Valhalla rising, p.29

Valhalla Rising, page 29

 

Valhalla Rising
 



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  "If you wanted to make the evacuation system inoperable, how would you go about it?"

  "Not a pretty thought."

  "We've got to cover all the bases."

  O'Malley scratched his head. "Causing a failure in the air-ejection system would be the way I'd go."

  "I'd be grateful if you and your team would check out any tampering with the system very carefully," said Pitt.

  O'Malley looked at him with his eyes half closed. "I wouldn't do a sloppy job of inspection if my life depended on it."

  Giordino studied the fingernails on one hand objectively. "Truer words, I hope, were never spoken."

  The mooring hawsers were lifted off the bollards by the dock crew and reeled aboard the Golden Marlin seconds before the starboard thrusters were activated and the boat begin slipping sideways from the dock. Over a thousand people had come to the dock to watch the maiden voyage of the first underwater cruise boat. On a reviewing stand, the governor of Florida and other officials and celebrities made mundane speeches. The University of Florida band played a medley of sea tunes and were followed by a Caribbean marimba-and-steel-drum band. As the ship began to edge from the dock, both bands and the boat's orchestra combined to play the traditional sailing song, "Until We Meet Again." Streamers and confetti were thrown as the passengers and people onshore waved and shouted. The scene was very moving. Pitt was amazed at how many women wiped away tears. Even Kelly was swept up by the rousing ban voyage.

  Pitt saw no sign of the divers. His calls to Captain Baldwin on the bridge were not answered or returned. He felt extremely restive, but there was no way he could stop the ship from sailing.

  The boat was still in the channel, heading toward the open blue-green sea off Florida, when all passengers were asked to be seated in the theater, where First Officer Paul Conrad lectured on the operation of the submarine cruise boat and explained the evacuation system. Kelly sat on one side of the theater in the front while Pitt sat on the other side near the rear. There were six black families on board, but none of the men remotely resembled Omo Kanai. As soon as the lecture was over, a series of gongs rang and the passengers were directed to their evacuation pod stations. Giordino worked with the team of inspectors, searching for explosives or signs of damaged equipment, while Pitt and Kelly cooperated with the purser in matching up the passengers with their names and staterooms. The search went slowly. By lunchtime, they were less than halfway through the passenger list without getting to the crewmembers.

  "I'm beginning to doubt he's on board," said Kelly wearily.

  ''Either that or he's stowed away," Pitt said, as he studied the pictures of the passengers that had been taken by the ship's photographer when they'd come on board. He held up a photo to the light and studied the features of the image. Then he passed it to Kelly. "Look familiar?"

  She looked at the photo for several seconds, read the name and then she smiled. "There's a definite resemblance. The only problem is that this Mr. Jonathan Ford is white."

  Pitt shrugged. "I know. Well, back to the drawing board."

  At four o'clock in the afternoon, chimes sounded over the speakers throughout the boat playing the song "By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea." It was the signal that the boat was about to submerge. The passengers all hurried to find chairs in front of the viewing ports. There was no noticeable vibration or decrease in speed as the boat slowly began to slip beneath the surface. The sea seemed to rise as the boat descended in a maelstrom of bubbles that quickly faded away as the bright sun and sky transformed into a deep blue liquid void.

  The magnetohydrodynamic engines ran silently, without tremor. Except for the water passing outside the view ports, the passengers had no sensation of movement. The air regenerators scrubbed out the carbon dioxide and refreshed the breathable air inside the boat.

  Though there was little to see at first, they remained absorbed in viewing a different world below the one to which they were accustomed. Soon, fish began to appear, taking little interest in the huge vessel as it trespassed into their kingdom. Brilliantly colored tropical fish in fluorescent purples, yellows and reds swam past the view ports. The saltwater inhabitants were far more dazzling than their cousins in freshwater lakes and river. They soon faded above the sub as it sank into deeper water.

  A school of barracuda, their long sleek bodies radiating as if coated with silver glitter, swam lazily alongside the boat, their dead black eyes peering for a meal, their lower lips protruding.They swam effortlessly, keeping pace with the boat. Then, in the blink of an eye, they darted away and were gone.

  The passengers on the port side of the boat were treated to the sight of a huge sunfish, often called a Mola Mola. There was a white-and-orange metallic luster to its huge oval body, which was ten feet long and nearly as high and probably weighed in the neighborhood of two tons. A strange-looking fish with high dorsal and anal fins, its body looked as if it had forgotten to grow in length. The great tail was attached just behind the head. A friendly giant of the depths, the sunfish soon fell behind the boat.

  Marine biologists brought on board by the cruise line described the fish and explained their characteristics, behavior and migration patterns in the sea. The sunfish was followed by a pair of small hammerhead sharks no more than five feet in length. The passengers marveled that a fish could have developed with such a large foil across the front of the head with its eyeballs perched on the ends. The sharks were curious and swam alongside the view ports, peering with one eye aimed at the strange creatures on the other side. Like the other fish, they soon tired of the giant intruder, swayed their tails gracefully and propelled their sleek bodies into the gloom.

