Episode 209: Out of the Frying Pan
- Part 1
Jude Falstaff was shouting as he ran.
"Make a Hole!" the tall man cried as he clanked his way through the tight corridors of the undersea colony. To the people of the Magellan Agustiae Colony his actions spoke volumes. For one thing the colonial Marshal rarely ever ran to get anywhere, and for another he never raised his voice above normal speaking volume, and that was when he even spoke at all.
"Clear out people, coming through," Falstaff shouted pulling on and sealing his last power suit glove. Magellan Agustiae served as the point of entry to the water world of Charybdis. It had been the first base established, and had quickly grown to the size of a full-blown colony in less than five years. Falstaff had the unforgiving job of being the local law with all of the duties and honors of such an office, however informal it might be. Right now was all about the duty end of being a colonial marshal.
"Philips, what's his status?" Falstaff yelled into the comlink hanging from his ear.
"Marshal?" Kyle Philips, the poor young soul who had been in the monitoring station when all of this had started, sounded as though he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown when he responded, "He just passed the mid point markers three minutes ago. That makes his ETA now 0632."
"Marshal," Philips hesitated, "He hasn't slowed down since he passed the outer perimeter."
0632, Falstaff thought to himself, that gives us just under twelve minutes to come up with a solution. Twenty minutes earlier sub Nemo seven four niner, a runabout sub piloted by a SICON officer, had called in a mayday. Philips had awakened Falstaff immediately. The sub was damaged pretty badly, and it was coming in with its screws churning up the water at full tilt. Just not by the sub pilot's choice. Somehow the drive engines had been damaged, and now they wouldn't slow down. Killing all power to the sub was now the only way to shut them down. With only one man in the sub that meant having to leave the controls for long enough to shut down the sub's reactor, but at those speeds that could be deadly. It would be the equivalent of leaving the controls of a plane flying through the Grand Canyon back on earth.
Falstaff slid down a ladder to get to the mid decks and cut across to the docking bays. At the moment he had no good plan A's to get Nemo seven four niner docked safely. His only other option, Plan B, was definitely not a good one either, but it offered the most chance for success. Hinging on the pilot's skill, plan B involved having the pilot drive the sub straight at one of the colony's most remote docking bays, when it came within range they would hit the sub with a directed electromagnetic pulse, thus killing the subs power and shutting down its drives.
The danger in this plan was that despite the resistance of the water at this depth, the sub would still have plenty of momentum carrying it toward the docking bay. Possibly enough momentum to do some serious damage to the docking bay, and kill the pilot despite their best efforts.
As Falstaff charged into the Repair bay outside of the docking area he paused to check the seals on his power suit. The Repair Bay was the gutted out remains of a SICON surface ship that had sunken during the earliest days of exploration of Charybdis. The violent storms that had rocked the surface were only believed to be seasonal at the time, and so SICON in their infinite wisdom had tried sending in a surface fleet first.
Of the three vessels landed in the ocean only this one had been even remotely salvageable, and that was only because it had been capable of partially submerging. The crew of the Leviathan had called for retrieval, and sent the ship to the planetary ocean's floor on autopilot. Now the great ship had been salvaged from it's watery grave, gutted in select sections, and grafted to the original research outpost as a facility for major submersible repairs.
Falstaff noticed three repair techs working nearby at the moon pool where subs were brought onboard to be dry-docked while being worked on. "You three, seal that pool, and get any non essential personnel clear of this area. NOW!" he barked.
"Yes Marshal," they replied without a second thought.
Falstaff stayed only long enough to make sure that the giant doors to the moon pool were closing before moving off toward the sub bays.
"Philips, what's the position of the Nemo?" he asked into the comlink.
"He's passing the inner perimeter now Marshal," Philips replied. "He's still at max speed, and has now come onto heading with docking bay 37."
His voice almost cracked that time thought Falstaff. He's gonna have a nervous breakdown if this gets any worse.
Falstaff rounded the corner and found the corpulent form of Thadeus Barton, and one of his nervous little aides waiting in front of the inner access door to bay 37. "Get out of my way Thadeus. I don't want to have any problems with you." Falstaff's right hand drifted toward one of the twin pistols he kept strapped to each leg.
