Part 3 Dinner
It was the red flashing lights that finally roused Ryder at 4:47 in the morning. The birthday bash had gone on until the proprietor, Etore Luigi, who went by ET, informed them that the celebration was over. He wanted to go home and get some sleep.
The party had been a success from Ryder’s perspective. Athena had been laughing and giggling all evening. He hadn’t seen her crack a smile prior to that for at least two cycles.
“I just hope it will stick,” Cynthia confided as they rode of the elevator. “I think she’s terribly homesick.”
Ryder thought about that for quite a while. He got homesick now and then, but he was so busy that he would forget home for days. Of course Debbie was here, so he had a piece of home with him. He also had the SPC and Cynthia. What did Athena have? What was she missing? It troubled him for a long time after he should have been asleep.
4:48. He still had twelve minutes to get ready. Ryder washed his face, sprayed some on some deodorant, and brushed his hair quickly. Putting on a pair of dark jeans and a long-sleeved black t-shirt, he was out the door. “Darn, I could have slept two more minutes,” he complained to himself.
Cynthia, Debbie, nor Becky were in the hallway, which surprised him. At 5:02 he started wondering about knocking on their doors. At 5:05 he finally called Debbie, “Where are you?” he growled.
“We’ll be there in a few minutes. We overslept. Meet us downstairs in the cafeteria,” she sounded groggy, but Ryder knew she wouldn’t be that alert if he had awakened her from her coma like sleep. “Oh, and could you order us some bagels to go?” she paused as if speaking to someone off line, “Oh yeah, and some juice; two apple and one orange.”
“Would you like me serve you in bed?” Ryder snapped.
“Thanks, but no thanks. We’ll be down in five minutes.” Debbie out. She disconnected the line.
Ryder got on the elevator, commanded the main floor, and bent his head forward, resting it on the cool metallic surface of the elevator. “Women,” he muttered.
Fifteen minutes later, Cynthia, Debbie and Becky emerged from the elevator chattering. Ryder knew this because he was standing next to the elevator with the requested breakfast. He started to complain, but stopped as Cynthia smiled, “Good morning Ryder. Are you really going to wear that?”
“What?” Ryder looked questioningly at his apparel.
“We’re going to the sea? And boating? Don’t you think jeans and boots are a bit heavy for that?” she teased.
“I’m fine,” he grumbled.
Looking at the girls, Debbie and Becky were wearing light khaki slacks and shirts. Debbie was wearing a black beret, and Becky had a scarf around her hair that matched her outfit. Cynthia was wearing white capris, and a turquoise and white stripped top. She was wearing white canvas shoes, and most importantly was carrying a brown wicker basket, that Ryder assumed contained their lunch. Her hair looked great with a turquoise headband pulling her dark black hair back showing her face.
“Your loss?” Cynthia teased and took his hand. “I see you brought us some breakfast.”
They were still early enough to catch the rising. Ryder never tired of watching a rising, although he rarely got up early enough to see it. The sky transformed from a misty darkness to a bursting prism of light building reflection upon reflection as it climbed the inner walls of Demeter. The sudden brightness created a glow around the rapidly receding clouds. Then it was over, as the sky took on a silky texture.
Ten minutes later they were at the station, where Debbie and Becky led them off the train to the platform. The walk to the beach was rocky, and for the moment, Ryder was glad he was wearing his boots. He was also glad that Cynthia was wearing the light deck shoes she had chosen, as she grabbed his arm for balance on more than one occasion.
Ryder had never seen anything like the Sting Ray before. It looked more like a space ship than a boat. It’s sleek design exuded speed, so he knew why Debbie loved it. His one surprise was that Debbie actually let Becky take the helm.
“We promised Captain White we would follow the harbor posted speeds,” Debbie confessed. “And the only way I can do that is by letting Becky drive first. She has the patience for this, I don’t.”
Once out of the harbor, Becky continued to pilot as she accelerated the craft smoothly, cutting a wake directly away from the harbor. “There are some really cool things we want you to see,” she smiled broadly.
Becky activated the sub-marine control panel and angled the craft in and took the craft into a shallow dive. Halogen lights automatically came on, illuminating the path in front of them. “I really didn’t think anything could survive in the Sea of Demeter because of the abundance of minerals in the water,” she exclaimed, but watch.
