The destruction ofthe water pumping station on the waterworld Karon IV leads to adventure.
| The descent through the atmosphere slowed, and gravity gradually returned. Captain Harding Brougher stared out the shuttle's porthole, trying to pick out the water pumping station from the chopping waves. Hurricane Devon K had swept through the area the day before, cutting the station's communications with the outpost orbiting the planet Karon IV, 37,500 miles above.
Hurricane Devon K. Devon was its name, K its designation, on the planet Karon IV, several light-years from Earth. It had been a massive storm, hundreds of miles across, and powerful. A Category V storm when it slammed into the pumping station.
Brougher knew exactly where the station, or whatever might be left of it, was. Its position was clearly marked on the shuttle's navigation grid, 250 miles southwest of the ocean world's largest island. He looked out the porthole again. The ocean looked the same; he still couldn't pick out the station.
Several minutes, and a course correction, later, the shuttle softly landed on the middle of what was left of the pumping station. A Karon Interplanetary Team had dismantled most of the pumping equipment, securing what couldn't be shipped up to the outpost, before the Category V storm slammed through. The worst news involved Platform 3. It was nowhere to be seen.
The shuttle door whooshed open, and Brougher stepped off. Devon K's trailing edge was nearly 100 miles west-northwest, and the sun was shining brightly. But strong waves still buffeted the station, occasionally throwing spray over it.
He looked around and whistled. Hurricane Devon K had been brutal. The destruction was nearly complete. The pumping booms were gone. The transmission tower was gone. Some of the platform's top sheeting was gone. Even the weather center was gone. The irony wasn't lost on Brougher, and he laughed when he noticed it.
Second Lieutenant Grant Potter set up the sonar probe and tossed it into the sea where Platform 3 once stood as Brougher watched the display aboard the shuttle. It wasn't as clear as he'd hoped; he needed a visual camera. A quick call to the outpost got one coming.
Lieutenant Rachel Prophit looked through the gaping entry way into the station's dark interior. Nothing could be seen, but she could hear water sloshing around inside. She unhooked a flare from her belt, flipped it on, and dropped it through the opening. Dan Chapel, the outpost commander's 16-year-old son, had come along as an observer. He walked up behind the pretty, young contingent officer and looked into the station. Rachel's flare cast a large circle of illumination into the passageway below. They stared in silence. The destruction was complete. Even the stairs were destroyed.
"Damn!" he whistled. Rachel nodded in agreement.
Brougher and Potter walked up behind them. "Dan, your Dad is bringing down a camera. He'll be here soon." Dan nodded.
Shortly afterwards, a second, smaller shuttle touched down beside the first. Brougher watched Commander Victor Chapel step to the platform. Beneath his serious, concerned facade, he looked genuinely glad to be off the bridge and away from the daily grind of running the Contingent's most remote outpost. Potter took the camera with its powerful lighting, hooked it to the probe, and tossed it over the side. Inside the shuttle, Brought watched it plummet to the ocean floor. The light on the probe couldn't cut through the darkness there completely, but he was able to make out the sunken platform well enough.
Potter worked the controls, carefully moving the probe around the platform, 1,300 feet below the surface. The only damage easily evident was that the enclosed entry way on top was blown away, and only one buoy could be seen. It lay ruptured, partly under the platform. The rest of the buoys, which helped hold the platform out of the water, were missing, certainly blown somewhere out to sea by Devon K.
They spent the rest of the afternoon refitting the smaller shuttle for submarine activity. All the modifications required changes in the pressurization- and stabilization-control systems. The systems were set up to be convertible from outer space to submarine use with a few easy, but time-consuming adjustments.
The next day, Brougher led Potter and four other KITs into the shuttle as Victor and Rachel stayed on Platform 1, monitoring. Brougher watched out the porthole as they dove. The sea life looked odd. The fish weren't like Terra's stream-lined denizens of the deep. Colorless blobs of gelatinous goo phlegmatically bobbed around, carried by the currents and the tides, searching for the sparse plant-life growing under the ocean. Brougher had seen these fish before. They were poor, inefficient swimmers. Screen covered the station's pumping intake tubes, but the screens occasionally came loose. A hapless goo fish would get sucked into one, and the lucky ones that didn't get minced by the inner workings of the pumping station got stuck in the tube. Either incident caused the station to malfunction. When the outpost was first built, several years earlier, the goo fish were caught and cooked. They never made that mistake again.
