Thoughtful - Chapter 14
The following days passed in uneasiness and paranoia. Lady still refused to openly share their destination with the rest of her crew, but it was obvious they were on course for somewhere, even if only out of the necessity of movement. The explosion that had rocked the submarine a few days earlier had left several of the crew injured, and required more than a day’s clean-up. Lady couldn’t stop her crew from visiting their injured friends in the medical bay, but neither would she want to. It wasn’t her way, regardless of how inconvenient it might be to her current situation. She knew they would talk, guess at what had happened, form their own conclusions. That the rumours would multiply, take on a life of their own, and possibly even undercut her authority with her crew, but she just had to wear it.
Those who had been to Royale before, whispered among themselves that this is where they were headed. The guessed Lady would want to dock there for repairs and take advantage of Mellion equipment they knew was available for a price. Perhaps their Commander might trade away their new acquisition and they could pick up some much needed supplies without having to take part in a dangerous Overworld raid. Still other members of the crew thought they might be headed for the Arbour or some other neutral territory. Speculation spread through the ship’s corridors, passed on in snatched conversations. Still, Lady kept their objective secret. She couldn’t risk anyone confirming their destination, leaving them vulnerable to being ambushed by Demise and his crew or worse. Lady would rather suffer the short-lived questioning of her own crew, and a few days of doubt.
Inevitably outrage began to manifest itself in the hearts of some the crew. Those who had been with Lady the longest, and felt that they should be open to the facts. They found the lack of trust disappointing, and were upset that such vital information was being kept from them. Regardless of how much faith they had in their commander, all agreed it would have been better for Lady to at least hint at where they might be heading. Most of the crew also knew, or at least had guessed, that the damage to the Anhinga had been perpetrated from within, and that meant that a saboteur and traitor was amongst them. Suspicion compounded as the hours passed as to who it might be, and the feeling on board the submarine grew close and awkward. Like a bunch of strangers perpetually trapped in an elevator, unable to leave, each looking at the other with questions in their eyes and fear in their hearts.
Lady kept telling herself it was only for a few days and then all would be well, but she also knew that a crew had to bond in order to work well together, and live together – especially when their ‘home’ was a basically just a long metal tube sunk hundreds of metres below the water’s surface. She also knew that bond had to last, to give them strength. They were like a family. No, they were better than a family, but this situation was tearing them apart slowly. Lady hated keeping secrets from her people. She simply thought she had no choice.
Sitting back in her chair, Lady sighed and put her hand over her face. Two more days and they would be at Royale, they would repair the Anhinga and then get back to looking over that tech they had picked up. She had tried to get stuck into it when they set out, but her mind wasn’t on it, and she couldn’t concentrate. Eventually, growing frustrated himself, Sagan told her it could wait. Besides, he said, he had plenty of other work to do anyway. Lady had smiled and thanked him. She knew he was just trying to make her feel better. He was dying to get his hands on the alien machinery, to see what it offered, what it could do. It was what he lived for. Science, investigation, discovery, knowledge. It’s what they all lived for.
Shifting in her chair, Lady turned her attention to the activity around her. Opening her moth to speak, she was about to ask Turing something when another explosion rocked the sub. Bigger than the last a few days earlier. Hell only knew where in the vessel it had hit. The sub was rocked mercilessly, tilting on a violent angle and throwing its occupants off their feet and out of their chairs. Books fell from shelves, bottles smashed in the lounge, food flew off tables in the galley. In the engine room chaos reigned. On the bridge, a cacophony of noise assaulted them, as the Anhinga screamed out in her injury and displeasure. Lady’s eyes widened in alarm. Her fingers white, she clung to her chair, waiting for the it to be over. Waiting for the Anhinga to right herself, waiting for her to settle. But it wasn’t stopping. Something was horrendously wrong this time. Something they might not come back from. Lady knew she needed to go to work.
Taking in the madness around her, Lady was disturbed to find everything coated in a deafening silence. Brought on by her overwhelmed nervous system, it obscured the aftermath of the blast, threatening to dissolve into a fervent panic. Lady needed to focus up. Adrenalin coursed through her veins, as the world slowed to a crawl and for a single terrifying moment she couldn’t find her voice. Terror threatened to steal her heart, drag her down and leave her drowning at the bottom. Catching Turing’s eye, in that single moment, Lady saw his fear mixed with hope as he looked to her to give the orders that would save them. There had to be no doubt they would survive. Snapping out of her own thoughts, time instantly hit fast forward, speeding up beyond human comprehension. Signalling to Strychley, the alarms screaming out for attention were instantly shut off. Now Lady could hear herself. Now she could think.
