouraging smile. “You wanted to pay the crew like you promised. Most people consider that a good thing.”

He cleared his screen with an exasperated snort. “Except now I’m not going to be able to pay anyone anything, because our scrap haul is sitting on the bottom of the ocean and I’m going to go bankrupt trying to get the hull repaired.”

“Look at it this way,” Gwen said, going back to her own monitor. “Even if you did order a new hull we’d have had to ship out long before it could be built or installed. Erin McClain invented a new building material, not a whole new infrastructure.”

Duffy leaned back in his chair and shrugged. “Maybe. But they say she was halfway there, before she died. I just wish the folks who took over EM Ltd. would show half the vision she did and actually get to developing something new.”

“Yeah, well, before you go writing out a letter of protest or something, how about we focus on getting this Erin home in one piece?” Graham said.

Duffy kicked back up in his chair. “What’s gone wrong with my ship now?”

“So far, nothing,” Duffy said. “But we’re under all kinds of stress. I didn’t think of it before, but with the salvage bays and launch bay empty, the most buoyant parts of the ship are the prow and stern. The heaviest part is the flooded compartments-”

“-amidships.” Gwen finished. “It’s like hanging a heavy washer on a string of wire.”

“Except we’re a lot more brittle than wire,” Graham added. “So before we bend too far we’re just going to snap like a twig.”

“You’ve been talking about my ship breaking in half an awful lot today, Graham.”

“Consequence of Eddie‘s design, Captain,” he said with a shrug. “If she were round it’d be like crushing an egg.”

“How do we fix this?” Duffy asked. “Could we just stand the ship on one end, or something?”

“I’m not sure trying that wouldn’t be what does us in,” Graham said slowly. “But I’ll run the numbers.”

“Forgive me if I’m being dense,” Gwen interjected. “But when you’ve got a heavy washer on a wire and you don’t want it dangling about, and you can’t take it off, you hold it up with your hand.”

“So?”

“So, the Waldos are just floating around outside. How about we have them give us a lift?” She pushed up with her palms to show what she meant.

Duffy and Graham looked at her, and then at each other.

——–

“You want us to what?” Herrigan stared at the sub hull through his window, as if staring at the Erin’s Dream long enough would somehow inform her XO of just how crazy he thought she was.

“Give us a boost,” Gwen said, speaking slowly as if to a small child. “The center of the ship isn’t as buoyant as the ends and we’re hurting for it. We need a couple of Waldos to try and grab us amidships and give a nice, gentle push. ”

“Okay…” Doubt was clear in Herrigan’s tone. “How much thrust do you want from us?”

“We’ll work that out once you’re in position. Just start slow.”

“Right,” Herrigan muttered. Then he switched the intercom over to the circuit which would let him talk to the other salvage subs. “You get all that boys?”

“We heard, Harry,” Doug said. “Who do you want to do this? It’s gonna be tricky to pull without tangling our cables.”

“I know it,” Herrigan said, chewing his lip. Waldo salvage subs usually worked in teams of two, connected to their mothership in sequence by cables that served both as safeties against malfunctions and the primary means of communication.

By longstanding tradition Trenchmen subs had done their best to avoid notice by the patrols of surface nations, so radio was something of a taboo outside the deepest parts of the Marianas Trench. Disconnecting the cables would make it impossible to talk to each other. But, while paired Waldos could simply crank in the excess cable between them to avoid getting tangled while performing work in close proximity, with a third Waldo in the mix there was suddenly a major chance of one of the subs getting tangled and breaking something important.

Herrigan sighed. He’d just have to have the three best pilots do the work. “Okay, Doug. I want you to take Fred and Pam and hang off Eddie’s bow. Drip, Tank and I will do the lift.”

Four acknowledgements came back. Herrigan waited for a moment, then keyed his intercom again. “Drip? You get that?”

There was a long pause, long enough that Herrigan was starting to feel very nervous, then a tentative, “Yeah,” came over the speaker. “Yeah, Harry.. I, uh.. I hear you.”

“Drip?” Herrigan gently spun his sub so he could see Drip’s Waldo hanging quietly in the dark water a few hundred feet away. “You okay, buddy?”

“Yeah, fine,” Drip said. Any idiot could tell he was anything but. “It’s just… we’re not on the bottom. You know?”

