Foam on the Large Wave

 

(Fisi 'o e nauaoam)

 

 

 

Chapter 22

 

 

Harriman Nelson felt the power all around him as the Flying Sub soared through the outer reaches of the stratosphere.  It was exhilarating to see the culmination of many years of thought and study and experimentation finally seeing fruition.  He eased the craft into a slightly higher altitude and leveled out when he saw, by the instrumentation, that he would soon be approaching the beginnings of space.  Someday, he promised himself.  Someday.  Now he just wanted to make sure that the new propulsion units were working well.  He did notice that the fuel consumption was greater than he had anticipated, but that was something he could work on later.  The point was that it worked.  The theory was not only sound, but feasible.  

“Holy cow, Admiral!” Sharkey gave voice to his feelings.  “How high will this new system take us?” 

“Higher than this, I suspect, Chief, but I don’t want to see how high we can go.  I only wanted to see how well it works.   I suppose if you wanted to be crude about it, I wanted to make sure it wouldn’t blow up on its first test run.”  He paused before continuing.  “Of necessity, I have to fly her more than I would want to, have more people on board than I would like, so I want to know that the basic functions are safe enough for other passengers.”

“Aye, sir.  I understand.”   Sharkey gazed awestruck at the bright sky before them, slightly darker above where the atmosphere decreased to airless outer space.  

“I’m going to bring her back down.  Make sure you record all the power grid fluctuations as well as speed, hull temperature, everything,” Harriman instructed. 

“Aye, aye, sir.” 

But the remainder of the flight was almost flawless, again, only the fuel consumption being of concern to him.  All in all, Harriman was very pleased with the first test of this new system.

 

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Lee took a deep breath and visualized the Seaview’s deck.  He carefully walked the short distance and ducked through the doorway.  There he confronted the ladder.  Coming up, going down; opposite ends of the same spectrum.  He hooked his arms around the rail and began slowly climbing down.  As careful as he tried to be, he still slipped the last step and hit the deck hard. 

“You okay, sir?” a seaman asked.  It was Porter by the sound of the accent. 

“Yes, RJ, thanks,” he replied.  He took a moment to get his bearings, as well as his breath. 

“Need some help getting somewhere, sir?” Porter asked from closer to him. 

“No,” Lee answered quickly, and then he realized that a certain amount of pride was going to have to be swallowed.  “Are you busy right now?”

“No, sir.  Just comin’ off my duty watch, sir.”

“Porter?”

“Yes, sir?”

“This is the Seaview, not the last boat you served on.  You can leave off about three quarters of the ‘sirs’,” he said with a smile. 

“Yes, sir, uh, sure thing, Skipper.”

“I would appreciate it if you would accompany me.  Just to make sure I don’t miscalculate and fall down a stairwell.  I was very lucky on my first excursion.”

“I heard about that.   Don’t know if I could have done that.”

“I guess you do what you have to do, RJ.  But looking back, it wasn’t just luck, it was dumb luck.”

“Where did you need to go, Skipper?” Porter asked, ignoring Crane’s last remark.

“Forward, control room.  Radio shack first, to be specific,” Lee told him.   He started off, not waiting for a reply, seeing in his mind the corridor, the ladder, this time navigated much more smoothly, then another corridor. 

“Hatch, Captain,” Porter’s voice warned him.

He had almost tripped over one that first night, too.  Had it only been a day and a half ago, he wondered?  “Thanks,” he said, stepping over and ducking at the same time.

“Hey, Skipper!” Sparks called out loudly when he reached the radio shack. 

Lee smiled.  Everyone seemed to be talking louder since his return, too, as though the problem with his eyes was also connected to his ears.  He looked over his shoulder at where he supposed Porter was.  “Thanks, RJ.  I really appreciate your help.”

“No sweat, Skipper.  Just call anytime you need me,” the young seaman said. 

“Anything from the admiral?” he asked Sparks.

“No, sir.  Not since just after he took off.  I guess he and the chief are having too much fun.” 

“I sincerely hope so,” Lee said fervently.  He wished he were up there with him.  “Who’s got the conn?”

“O’Brien.”

Lee nodded and headed for the observation window.  He’d be able to hear the Flying Sub when it returned.  Greeting O'Brien, he continued onward, sitting down in the first chair he bumped into. 

He was awakened by a nudge on his shoulder.  “Coffee?”   It was Chip.

“Did I fall asleep?” he asked, feeling a bit stuperous.  He sat up a little straighter.  “Yeah, I would like some, provided it’s not too hot.”

The XO’s voice sounded incredulous.  “You, coffee, too hot?”  Then he said, “Oh, sorry.”

“No, don’t worry about it,” Lee said, reaching out.  Morton placed the cup in his bandaged hand and didn’t let go until he knew Lee had a firm enough grip.  “Uh, Chip, I was way out of line up there.  I’m sorry.”  He heard the XO sitting down beside him.  The chair squeaking slightly as his friend turned to face him.  “It’s just that, well….”

“It’s so damned frustrating,” Chip finished for him.  “I know, Lee.”  His voice was low, filled with understanding.  “And you’re such a wonderfully patient patient, too,” he added dryly.

Crane almost choked on his coffee.  Chip was right.   Then he thought of something else. 

Lee nodded.  “Any word from the admiral?”

“Yes, he’s coming back in.  He said something about a few minor adjustments and then he would take her out again on a longer flight.”

