CPO Francis Ethelbert Sharkey considered himself a calm, rational, patient man, even when dealing with the eccentricities and foibles of the scientists and researchers who were not part of the Seaview's regular personnel roster. The vast capabilities and advanced labs of the undersea vessel, as well as the Admiral's reputation as one of the most visionary scientific minds of the age, attracted more requests for research assistance than they could have fulfilled in the next twenty years, even without their responsibilities as part of the nation's defensive complement.
In his opinion, any scientist who met the Admiral's stringent requirements for rigorous methodology and practical application and got his project approved ought to be turning handsprings for joy. But not Dr. Robert Carrick! Despite the acceptance of his scientific credentials and his much coveted acquisition of the Seaview's full exploratory and research capabilities, the esteemed marine biologist and cetalogist seemed to have a deliberately sour outlook about the whole expedition.
Sharkey could understand some of the man's frustration and meticulous demand for perfection. Judging by the heavy leg braces and crutches that Dr. Carrick needed to walk, he would not be going out with the Seaview's divers to obtain his whale tissue and blood samples. He was totally dependent on someone else's expertise to gather the samples needed to validate the research that he'd spent half his life on.
Still, the Chief shook his head in exasperation; the man seemed to be going out of his way to cultivate everyone's ill will. From the engine room gang who he had berated for improperly storing his scientific supplies to Captain Crane and Mr. Morton who had just suffered through an interminable tirade about the necessity for flawless navigation, "So we aren't wandering all over the Pacific trying to find the right whales!"
The Admiral had spotted the tic in the Captain's jaw that was the early warning for a major blow and quickly steered the irascible scientist out of the control room, into the impressive `greenhouse' nose of the magnificent sub. His action was just barely in time to forestall the senior officers from leading the first mutiny in the Seaview's distinguished career.
"Dr. Carrick," the Admiral's lively blue eyes twinkled under shaggy brows as he hooked the cetalogist by the elbow and literally muscled him off the bridge. "I have the latest satellite recon photos of the Pacific whale migrations. If you would be so kind as to help me pick out an optimum course..."
The belligerent marine biologist had no choice but to accompany the Admiral, maneuvering his wasted, paralyzed legs with some difficulty through the cramped space of the control room. "We'll need to differentiate between the various species..."
Their voices faded away and Crane, Chip Morton, and Sharkey all gusted out a simultaneous sigh of relief at the doctor's brief departure.
"Thank God," Chip stated in his usual dry, understated tone. "I thought he was going to be hanging over our shoulders, criticizing every move we made before we even put out to sea!"
"If he doesn't ease up soon, the crew is going to want to feed him to those whales he's studying and I may decide to turn a blind eye when they do," Lee muttered under his breath as he checked off the last of their cargo manifests of nonscientific supplies.
"Smart as those humpback whales are supposed to be, Skipper, they'd probably throw him back at us." Sharkey observed with no little rancor.
Before their speculation on Dr. Carrick's eventual fate could proceed there was an interruption on the intercom. "Bridge, this is the missile room. Is Admiral Nelson there?"
Crane palmed the mike and replied, "He's in the nose with Dr. Carrick. What's the problem, Kowalski?" He knew the dependable young crewman well enough to trust his judgment in handling routine matters. If Ski needed to speak to the Admiral then another major snafu must have developed. He sighed wearily.
"Another load of equipment just arrived dockside, sir. It's from the Institute but isn't on Dr. Carrick's list. How should I handle it?"
The two senior officers exchanged bewildered glances, before Lee replied. "I'll see what the Admiral knows about it." and then started forward until he encountered the Admiral on his way aft to the missile room.
"Admiral, Kowalski just reported. . ."
"Yes, I managed to catch the gist of it, Lee." His look of impatient exasperation did not silence Dr. Carrick's sulky outburst.
"Nelson, I've waited for over a year for the Seaview's speed, tracking equipment, and lab facilities to enable me to do the testing and obtain the specimens that I must have in order to complete my research. You cannot expect my work to be put on hold. . ."
"Dr. Carrick, Dr. Holden's ultrasonic and audio recording equipment will not interfere with your testing and specimen collection in the least. . ."
"You can't possibly believe his quasi-scientific, muzzy‑headed theories about the complexity of whale songs being an indication of intelligence, can you?"
The marine biologist's scathing sarcasm finally broke through the Admiral's determined good nature and he paused briefly to give the other man a gimlet eyed glare.
