I'm BURIED AT SEA and have to warn you before I run out of air - Chap 3
“Luther?” Arvid enquired urgently.
“Not now, Arvid.”
“Yes now. The transponder is four miles away. Still coming at thirty knots.”
“Shit. Tell me if it’s still on course at three miles,” I commanded, cutting him off. “Stewart, listen to me. I thought the odds were with Po and I lost him. Your father survived but he didn’t have his hand severed. And even if Barclay is alive when you find him – I’m one-hundred percent sure he’ll be dead by the time you drag him back.”
“Not if I can get him heat and air when I get there.”
“Don’t be fucking stupid!” I shouted as he touched down on the sand. “Even if you could rig your hose to his suit, the cold could get you and your both dead.”
“Not my hose,” he said, picking Po’s hose up from the sand. “I left Po’s gas and water on. I can weld it to Barclay’s suit.”
“But Stewart … The Seadevil. The fucking dolphins. And there’s something else. Whatever destroyed the manifold is on its way back and -”
I was cut off by the sight of a Frilled Shark snaking past his headlight. These eel-like monsters are living fossils. The only shark that envelops and constricts their prey before tearing at flesh with three-hundred needle-teeth.
Stewart gasped but kept moving forward, the saw held in front of him, until it pounced from behind. Nine-feet of crushing muscle twisted up between his legs then around his waist. Its lightning fast action was strong enough to snap ribs and arms, if it got high enough. But the whizz of the circular saw got there first.
Stewart went for its head, but it slithered over his belly so fast he missed. The circular saw plunged into the shark’s back instead, and its own determined attack did the rest. All Stewart had to do was hold the blade still as the creature thrust forward. Its rough skin sliced open like a juicy blood-orange. The Frilled Shark slowed its attack as Stewart split its back apart. But muscle memory kept its twitching body clinging on. Until Stewart forced the saw into the creature’s spine, sending a fountain of flesh and bone fragments into the water. The Frilled Shark hung limp and Stewart kicked its carcass to the ground.
“The transponder is two-point-five miles away and getting faster,” Arvid said.
I cut the Stewart’s coms off to say, “I said tell me when it was three miles away!”
“Sorry, Luther. But I have my own problems. The engines are struggling. We think there’s something caught in the propellers.”
“Well I have one diver left. So when I need to know something, I need to know it!”
“Right. But the weather is picking up, Luther. And if we lose the engines, this boat will drift and drag your diver like a dog tied to a tail-pipe.”
“You know how I feel about him. But just for today … God help us.” Arvid cut his coms off and I opened the channel to Stewart.
“Whatever destroyed the manifold is getting close, Stewart. You can still turn back.”
“I have eyes on him. And I’ve got the end of Po’s hose,” Stewart held it up as he approached. But there was problem, I realised, as Stewart strapped the welding kit to his back and torched Barclay’s old hose away.
“The air, Stewart. It’s going to escape from his severed wrist. To clear his helmet of water you’ll have to keep him completely upright.”
“Okay,” he grunted, teeth clenched in concentration. The end of Po’s hose and the hyperbaric weld-stick were both spewing bubbles. He could hardly see the job.
“Two miles, Luther!” Arvid interjected.
“Did you hear that, Stewart?”
“Yes,” he shouted back, his face dangerously close to a super-nova of electricity and air.
“You’ll need both hands to carry him.”
“I’ll drop the saw,” he confirmed.
“Not unless we’re sure he’s alive.”
“He won’t be unless I get this valve welded!” he spat back, the chances of Barclay’s survival dropping by the second. I was grinding my teeth so hard I cracked a tooth. I was spitting enamel when the blue-fire and bubbles stopped.
Stewart wrestled Barclay upright as air pumped into his suit and warm water filled its membrane. Barclay’s helmet cleared, his wrist spewing gas, and Stewart got him face-to-face. Dead eyes stared back.