The shuttle gradually slowed its descent, and finally came to rest on the ocean floor next to the submerged piece of the station. Platform 3 lay in 1,300 feet of water, oddly tilted to one side. The large, square base looked solid, but close inspection showed the seams were rent open.
Pressure suits acted as diving suits for the five KITs Brougher sent into the airlock. It flooded as soon as he sealed it, and they swam to the station. Brougher watched from the shuttle as they hammered on this sides.
After what seemed like ages, the side was finally resealed. The KITs swam back to the shuttle and removed a hatch they had fastened there earlier. They secured it to the hatchway, making sure there were no leaks.
The five KITs reboarded the shuttle once that was accomplished. "She's ready to be refloated, Sit," Brougher reported over the comm.
"Very good, Brougher," Victor answered from the station. "The rest of the station can begin pumping again, so resurface. We'll refloat her tomorrow."
They took the next day, and well into the night, to find and connect more than 2,000 feet of 18 inch hose the pump needed to drain the platform. The hoses were rolled into huge bundles, and hooked to the side of the shuttle.
Therefore, it was the following day where Brougher led five KITs back into the shuttle. The descent took no longer than it had the first time, but it still seemed interminable. The ugly goo fish didn't look nearly as interesting as they had earlier. Not that Brougher had been overly interested in them the first time . . .
Brougher stayed aboard the shuttle to monitor the five KITs as they hooked up the hoses. He watched as they hooked one to the drain on the bottom, to suck out the water. It had already been hooked to the pump on Platform 1. The other hose was attached to the top. This hose had already been fastened to the base of Platform 1, to let in air. It wasn't a perfect plan--the platform's floors were flat, the water wouldn't drain completely. The five KITs opened the hatch they had sealed and swam in. They clicked on their lights and cameras, so Brougher and Victor, who was topside on Platform 1, could follow their progress, and resealed the hatch.
Victor flipped on the pumps. At first, nothing seemed to happen. Dan stood near the intake hose, the soft, glass-faced helmet of his pressure suit hanging casually down his back. Suddenly, it pulled toward the hose. The noise of air being sucked down the hose drowned out the waves breaking around the platform's supports. Within minutes, it coughed and sputtered. Water shot from the pump in a huge arc, splashing into he ocean more than 100 yards away.
Far below the waves, air gurgled into the top of the station. Water quickly drained out of the top floor. The KITs squeegeed the excess water into a hatchway to below, then dove into the next level to repeat the process. Once they reached the bottom level, they would push the water to the drain as the platform bobbed on the surface.
Brougher kept his eyes trained on the screen, watching the KITs progress. Occasionally, he glanced out the porthole, keeping the shuttle even with the quickly rising platform. The water lever was down to the third floor of the station. Suddenly, Brougher frowned. Something was wrong. He looked out the porthole. The shuttle was higher in the water than the platform. He pulled back on the con, slowing his ascent, and looked back at the screen. Brougher couldn't be sure, but it seemed like the water was draining more slowly. His frown deepened. Maybe one of those damned goo fish got stuck in the pump again, he thought.
He flipped open the comm. "Chapel, this is Brougher."
"Chapel here. Go ahead, Mr. Brougher." It was Dan's voice.
"Dan, are you monitoring the water output?"
"Yes, Sir, I am. Why?"
Brougher thought for a moment. "Is it still coming out the same?"
"What do you mean, Mr. Brougher?"
He scratched his ear. "I'm not sure. Is the water still coming out as fast as it was when we first started?"
"Yes, Brougher." It was Victor's voice over the comm this time. "What's the problem?"
Brougher looked back through the porthole. He was passing the platform again, so he slowed his ascent more. "Probably nothing, Chief. But . . . we're not rising as fast." He checked the screen again. "Water level seems to be dropping slower, too."