"Dr. Lindsey Holden has done more to further the cause of undersea conservation and marine mammal protection than any other man alive. His whale language studies are painstakingly researched and scientifically valid. Even though he's aware that he's undertaken a task that will not be completed in his lifetime ‑ if ever ‑ he continues to take every opportunity to make new recordings, in hopes that they will provide the data base that will enable his successors to decode whale communication. I fully intend to assist with that data collection at every opportunity."
Set back on his heels by the Admiral's emphatic rebuttal, Dr. Carrick trailed after him in sullen silence. Still further back, Lee and Chip shared a sidelong nod of commiseration, recognizing one of the Old Man's milder depth charges and grateful that they had not been on the receiving end.
In the missile room as Ski turned away from the intercom, he was annoyed to see that the young woman accompanying the scientific equipment had sweet talked her way past the topside watch and was already supervising the transfer of supplies. The heavy wooden crates with the black FRAGILE stenciling glaring at him were being winched slowly down into the missile room while their slender guardian hovered underneath, directing the operation with the nervous anxiety of someone juggling pigeon eggs.
Ski rushed over, acutely aware of the loading eccentricities of that specific crane and the likelihood that the young woman would be thrown against the bulkheads by its erratic swaying. He shouldered her brusquely aside as his brawnier frame absorbed the off‑balance tilt of her crates. Quickly sizing up the situation, the young woman shifted her position to balance his and with the two of them working as a team, the awkward, uneven descent was quickly steadied and the crate eased to the deck, light as a feather.
Ski dragged a red‑clad forearm across his sweaty forehead, gusting out a relieved sigh. "If you'd just waited a minute, I would have had a crew hand carry those supplies down. That's how we usually load all the Admiral's breakable lab equipment."
Leaning on her knees and gasping as well, the young woman brushed a mass of dark unruly curls out of her sea‑green eyes. "Sorry, but Dr. Holden just dumped this whole project in my lap to be packed and crated less than six hours ago. Then he idly mentioned in passing that the Seaview was at Dock eleven and I had to be there before 1400 because that was when she was scheduled to depart!" She took a deep gasping breath. "Besides overseeing the packing, I had to board my cat, clean out my refrigerator, and ask my neighbor to water the plants and pick up the mail. After going through all that, I wasn't about to give you any excuse to leave me and Dr. Holden's project sitting on the dock."
The sonar man snorted in exasperation. "Couldn't you have made those arrangements at least a couple of days ago? It's not like this mission is under a security blanket. Dr. Carrick's been giving interviews on his mission aboard the Seaview for the past week."
The young woman straightened up slowly, wiping her palms on her rumpled, practical coverall as she gave him a strained grin. "Well, Dr. Holden was supposed to be the one making the recordings of songs and vocalizations from this year's humpback migration, but he's still recovering from pneumonia and the strain of this trip would have been too much for him." She bit her lip in distress and then raised her chin in determination. "But I've been his research assistant and technical coordinator for the past eighteen months and I know everything about the recording equipment and the whales."
Before the young woman could continue, Dr. Carrick clumped into the missile room with Admiral Nelson at his side and the senior officers following closely behind.
"Well, where is he anyway?" Carrick demanded of no one in particular. "If Holden expects to ride my coattails and get his whale song tapes, he had better get aboard. We can't wait around all day for some misty‑eyed pseudo‑scientist."
The young woman stiffened in anger at the contemptuous note in the marine biologist's voice. "Dr. Holden won’t be aboard for this trip. He had prior commitments to a whale studies program at the university. Since this is just a routine recording and data gathering mission, he sent me in his place."
"Who the hell are you, anyway?"
"Diane McClellan, Dr. Holden's research assistant," she responded tersely.
Dr. Carrick was in full‑blown sarcastic display as he retorted, "You must be one of his `cetacean groupies', from the grad school. What's your major, girl? Liberal Arts? Interpretive Dance?"
"Physics with an emphasis on acoustical studies and a minor in languages," was her barely civil reply.
Nelson quickly broke into what threatened to become an academic sniping session, with a cool reasoned response. "Dr. Carrick, I approved Dr. Holden's request to accompany us on this mission because his recording is totally passive in nature and will have no effect on your testing and tissue sampling."
The cetalogist turned a truculent glare toward the Admiral. "You mean after waiting for more than three years to complete my research, I have to share lab facilities and computer time with this . . . grad student?"
There was an abrupt flush of anger on Diane's face at Dr. Carrick's derogatory dismissal but with his own impatience with academic pomposity, Nelson aborted any further arguments. "Dr. Holden's language studies are just as important as your physiologic ones. I assure you that the Seaview has adequate technical support to accommodate both of you. Now if we can cease this interdepartmental bickering and get underway, maybe we can all get a little work accomplished!"