“The bottom?” Herrigan scrunched up his eyebrows. “What…?” Somewhere in the back of his mind Herrigan remembered something his cousin, a lawman back in the colony, had mentioned. Occasionally people who went out into the ocean got nervous or downright terrified at the idea of that much open space around them. When they got back inside the colony walls some of them would even panic if they wandered onto one of the large concourses the newer sections were built around, throwing fits or rushing into corridors with no regard for who got in the way. Usually Sam wound up running interference for them, assessing a fines as needed and suggesting they stay out of large rooms.

But if a person snapped in the open ocean it could be a lot worse, particularly back in the day when the water around the original penal colony had been mined.

Drip had never shown any signs of panic before, but then they’d always been along the bottom, with Erin’s Dream hovering just a couple of hundred feet overhead and a wrecked ship close at hand. It may have been enough of an enclosure that he hadn’t ever felt nervous before. “Okay, Drip, just relax. We’re going to tuck up to Eddie’s belly and everything’s going t o be just fine. We’ll get up to the surface in no time.”

“Right… surface… that’ll be…”

“Drip?” A little voice in the back of his head pointed out that maybe, just maybe, mentioning the surface of the ocean, which was little more than a thin layer of air between water and space, might not have been the brightest idea. “Come on, man, let’s get up-”

Herrigan cut off with an oath as the nose of Drip’s Waldo suddenly swung downwards and the sub shot off towards the ocean floor leaving a small trail of bubbles in its wake.

“What happened?” Gwen demanded over the intercom.

“Drip just did a Nemo,” Herrigan said, triggering the pumps on his forward ballast tanks. “New plan. Doug, Pam, Tank, push Eddie up to the surface. Fred, spot for ’em.”

“Harry, we’re already far enough from the bottom that we’re not going to have enough cable to reach back down there,” Gwen said. “You need to catch him before he hit’s the end of the line.”

“And do what?”

“Well I thought you would have something in mind for that already.”

There was a muttering on the other end of the line, then the captain’s voice came over the intercom. “Cartwright, if you don’t have any idea how to get Randolph to come to the surface just cut his cable and stay with us. There’s no sense both of you-”

“I think I’m going to need to detach from Erin’s Dream and run on battery power for a while, captain,” Herrigan said pleasantly. “Sorry if you were saying something, you know how that interferes with the comms.”

“Herrigan Cartwright, I swear, if I go to jail just-” The connection with Erin’s Dream cut out with an abrupt snap. Herrigan absently switched the intercom off to save power and switched on his screws. His Waldo was already descending slowly, but odds were Drip was already on the ocean floor. He’d been descending so fast there was a good chance his sub had collided with the bottom, but Waldos were pretty tough and hopefully nothing critical would be damaged.

The entire forward part of Herrigan’s Waldo was a single, convex piece of clear plastic, created using engineering principles that Erin McClain had adapted from mollusks. Unlike Erin’s Dream herself, it was almost state of the art. The huge window usually helped the pilots see everything that was going on during salvage jobs, a handy feature when you were up to your mechanical elbows in old, unstable shipwrecks. In this case, it also gave Herrigan a great view of the ocean around him.

With most of his own running lights off, to make it easier to spot the lights on Drip’s Waldo, Herrigan quickly understood why people might find the open ocean unsettling. The dark water was somehow both oppressive and vast at the same time, as if the deeps were somehow an endless maze and a coming avalanche all rolled into one.

Herrigan frowned and smacked himself on the leg. No good thinking like that, or he’d never manage to find Drip. With a keen eye on his instruments, he carefully navigated the sub down into the depths, following the cable that would lead him to his missing friend.

——–

Forty two minutes after the first alarm sounded the Erin’s Dream broke the surface of the ocean somewhere off the northeastern shore of Australia. There was a tentative thump from the top hatch, then Duffy stuck his head out and sniffed the air tentatively. From behind him, Graham called, “Everything look okay?”

“Yeah.” Duffy pushed the hatch aside and climbed up onto the narrow top deck. “I was just expecting it to be brighter, that’s all.”

Graham pulled himself up and out of the hatch as well, giving the sky a hard look. “It’s weather. The water vapor can’t condense along the outer hull and be channeled back into a reservoir, so instead large formations called clouds-”

“Yes, I’ve heard of the phenomenon,” Duffy said, peering out across the water rather than up at the sky. “Do you see any sign of Cartwright or Randolph?”

“No,” Graham admitted, looking in the other direction, “but I wouldn’t worry. There’s no one better qualified to drag Drip off the ocean floor than Herrigan.”

“Drip?”