"Capt. Brougher? This is Potter, aboard Platform 3. You're right, sir. The suction's just as strong, but the water ain't drainin' as fast. And more water's drippin' down on us from above than before, too."
Brougher looked out the porthole again. The platform looked . . . wrong. Suddenly, the entire wall collapsed inward, and the platform shot downward. Brougher cursed and jammed the throttle to dive. "Chief! I'm diving! The wall just collapsed! Didja hear me? The effing wall just collapsed on the platform!"
On screen, Brougher could see three KITs buffeting around int he roiling water. The other two were nowhere to be seen. "I'm going in as soon as I hit bottom, Chief!" he yelled at the comm as he hurried into a pressure suit.
"Go ahead, Brougher!" Victor barked back over the comm.
He scrambled into the airlock as soon as the shuttle settled softly on the ocean floor. He slammed his fist into the button, sealing the airlock. After securing his helmet to the pressure suit, he punched the next button. The wait for the airlock to flood seemed eternal. He leaned on the escape release, waiting for it to engage. Finally, it clicked closed, the hatch opened, and he swam out.
The swim was endless. The scene of the three KITs being thrown around by the wild water kept racing through his mind. And where were the other two? Brougher thought. He pulled himself through the water harder.
He finally got to the hatch, and tried to open it. The KITs had sealed it well. He tried the hatch again. It refused to budge.
Brougher considered swimming back to the shuttle for the explosives to blow the hatch, but decided that would take too long. He swam through the breach in the wall. The scene was gruesome. Blood mixed in the water. The two missing KITs were floating face down against the ceiling. One was decapitated, the other had deep lacerations on his body. Both were obviously dead.
He looked down and began to swim again. The other three KITs were still below, and the last time he saw them on the screen, they were still alive
Just as he got to the passageway to below, two KITs popped through, swimming as hard as they could, and pulling the final team member behind them. Potter's helmet had been torn off, and they were frantically trying to hold an air hose to his nose.
Brougher swam around them, and grabbed the nozzle. Al three pushed hard out the breach, and across the ocean floor toward the shuttle. The nozzle kept slipping from Potter's nose. They had to hurry, or Potter would drown. Brougher cursed mentally, wishing he had let the shuttle land closer to the platform.
After what seemed like an eternity, they swam into the tiny airlock. Brougher's muscles screamed from the exertions as he punched the button. Instantly, the airlock sealed and the water drained. He leaned on the last button, waiting for the other airlock to open. At last it did, and all four collapsed inside.
Brougher quickly recovered. He grabbed Potter's arms and dragged the unconscious man toward the center of the shuttle. Still on his knees, he reached up and slapped the comm before turning his attention back to Potter. He wasn't breathing, and his lips were rimmed with blue. "We have casualties!" he yelled at the comm, jumping to the con. "We're coming up!"
"Casualties?" Victor sputtered. "How many?"
Brougher tilted Potter's head back and checked his mouth. It was clear, so he lowered his head and blew into his mouth. He repeated the breaths a couple times before turning back to the comm. "All five KITs are injured!" he called over it. "Encarnacion and Svaboda are dead. I've left them in the platform. I'm trying to revive Potter!" He blew another breath into Potter's lungs. "Get a remote con on the shuttle so I can!"
He heard the con beep, relieving him of controlling the shuttle. "We got the remote con on, Mr. Brougher," Dan said. "Dad is going back up to the outpost for Dr. Cromartie. He left me and Rach here . . . I mean, Lt. Prophit and me here to get you out."
Brougher cursed. The sonuvabitch, he thought. Leave me here with an untried 22-year-old lieuey and some damned kid to save a drowning man. "How soon with Chapel . . . Commander Chapel be back, Dan?"
"I don't know, Mr. Brougher. Not too long. What's wrong with Mr. Potter and the other two?"
Brougher blew into Potter's lungs again, and looked at his two companions before answering. "Potter's damn-near drowned, Dan. I'm trying to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on him, and I ain't that good!" He blew into his lungs again. "McMartin's bleeding from a head wound. Bahr also struck her head, but she seems OK. She's looking after McMartin."