With that final seismic warning of an imminent eruption of the Old Man's occasionally volcanic temper, Lee turned a questioning look to Kowalski, "Is everything aboard, Ski?"
"Yes sir!" the young seaman replied crisply. "Once Dr. Holden's equipment is secured. . ." He noted out of the corner of his eye that the young woman was already helping the missile room crew uncrate her supplies and get them stowed away.
"Very well," Crane nodded in approval then went over to the intercom. "Topside watch, release all lines and prepare to get underway." Hitting the switch for the bridge circuit, he alerted the diving officer on watch. "Mr. O' Brian."
"Prepare to dive once we've cleared the harbor. I'll give you our course and heading as soon as I reach the bridge."
"Aye, aye, Skipper."
Gladly leaving the care and feeding of touchy scientific egos to the Admiral, Lee and Chip quickly went forward to the Seaview's control room. Admiral Nelson turned a slightly conciliatory glance in Dr. Carrick's direction. "You're welcome to come forward to the nose and watch our departure. The initial dive is very impressive from that location."
"No thank you," Carrick responded stiffly. "I still have to get settled in and then familiarize myself with your sub's layout. As difficult as it is for me to get around, I'd like to minimize the actual distance that I have to go in getting from one place to another."
The Admiral nodded sympathetically and guided the marine biologist out, leaving Ski and Diane McClellan momentarily relieved at their release from his hostile scrutiny.
Diane spoke up hesitantly, "I didn't get a chance to thank you, Kowalski."
"Ma'am?" he gave her an uncertain glance.
"You know . . . when the cargo net slipped? Keeping my bodily parts from an unhappy collision with Dr. Holden's recording equipment."
Ski gave an offhanded shrug. "My pleasure, ma'am. Be a shame to waste such an improvement to the scenery by flattening it against the bulkheads."
She smiled shyly at his casual compliment. "Well, it certainly would have made my job more difficult, trying to get my recordings from a full body cast in sick bay, Mr. Kowalski."
"Call me Ski," he responded, slightly embarrassed at her formality. "Only officers are called `mister' aboard this boat." He continued helping her sort and store the rest of her supplies. "Looks like you've got some pretty exotic recording equipment here." He took a closer look at one of two ultrahigh frequency monitors.
She brightened at his interest. "Yeah, Dr. Holden wants as comprehensive a recording as we can get across the entire sonic range. He hopes that identifying different frequencies in the recordings just might give him the clue he needs to begin decoding the complex information stored in those songs. The whales' don't just `hear' the songs but pick them up in a specialized organ in their jaws that transmits the song through their entire bodies."
"Like the Seaview's sonar equipment," Ski noted.
"Exactly!" Diane exulted. "Say, who usually mans sonar because I'll need to consult with him about hooking up my recording equipment for maximum range and sensitivity."
"That's usually my station when we're at sea," Ski answered cautiously.
"Talk about serendipity," Diane grinned. "You're just the man I need to talk to about linking the automatic taping system to your controls as soon as possible. I can't afford to miss any of their songs."
Ski fidgeted, somewhat ill‑at‑ease. He welcomed to opportunity to work with Diane and get to know her better but he was also well aware that the Captain and the Admiral would hold him personally responsible if anything interfered with sonar's ability to locate and track the whales needed for Dr. Carrick's specimens.
His expression was purely professional as he inquired, "Ma'am, just how much bandwidth does your recording equipment need? Because if there's any possibility it might interfere with our sonar system, the Admiral will have to be notified.
Diane's expression was momentarily wounded at his caution then she resumed her air of determined confidence. "Don't worry, Ski. I can set up my entire monitoring equipment without having to tap into your main control panel."
With some misgivings, Ski nodded his agreement as he felt the gradual movement as the sub headed out to sea.
* * *
Some twenty‑four hours later as the Seaview cruised among the open ocean waters just beyond the continental shelf, among darting silvery schools of sunfish and the occasional prowling shark, Dr. Carrick joined the Admiral in the observation area. Much more relaxed than he had been during the critical period before the mission began, he was describing what he hoped that the Seaview would help him accomplish. "Whales are air breathers, Admiral. With lungs instead of gills and hearts and circulatory systems very close to our own. Yet, they are able to exist within the oceans depths, eating, sleeping, feeding, raising their young. We have to learn how they do it. The ocean makes up almost three quarters of our planetary surface and yet it's less accessible to us than outer space. We must begin to realize its potential for food production, mineral resources, even living space. We need find some way to live and work comfortably and safely within its depths."