Graham gave his captain an amused look. “You’ve never talked to him, have you? James Randolph almost never stops whining. It would keep leaking out of him even if you used a gag.”

“A constant drip, drip, drip,” Duffy said, nodding. “That sounds like Cartwright. Come on, let’s have a look at this hull leak.”

Ten minutes later Graham was shaking his head. “I think we could make a reasonably solid patch for this if we had more material to work with. But we dumped all the scrap we’d collected to make ourselves more buoyant, and I’m not sure I would have trusted it at Trench depth anyways. Maybe if we pulled something off the interior walls of the flooded compartments…”

“Well, think about it but don’t take too long. I don’t want to be on the surface any longer than we have to, no matter how much we’re making history by being here.” Duffy stood half way up, then stopped and peered intently at the water. “On the bright side, maybe when we get home Sam Cartwright won’t throw me in jail on suspicion of murdering my business partner after all.”

Graham followed his line of sight and whistled. “What is that?”

It turned out that it was two Waldo submarines. A large piece of scrap metal had been bent into a collar around the forward viewport of one minisub, so that only a few feet of it were unobstructed. The other submarine clung close by, holding the collar in place with one of it’s manipulator arms. In a few minutes the Waldos were alongside their mothership and Herrigan popped the hatch on his.

“Let’s get some relief pilots out here,” he called. “We need to stow these Waldos, and we can’t do that while I’m holding the blinders in place for Drip. Call Tank or Pam up here and they can bring it in.”

Duffy gave the order and then looked back to Herrigan and shook his head. “Leave it to you to find some way to get a little salvage out of a job as bad as this.”

“Just trying to keep the casualties down,” he said with a shrug. “On the bright side, our scrap load look like it’s still mostly in one place. We could send some Waldos down and collect some of it before the currents scatter it too badly.”

Duffy shook his head. “I don’t know. You’d have to run without a connection back to Eddie.”

“That’s why they’ve got fuel cells on board,” Herrigan said. “Eight hours of run time without needing to recharge. More than enough time to make a couple of trips back and forth.”

“What are we supposed to do with all this scrap you’re bringing back? Eat it?” Graham asked.

“Well I was thinking we could sell it to help cover repair costs.”

“Sell it to who?” Duffy demanded. “We’re thousands of miles from the nearest scrap metal dealer.”

“Not true,” Herrigan countered. “Australia’s only a few hundred miles away.”

“What?!” Duffy and Graham asked in unison.

Herrigan sighed. “Look, I know we’re used to avoiding notice by people on the surface. But think about it. It’s been seventy years since we last heard from the surface at all, and the Marianas Trench Penal Colony wasn’t a widely publicized venture, or so we’re told. A lot of people probably never heard of us or forgot about us. And if they do remember us, the Australia started as a penal colony too, so they’re more likely to be sympathetic.”

“And we know that people from Alcatraz are not the only ones doing deep sea salvage,” Duffy mused.

“It’s an untapped market for us. And we’ve already broken one unwritten rule by surfacing, we might as well go all the way and make contact with someone, don’t you think?” Herrigan shrugged. “If anything, it can’t be more dangerous than drying to drop back to Trench depth with a cut rate patch on my ship.”

“Hey, don’t forget half of it is my ship,” Duffy snapped.

“Right. It’s just something to think about.”

“Really?” Graham asked, incredulous. “Because it sounds like borderline treason to me. Have you forgotten that we’re basically prisoners of the UN? That we’re not even supposed to be on the surface less we cause some sort of global environmental catastrophe? The people up here are insane! The surface is more of a prison for us than the Trench! At least there we can come and go without worrying about being sunk without warning by any navy that decides they have some ordinance to burn through.”

Herrigan laughed. “Kid, prison and opportunity are the exact same thing, just so long as you know how to look. Think about it, Duffy.”

With that he pulled the hatch on his sub closed. Pam was settling herself into Drip’s Waldo while Doug and Tank led their fellow pilot back towards the larger sub’s hatch. Herrigan’s sub was already beginning to dip beneath the waves again.

Graham shook his head. “I know you two are friends and my bosses, but I have to wonder why you work with a guy as crazy as he is.”

“Because he gives me things to think about.” For a long moment Duffy just stared towards the horizon, where the sea met the sky. It was something he had never seen before in his life. Suddenly he turned to Graham with a manic grin and said, “I’ve always wanted to visit Australia.”

With that, he headed back towards the hatch, Graham following mournfully in his wake.

-Fin-