  Digital meters that read out the submarine's depth were mounted beside every view port. First Officer Conrad announced over the speaker system that they were at six hundred feet and approaching the bottom. As one, the passengers leaned closer to the view ports and peered downward as the seabed slowly materialized and spread below the boat, a landscape that once had held coral before the oceans had risen and was now covered with ancient shells, silt and jumbled lava rock encrusted with sea life. Because vivid colors were lost at this depth, along with reds and yellows, the sea floor took on a greenish-brown tint. The barrenness was garnished by the myriad fish that inhabited the bottom. The passengers watched in wonder at seeing this alien world with a visibility of more than two hundred feet.

  In the forward dome that served as the bridge and control room, Captain Baldwin was carefully guiding the Golden Marlin fifty feet above the ocean floor, keeping a steady eye out for any unexpected change in the terrain. Radar and side-scan sonar read the bottom half a mile ahead and to the sides, giving the operators ample time to change course and ascend in the event of a sudden rise of rock. The course for the next ten days had been laid out with extreme care. A privately hired oceanographic survey had studied the sea floor through the channel islands and marked the depths for the voyage. The boat now steered the set course with her onboard computers.

  The seabed suddenly fell away as the boat soared out over a deep trench that dropped three thousand feet into the depths, two thousand feet deeper than the limits set by the boat's architects for the hull. Baldwin gave the helm to his third officer and turned as the communications officer approached and handed him a message. He read it, his face taking on a questioning expression.

  "Find Mr. Pitt and send him to the bridge," he ordered a seaman, who stared entranced by the sight outside.

  Pitt and Kelly had not taken the time to enjoy the underwater scenery. They were still holed up in the purser's office, studying the personnel records of the crew. When he was notified that the captain wished to see him, he left Kelly and walked to the bridge. He'd no sooner stepped through the door than Baldwin thrust the message at him.

  "What do you make of this?" he demanded.

  Pitt read the message aloud. "Please be advised that the bodies of the divers engaged to inspect the bottom of your ship have been found tied to the dock pilings beneath the
surface of the channel. Initial investigation shows they were murdered by person or persons unknown who stabbed them both from the back, the knife blade penetrating their hearts. Await your reply."

  It was signed Detective Lieutenant Del Carter, Fort Lauderdale Police Department.

  Pitt was suddenly stricken with guilt, knowing it was he who had unwittingly sent Frank and Caroline Martin to their deaths.

  "What's our depth?" he demanded sharply.

  "'Depth'?" echoed a startled Baldwin. "We've passed the Continental Shelf and are in deep water." He pointed at a depth gauge mounted above the windows. "See for yourself. The bottom is two thousand four hundred feet below our keel."

  "Turn around immediately!" Pitt ordered curdy. "Get into shallow water before it's too late."

  Baldwin's face hardened. "What are you talking about?"

  "The divers were murdered because they found explosives attached to the hull of this boat. I'm not asking you, Captain. For the sake of the lives of everybody on board this boat, turn back and get into shallow water before it's too late."

  "And if I don't?" Baldwin challenged him.

  Pitt's green eyes turned cold as the Arctic Sea and pierced Baldwin as if they were ice picks. When he spoke, it was as if the devil himself were speaking. "Then, in the name of humanity, I swear I will kill you and take command of the ship."

  Baldwin jerked backward as if he was stabbed with a spear. Slowly, very slowly, he recovered and his white-mouthed lips spread in a taut smile. He turned and looked at the helmsman, who was standing stunned, his eyes as wide as automobile wheel covers. "Reverse course and come to full speed." Then, "Does that satisfy you, Mr. Pitt?"

  "I suggest you sound the warning signal and send the passengers to the stations at the evacuation pods."

  Baldwin nodded. "Consider it done." Then he turned to First Officer Conrad and ordered, "Blow the ballast tanks. We can double our speed once we hit the surface."

  "Pray we make it in time," Pitt said, the tenseness lessening slightly, "or we have a choice between drowning or suffocating while watching the fish swim by."

  Kelly was sitting inside the purser's office, sifting through the crew's personnel records, when she became aware of a presence. She looked up and saw a man who had walked in the room without making a sound. He was dressed in a golf shirt and shorts. There was an ominous smile on his face. She immediately recognized him as the passenger she and Pitt had discussed briefly earlier. As he stood there without speaking, she studied his face and a feeling of horror began creeping over her. "Your name is Jonathan Ford." "You know me?"

  "No, not. . . really," she stammered. "You should. We met briefly on the Emerald Dolphin." Kellv was confused. There was a close resemblance to the black ship's officer who had tried to kill her and her father, but the man standing in front of her was white. "You can't be . . ."

  "Ah, but I am." The smile widened. "I can see that you're mystified." He paused and took a handkerchief from the pocket of his pants. He dabbed a corner on his tongue and then rubbed it against the top of his left hand. The white makeup came off, revealing coffee brown skin underneath.

  Kelly stumbled from her chair and tried to run out the door, but the man grabbed her by the arms and pressed her against the wall. "My name is Ono Kami. My orders are to take you with me."