Nelson studied the disabled marine biologist, seeing a man of visionary keenness whose ideology was marred by the terrible misfortune that he had suffered.
"It's been less than five years, hasn't it, Robert?" he prodded gently. "You've made astonishing progress, despite what the doctors and physiotherapists originally predicted."
Carrick's stony expression threatened to erode under a flood of grief until he set his jaw and plowed ahead doggedly. "Medical knowledge of the aftereffects of `the bends' is about as scanty as our knowledge of the undersea world itself. It's only fair that I pay the price for ignoring those harsh realities in the Lemurian Project." his voice caught momentarily. "If only Maeve hadn't had to suffer as well."
"Lemurian Project ‑ Long‑term Ecostable Marine‑Undersea Research Installation. Maeve never did have much use for acronyms did she? She preferred to call it after Atlantis's mythic Pacific counterpart." Nelson mused.
Carrick gritted out bitterly, "If I'd been a little more concerned with biological realities and less with my idealistic dreams of an undersea research base, she wouldn't have died."
"What else could you have done, Robert? You picked a geologically stable area and hired the best undersea contractors to build the facility. No one could have predicted the undersea catastrophe that ruptured your domes. Good lord man, you were nearly killed yourself making sure most of your people were evacuated safely."
"It could have been prevented, Harry." Carrick's expression was almost fanatic in its intensity. "I should never have taken those people into that undersea environment without providing them with the means to survive there." He turned on the video screen. "I want you to look at these tapes taken in my lab two months ago."
Quietly Nelson studied the filmed recording of white rats and then monkeys being injected with Dr. Carrick's serum and then placed within a water‑filled tank. After their initial alarm at their watery environment, the animals quickly adapted and soon seemed at home in their new living area at pressures roughly equivalent to a depth of over four hundred feet. Nelson pondered those tapes and the lab reports he had studied before he even considered allowing Dr. Carrick aboard the Seaview.
The theory behind his work was sound and his methodology had been thorough and painstaking, but there were still missing pieces to the puzzle. "Alright, Robert. It seems like your attempts to stabilize and bind oxygen within the muscles and slow the body's metabolic requirements are viable. But how do you know it will work as well on humans as whales and other animals?" Despite his curiosity, he had no intention of allowing Carrick to use his crew as human guinea pigs.
"Don't worry, Harry," Carrick responded dourly. "I have no intention of field testing my serum at this time. It's still in a very early stage of development. Besides there are indications of long‑term cellular toxicity that needs to be studied further. Which is why I need samples of whale livers and spleens to investigate how they breakdown the myoglobins that bind the oxygen in the muscles. That's why I need the liver and spleen and heart from a fresh whale cadaver to do total cellular metabolism studies."
Nelson's expression was dubious as he discussed that aspect of Dr. Carrick's research. "I know that you've gone to the International Whale Commission and obtained a permit to kill anywhere from one to five of the protected species, but that option still bothers me."
"For pity's sake, Admiral," Carrick erupted angrily. "Don't tell me that you've fallen for the muzzy‑brained nonsense that Holden puts forth about whales showing the kind of complex language and social structure that implies intelligence?"
Nelson gave the cetalogist a basilisk glare, before biting off harshly, "Let's just say that the jury is still out about marine mammal sentience and there is growing evidence of evolutionary patterns that don't rely on tool manipulation or mechanical constructs. Besides, even with the conservation efforts of the past decade, the humpback population isn't so stable that I'm comfortable with `harvesting' a single whale, much less three or four that you have permission for."
The cetalogist turned on his most rational, persuasive expression. "I understand your point of view, Admiral. But the whales I need for my tissue samples would be the oldest members of the pod, mature males twenty‑five, thirty, even fifty years old, if we're able to locate one. Post‑mature and probably not even contributing to the genetic pool of survivors. But they would be the ones with the most accumulated myoglobin, as well as the largest concentration of the enzyme that breaks it down, along with residue from the metabolic process.
Nelson was thoughtful as Dr. Carrick's enthusiasm for his work seemed to cut through the bitter shell that had earlier surrounded him. Finally he nodded in agreement.
"You'll meet with the diving teams tomorrow to brief them on how you want to obtain your tissue and blood samples." Nelson's blue eyes clashed with Carrick's grey ones momentarily. "But I won't approve the actual killing of a whale, until I see the `specimen' that you have in mind."