The Sea of Demeter was alive with fish, of a sort. Schools of neon blue and red fined creatures rose from beneath the Sting Ray as she continued her dive. They were only three to five inches in length, but there were thousands of them. “We don’t eat these”, Becky continued in lecture mode, “but where the Neos gather the viperfish aren’t far behind.”
Both Cynthia and Ryder jumped back in their seats as dozens of three to six foot long predators sped by the windows of the Sting Ray. It wasn’t so much the size, but the grotesque features of the fish, that made them jerk. Their needle like teeth were clearly visible outside the frame of their mouths that were already gaping. They had distinct scales that in the lights appeared to be turquoise and gold armor.
“Remind me never to go swimming in the sea again? I can’t believe I actually went to the beach with those things nearby,” Ryder sat staring.
“They never come near the shore,” Becky clarified. Although we’ve seen them jump ten to fifteen feet out of the water when chasing the neos, they really prefer the depths below 500 feet.”
Ryder caught a glint of mischief in Debbie’s eyes as she added, “You know we eat the viper fish all the time.”
Cynthia turned to Debbie in disgust. “I would never eat anything like that!”
Becky and Debbie both laughed, “Of course you do. You’re the one who is always dragging us off for sushi. Where do you think sushi comes from?”
Cynthia looked like she was going to be sick.
“Enough!” Ryder warned.
“Sorry,” Becky and Debbie chimed in together.
Ryder guessed that at least Becky meant it.
A small blue light began turning, and beeping lowly. “We’re approaching the bottom,” Becky reported. “This is really what I wanted you to see.” She slowed the Sting Ray, and began to level the descent.
Ahead of them, rising from the surface were numerous finger like protrusions. Debbie interjected, “This is one of the tufa fields we found. There are dozens of them if you look for them,” she added.
“Those are really cool. What is a tufa?” Cynthia queried as she leaned forward.
Becky answered without turning her head, “There are underground rivers beneath the sea in many places. Where the tufas form, springs from the rivers bubble upward. The difference in the minerals of the rivers and the Sea of Demeter cause a form of calcification to occur,”
“Look at that one,” Debbie interrupted. “It looks like a pearl drinking fountain.”
The tufa rose forty feet from the surface. Looking closely they could see a mixture of air and water bubbling from the center top of the small tower. The structure itself was off-white, but the reflection of the light from the Sting Ray hit the tufa in such a way that it was emitting multi-colored lights in all directions.
Becky began lecturing again, “Watch the surface now,” she slowed the craft to a near stop, with the nose pointing at the sea bottom.
“What are those?” Ryder caught some movement from the corner of his eye.
“Dinner,” Becky smiled.
“Am I going to be sick?” Cynthia cautioned.
“No look closely,” Debbie took a more serious tone.
“Crab?” Ryder guessed.
“Up, and big ones,” Becky volunteered.
Debbie added, “They grow to nearly three feet here. Of course, we get the regular sized ones from the commercial fisheries.”
“Okay, I’m good with crab. You guys can keep the sushi though. I never could figure out why you liked it.”
Cynthia didn’t say anything.
Part IV Crash
They continued through the tufa fields as Becky referred to them for nearly an hour. Becky then leveled the Sting Ray and turned to Debbie. “You ready to take over?”
“You bet,” Debbie grew excited. Turning to Ryder and Cynthia she added, “You really haven’t seen what this baby can do.”
Without thinking Ryder pushed himself back further in his chair, and checked his restraints. He saw through the corner of his eye that Cynthia did likewise.
“We’re 43 miles from Arion,” Becky reported to Debbie as she turned over the controls.
Debbie grinned, “Arion Trench?”
“I suppose so,” Becky sighed and adjusted her own restraints.
Ryder noticed that Becky’s knuckles were turning white as she tightly gripped the arm rests of her chair.
“What is Arion Trench?” Cynthia leaned forward almost whispering.
Becky turned her head slightly, “The deepest water in the Sea of Orion. We can go down to 200 fathoms, I mean 1200 feet in that region. It works well for some of the workouts that Debbie likes.”