"My dear marshal," the fat man replied with forced cordiality, "I'm simply here to look out for my investment. I wouldn't dream of getting in your way."
At 62, Barton was at least 25 years Falstaff's senior, and by all rights should have been retired, and sipping margaritas at some tropical getaway on Tesca Nemerosa. Instead he was here at the bottom of an alien ocean, renting and servicing subs to the research staffs and merchants who inhabited this world.
Falstaff shouldered past him to the data screen for bay 37. He checked his chrono. Only three minutes left. It was now or never. "Philips, do we have any new ideas?" he asked into the comlink.
Philips voice was still shaky when he called back, "Nothing Marshal, not a single workable plan."
Falstaff cursed silently to himself. Normally with a problem like this he would have the sub circle the perimeter at a clearer depth till a solution could be found. But in this case there was the possibility of an injured pilot to consider. If he passed out from his injuries he could still crash the sub, so it was now or never.
"Alright, go with Plan B, Philips," he said in a resigned voice, "and get Medical down here now. I don't want to have this guy get here just to die on my deck. "
"Tasha's on her way now Marshal," said Philips.
Falstaff turned his attention to the Bay's controls. The bay had already been pumped full and doors opened by Philips up in the control center. All Falstaff had to do was make sure that the EMP grid fired and shut the sub down on time.
Suddenly Barton was in his face. "Marshal! This is madness," cried the fat little man, now considerably less cordial knowing that his sub might be crashing. "It's not to late to send him to shallow waters and find another way."
Falstaff punched in the proximity firing codes and cleared the screen to give an image of the bay showing open sea beyond the hole that was the bay's entrance. After making sure that the EMP would fire as the sub passed within range, he turned on Barton and jabbed a finger into the pudgy little man's chest. "You listen to me Thadeus, and you listen good," he growled in a low predatory voice, "we're out of options, and we're out of time. The pilot of that sub is injured, and may not survive much longer unless he comes in now. That man's life is worth more than the value of your entire 'fleet' combined. Now get out of my way, or so help me I'll..."
The muted boom that filled the corridor ended the discussion in short order. Both men stood very still, staring at the walls around them. Barton's aide cowered in an adjoining hatchway as Falstaff turned to stare at the computer generated image. He saw only empty ocean. "Philips, talk to me," he said.
"That was the EMP firing, marshal," the boy replied. "Nemo seven four niner's screws are dead in the water. Speed slowed by fifty percent." He sounded relieved, "It worked marshal. The sub will reach docking bay 37 in forty seconds. You should be able to see him soon."
The three men stared at the screen waiting. The silence of the empty hallway was unsettling.
"Jude?" Falstaff flinched as he turned to find Dr. Tasha Quinn in the hallway behind them. Even at this hour of the morning he found the colony's petite chief physician to be attractive, right down to her tousled red hair, but he was still tonguetied about telling her any of that. "What's our situation?" she asked.
He didn't have time to answer. The proximity alarm on the bay controls sounded and he wheeled around just in time to see the incoming sub appear from the shadowy depths.
"Oh crap," he whispered as he saw the sub materialize from the murk. At this depth the ocean's subtle currents had pulled it slightly off course. Without any power to control the maneuvering jets, the craft had drifted just enough that it was now in line to clip the edge of the bay. Falstaff didn't have time to explain, just to react. He grabbed Tasha around the shoulders and threw her down to the floor, trying to offer her what little protection he could.
Nemo seven four niner hit the rim of the docking bay with the force of a speeding car. It bounced sideways from the impact and spun 90 degrees as it hit the opposite wall of the tiny bay. The impact caused the viewport of the sub to visibly crack. The small craft continued forward grinding against the metal gratings of the floor finally stopping when it collided with the rear wall of the bay. The reverberating clang from the sub's impact was deafening. It sounded as though the entire docking portion of the colony was being ripped free from the ocean floor. Inside the bay the now motionless sub slowly listed onto its side where it had made contact with the rim of the bay.
Groaning metal could be heard all around them as Falstaff leapt up and keyed the outer bay doors closed. As soon as they were sealed he could begin to pump the small room clear of water.
"Are you OK?" he asked over his shoulder.