‘Strychley, damage report,’ Lady demanded, even though she could feel the submarine sinking now.
‘We’re taking on water Commander, too much, best guess is something has ripped a massive hole in the rear ballast tanks and …’
‘Ok blow the tanks,’ Lady ordered.
‘What?!’ asked Turing dumbfounded by Lady’s move.
‘Do it!’ screamed Lady, ‘and hang on – this is going to be rough.’
‘But we don’t know what’s up there!’ yelled Turing in protest.
‘We don’t have a choice Turing! If we hit the bottom we’ll never get her back up, I’ll take my damn chances Overworld.’
Strychley hit the controls to blow the ballast tanks, forcing the water out and instantly sending the sub flying towards the surface. It was a wild ride. For a moment gravity became a fonder friend than usual as the crew were forced to the floor. The ascent not being horizontal, anything not secured to the floor suddenly took a backward detour towards the rear of the sub. Lady could only hope that her crew was safely locked inside the Anhinga and that they weren’t losing anything too vital from the sub.
With an unearthly roar the Anhinga broke the surface of the water, shearing into the bright daylight like a breaching whale. On the Bridge, Lady held fast, she had been here before and knew what was coming next. As the submarine reached the apex of its arch it inevitably returned to the water, smashing into it like a concrete block. Then the shockwave hit. If anyone was looking for them they would find them now. No one would miss that signal. It was like they’d placed a large neon sign above their location, telling the whole world where they were. Lady swore quietly as the rocking of the submarine slowed to a gentle swing back and forth. Finally, she was able to breathe again. It was time to take stock.
‘Strychley, everyone, you all OK? Whose injured? Can I get a damage report?’ Lady asked in quick succession. This was no time for emotion. No time to fall apart.
‘I think my arm is broken?’ offered Strychley weakly in return, as one by one the rest of the crew called out their status.
Turing had some minor cuts and bruises, Baker had most likely a broken leg, and Deadeye a dislocated shoulder. Overall the Bridge crew was mostly unscathed. But now the calls started coming in from the rest of the ship. It wasn’t so rosy.
‘OK, not too bad then, there’ll be time for us later, for now we need to find out where she’s cracked and seal her up, we also need to sink this sub as soon as we can, as long as we’re surfaced we’re in deep shit and you know it,’ Lady took a deep breath, and grabbed for the ships tannoy, reaching out to her crew as one to save time, ‘attention crew, we’ve had a catastrophic breach and had to surface, as of right now we are Overworld and sun-tied, anyone not too injured help those around you, clean up what you can, and Charlie – if you can walk, and if you can hear me, get on the commsline now.’
The commsline remained silent for what seemed like an eternity, before finally it sparked into life and Charlie’s familiar if not strained voice crackled out.
‘It’s a real mess down here Commander,’ he stated the obvious before Lady even had a chance to ask.
‘What do you need?
‘Time, I need time, something I assume we don’t have much of right now?’
‘How much Charlie?’
‘As much as you can give me – we’re topside now right?’
‘Yep, Overworld and exposed, we’ll get started on repairs but either way it’s dicey.’
‘Well then, let’s pray to the proverbial for some dumb luck then Commander.’
‘All hail Bowie, over and out,’ agreed Lady, turning to her bridge crew, ‘OK so Cato and his team were already out of commission when we started out on this escapade, and they ain’t going to be feeling much better after this, so it’s down to us. Strychley, you have the bridge …’
‘Commander, I think you need to stay on the Bridge until we can dive again safely, we’ll need a cool head if anything … anyone should find us,’ Turing suggested gently, cutting Lady off, ‘I’ll lead the clean-up crew.’
‘Yes … you’re right Turing, we don’t know what’s coming next … damn it all to hell I hate this cat and mouse nonsense, why doesn’t he just come for me?!’ Lady’s voice thundered across the Bridge as she slammed her fist down on the metal arm of her chair.