"OK, Mr. Brougher. That's good." Brougher noticed little excitement in his voice. "Does he have a pulse?"
Brougher swore to himself. Now why hadn't I thought of that? he thought. He quickly pressed two fingers into his neck. "Yeah, Dan." He checked his own neck, as a comparison. "He does, but it doesn't feel too good."
"OK. OK." Dan thought for a moment. "You're doing mouth-to-mouth on him, right?"
"Yes, Dan." Calm down, Harding, he told himself. He's just a kid. He ain't got no crisis training.
"Good. Keep it up." He could overhear Dan and Rachel confer, but he wasn't sure what they were saying. But was was sure he wished that either Potter would starting breathing on his own, or they'd surface. His head swam, and his lungs felt like they'd explode.
Suddenly, a pair of hands pushed him gently aside. "Let me try," Bahr said.
He nodded wearily. I woulda done better if I only knew what I was doing."
"Lt. Prophit is increasing the speed of your ascent, Mr. Brougher," Dan said over the comm.
"Is that safe?"
"Uh huh. She called Dr. Cromartie. He said it'd be OK."
McMartin slumped beside him. "Anything I can do, Cap?" he asked.
Brougher scrutinized him for a moment. "You look like hell, McMartin. Are you OK? Has the bleeding stopped?"
"Not completely, Sir," Bahr called from her position over Potter. "I told McMartin to lie still."
"Then, I suggest you do so, Mister," he said sternly.
McMartin nodded as Brougher turned back to the comm. "Any idea how long we got, Dan?"
"Two hundred fifty feet, more or less. You'll be out soon."
"Good!" he mumbled. He watched Bahr blow another breath into Potter's lungs. "Not yet?" She shook her head, turning back to her patient. How much longer could he last? he wondered. The water on the other side of the porthole was getting brighter, so he knew they were close to the surface.
Suddenly, Potter coughed. Brougher snapped around in time to see water dribble from his mouth and nose. He coughed again, spraying more water from his lungs. "He's started breathing on his own, Sir," Bahr called. "But it's shallow."
He nodded. For the first time, he noticed the fatigue showing in her face. he glanced at McMartin. The light blue cloth strips she had torn off his shirt to wrap his head had a large, ugly red splotch in the middle. "Hell of a day, eh, Bahr?"
"Hell of a week, Sir," she sighed. "It's been a hell of a week." She looked out the porthole just as they broke through the surface. Relief washed over her face.
"We see you!" Dan screamed over the comm. "We see you! Won't be long now! Rachel'll . . . I mean, Lt. Prophit'll have you down in a minute!"
Brougher sighed with relief. Until he heard Rachel admit she'd never landed a shuttle by remote before, even in weightlessness. This is going to be interesting, he thought.
Moments later, they heard a loud thump and the shuttle pitched severely to one side. It tilted back, the other way, before righting itself. Over the comm, he heard Rachel swear, and Dan caution her. "Be careful, Rach!" Brougher heard Dan say. "You hit the platform!"
The shuttle rose quickly again, and leveled off. Brougher looked out the porthole. Several dozen feet below, he spotted Rachel sweating over the con. He was glad he couldn't make out her features as they began to plummet toward the platform. Bahr gasped. "My stomach is in my throat!" she complained. She looked seasick. Quickly, Rachel slowed their descent. Brougher groaned as his stomach felt like it dropped to his feet. The shuttle rose slightly, then freefell again for a second. Both McMartin and Bahr groaned when Rachel stopped their descent again.
"Do they even know what they're doing?" McMartin moaned, holding his head.
Brougher checked out the porthole. They were just a few feet above the station. Although Rachel was at least 50 feet across the platform, the indecision on her face was clearly evident. "I'm taking back the con," Brougher said over his shoulder. He hit the comm. "Mr. Prophit!"
His voice startled her, and she jumped, knocking the con and completely shutting off the shuttle's engines. They slammed to the platform, throwing Bahr and Brougher off their feet.
Dan was through the airlock and kneeling over Potter before they could recover. Brougher stared in gape-mouthed amazement. "How . . . How?" he tried to ask, but the words failed him.