Debbie took a deep breath, stretched her fingers, and shook her shoulders, then leaned forward and pushed the Sting Ray into a sharp incline. The craft seemed to vibrate as it accelerated swiftly.
“120 fathoms,” Becky reported, as Debbie seemed totally focused on steering.
The Sting Ray began to spin slowly.
“110 fathoms,” Becky called out.
The spin of the craft increases as the boat continued accelerating.
“90 fathoms,” Becky kept a level voice.
“I feel like I’m in a blender,” Cynthia’s voice rattled.
“60 fathoms,” Becky announced. “Speed is at 110. I think she’s topping out unless you want to overheat the engines again.”
“They’ll want to see this,” Debbie spoke through gritted teeth, as she shifted the angle of the craft almost vertical.
“20 fathoms…. 30 feet,” Becky was leaning back pressed against her seat.
“Debbie!” Ryder growled.
Abruptly the Sting Ray shot out of the water. “Hang on,” Debbie called out.
The Sting Ray leveled, then at its apex angled down, much like a dolphin that has exploded out of the ocean. The craft nosed forward and smoothly dove back into the sea.
“New record?” Debbie inquired.
“Just a minute,” Becky protested. “Yes, 122 feet,” she declared. “That’s three and a half feet higher than your old mark.”
Debbie’s arm went out, extending a fist, “Yes,” she exclaimed.
“Don’t… do… that… again,” Ryder’s voice rose on each word.
In a much fainter voice, Cynthia chimed in, “I second that, I think I’m going to throw up.”
Cynthia didn’t throw up, but she put her chair in a horizontal position for several minutes. “I think you’ve done something to my inner ear,” she complained.
Debbie slowed the craft to a crawl, by her standards, “I’m sorry. Thought you’d like the thrill. It reminds me of the Boomerang Coaster.”
“I think I’d refer to it as the Hammer,” Ryder complained. “I’m surprised this boat didn’t fall apart.”
It was an hour past the time they had planned to eat lunch before Cynthia showed any interest in food at all. Debbie brought the Sting Ray to the surface, and they climbed up onto the top of the cabin to eat outside. The Sea of Demeter was calm, as it always was during the daylight hours inside the asteroid.
Cynthia nibbled a few crackers she’d brought along for the soup, and actually asked for one of Ryder’s colas, but declined any of the sandwiches, soup, or pie they had brought along. She did seem to relax as they were floating about ten miles off the far side of Arion and could see the seven green peaks of the island.
“Maybe we should float out here until it’s time to go home,” Cynthia mused, as she relaxed.
“But we still haven’t shown you the trench,” Debbie whined.
Cynthia relented, “Okay, but no more egg beaters with the boat unless you want to clean up the mess.”
“Promise,” Debbie put up her hand with two fingers pointing upward.
“That’s the cub scouts,” Ryder warned.
“Okay,” Debbie kept her fingers together, “Scout’s honor.”
Cynthia smiled weakly, “Okay, deal.”
Debbie spread her two fingers to the victory sign, “Great! Let’s get going.”
Most of the sea floor they had seen to this point was relatively flat, but the Arion Trench fell sharply from the coast of the island. With the continuation of rocky configurations descending from the peaks of Arion, Ryder could picture himself rock climbing through some of the valleys and outcroppings they encountered. “You know it wouldn’t be so bad falling of one of those,” Ryder exclaimed, pointing at an overhang with a narrow ledge. “Hey, hold on.”
Debbie paused the craft in its descent, “What?”
“Go back up about sixty feet and to your left,” Ryder ordered.
“That’s ten fathoms to lee?” Debbie snipped.
“What’s your problem?” Ryder drew back, surprised at the retort.
Debbie turned, “I’m captain of the vessel, if you want me to do something, ask politely.”
Ryder started to reply, when Cynthia caught his eye, and he sat back, folding his arms, “Okay, could you please bring the ship back up a few…. Fathoms and to the lee.” He couldn’t bring himself to an apologetic tone, but it seemed to placate Debbie, as she brought the boat back up slowly.
“See, right there. To the right a little,” Ryder pointed excitedly.
“What is that?” Becky exclaimed.
