Cold Seeps (Part 1)
This week we’re doing a round robin story — a story written in three parts by the three of us. This story is inspired by the news of James Cameron’s adventure into the Mariana Trench. Below is part one. Part two will be posted on Wednesday, and part three on Friday. Hope you enjoy!
At the control panel,Trevor stared headlong into the last half-hour of his shift. Day shift, night shift, who knew anymore. 35,000 feet below, it was only midnight all the time. He flipped the port-side sensors to long-range and yawned. Maybe a few hours in the UV tank would wake up his brain.
Stone tapped on the portal door twice, a cold ping ping. “Want anything from the galley?” He jabbed a wooden toothpick between his teeth and probes. “I’m thinking tuna fish, myself.”
Trevor groaned. “How can you eat that? I eat the tuna and I’m on the john for a week.”
“Not for me, thanks.”
Stone tapped two more times — ping ping — and his footsteps faded down the hallway. Trevor pulled the report binder from the file shelf and flipped it open to the current page. Clicking the ballpoint open-closed four times, he wrote the day’s date in the left-most column. When the ink formed the last number, he stopped, holding the tip still on the page and making the calculations in his mind. Five months, fourteen days. A long time in the deep. And what to show for it? Pale skin and a serious lack of social interaction. Not that either of those mattered so much. Not as though he had much action above surface. He penned the shift’s counts and readings into each column of the report, noting the most exciting moment at 05:14:37 when a black dragon fish passed the starboard panel, catching Trevor’s eye with its green glow.
Stone returned balancing a carafe of coffee and two tuna fish sandwiches on rye. He fell into the seat at control station two, and spread his dinner (lunch?) out among the keyboards, knobs and switches. “Anything to report?”
Trevor looked at him dead pan and slapped the binder closed.
“You read the new contract?” Stone pulled the wrapping from the first sandwich as though peeling a banana.
Banana. A word picture formed in Trevor’s mind so bright he could almost smell the sweet, tropical flesh. “Haven’t got mine yet.”
“Mph?” Stone swallowed. “Got mine yesterday. You gonna sign back up?”
Trevor shrugged. There were advantages to living below. Peace and quiet. Minimal interaction. He’d learned to meditate and speak French. And he’d written nearly three-quarters of his novel to boot. Amazing what one could accomplish when free of distractions — other than the eight hours out of every twenty-four. But no one had done more than six months below. No one knew the long-term effects. This crew would be the first. The guinea pigs. “Murphy?”
“Ah, yeah.” Stone nodded, pushing food aside to make room for speaking. “He’s re-upped. Said the Mrs. agreed, no hesitation.”
The compensation was hard to turn down.
Trevor sniffed and rubbed his eyes. He’d probably just missed his contract among the other papers and rigmarole from Command. “Yeah. I probably will, too.”
“Racquetball at fourteen hundred?”
“Naw, not today, man. I’m gonna hit the tank. Need some V’s.” He pushed his chair back and stood. Stretched. “Maybe tomorrow.”
“I’m just going to beat your ass again.”
“Probably.” Trevor returned the report binder to the shelf and picked up his mug and backpack. “Have a good –”
The port-side sensor light switched from green to flashing amber and in a tidy, British accent, a female’s voice — the only female voice Trevor had heard in a long time — cooed, “Alert. Unidentified object located off stern. Distance, four nautical miles. Velocity, 64.7 knots. Vital signs, unconfirmed. Series protocol four-point-two recommended.”
Trevor mouthed the words in disbelief as the message repeated.
Four. Point. Two.