"Pressure inside and outside were already equalized," Dan answered without looking up from Potter. "I didn't have to wait for equalization. I just opened the hatch and ran in.
"Dad and Dr. Cromartie'll be down in a couple minutes. They've left the post already. Dr. Cromartie was waiting on the deck for him." He paused for a moment. "Potter's as stable as we can get 'im."
He looked over his shoulder. Rachel stood in the door. "Call Dr. Cromartie, please," he said to her as he jumped up and walked toward McMartin. "Let 'im know."
McMartin looked up groggily as Dan peeked at his bandaged head. "You know what you're doin'?" he asked.
"Mm-hmm. Jer's . . . Dr. Cromartie's taught me a lot of first aid. I guess this is the best I can do 'til he gets here." He looked over Bahr and Brougher, declaring they didn't need aid.
A few minutes later, Rachel leaned into the shuttle. "Dan. Your Dad'll be landing in a couple minutes. Dr. Cromartie said not to move Potter and McMartin."
Dan sighed. "I know that," he said testily. "He knows I know it."
Rachel smiled. "He said you'd say that, too!"
Rec Room 6 was the largest room on the torus. All 154 Contingent members crowded into it several days later. Victor approached the podium on the dais, and faced the crowd. "We all know why we're here," he said. "Capt. Harding Brougher. Lt. Rachel Prophit. Ensign Rob McMartin. Ensign Greta Bahr. Front and Center.
They moved to the front of the dais. Dan held several small, flat boxes out to his father, who took the top on. "For service, above and beyond the call of duty, by the power vested in me by the Contingent, I award each of you the Distinguished Service medal; our service's highest peace-time military honor." He pinned the award on Brougher's chest, then continued down the line to the other three, leaving just one in Dan't hands. "These are now a permanent part of your dress uniform, ladies and gentlemen. Wear them with pride!" They returned his salute, and stepped back into place.
Victor turned back to the assemblage. "Ensign Javier Beniquez. Front and center." A confused young man, dressed in a dress uniform with a black armband, signifying mourning., stepped to the dais. After returning his salute, Victor turned back to the crowd. "Lt. Grant Potter and Yeoman Petr Svaboda were also awarded this Distinguished Service Medal, posthumously. Their awards were presented to their families in ceremonies on Terra. The Contingent contacted Ensign Isabella Encarnacion's family in Spain," he said, turning to Beniquez, "but they insisted we give her medal to you, Ensign." Beniquez looked confused. "You were her fiance, weren't you, Mister?" He nodded. Victor took the remaining medal and its box from Dan. "Encarnacion's family insisted we give you her award. They insisted you are her next of kin." Beniquez beamed as Victor handed him they medal, and returned his salute.
Victor stepped back to the middle of the dais. "If that is all, Company, Dis . . ."
"Not so fast, Victor," Brougher said as he and Rachel stepped forward.
Victor looked confused. "Mr. Brougher? Mr. Prophit?"
They smiled. "We . . . the six of us honored today . . . aren't the only deserving ones," Rachel said.
Brougher pulled a small, flat box from his uniform pocket. "Mr. Dan Chapel. Front and center." Dan covered his mouth with both hands, shock mixed with joy blazing in his face. "Mr. Chapel. It is against the law for someone to nominate a family member from any service awards," Brougher said.
"And," Rachel added, "civilians are prohibited from receiving military awards. However, those facts do nothing to lessen the work you did on the platform. If it weren't for you, we might have been unable to get the shuttle our of the ocean."
"Dan," Brougher continued. "I know you have no crisis training. Yet, your calming influence on both Lt. Prophit and myself did not go unnoticed. Together, without your father's knowledge or assistance, we nominated you for the Flying Cross of Meritorious Service, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the Contingent."
Rachel unfurled the medallion on its ribbon from its box, and hung it around his neck. Leaving her arms wrapped around his neck, she looked at the assemblage with an impish grin. She turned back to him and kissed him squarely on the lips, to a chorus of whistles and catcalls from the audience. "You deserve it, Dan," she said quietly. "You earned it.
Dedicated to my wife, Punky-Doo. Thank you for putting up with me.