“It’s a trail,” Cynthia would have stood up if she hadn’t been restrained.
“What’s a trail doing under the sea?” Debbie drew in closer.
There was no question, it was clearly a path, zig sagging up the side of the underwater mountain. It was partially masked by residue, and in some areas totally disappeared, but could be picked up later descending out of sight.
“Mermaids,” Debbie stated firmly. “It has to be mermaids. I always knew they existed.”
“Just like you found a saber tooth tiger at Mesa Verde,” Ryder laughed.
“Okay smarty pants, who made the trail then?” Debbie challenged.
Ryder sat back thinking.
Cynthia was the next to speak, “It looks old, really old. Look where the trail disappears. It seems to be covered in sediment of some sort.”
“Can you take us closer to one of those blocked trail areas?” Ryder asked Debbie.
Debbie drew within a few feet of a section of missing trail, and kept the Sting Ray almost stationary in that position.
Ryder looked at the area for several minutes then asked Debbie to work the boat up toward to portion of the trail that could still be made out clearly. “Slowly,” he cautioned.
Finally, Ryder folded his arms smugly, “I have it.” Turning to Cynthia he added, “Actually you figured it out.”
“What?” Cynthia looked at the trail, then back at Ryder, then back at the trail again.
“This is a real trail, but it was created thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of years ago; sometime after the terraforming project started, but before they began a controlled melting of the snow cap above. Arion was more than an island, perhaps even a small continent back then,” Ryder grew more animated.
Becky joined in, “Yes, before they found the balance that would work best for them.”
“I’ll bet we could find an ancient city or cities somewhere along the bottom of the trail.” Ryder continued.
Debbie pointed the nose of the craft downward and they continued trying to follow the trail, but the further they descended the more broken and covered with debris it became, until so much sediment had built that they couldn’t tell where the trail had turned.
They searched back and forth, and then moved outward and downward. The blue light began spinning again. “Looks like we’re nearly to the bottom,” Becky advised.
“Let’s try concentric circles outward,” Ryder suggested.
They continued their search for a lost city for two hours, “Nothing,” Ryder muttered.
Debbie who had traded the captain’s chair for navigation over an hour earlier complained, “I’m tired, let’s go home.”
“Not yet,” Ryder kept scanning the horizon frantically.
Another hour passed, with no results. Cynthia squeezed Ryder’s arm, “Maybe we should pick this up another day.”
Ryder’s face fell, “Well, okay. It would have been cool to find a lost city. We could have named it Atlantis,” he laughed. The others joined in half heartedly.
Suddenly Becky screamed, “I think I found it!”
Life returned to fading hopes, as she maneuvered toward the spot she was pointing to.
“That’s not a city,” Debbie observed as they drew in.
“But what is it?” Cynthia exclaimed.
They began circling the sandy knoll at the bottom of the sea. “Something metallic,” Ryder pronounced.
“Sunken ship?” Debbie posited.
Once more around the 200 square yard area, and Ryder declared, “No not a ship. It’s a fighter. I don’t think its Slick, so it has to be a Perv ship. I’d like to get a closer look. I wish we had some diving equipment. Too bad, we’ll probably have to let the DDF Security team take over.”
“But we do!” Debbie announced.
Part V – Look what I found
“What are these?” Ryder asked in disgust.
“They’re STU’s,” Debbie boasted.
Becky added, “Surface Terrain Units. For some reason Randy and Joel refer to them as STUs. Anyway we have two of them.”
After landing the Sting Ray on a shelf about twice the length of the craft, that overlooked the wreckage of some sort of vessel, Debbie led the group through the locked doorway behind the cabin. It was a storage area, with a variety of tools and a work bench. Attached to the side wall were four sets of very uncomfortable looking bunk beds. As tidy as Captain White was about his cabin, this compartment looked more like an unkempt shed.
“Bachelor pad,” Cynthia laughed. “Reminds me of my brothers’ rooms at home, except a bit more greasy here.”
“I was wondering what that rattling noise was,” Ryder chuckled, as he opened some latched tool drawers.. “I thought you’d damaged the engine.”