“The weld stick,” I shouted, and he understood. The crackle of electricity started up again. Stewart thrust the weld-stick into Barclay’s chest and jolted his jaw wide-open. As Stewart withdrew the stick, Barclay choked water into his cleared helmet.
“One-point-five, Luther,” Arvid snapped before cutting the coms abruptly. Whatever he was dealing with on the bridge must have been serious.
“Can you hear me, Barclay?” I shouted, unsure if the welded umbilical connected his coms.
“What …” he croaked over a static-filled channel. “the fuck … is my little lad doing here, Luther?”
“Saving your ass,’ I replied.
“Aye,” he admitted. His cameras weren’t working but I could hear a wry smile. Unfortunately, his lips were the only thing he could move. With muscles frozen solid, Stewart had to manhandle him forward. But they made good progress, until I saw something ahead. A wall of wispy tendrils floating down from above.
“Eyes up, Stewart,” I said, and he looked up to the source of the obstruction. A bloom of Lion’s Mane jellyfish. Hundreds of gigantic heads, trailed by a huge cloud of tangled tentacles. It was a thick curtain of poison but their suits were made to withstand this.
“Less than a mile!” Arvid shouted, confirming there was no time to find a way around.
“Just crack on, my little lad. Crack on,” Barclay whispered. I detected a hint of fear in his voice and realised why. But there was nothing to be done. All I could do was watch as Stewart led them into the cloud.
Once inside, all they could see was a fine-mesh of tentacles. The fragile appendages broke at the touch, sticking to their suits, the poison searching for a way in. And in Barclay’s case, it didn’t take long to find it.
I could hear him trying to take the pain. Clenching his jaw so Stewart would just carry on. But as more poisonous tentacles attached to his severed wrist, he let out a roar of agony.
Stewart stopped to see what was happening. He looked into Barclay’s mask. As the poison took hold, convulsions started. Barclay was spitting foam into his helmet.
“Leave me,” Barclay spluttered, eyes rolling into the back of his head. His spasming body impossible to handle.
“It’s right on top of you, Luther,” Arvid said, his voice so rushed I knew he had more than my divers to worry about.”
“You have to leave him and run for the bell,” I said.
“I can drag him,” Stewart shouted.
“There’s no time!”
“He’s coming with me,” he insisted, dragging Barclay’s convulsing body by the hose.
I was about to scream some sense into him when there was a noise so loud I had to tear my headphones away. With the primal scream still wailing, Stewart looked back to Barclay. The tentacles around them where blowing away in a sudden gust of power. This underwater hurricane was blasting forward, pushed by the most immense force in the Gulf. But still, Stewart held onto Barclay’s hose, until …
Barclay was hit by 60-tons of furious, screaming muscle. Killed instantly. As he was torn from Stewart, the Sperm Whale thundered past, its wake catapulting Stewart away. All I could see was spinning limbs as he rag-dolled helplessly through the water. I called his name but there was no answer.
As Stewart slowed, he drifted silently down and landed next to the manifold. His eyes were open but motionless. I kept on shouting to see if he could hear me. He wasn’t far from the bell now. But he wouldn’t respond. He lay still. Until a shrimp started tapping at the glass by his eyes. Then another one joined in, snapping him out of his catatonic state.
“Right then,” he said coldly, and walked towards the well-pipe. When he took the weld-kit from his back, a terrible notion came to me.
“Just head West, Stewart,” I said, but the only reply I got was another whale call.
Another little fish had joined the shrimp in their attack. Their presence was sending Stewart into a cold rage. He made the weld-kit hot as he reached the pipeline.
“Stewart, please,” I said, realising what he was going to do. “That will unleash hell.”
He paused to consider this. Until another whale-call reverberated through the pipeline. “I’ll say hello to Barclay for you,” he said, jamming the cannister of hydrogen under the pipeline. Then he stuck the live weld-stick in the sand, the electrode rested on the cannister.