  "Take me where?" she rasped in terror, hoping against all hope that Pitt and Giordino would walk in the door.

  "Why, home, of course."

  The answer made no sense to her. She was only aware of the evil in his eyes as he pressed a cloth damp with a strange-smelling liquid against her face. Then a black pit opened beneath her feet and she fell into it.

  30

  It was a race against death now. That explosives had been placed on the hull was a certainty in Pitt's mind. The Martins had discovered them, but were murdered before they could alert Captain Baldwin. Pitt called Giordino over the portable radio. "You can knock off the search and call in the inspectors. The explosives are not inside the ship."

  Giordino simply acknowledged the message and hurried to the bridge. "What do you know that I don't?" Giordino asked, as he rushed through the door, followed by Rand O'Malley.

  "We just got word that the divers were killed," Pitt told them.

  "That nails it," Giordino muttered angrily.

  "The divers inspecting the bottom of the boat?" asked O'Malley.

  Pitt nodded. "It's beginning to look as though the explosives were set to detonate while we were over deep water."

  "Which is where we are now," said Giordino quietly, as he stared uneasily at the depth meter.

  Pitt turned to Baldwin, who was standing at the control console with the helmsman. "How soon before we pass into shallow water?" he asked.

  "Twenty minutes will put us over the edge of the trench and onto the Continental Slope," Baldwin answered, his face beginning to show signs of stress now that he had come to believe his boat was truly in danger. "In ten more minutes, we'll reach the surface, which will enable us to increase our speed by half and reach shallow water."

  Abruptly, the seaman standing at the ship's main console called out. "Captain, something is happening with the evacuation pods."

  Baldwin and O'Malley stepped over and stared at the console in shock. All sixteen lights representing the evacuation pods were showing red except for one that still read green. "They've been activated," Baldwin gasped.

  "And before anyone could board," added O'Malley grimly. "We'll never get the crew and passengers off the boat now."

  The vision of an explosion on the hull, water flooding inside and dragging the boat unhindered into the abyss with seven hundred passengers and crew, was too horrible to contemplate but too real to dismiss.

  Pitt knew that whoever had activated the evacuation pods had probably abandoned the boat in one of them, which meant that the explosives could detonate at almost any moment. He stepped over to the radar screen that sat side by side with the side-scan sonar display. The Continental Slope was rising, but too slowly. There were still almost a thousand feet of water below them. The Golden Marlin's hull was built to withstand the water pressure at that depth, but any hope of rescue would be next to impossible. Every eye stared at the depth meter, every mind counted the seconds.

  The seabed rose with agonizing slowness. Only another hundred feet remained before the boat broke the surface. A collective sigh of relief was heard in the control room as the Golden Marlin passed the edge of the Continental Slope, and the bottom came within six hundred feet of the hull. The water outside the view ports was becoming much lighter now and the restless surface could be seen sparkling under the sun.

  "Depth under hull five hundred fifty and rising," called out Conrad.

  The words had barely left his mouth when the boat shuddered with sickening violence. There was barely time to react, to contemplate the inevitable disaster. The boat twisted, completely out of control. Those great technically advanced engines wound down to a stop as the hungry sea poured into the two wounds caused by the underwater explosives.

  The Golden Marlin lay motionless, drifting in the mild current, but sinking foot by inexorable foot toward the sea floor. Tons of water began flooding into the hull in locations yet unknown to the men in the control room. The surface looked so tantalizingly near it seemed as if it could be touched with a yardstick.

  Baldwin was under no illusions. His boat was going down. "Call the engine room and ask the chief to ascertain the damage," he snapped to his second officer.

  The reply came back almost immediately. "The chief engineer reports they're taking water in the engine room. The baggage compartment is also flooding, but the hull is still intact. He has the pumps flowing at maximum capacity. He also reports that the ballast tank pump system was damaged by the forward blast water and is pouring into the tanks through the exhaust tubes. The crew is struggling to shut down the flow, but the water is rising too fast and they may have to evacuate the engine room. I'm sorry, sir, the chief says h
e can no longer keep the boat from losing neutral buoyancy."

  "Oh, God," murmured a young officer standing at the control console. "We're going to sink."

  Baldwin quickly came on keel. "Tell the chief to close all the watertight doors below and keep the generators going as long as he can." Then he looked at Pitt, silent, expressionless, and said, "Well, Mr. Pitt, I guess now is the time for you to tell me 'I told you so.' "

  Pitt's face was set, stonily thoughtful, the face of a man who was considering every possible contingency, every potential to save the ship and its passengers. Giordino had seen the look many times in the past. Pitt shook his head slowly. "I take no satisfaction in being right."

  "Bottom coming up." First Officer Conrad's eyes had never left the radar and side-scan sonar displays. He had no sooner spoken the words than the Golden Marlin struck the sea floor with loud creaking and groaning sounds of protest, as her hull settled into the silt, throwing up a vast brown cloud that blotted out all vision beyond the view ports.

 
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