"I'd be a lot better if you hadn't let that happen," griped Barton as his aide helped him to his feet.
"I wasn't asking you," said Falstaff.
"I'm fine Jude," said Tasha as she climbed to her feet. "Really, I'll be ok."
Looking to be sure that she was indeed alright he turned his attention back to the sub. The doors had closed, and the pumps had quickly begun clearing the bay of water, but Falstaff could see that the doors had been damaged in the crash. The lower half of the door was unseated from its guide track. It wouldn't hold against this pressure for long.
He began to key in the manual override sequence for the access hatch, when Barton grabbed his hand. "Marshal you don't seriously intend to open that door do you?" the fat man asked. "Those Bay doors could break loose at any second." Obviously he had seen what the colonial marshal had. But Barton had made a mistake, he had made contact.
Falstaff reacted without thinking. In one fluid motion he reversed Barton's grip on his hand, spun the large little man around and bent his chubby arm behind up behind his back. "Never, Touch me, Again" he growled leaning in close to the little man's ear. Then he threw him into his aide who still cowered in the hatchway. He drew one of his pistols and with his free hand continued bypassing the safeties on the door. Just five more seconds and the bay will be drained, he thought, and then I can open this door and get him out of there.
Tasha knelt prepping her gear. "Do you have any idea the extent of his injuries Jude?" she asked.
"None, but judging from the scars on the side of the sub it looks like he was caught in a flash current." He said glancing from the submarine mogul to the screen. Flash currents were deadly and sudden. The bursts of fast moving water were often so strong that they broke free large chunks of choral and even pieces of the ocean floor, and carried them along like flying shrapnel fields. They were capable of pitting the armor on even the most resilient of SICON's submersibles.
In the bay the hatch of the sub cracked open. The pilot fell through the hatch to the floor of the bay. He jerked to his feet as he encountered the still deep pool of water draining from the small space.
The docking bay groaned as the doors gave slightly under the pressure. "Do you hear that marshal?" asked Barton cautiously. " If you open that hatch, and those bay doors give way, you'll flood this entire section, and we'll all be dead."
Falstaff noticed that the SICON officer was staggering toward the door. The water was almost down to the safe level.
"Why do you think those doors have safety protocols?" raged Barton now becoming more panicky. "It's to prevent bull headed louts like yourself from doing what you're trying to do now."
"Jude," said Tasha from somewhere behind him, "we're clear."
He looked at the screen. The Officer had let his power suit's helmet slip from his grasp. He was only five feet from the hatch when he collapsed.
Falstaff keyed the hatch open, and glanced over his shoulder. "Get him out of there
Tasha," but she had already begun moving as soon as the access was clear.
The bay doors groaned again as she raced into the bay. Tasha carefully lifted him from the deck. "Come on sir, we have to get you out of here. Now." He stood a little straighter and took most of his own weight back.
What happened next happened too fast for even the local security recorders to catch all of what happened.
As soon as they both had made it to their feet the bay doors behind them groaned, and then burst inward. The wall of water washed inward, and slammed the sub into the opposite the wall. Tasha was thrown to the floor in front of the hatch, but the SICON officer suddenly stood bolt upright and threw out his hands in opposite directions.
Tasha felt invisible hands lift her and throw her the rest of the way through the hatch, but that was nothing compared to the shock of the sight that greeted her when she rolled over. The SICON officer was standing there with his left had stretched straight out to his side holding a ten-foot wall of water at bay as though it were a trained pet.
Slowly he backed through the hatch. All four civilians in the corridor stood agape at what they were seeing. "Seal it," the officer ground out through clenched teeth. The strain of whatever he was doing to cause this was wearing on him. "Seal it, NOW." He said again.
Falstaff leaped forward and pulled the hydraulic release. The hatch slammed shut. He turned to see the SICON officer's features go slack and jumped as he felt the wall of water behind him crash against the hatch. The officer collapsed to the deck.
Tasha crawled to his side and began treating him immediately. Falstaff checked to be sure that the seals on the hatch would hold, and then he turned and looked down at the unconscious form of the SICON officer. He might be battered and beaten, but he was alive.
Falstaff regarded the man quietly. "Welcome back to Magellan Agustiae Mr. Jenkins."