“Anyway,” Becky interrupted, “We can use the S.T.U.s to go outside. Even with the lighter gravity, I know that the pressure at this depth could crush us without protective gear. These units were designed for working on the surface of Demeter, but they should easily keep us from being crushed.”
“Does anyone know how these things work?” Ryder asked apprehensively.
Cynthia, who had been crouching, examining the contents of the tool drawers announced, “We have an operating manual for the Surface Terrain Units. It doesn’t look too complicated.”
Not too complicated turned into an hour of reading, and trying to interpret technical language. They then spent another hour trying to figure out how to put the S.T.U. on. Becky managed to get a unit on backward, but that created enough humor and experience to decipher the front from the back.
Ryder tried to use his computer to pull up some additional information, but apparently they had traveled beyond the capabilities of the communications links. As he started to complain, Debbie cut him off.
“We figured out the first day that the standard communications bugs have some problems when in the open sea, and especially under water. That’s why we haven’t bother bringing them with us,” she mocked.
“I’m not so sure this is a good idea,” Ryder cautioned. “None of us have ever used one of these suits. What if something goes wrong?”
“It’s okay Ryder. I feel pretty confident about this, I’ll do it,” Cynthia volunteered.
“And I’m going for sure!” Debbie demanded, blocking access to the suit she intended to wear.
Ryder began pacing, which was a challenge with four people in the confined space. He walked back into the cabin and stared at the ruined craft lying before them. He turned and walked back to the STU.
“Too dangerous,” he said with a clear tone of disappointment. Turning to Debbie, “Even for you.”
“What about using the harpoons?” Becky suggested.
Ryder snorted, “What? Shoot an already shot down craft?”
Becky blushed, “No. I was thinking, once outside, you could attach the harpoon cable to the STU, and if something went wrong we could reel you back in. Even if we had to tow you to the surface before we could get you out, it should work.”
“Cable?” Ryder walked back out to the cabin windows and stood thinking. He turned and walked back to the STU, staring.
A long minute passed when Cynthia asked, “Ryder? Are you all right?”
“I think it’s worth a gambit,” he spoke slowly. Then with determination, “Okay! Debbie, suit up. You and I will go out.” Cutting off Cynthia before she could protest, “I need you here to figure out what’s wrong if we screw up the suits.”
“You’re not just trying to protect me are you?” Cynthia accused.
It was Ryder’s turn to blush. “No. You’re the closest thing to an expert that we have. I need you where you can advise. Will the helmet radios work with the Sting Ray’s radio system. We better make sure that works before we do something else crazy.”
Getting into the STU was a challenge. It was another half hour before they were convinced that they had all the seals in the green. When they did the radio check, Ryder was afraid he was going to be deaf in his left ear as the noise erupted inside his head. Finally, as prepared as they could be, Ryder stood at the airlock, insisting that he go out first.
As the lock opened, Ryder took the three foot drop to the top of the small rock formation the Sting Ray sat on. He pondered the fact that this was the first time, since his body had grown accustomed to the lower gravity that he felt like he was on another world. Demeter was starting to feel like home. But this undersea sanctuary was strange.
“One giant step for womankind,” Debbie emerged hopping from the Sting Ray, and nearly toppled over. Ryder managed to catch an arm as she lost her balance.
“Well, if you had fallen I guess we could have just attached a cable to you and hauled you to the surface,” Ryder taunted. He then called Becky on the radio channel, “Becky how do we get to those cables?”
“Coming right up,” Becky was still coming in too loud, even though she was barely whispering.
“Cynthia is there any way to turn down the volume on these radio suits?” Ryder queried.
After a short hesitation Becky responded, “Cynthia’s looking, but can’t find anything to help on that one. The harpoon shield is opening, let me know when you’ve got it and I’ll hit the release.”
Ryder slowly moved to the front of the craft, where he saw the panel opening. “Got it,” he exclaimed. “You can hit the release, but don’t fire the darn thing.”
Turning, Ryder blinked, “Debbie! Where are you?”
“Down here,” he heard her voice calling.
“I thought we agreed…” Ryder began.
I’m right over here. Nothing to worry about,” she interrupted.
Walking to the edge of the ridge, he saw that she had made it down the six foot rock face in a single jump, and was walking toward the wreckage. “Debbie! Stop right there, and wait.”