A loud, angry whale call sounded behind Stewart as he ran. As if the creature could sense what Stewart had done. But there was no going back now. I focused on directing him to the bell. The whale calls got louder behind him. A haunting siren so immense it encompassed all his senses. But he made it to the bell and dragged himself up through the moon-pool. Then Stewart’s hell broke loose.
I saw the explosion from the bell cameras. As the hydrogen cannister went off it vaporized the pipeline and the oil in it. A shockwave went through the water, igniting luminescent algae as it went. The wave of sparkling light hit the bell and threw Stewart against the wall. As it went by, it lit the ocean-bed up, each phosphorous creature a blue star in an underwater galaxy. The light only lingered for seconds. Long enough to outline a vast mushroom cloud of oil rising from the pipeline. And as it rose, the Sperm Whale came thundering through it towards the bell. So I did the unthinkable. I lifted the bell before it was sealed.
The Whale missed by inches and swept the bell upwards in its wake. Stewart was thrown from wall to wall as I screamed orders that couldn’t be delayed.
“Cut the hoses and seal the bell!” I repeated again and again. I’d just winched him up forty meters to avoid the whale. Any more and he might pop. He pulled his knife and hacked the hoses away while I looked out for the whale outside. Its calls had ceased but somehow that made it even more foreboding. The dark-blue whale could be twenty meters away and we wouldn’t know.
Stewart cut his umbilical away and shut the moonpool. I slammed the winch onto full speed and Stewart started his ascent. After lifting the unsealed bell, I’d have to adjust the pressure in the SAT chamber by forty meters. This would allow the bell to lock on. But the system wouldn’t let me depressurize SAT accommodation at dangerous speeds. There was an emergency pressure valve on the accommodation. I’d have to get down there to release it.
“Arvid,” I called, picking up a walkie-talkie. “I have one diver left and he needs me down at SAT control.” I was already out of the door when I felt it. The boat lurched to one side.
“Luther,” Arvid shouted back. “The propellers are jammed and something has hit our starboard side. If we can’t get control, I’ll drop the lifeboats.”
“No!’ I replied, running down stairs. “If they can damage this ship, lifeboats are certain death.”
“Who’s they, Luther? Who the fuck is doing this?”
There was a metallic thud as the ship lurched again. It threw me down the stairs, smashing the walkie-talkie, and I landed by the airlock that led to SAT control. I staggered up to peer through the little windows. SAT control was still dry. By the time I’d got through and sealed the doors behind me, the bell was rising from the moon-pool.
I left it suspended above the water and went to the SAT chamber. Stewart was looking out of the bell porthole, wondering why I’d left him hanging. I activated a coms panel near the emergency release valve.
“I have to equalize the accommodation before you can dock,” I shouted above the boat’s emergency alarm.
“Luther, the whale.”
“I know,” I screamed back, undoing the safety lock.
“No, you don’t! It nearly hit me about fifty meters down.”
“I’m nearly there!” I assured him, setting the release valve to let forty meters of pressure out. With a deafening hiss, the SAT chamber started equalizing.
I ran to the coms and winch control. I had my hands on it. I was just about to transfer the bell when the boat was hit so hard it threw me to the floor.
The whale smashed up through the moon-pool with an explosion of water and metal. It split through the hull and hammered the bell into the ceiling, decimating the winch above. Its huge head thrashed, oblivious to the gashes and tears in its flesh, the injuries nothing compared to the madness in its swivelling eyes.
As its attack slowed, I swear it looked at me, its rolling eye suddenly fixed as it slid back into the water. On the coms screen, Stewart was bleeding but conscious. I got my hands to the winch control again as water rushed around my ankles. But it was done for. When I tried to operate it, the whole thing gave way.
Stewart was looking right into the camera as the bell fell back into the water. He looked resigned to his fate, until the bell was hit and he jerked to the side. Suddenly the bell’s umbilical was being dragged out of the moon-pool at an angle. The whale had him and there was only five hundred meters before the bell’s umbilical snapped.