When Carl Jenkins awakened, the glare of the overhead lighting forced him to keep his eyes closed. Around him he heard quiet conversation. "He has two broken ribs, and somewhere along the line he sustained minor concussion," said a soft female voice.
"That's not surprising," said the gruff male voice. "After closer examination of the sub we found choral, and bits of iron ore embedded in the wall of the engine compartment. The techs figure that he was hit by the worst flash current on record."
Carl recognized both voices he heard, but he could only put a name with one of them. The gruff voice belonged to the Colonial Marshal who had greeted him when he had arrived two weeks earlier. The female voice belonged to the red haired woman who had tried to help him out of the sub bay.
The woman was silent for a moment, "Jude, I've seen psychics before, but I've never seen one do anything like that before." Carl could feel concern coming from her.
"Nobody knows what psychics are truly capable of Tasha," said the marshal. "I've heard of psychics using telekinesis before, but I've never seen it on this scale either. It doesn't matter one way or the other though, he's still just a man, and I don't think we have anything to fear from him. If he'd wanted to hurt us, he wouldn't have bothered to save our lives this morning."
"It's his life I'm worried about Jude," she said. "Barton's been telling his version of the story from this morning to anybody who'll listen."
"Yeah," said the marshal, "and I've heard three different versions of the story so far. It won't matter Tasha. The people of this colony are more open minded than to just form a lynch mob. Besides, nobody in their right mind would come after a psychic with the power Thaddeus Barton boasts him to have any way. They'll wait to see his character before they judge him, just like they have for everyone else who has come here."
Their conversation became quieter as one of the computers chimed that its test was complete. Rather than tap into their thoughts to hear them Carl took a mental inventory of himself. He felt a pain on his right side, probably the pair of broken ribs. The concussion didn't appear to have done any permanent damage. Only time would tell. As far as how he felt at this moment, he ached in places he didn't know could ache, and his mouth felt as dry as the plains of Tophet. Carl licked his lips and tried to sit up, but he found that he was still weak from his sub trip.
Falstaff and the woman heard him stir and both turned their attention toward him. "Don't try to sit up yet Mr. Jenkins. You're still very weak from your ordeal," said the woman. He opened his eyes and squinted against the stark whiteness of the room as she moved to his side and checked his pulse. "You may be psychic, but you're not superhuman."
Carl nearly burst out laughing at the irony of the woman's statement, but he only managed a weak cough. Falstaff approached his bed from the other side and offered him some water. Carl reached out and gladly accepted it.
"Carl," he croaked out after a few sips. "Call me Carl. Please."
"Well, Carl," said Falstaff, "you've caused quite a stir this morning. You managed to bring in a sub damaged beyond normal functioning, flood one of my docking bays, and irritate my least favorite person in this entire colony. I have to say, I'm impressed with your work."
Carl smiled. It felt good to be among such friendly people. If this wasn't such a dangerous world, he might seriously think about using this place as an oasis from the stress of SICON Intel. But he had much bigger concerns than that right now. In fact this world was the last place he wanted to be found right now. He needed to leave, and soon.
The marshal's comlink chirped. "Go ahead," he said as he turned away to have a more private conversation.
The woman helped Carl to sit up. "Carl, I'm Dr. Quinn," she said. "How are you feeling?"
"Like I've been put in a barrel and rolled down a hill," he said.
"Well," Quinn said, "at least you don't feel any worse than you look. Did you find what you were looking for out there?"
He grimaced. This woman had spunk, but she was asking questions to which he couldn't give answers. "No," he lied. " I didn't see anything I was interested in bringing back." He hoped that would hold her.
Falstaff turned back to them. "I've got to get up to the surface monitoring room." He said. His expression was more concerned than it had been before. "There's a storm moving in that has some techs concerned. I need to go have a look." He turned to Dr Quinn, "I'll catch up with you later Tasha."
Carl though he caught something emoted between the two of them, but he wasn't sure. The marshal turned toward him offered his hand, "Carl, glad you made it in alive. Come and find me later and I'll buy you a drink. We've developed a great local brew using some of the indigenous kelp."