Debbie kept moving forward.
“Deborah,” Becky called. “You agreed. Stop and wait for your brother.”
Debbie did pause, while Ryder looked for a way off the ridge. He was looking for a safer way down when he felt a hard bump against the back of his unit. Before he could see what it was he felt another, stronger thump. Turning around he saw three, “no four” large Viperfish lurching at him. The largest had to be eight feet long.
“What the…” Ryder bit his tongue rather than finish his statement. He stepped back, and suddenly he was hanging in mid-air. With the pressure of the water, his suit slowly descended the six feet to the sea floor below.
“Looks like they won’t be eating Ryder sushi tonight,” Debbie laughed.
“You may think it’s funny, but see how you like it when one of those ugly things tries to eat you,” Ryder groused.
As if on cue, the eight foot Viperfish crashed into Debbie. It was an eerie sight to watch, as the monstrous sea creature opened its mouth wide as it smacked against the suit. It had caught Debbie perfectly, and she started to topple. Facing down in the sediment she couldn’t see the creature try and try again to take a bite out of the metallic suit to no avail.
Ryder started laughing.
“What’s going on out there?” Cynthia had taken over the radio controls.
“Our friendly sea monster forgot his can opener,” Ryder snorted.
“Not funny,” Debbie complained. “Get me up.”
“I’m working on it,” Ryder leaned against the rock wall he had just descended. He still had the harpoon chain in his right hand.
“Probably best just to wait it out,” Cynthia advised from the Sting Ray. ” Eventually your new pet will get tired and go away.”
“Yeah, in a day or two,” Ryder crowed.
Debbie’s feet were kicking in slow motion to no avail.
“Debbie, stop struggling. I think that’s keeping Jaws interested,” Ryder observed casually.
“I wish I could see this,” Becky complained from the Sting Ray.
“You can’t see it?” Ryder asked.
“Nope. We can see the tail of the viperfish, but Debbie’s out of sight.”
“I can fix that,” Ryder called.
“Don’t you dare!” Debbie threatened.
“Or what?” her brother scoffed. “Transmitting now. Be sure to record this Cynthia.”
“I’m going to kill you when I get up,” Debbie snarled.
“Then I won’t help you up,” Ryder laughed.
The viperfish was persistent. The other three companions were out of sight in less than three minutes, but “Jaws” as Ryder dubbed the fish kept biting at Debbie for ten minutes before it finally got bored or sensed easier pickings, and wandered away and up.
“Okay, if you want me to help you up, we have a triple truce,” Ryder negotiated. “No revenge for three months.”
“No deal,” Debbie responded.
“Have it your way,” Ryder replied casually, as he moved toward the wreckage, towing his chain behind him.
“Okay, double truce,” Debbie offered. “Two months, no revenge.”
“Deal,” Ryder turned, and attached the chain to one of the rings on the shoulder of the STU. With some assistance from the Sting Ray, and balancing efforts on Ryder’s part, Debbie was back on her feet shortly thereafter.
“Now let’s go see what we found,” Ryder challenged.
Lumbering forward, leaving oversized footprints in their wake, Ryder and Debbie moved around the perimeter of the wreckage. Ryder insisted they work inward slowly, and for once Debbie seemed to agree.
“That could be a wing,” Ryder observed, as they finished their first round. “But if it is a wing, I wonder where the other wing or wings are.”
“The parts that are sticking out are black,” Debbie commented. “Your favorite color,” she added for Ryder’s benefit.
“I’m curious, if the craft were made of chameleon fabric, how it would have broken apart like this,” Ryder started moving gingerly toward more of the wreckage. “Cynthia, anyway to enhance the analytics on this unit?”
“Pretty rudimentary I’m afraid,” Cynthia echoed in his head.
Debbie had moved in toward another piece of the debris. “I think this is probably part of the fuselage. It has some peculiar lettering on the side, but I can’t read it.”
“Take a picture,” Ryder advised.
“I’m filming the entire approach,” Debbie responded, then challenged, “Aren’t you?”
Ryder hesitated, “Yup. I am now.”