“Hold tight,” I said desperately. “I’ll figure a way to get you back.”
“No Luther,” Stewart said in a low, firm voice. “Order me to open the moon-pool.”
“The bell will explode.”
“Exactly,” he replied, eyes fixed at the camera as the umbilical wound out at astonishing speed.
“I can’t do that, Stewart.”
“Luther,” he begged. “My father disobeyed his dive supervisor and those bastards wouldn’t pay his insurance. So please. Order me to open the moon-pool.”
My eyes shot from Stewarts grim face to the disappearing umbilical. He was right. There was nothing else to be done. I set the coms to record.
“Stewart Salter. I’m ordering you to open the moon-pool and cause an explosive decompression. For the good of this crew.”
Stewart nodded a grim thanks and got to work on the hatch.
“Give your dad my regards,” I said.
“No can-do, Luther. He’ll be in heaven.” He gave a mirthless chuckle, released the hatch, and disintegrated instantly. His bones, along with half of the bell, tore through the whale’s flesh. The camera went black and the umbilical slowed to a stop.
I waded to the airlock. SAT control had taken on water but it was still sealed. Good job too, because when I checked the airlock windows, the corridor outside was flooded.
That’s me then, I thought. If I open the airlock to the boat, I’ll flood SAT control and be washed away. I was trapped. Something hit the ship again and it started to list. There was only one place to go now. The bottom of the ocean. Looked like I would get my last dive after all.
I rushed back to the SAT chamber, hit the emergency release valve, and held it until the chamber was equal to exterior pressure. As the ship was passing a forty-five-degree angle, water flooded through the moon-pool. I considered letting the water take me. In many ways it would have been better for me to go down with the crew. But I had more than myself to consider, so I entered the SAT chamber and sealed it.
I watched through the porthole as SAT control flooded and the lights outside failed. I couldn’t see anything, but I felt the ship settle on the bottom after it went down.
The SAT chamber has independent back-up power and air, enough to last a week. I’ve spent the first three days writing this account.
I’ve blown the SAT chamber down so its equal to the pressure on the seabed. There’s enough air to last me a few more days. Things is, I don’t think anyone is coming. Even if they did, a dive crew would never make it to me. So, I’m preparing for one last dive.
I’ve filled an empty suit with helium. Just a touch down here, but by the time it gets to the surface, the suit will blow up like a balloon. I’ve attached an emergency beacon, along with this story, and both will float into the air. A rescue chopper will pick up the signal, unless the birds have turned on us too.
I could wait it out, but I keep turning something over in my head. Although I hope this thing will only happen to us, I remember those fish in my son’s tank. Pecking mindlessly but relentlessly at his fingers. And it’s not just that. My wife will be cleaning the beach this weekend. My son always goes with her to surf. I want this to be found so they know to stay away. In fact, I need to warn everyone to stay away, and to prepare. You might not realise how dependent your lives are on the sea. Three and a half billion people use the ocean as their primary source of food. If tankers halt the oil supply, and goods stop moving around the world, anarchy will follow. We were always guests in the ocean. All things considered, it’s not surprising Nature rescinded her invitation.
I used the last suit for my message, so I’ll have to free-dive and drag it to the ship’s moon-pool. It’s the only way to get the beacon out. I just hope I’ll be able to find my way to the moon-pool in the dark. If you’re reading this, I guess I did.
It takes eight minutes to drown, they say. Maybe more in the cold down here. But it’s better than the being pulled apart by decompression. I’m about to flood the airlock and swim for it. Perhaps I could be saved if I wait. But I can’t stand the thought of my son paddling into the deep. It’s time to put my family first. If you’re reading this, Heather, don’t be sad. In death, I’ve found more purpose than I ever had in life. And as you know, I always wanted to be buried at sea.