Authors: Melisande Mason
Tags: #Sci-fi thriller, #Science Fiction
2042: The Great Cataclysm
by Melisande R. Mason
© 2012 Melisande R. Mason
The Bunyip crunched to the seabed with a thud and recoiled, bouncing up and down like a yo-yo on a string before tipping at a forty-five degree angle. Nick’s solid frame crashed hard against the curved sides in the cramped interior of the submersible.
‘Christ Beau, what happened?’ He bellowed straightening quickly. He wiped aside the trickle of blood from a cut to his head after hitting one of the sharp instruments lining the walls.
The small man at the helm hunched his bony shoulders, the knuckles on one hand
grappling the guidance lever, the other snapping switches as he fought to tame the sub. ‘I don’t know!’
A blip, blip, blip sound filled the air followed by a ping and a whir.
Nick crawled over to one of the six small viewing windows located in the thick titanium hull and angled his head sideways, pressing his eye obliquely against the
round fisheye. The view outside wavered, distorted by the eight-inch thickness of the glass. It was like trying to see through pea soup so he turned to the remote camera display where a larger milky picture beamed onto the green screen mounted above Beau’s console. Surrounding this screen dozens of black needles whirred around inside glass circles, some dancing back and forth, others pointing to coloured-graded sections on dials. A bank of switches arced around the control panel in front of the helm, and it was on these that Beau concentrated his efforts to stabilise the bucking sub.
Another small man with toad-like eyes hunched over a second computer screen. He squinted through rimless glasses at his flickering screen, searching for a quick explanation for the sudden upheaval. He flinched when Nick’s big hand clamped his shoulder. ‘Four points plus that one I’d guess Jeremy?’ Nick said.
‘Spot on boss. Four point nine to be exact. Right under us.’ Jeremy pulled at his shirt
and squirmed on the padded bench curving around the base of the sub they all shared, it’s edges hard and low to the floor. The air-conditioning in the sphere struggled and fluctuated and small beads of perspiration popped and glistened in neat rows between the furrows crinkling his square forehead. ‘The seismo’s bouncing all over the place.’
Beau worked at the controls, arms flying about him as he flicked first one switch then another. ‘That’s not the only thing. If this’s a taste of what’s coming, then we don’t want to be down here too much longer, that’s if your predictions are right Nick.’
Nick rolled his dark chocolate eyes. ‘Yeah, well I don’t think there’s any doubt now. D’you?’
Nick lurched again and cocked his head over his wide shoulder to Beau. ‘Bloody hell Beau can’t you get her under control!’
Beau’s hands flicked over instruments and switches. ‘I’m trying goddammit! It’s like riding a bucking bronco.’
The Bunyip convulsed, cart-wheeling Nick off balance again. He straightened and peered through the tiny distorted window where the tomblike stillness he expected to see at this depth was replaced by a murky spinning turbulence that created a feeling of eeriness and foreboding.
Then as fast as it began the frantic rocking stopped and quietness descended.
The men waited, their breaths coming in sharp bursts as they prepared for another pounding that didn’t come, instead the Bunyip floated gracefully like a lazy dolphin drifting in a calm sea.
‘Better put a bandaid on that cut boss.’ Beau muttered as he began checking for damage.
‘I’m okay. Maintain six hundred and fifty metres and let Sam know we’re staying down longer than anticipated. I want to check the seismometer out there for damage.’
‘Six fifty?’ Beau responded.
‘Oh, sorry. Two thousand feet.’ Nick often forgot his crew were American.
On the surface Sam Hallam lounged his stubby frame against the heavy oak wheel of the Platypus. The big one hundred and ten metre boat rocked gently on the calm ocean as she kept her station above the Bunyip. Serenity surrounded him and the shimmering sun bounced off the sea’s flat surface, it’s warm rays lulling him into a perfect state of torpor. He looked across to the low lying Mururoa Atoll, just visible in the distance above the indigo ocean, and screwed up his face as a sheet of crackled glass from the sea reflected a bright flash into his drooping brown eyes. The heat of the day burned through the bridge window onto his strong dark arms and he dreamed of tropical Polynesian nights, drenched with romantic island music and sensuous rhythms. He was savouring the excitement stirring his loins when Beau’s animated voice cackled over the ship’s radio jerking him roughly back to reality.