Near the center of the debris, the remains of the bridge were clear. The back of the cabin was wide open, as if it had been sheared in half. Debbie started climbing in.
“Debbie wait!” Ryder yelled.
Ryder tried to run, but STUs don’t run. No matter how much adrenaline and energy were expended, the STU continued its predetermined speed and course.
Debbie was standing still when he caught up with her in the cabin. The disturbed skeletons of three human-like creatures were scattered around the chaos. Examining the site more carefully, Ryder determined that they were indeed the skeletal remains of people. From what he could make of the bones scattered about the former cabin, the people had been of slender build, perhaps women, but very tall.
“Are you all right?” Ryder tried to put his arm around Debbie, but it wasn’t working.
“I’m okay,” Debbie whispered. “I just wasn’t thinking we’d find bodies.”
“I suspect the viperfish had a tasty lunch here,” Ryder spoke in clinical tones, “Although I suppose lobsters could have been involved in the final clean up.” He continued to scan the room. “The flight control section of the bridge seems intact.”
Debbie seemed to revive, “I’ll bet we could take this whole section of the cabin back with us.”
“I don’t think this will fit in my pocket,” Ryder laughed. “At least if I had a pocket.”
“We could tow it,” Debbie speculated.
Ryder tried to shake his head, which was now covered in beads of sweat. “I feel like I’m in a sauna,” he complained. “Becky. What do you think? Can we tow this section? It appears to have all the control systems. We may be able to get something out of the data files if they’re not too corrupted.”
“We can try,” Becky sounded pessimistic.
It took nearly an hour, for Debbie and Ryder to wrap and secure what appeared to be the strongest points of the wrecked cabin. They stood outside the Sting Ray as it attempted to move the compartment.
“It’s not budging,” Cynthia reported.
Ryder was getting tired, and his oxygen mix was moving into the orange. “Debbie this isn’t going to work.”
“Let me try. I’ll bet I can get it to move,” she complained.
“This isn’t about will, its about torque and power. We don’t have enough,” Ryder consoled. “Hey wait a minute. We don’t have to move the whole cabin. Maybe we can pull out the control panel itself.”
His oxygen mix was in the red when they finally had the section they could dislodge wrapped in chain. They didn’t wait to see if it would work, Ryder pushed Debbie back to the air lock. The stale air of the cabin smelled great after spending nearly four hours in an STU.
“You stink,” Cynthia comforted, as Ryder and Debbie struggled to get out of the suits.
“You try it sometime. I feel like a chicken being turned into a broth in a stew pot,” Ryder complained, then he paused and started laughing, “That’s why they call these things STUs”.
Debbie was at the controls before Ryder finished getting out of the suit, with Cynthia’s help. It took three tries, but the unit finally clunked out of the broken cabin onto the sea bed. From there it was a slow ride to the surface.
They opened the cabin portals for some fresh air as they tried to idle. It was dark and rains was falling. The cool breeze and moisture felt refreshing for a few minutes, but first Becky, then Debbie had to fight to keep the craft on the surface as their treasure kept trying to pull the Sting Ray back under the water. Finally, they buttoned the craft back up, submerged, and began towing their prize back to port.
When Ryder finally was able to get a connection with his bug, it still took several minutes to contact Mr. Small, who finally answered groggily, “Major Small here, what have you got?”
“Interesting you should ask that question Mr. Small,” Ryder began.
“William! Is that you?” Mr. Small sounded like he had jerked to attention. “Where are you? Are you safe?”
“Huh?” Ryder paused, caught off guard. “Yeah we’re fine. We’ve just been out fishing.”
“Fishing?” Major Small spit out. “We’ve been looking for you for the past several hours. Why didn’t you respond to our call?”
“We were in Arion’s Trench,” Ryder answered plaintively, “And we found something I think you’ll be interested in.”
“Yes, we found the wreckage of a fighter. I think it might be a Per-Sian craft. We salvaged the control unit and are bringing it in.”
“What were you doing in the Arion Trench? Death wish? I thought you were smarter than that!” his former teacher snarled.
Ryder paused, “Are you interested in the control unit or not?”
“Hold on,” Mr. Small went off line. “You’re on an open line. Can you switch to a secure one?” he asked when he rejoined the call.