"It's a deal," said Carl offering his best grin. He didn't plan on staying any longer than necessary, but he might have time to raise a glass with this unique man. "I don't know about drinking a kelp beer, but it's a deal."
The tall man laughed and gave Carl a light slap on the shoulder, then turned and strode from the room.
Carl turned to Tasha, "So when can I leave this bed doctor?" he asked.
"Well," she said curtly, "patients are all alike. It's as though merely being in this room with me is the worst punishment on earth." She turned to give him a broad smile, "You'll be cleared to leave as soon as I've had a chance to run a couple more tests. I just want to be sure that you're healing properly.
"Can I assume," she said, "if I tell you that you need to take it easy, that being typical SICON officer type you won't listen. If so I'll save my breath now.
"I wouldn't dream of it," Carl said with as much sarcasm as he could muster. These are good people, he thought. Maybe if the galaxy survives all of this I'll make this my oasis anyway, as he smiled inwardly,
In the Surface monitoring station Falstaff was frowning. It was worse than the tech had originally thought. This was not the ordinary surface storm. This was a typhoon giving birth to a tsunami. Somewhere a on the other side of the planet, massive fumaroles or something must have created an enormous pressure system for a storm of this size to have generated. The problem now was that the storm was settling in above them to stay for any where from the next two to the next two weeks. Only time would tell.
He turned to the grizzled old tech next to him. Salty was what every one here called him, but as far as anyone knew Old Salt had been around even longer than Falstaff had. His stringy beard was a stark contrast to the white lab coat he wore. If he were dressed in dingy rags like he did every Halloween, you'd believe that he was a stranded castaway. You'd never suspect that he held two doctorates in climatology and atmospheric mechanics.
"Send up a warning to the satellite buoy detailing the storm and it's estimated duration, time date it and then withdraw the antennae," said Falstaff.
"Sure thing marshal," said Salty pushing his tiny bifocals up on his face.
Falstaff keyed his comlink. "Shuttle bay, Rogers speaking." Answered the tech on the other end.
"Rogers, this is Marshal Falstaff. We have a pretty big storm settling in overhead, so from now until it passes the port is closed. Retract the landing pad to storage depth and have a good vacation."
Falstaff thought he heard whoops of joy coming form the other dockworkers in the background as Rodgers answered back, "Aye marshal, give us a call when we should stop sleeping in again. Rodgers out."
He could appreciate their happiness. The landing bay was a hard place to work. The landing pad required constant upkeep since it was the only means of landing a craft from the surface.
If you saw a picture of the landing pad without any reference point as to the scale, it looked like a hubcap with flashing lights and a notch cut out of one side. When compared in scale to the surplus dropships that many of the local mining companies used it looked massive. Capable of holding two dropships inside at a time it was easily the size of a high school football stadium. Its shape was the direct result of its need to ascend and descend through the water smoothly. Because it was so broad it was nearly impossible to capsize the mammoth submersible. The peak of the craft was a giant iris to allow for access to the landing bay inside to be opened without fear of having doors ripped away by a wave or a violent wind. The notch was actually the docking hard point for the giant craft, it's huge hatch allowing for the transfer of surface craft to the underwater shuttle bay of the colony.
Normally the landing pad would wait at around 30 meters below the surface till it was needed; it would then surface, pick up the landing spacecraft, and tow it down to the colony at the ocean's floor. There it would offload the craft into the shuttle bay cut from a portion of the Leviathan at the opposite end from the submersibles repair bay.
Even though the colony only averaged about three launches/landings per day, as the only means of entry to the planet from space, it was essential the landing pad function perfectly at all times. So when it went into storage, the dockworkers went on vacation.
Falstaff turned to Salty, "So I don't suppose I'll be seeing you around the Last Chance any time soon?" he asked.
"Message sent and antennae retracted, marshal," he reported. "No sir, I can't pass up the chance to study a storm like this for all the beer in the galaxy.
"You should think about asking Tasha to join you though," chided the old man.
Falstaff grimaced at the comment. "Mind your own business old man," he said jokingly. Salty was like a father figure to him, and he never stopped prodding him about his unexpressed feelings for the good doctor. "Have fun with your storm," said Falstaff as the left the room.
