“What’s with these questions?” The guy on the phone told me it would be an offshore sat job. I was excited to finally dive something other than water towers and sewage tanks. They sell you on the expensive certification course with these gorgeous photos of divers in Kirby Morgan Superlite 17s doing welding on an oil rig support surrounded by a radiant blue expanse.
Shit, sign me up. That’s what 19 year old me thought when I got started. The pictures looked like I’d be paid to do what I go on vacation for. The reality turned out to be somewhat less glamorous. This would in fact only be my second open ocean dive in three years. If it was for real, anyway. The voice on the other end of the phone turned out to be some kid not much older than I was when I got certified.
“Mental health. The site you’ll be diving is…unconventional, and the conditions will be stressful. The Institute felt it would be wise to screen out anybody who might snap under the pressure. Both literal and figurative. The fellow I worked with before is in a nuthouse now, so don’t take that question lightly. We want you to know what you’re getting into.”
He identified himself only as Zach. No last name. Likewise, his employer was simply “The Institute”. Either some serious skull and dagger shit, or somebody was yanking my chain. The questions at the bottom of the multiple choice sheet read “Are you a substance dualist? (Do you believe in immaterial phenomena such as ghosts, demons, banshees, etc.)”
I don’t pry into what people believe. When you’ve gotta spend weeks slowly offgassing with three other guys in a deckside deco chamber, bringing up politics, religion or sports is simply poor survival strategy.
Sex is the fourth one on that list if we’re talkin’ Thanksgiving dinner or something, but this line of work is basically all male, so political correctness never enters into it. Dirty jokes are A-OK. Arguments over anything near and dear to your heart? Probably a bad idea unless you’re on the last day of the deco cycle.
I checked “no” and slid the sheet over to him. He scanned my answers, nodded approvingly and packed it into a manilla envelope. “Zach” whipped out a flip phone. Hadn’t seen one of those in years. “He’s ideal. No red flags that I can see. What? Oh, certainly. Professor Travigan’s death was hard on all of us, though. Great friend to me as well, thank you for the kind words. Is the boat ready? Excellent. Where are you now? Swing around and pick us up, then.”
A minute or so later, an archaic but well maintained car turned the corner and came to a stop at the curb. I’m a car guy as well as a diving gear guy so it didn’t take me long to narrow it down. “1941 Pontiac?” The kid looked baffled. “I don’t know. I guess? Maybe? On the outside at least.” He climbed into the rear seat, as did I.
The windshield and both front side windows were tinted. A barrier between the backseat and the front obscured the driver but an intercom system allowed him to speak to us. “Welcome, Mr. Cressman. We’re quite pleased to have found someone with your particular set of qualifications. Do not concern yourself with provisions. All necessary gear is waiting for you on the boat.”
I balked. “We’re leaving now? As in, right now?” Zach laughed. “No time like the present! Depending on which scientific paradigm you buy into, anyway.” Weird guy. I began to have second thoughts until he withdrew a stack of twenties from under the seat. “The advance we agreed on. One quarter of what you’ll receive if everything goes as planned.”
That last part gave me the jeebs. If something “doesn’t go as planned” a thousand feet underwater, it’ll be a closed casket funeral. Very little humans do to earn a wage is as severely unnatural as trudging across the continental shelf, hot water supplied by hose from the diving bell pulsing through capillaries in their suit, peering out through an acrylic faceplate while breathing Heliox. Or Hydrox for the really deep dives.
More than once I’ve been seized by an intense feeling of how strange it was that a savannah dwelling ape should, by evolution and economic circumstance, come to be in such an environment. Not unlike space, except that space is beautiful. Down there, impenetrable black fog envelops you. A bleak, starless expanse hinting at immense swimming masses, circling just beyond the reach of your lights.
I remarked that it was awfully quiet for a diesel. “Oh, it doesn’t run on petrol”. Come to think of it, I hadn’t seen an exhaust and when we pulled away from the curb there was a subtle electric whine instead of the familiar flatulent grunt of a conventional gas engine. “Oh rad, this thing runs on batteries?” He furrowed his brow, searching for words. “No, not batteries. The motor is certainly electric though.”
“Oh, so it’s a fuel cell then.” He shook his head and gestured over his shoulder. I looked behind me and in the space where I expected another set of seats there was instead row after row of jars containing some kind of glowing blue gas. Clear tubing strung from jar to jar carried the gas to something resembling a glass pyramid with alternating layers of metal foil and cotton embedded inside of it.
One metal terminal protruded from the top layer, another from the bottom with an alligator clamp attached to each, one red and the other black. Cables leading from those terminals vanished through a hole in the floor. Going to the motor presumably.
“I’ve never seen anything like that.” Zach, busy texting, muttered “I’m sure that’s true.” The drive to the coast took roughly four hours. We stopped a few times for snacks and bathroom breaks. I plied him for more info about the contraption in the back of the car but he just sat there texting. I felt mildly tempted to have a look under the hood while he was in the shitter, but thought better of it.
The ship was a real beaut. Forty foot catamaran, no sail oddly enough. The reason for that became apparent when we boarded. The rear of the ship was for the most part taken up with glass jars, filled with blue gas. The cables, in this case, ran to a pair of electric boat motors. The main difference here was the presence of a ten foot metal antennae of some sort, resembling a tuning fork, folded neatly into an alcove in the floor.
I looked at Zach and raised an eyebrow. “Resonant vibration receiver”, he said matter of factly. “Tunes into the Earth’s vibrational frequency, uses harmonic resonance principles to extract useful energy from it. Not enough to run the motors directly but it’ll power the orgone accumulator. No shortage of that stuff when you’re at sea.”
The stack of bills in my jacket pocket kept me from backing away and running for it. Why the song and dance earlier about screening out wackadoos? Then again, I guess the real headcases don’t know they’re crazy. No idea what was actually powering those motors, but nor was I being paid to care.
“Zachary! You made it!” a grey haired portly man in an odd uniform emerged from the ship’s cabin. Zach embraced him, then did some strange handshake. “Is this the guy?” Zach slapped me on the back. “Sure is. Highest negation potential we were able to find within his field. For the profiles we have access to anyway. I don’t anticipate running into any projections down there to be honest, but better safe than sorry. Let’s get underway, shall we?”
The motor sound was like a waterfall. Not really the sound of the motor per se, but the ocean’s howls of protest as it was chopped up by the whirling props. The weather was nice and I savored the salty breeze as I watched the shoreline recede. I wondered how they’d react if I poked around a bit and found the battery bank I was certain they’d hidden somewhere on this tub. Fruitcakes.
“How far out are we?” The skipper throttled down the motors and fiddled with the nav console. “Six miles now. I suppose that’s far enough. Spin up the Philadelphia drive.” The what now? Zach entered the cabin and I followed. Conventional for a boat this size with a fridge, microwave, marine toilet/shower combo and fold-down table for meals.
And a metal sphere about a foot in diameter with a tangled mess of flexible black hoses trailing from various points on its surface up through a chute in the ceiling. The parade of weird shit never ended with these guys. Zack withdrew a key on a necklace from beneath his shirt. The skipper did the same. Both inserted their keys in a console next to the nav display and turned them in unison.
“You got the coordinates right?” Zach peered nervously at the skipper. “I don’t want a repeat of Tonga.” He scratched his head, looked sheepish and scanned the nav display one last time. “I still say that was a software glitch. I triple checked though, we’re all set for displacement.” Oh. Displacement. Of course. Either the charade would break down shortly or they had some parlor trick prepared to spook me.
Stay Tuned for Part 2!