“Secure line?” Ryder hesitated. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t you have a security bug?” Mr. Small sounded exasperated.
“Sorry. I really don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ryder reiterated.
Mr. Small wavered, “Okay, but this isn’t going to end well. I sure would like to get my hands on a Per-Sian control unit. Where are you landing?”
It was a long day. The Sting Ray struggled to maintain any kind of speed while towing the control panel. Ryder dozed off and on throughout the day.
When Cynthia realized she had nothing more she could do, she crashed on one of the bunk beds in what was now affectionately referred to as Jonas’ Hole.
Debbie and Becky took turns at the wheel. But Debbie refused to wake up after her second round at the helm, and Becky was slapping her own face to stay awake the last hour. As they entered the port things livened up. First, they had to take the harbor on the surface at twice the authorized speed to keep their acquisition from dragging on the bottom. Second, they had a large welcoming committee awaiting them.
Major Small had a guard of twenty DDF security officers at the wharf. Several hoppers were in the air as Becky docked on the pier. But their numbers were dwarfed by a full company of the black suited Slick command. A squadron of five Slick fighters passed over head every two minutes.
Major Small looked like he had just swallowed a lemon, as he introduced Ryder, “William Joshua Ryder, I’d like to introduce you to Commander Reisman of Fleet 1 of the Sagittarius League. Commander, this is William Ryder,” Major Small spoke stiffly.
“Ryder isn’t it,” the Commander stepped forward to shake Ryder’s hand. “I understand you have brought in a relic of the Per-Sian League. We’re very interested to receive your report.”
Two Slick boats took position on either side of the cable that had brought in the control panel, and divers had jumped in the water where the it had settled.
“Hey! What are they doing?” Ryder turned. “That’s our find.”
“And the Sagittarius command offers you congratulations on your discovery. Of course, by treaty, we will take control of the artifact for further study in our labs.”
Ryder felt an urge to take a swing at the commander, but Major Small held him by one shoulder, and whispered, “Another day.”
“So reports?” Commander Reisman asked in a patronizing tone.
Ryder relaxed, “Nothing to report commander. We found this lying on the bottom of the Sea and you know how kids are, we just tried to figure out how to grab it.”
Commander Reisman seemed unsurprised. “Of course. Where exactly did you find it?”
“I really don’t know,” Ryder shrugged. It was just under the water when we were looking around. I think there were some tufa fields in the area if that helps.”
“You mentioned the Arion Trench,” the commander responded as if he had sprung a trap.
Ryder smiled maliciously at the commander, “Really, I don’t recall saying that. When did we talk?”
The commander fell silent giving Ryder an appraising look. His left eyebrow rose slightly. “I see. It seems there may be more to you than I thought.”
“And I of you,” Ryder responded ambiguously.
A junior officer approached the commander at a quick step, “Commander, we have retrieved the package.”
“Thank you, Ensign.” The commander turned back to Major Small, “Well, I see our business here is done for now. Until we meet again Major.”
“Commander,” Major Small stood rigidly.
Commander Reisman turned and led his retinue off the pier.
Major Small’s shoulders slumped. “C’est la vie,” he muttered. Turning back to Ryder, “We’re going to have to talk about security bugs here on Demeter. All open lines are monitored.”
“I didn’t know that,” Ryder responded turning back toward the Sting Ray.
In a more didactic voice, Major Small added, “We’re also going to have to provide you with some training on navigation apparently.”
Ryder laughed, “Oh, we’re fine on navigation. We have a full video log of the entire recovery, the site, and the location if you’re interested.” He added, “Debbie or Becky can give you the exact coordinates if you’d like to investigate the rest of the wreckage.”
Major Small smiled broadly, “That’s more like it. I suppose it could have been worse.”
“Yes it could have been,” Cynthia interjected. “Debbie could have been awake when they stole her prize.”
“I was thinking,” Ryder turned to Becky. “Do you think you could let her know when she wakes up? Cynthia and I have to get back to Europe right away.”
“Ryder, I’ll do a lot for you, but telling your sister that the Slicks slipped away with the control panel? Not on your life. Don’t even think of leaving until she’s awake.”
It was a rough ride home that night.