The vibration of the hull doors opening told them that the Flying Sub was returning, even as Chip was speaking.  The beat of the Flying Sub’s engines told Lee exactly where the craft was and what it was doing.  A short time later, an extremely exuberant admiral and excited Chief Sharkey joined them on the observation area.  “You can’t imagine what it’s like, Lee!” Nelson exclaimed.  “We hit the exosphere in only a few minutes.  Can you believe that?  It was incredible!  Mendez had it right on the mark.”  There was a short silence.  “Thank you, Lee.  Heaven only knows how long it would have taken for me to figure it out on my own. 

Lee nodded, not knowing what to say.  Personally, he felt that the admiral would have figured it out on his own and it wouldn’t have been that long a time, either.  “So when do we go to Hikeru?”

There was a long hesitation.  “The CMO isn’t sure it’s a good idea for you to go, Lee.”

Crane was speechless for exactly five seconds.  That was how long it took for the shock to wear off and the anger to rise out again.   He held out the cup.  “Chip?  Would you take this, please?  It’s cold.”  Then he got up and approached the clear hull plates, his fingers outstretched.  When he had reached them, he continued to face the sea as he spoke.  “It took me most of the past day and a half to decide why I should go, because frankly, I was scared spitless at the thought of stepping foot on that island again.  But I decided to go for the simple reason that I can’t stay here—waiting, asking crewmen to help me avoid killing myself if I miscalculate a foot or two.  Or to shave me or to help me dress.  Admiral, if there is a chance that the remedy for this is on that island, I want to be there.  I wish to hell I could see Mendon’s face when he sees me and realizes that he didn’t take me down like he wanted to.  Just being there will be enough.”  Lee had kept control this time, but he still heard a trembling in his voice.   It was very quiet in the entirety of the control room. 

“I’ll talk to Doc again,” Nelson said softly from his site. 

Lee nodded.  “Thanks.  And be aware, A’ona Matua has declared her intentions to go to Hikeru as well.”

“What?” Nelson asked, incredulous. 

“She said something about it being her right or some such thing.  La’ani, too.”

The admiral gave a lusty sigh.  “This is when I wished I hadn’t let Doc talk me into declaring the boat smoke free.  I need a cigarette.” 

Crane laughed softly.

“I should have known something was up when I was told they hadn’t disembarked with the men,” Nelson said.  “Well, as much as I don’t like having civilians on board the Flying Sub with the new propulsion system, it has passed all its initial tests.  Let me think about it.”

“When do we leave?” Lee asked. 

“As soon as I calm Dr. Jamieson down, refuel the Flying Sub and grab a cup of coffee,” the admiral said in mock exasperation. 

“And both of you get a bite to eat,” the XO reminded them. 

Lee nodded, resisting the urge to say ‘yes, mommy.’

Five hours later, they were strapped in their seats.   The admiral did all of the safety checks while Sharkey assisted.   Lee sat in one of the fold-down chairs, with Doc sitting opposite him in another one.  The two women sat directly behind the admiral and the COB. 

“Initiate launch,” Nelson said and the Flying Sub bay doors opened.  “Disengage,” he said next and the sharp thump of release above them signaled their freedom.  The admiral eased the craft out of its cradle and into the ocean.  The engines whined as they powered up and Lee felt a strong surge as the Flying Sub sped toward her take-off.  He felt more power than he was used to and she broke surface more quickly, skipping only once, and then shooting into the air as though catapulted.   He felt the g-forces increase rapidly and then they leveled off. 

“We are in the upper atmosphere,” the admiral said, in his best instructional voice.  He continued to describe the trip periodically. 

Lee figured it was more for his own benefit rather than anyone else’s.  “Admiral,” he finally asked.   “Exactly what was Mendez’s contribution?  I know you said it was something to do with protecting the vessel from the forces of such increased speed, but that’s all I remember.”  Crane had been curious about that since before the information had been extracted from his mind.   Prandjit had been there and had set up the machine.  Although he wasn’t sedated this time, Lee was given something that was similar to twilight sleep.  He had been relaxed, so much so, that he had dozed during the procedure and therefore had absolutely no idea what he had been guarding subconsciously all this time. 

“The propulsion unit was essentially completed, Lee,” the admiral began.  “The problem was that the excessive forces inherent with such higher speeds play hell with any materials normally used for transportation except for spacecraft.  The vehicle would be torn apart after only a few flights.  That problem more or less made the drive useless.”

“Admiral?” Lee interrupted.  “Did you come up with this new drive?”

There was a long pause.  “I came up with the initial idea.”

Lee nodded.  It was just as he had thought.  “And Mendez came up with the means to feasibly use the invention.   Something to buffer the friction.”

There was another silence.  “Were you awake during the information extraction?” the admiral asked. 

“Might have been subliminally awake.  Why?”

“Because you just gave a crude definition to what Mendez proposed.  The same nuclear/ion drive that we developed is also being used as a means to buffer the vehicle against the atmospheric forces.  Somewhat like a very thin force field.”

“A force field?” Lee asked.  “That creates another set of possibilities as well.”

“Indeed it does, Lee.”  There was a silence for a short while and then the admiral began his decent. 

The flight was astonishingly short, Lee thought. 

“Doing a fly-by at regular speed,” Nelson announced.  “Check for hostile action, Chief.”

“Aye, sir.”

Lee felt the craft bank port and then make a sweeping circle.  The sharp realization came to him that he had never actually seen this mountain island.  He had come in drugged and left mostly blind.  He only had La’ani’s brief descriptions to go by.   A’ona Matua said something.  It sounded ominous.  Then she began a short sing-song chant.

“There is death here,” La’ani translated. 

 

 

Chapter 23
Foam on the Large Wave Prologue
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Contents
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