"Ask her out!" Salt shouted after him. Falstaff laughed quietly as he made his way back to his quarters to change.
After Quinn had finished her examination Carl left the Med lab. He had to find a way off of this planet. The longer he stayed here the more likely it was that Freeman, or one of his men would track his presence here and find the secrets the planet held. Carl couldn't let that happen.
Carl made his way to the surface monitoring center. He had been dropped off on Charybdis by a Fleet scout vessel and he would need to make contact with them in order to leave. He had left them orders to wait in a holding pattern in orbit around the seventh planet of the system. The gas giant should provide enough gravitational shielding to hide them from the prying eyes of Freeman's men, but it also meant that they were out of range for him to try to summon them telepathically.
This was no problem though. Carl would just use the Colony's Communications array to call his ship, then he would be able to have a drink or two with Marshal Falstaff while he waited for a retrieval ship to arrive. Carl smiled at that thought.
As he clanked through the more populated corridors of the colony Carl tried to avoid noticing the stares he got from the locals. Stories must have circulated about his little display from earlier that morning. Turning down a side hall toward his goal. Carl began to notice how many of the people he saw were off duty, but it was still mid afternoon by the colony's work schedule.
A dockworker appeared out of a side hatch and bumped into Carl. He winced as he felt a slight pain from his still damaged ribs. "Sorry," muttered the still dark and dirty man. Carl recognized him as one of the men who had been on duty at the colony landing platform the day he had arrived. By the smell of alcohol on the man's breath he hoped that he wasn't on duty right now.
Carl turned into the surface monitoring center where the communications hub for the colony was based. He was surprised to find that the place was nearly deserted.
In the center of the room, his face lit by the four glowing screens that surrounded him, was a wild looking old man. If not for the lab coat, and glasses Carl would have believed he was a vagrant of some kind, but the aural image the man projected in Carl's mind solidified the man as belonging here.
"Hi," said Carl uncertainly. "I was hoping to send a message to my ship. I need to signal them and let them know that I'm ready to leave."
The wild man looked up, his face showing that he had only now noticed that Carl was in the room. "I'm sorry," he said, "I didn't realize that anybody had come in. Well, out with it. Who are you, and what can I do for you?"
The man was direct, Carl had to give him that. "I'm Carl Jenkins," he said. "I'm with SICON. I need to contact my ship. Who are you, if you don't mind my asking."
"I'm Dr. Earl Saltzman, but people here just call me Salty, Carl," said the man, "and I'm sorry to say, but there'll be no calls to the outside world any time soon."
Carl was taken aback. He had expected a little bit of hassle, but nothing more than his SICON credentials could get him past, but to get an outright refusal was off his charts. "What do you mean?" asked Carl, "Has the antennae array been damaged?"
"Not damaged son, just retracted below broadcast depth. In a storm like the one
overhead we have to withdraw the array from the surface to protect it from being damaged," explained Salty.
"I thought the surface was constantly storming. What makes this storm different?" asked Carl.
"Come around here and I'll show you," said Salty, motioning Carl to join him in a chair next to him. As Carl made his way around the console Salty began to explain the current weather situation. "Twelve hours ago the seas overhead looked like this," he said pointing to an image he brought up on the first screen. It showed the surface of the ocean planet in all of its splendor. The readings below the image showed the swells capping out at nearly thirty feet. "That's normal for this time of year."
"This is what the seas looked like three hours ago, before we had to retract the antennae and surface cameras." He said bringing up an image on the second screen. The image was unparalleled in Carl's experience. Instead of thirty feet, the waves now crested at a minimum of thirty meters. "It's gotten worse since then," said the old man as he punched up data on the remaining two screens. "I've only seen two other storms even close to this violent in my five years at this outpost. And neither of those was half as bad as the one up there right now."
Salty stared at the screens for a moment engrossed in the data streaming in. "Sorry, Carl Jenkins with SICON, but nobody's calling out, and nobody's leaving till this monster over our heads goes away."
Carl frowned and stared at the screens. He had to find a way to warn Rico about what he had found here. But more importantly he had to get off this planet.
"Where's Marshal Falstaff?" he asked.
Next Episode: 209B: Out of the Frying Pan - Part 2