‘Sam! Come in Sam. Over.’
Sam came to attention. ‘Whooo. What’s happening, man? Over.’
‘We’ve been hit by a bloody tremor, no damage though. Nick wants to make sure the seismo isn’t damaged, it’s jumping around like a jack rabbit, so we’ll be down here a while longer. How’s everything upstairs? Over.’
‘Okay. No sign of any trouble here water’s smoo....th as fresh laid satin sheets. Don’t worry about us.’ He drawled. ‘We’ll find somethin’ to do. Standing by. Out.’
Sam flicked the transceiver button and leaned back into the chair kicking his thick legs up onto a table beside the helm. He tucked his thumbs into his belt and slowly laced his fat fingers over a belly swollen by too much good eating and drinking, and a slash of pearly white opened up across his broad jaw. He loved his job as skipper with a passion, he thought Nick was the best dude a man could work for; he never lost his temper and treated the men as equals. Being in charge of the Platypus with her crew of twelve made him feel important and fulfilled.
On board Bunyip things were not going so well, seismic activity continued to rattle their instruments. They had traced this seam of unrest from north of Hawaii to Tahiti, where for weeks they had carried out secret dives to the seabed. Deep cracks in the ocean floor spreading from Tahiti like a giant squid reaching for its prey had led them to this point.
flicked the band holding his shoulder length honey coloured hair loose, and sharp l
ines crimped his leathered forehead as he squinted over Beau’s head to his monitor. They waited, hoping the mirky water would clear so they could see the metre-square steel box on the seabed containing the seismograph.
‘We can’t stay down with the air-con fluctuating like this.’ Nick said. ‘This muck’s not going to clear anytime soon. We’ll have to surface and come down later.’
‘You think?’ Beau said, memories of the past hour crowded his thoughts. His eyelids drooped and he wriggled his feet to ward off the cramps that were inevitable from inactivity in the confined space they shared. ‘I’ll need time to check her out before we dive again, I’m worried the hull could be damaged.’
Nick flinched at the idea that his precious Bunyip might be damaged. ‘Yeah, no seismo’s worth that risk Beau. Call Sam and take her up.’ Thoughts of the temperate environment on the surface and a hot shower beckoned, although he knew it would be hours before he could relax.
Beau counted off the depth as the Bunyip rose gracefully, taking two hours forty-five minutes to reach the surface. They felt the turbulence increase until it felt like being in a washing machine as the surface waves jostled their cocoon, and they waited for the familiar thump as the sub handlers connected the heavy steel cables, as thick as a man’s arm, in preparation for the lift onboard the Platypus.
Nick laid his hand on Beau’s shoulder. ‘Great job down there mate. That was one helluva dance.’
Beau warmed under Nick’s smile. ‘Piece of cake boss.’ He also knew it would be a while before he could rest. So many checks to do but he didn’t care, he loved the Bunyip like it was his own baby and despite the challenge faced today, he would be first on board for the next dive.
It was always a dizzying moment for the Bunyip as they left the buoyant water and hovered in mid-air, swaying precariously until the huge davit that had plucked them from the sea lowered her gently into her gantry cradle on the rear deck of the ship.
Nick liked to leave the sub first once she was secured. It had nothing to do with escaping the claustrophobic atmosphere in the pressure-sphere, but more to do with the anxiety he felt that no damage should come to the craft while she was being locked into her cradle. Now he had the added worry of damage she may have experienced below. He folded his wide shoulders forward and climbed toward the escape hatch, drawing in a deep breath as he squeezed his large body into the narrow space. He reached for the overhead hatch and pushed open the heavy lid, letting it fall back on the hull with a bang. He slammed shut his eyes as an arc of brilliant light flooded his face, and scrambled through the hatch, sliding gracefully onto the deck to begin his inspection of the hull.
He gave the crew up thumbs-up and they guided her carefully into her cradle on the ship’s open rear deck and fastened a giant hook to her nose, and then the pulleys took over hauling her into the steel gantry where she nestled with ease.
Nick trailed his hands over the yellow balloon-shaped cocoon, sweeping away the trailing shiny silk threads of water streaming from her fat titanium hull, his eyes peeled for any cuts or bruises like a loving parent inspecting his child on it’s return from a particularly roughhouse football match.
Satisfied all was well, Nick racked his elbows against the ship’s rail and leaned back to watch Beau and Jeremy disembark onto the platform on the gantry. He contemplated his good fortune and a twinkle sparkled in his eyes as he surveyed the sub and the men surrounding her, like a crew of nurses tending their patient. He savoured the ship’s gentle sway and drew in the heavy salt air. Breaking his stance, he leaned on one arm and stroked his moustache, spreading his thumb and forefinger back and forth over it’s henna sprouts unconsciously trying to tame the wiry tufts. Many people accused him of being a dreamer, said he’d never make it
Well, the world’s full of dreamers. Just as well too
He thought. Yet his success was always tempered by a longing for Australia. He had made this dream come true now his new dream was to take the Platypus home.
Seven years ago he had gambled everything when he’d instructed a shipyard in Miami to build her, solely on the assumption he would win the ten-year, multimillion dollar American research contract. It was a case of no Platypus - no contract. He had sweet-talked an American shipwright and some other astute investors, one of which was Graham Bronson - his best friend, into financing the deal to the tune of two hundred and eighty-million dollars, and many sleepless nights followed until his successful bid was announced. It wasn’t so much the money, which in the year 2035 was a conservative sum, but his ability to cover every contingency.
She was worth every penny, boasting a broad twenty metre stern with a gantry capable of lifting the Bunyip’s twelve thousand kilograms with ease. The traditional masts carrying radar, GPS and other communications equipment was replaced with a smooth opaque panel on top of the transparent dome-like hood that wrapped around and over the entire superstructure, from the bridge amidships to the stern gantry, giving the ship the appearance of a floating elongated cocoon. This hood made of a material called Navilon invented by a team of French scientists, featured all of these systems built into it’s surface. It’s other unique properties provided the occupants of the bridge insulation from the elements and bulletproof protection against the pirates who roamed the oceans day and night. The hood, operated by voice recognition control could be collapsed into folds above the bridge like a telescope, exposing the forward Veto platform and the stern gantry and hydraulic cranes.
The Short Vertical Take Off and Landing machines, known as Vetos, had superseded the helicopter in 2030, when an exciting breakthrough in technology had reduced production and running costs. Unlike the helicopter these machines could travel much further distances at higher speeds and could hover for much longer. The egg-shaped body was constructed of toughened Navilon with four rotating jet engines positioned at her extremities.
The Platypus’ twin rotating Azipods on her ice strengthened hull pushed her along at an average speed of twenty knots, and
with a fuel range of ten thousand kilometres
she could stay at sea forty-five days. Four special capsules
in the bridge
fitted with safety harnesses and communications systems were suspended over a gimbal device to hold the men steady in the highest seas. More capsules were located in strategic places below deck for the crew. In addition to Beau and Jeremy and the ships crew, there were twelve other crew members on board: eight scientific personnel and four marine technicians. A science laboratory of twelve hundred square metres contained wet and dry lab areas, freezers, biological and chemical analysis labs, meteorological labs and climate control chambers. The electronics room housed an Echo Sound processor and Depth Digitiser, bottom mapping Sonar, acoustic Doppler current profiler and a maze of recording equipment.
Besides the laboratory, four climate controlled decks housed the galley, laundry, mess room, ships store and medical facility; and because the men spent weeks at sea at a time, a fully equipped gymnasium and theatre were provided for entertainment. The crew shared comfortable well equipped cabins, each with sleeping cocoons insulated and soundproofed so the men were provided with the utmost comfort.