Carrick nodded reluctantly, "I'm sure that we've be able to agree on one, Admiral. After all, what's the life of a single whale versus better quality of life for all humanity?"
* * *
Despite her expertise with Dr. Holden's equipment and her prior experience making recordings of humpbacks' songs, Diane found her task of linking up with the Seaview's sonar system more difficult than she anticipated. The submarine's equipment had not been standard to begin with and had been upgraded at least twice since its initial installation. Ski's familiarity with the system made his help during her linkup and early recordings absolutely essential. And it embarrassed her that she was so dependent on the crewman to help her accomplish a task that she felt was strictly her responsibility. Once she realized that Ski did not resent her requests for assistance and in fact, no one aboard the sub expected her to be knowledgeable in the Seaview's systems, she relaxed and began to take advantage the opportunity to study the whales' behavior as well as recording their haunting songs.
In the subsequent days, they monitored the migrations of the various pods of whales across the Pacific, searching for the older males that Dr. Carrick required. Diane continued to feel guilty about asking for Ski's help. Especially when he was off shift because she thought he might be assigned to other duties besides sonar watch. When she did ask him, he shrugged with a self‑deprecating grin, "The Admiral's made it clear that your recordings are as important as Dr. Carrick's tissue samples so I'm supposed to be available to help you for the rest of the mission. At least it gets me out of Dr. Carrick's lectures on the proper technique for gathering assorted whale body parts."
"What?" Diane was startled by this sudden revelation. She knew that Carrick's studies required blood and tissue samples but Ski made it sound like the divers would be vivisecting the whales. "He's not... planning to hurt them, is he?"
Ski's expression was rueful. "Well, according to Stu Riley who's a member of Captain Crane's diving team, Dr. Carrick intends to have them collect some pretty serious samples, liver and muscle biopsies.” The crewman shuddered briefly. "A risky operation, all things considered. Blood in the water may attract sharks or even provoke the whales into attacking our divers."
Diane's brows drew down sharply, "Humpbacks are the mildest and most nonaggressive of the nontoothed whales. There's never been a recorded incident of them attacking divers."
"Maybe not," he countered dubiously. "But any wild animal is dangerous when it's hurt. Besides, when we start blasting away at those older males to get the rest of Dr. Carrick's `wish list', I've got a bad feeling that we're going to wish we were anywhere except in the middle of a bunch of very angry whales!"
"Dr. Carrick plans to kill one of the whales?!" Diane's face went so white that Ski thought she was going to faint. He grabbed her arms to steady her and for a very long moment felt her soft warmth trembling against him. Then with an abrupt jerk, she pulled away and strode angrily down the companionway with Ski following hastily after. He caught her arm, halting her headlong flight momentarily.
"Where are you going?"
"To find the Admiral and see what his excuse is for allowing this kind of bloody‑handed butchery!"
"Miss McClellan, you can't just go charging in on the Admiral like this." he warned.
"I can't?" Her face was flushed and contorted with anger. "Just watch me!"
Short of throwing her against the bulkhead and knocking her out with a sharp right to the jaw, Ski realized that he wasn't going to be able to stop her in her present state of mind. All he could do was follow her and attempt to pick up the pieces after the Admiral's likely outburst.
In the lab, Nelson and Carrick were studying his earlier biopsy samples, hoping to find the key to myoglobin's toxic breakdown.
"The iron atom has to be the keystone to the synthesis..." Nelson speculated.
"How could you?" Diane demanded as she pushed open the lab door angrily, turning her outraged expression at Nelson. "Dr. Holden trusted you. He thought that you felt the same way he does about the humpbacks and their intelligence."
Nelson paused, his expression calmly analytical. "I've read Dr. Holden's papers and studied his results on data breakdown within the songs. While I recognize their level of complexity is remarkable, it still isn't positive proof of sentience."
"And there never will be as long as hypocrites like you allow wholesale `harvesting' just to satisfy his trivial whim to dissect them!" She gestured angrily to Dr. Carrick who had just pulled himself painfully to his feet.
"Young lady," Carrick snarled, "my studies of whales are not trivial or frivolous. The work that I'm doing may someday provide the means for mankind to live and work beneath the sea as a normal habitat and not a hostile environment."
"So he can exploit and pollute under the sea as he does on the land and drive even more species to the point of extinction?!"
Nelson's gaze went arctic and Ski winced, wishing there was some way to warn Diane just how far she'd overstepped the boundaries.
But the damage was done.
"Miss McClellan, your task here is to collect recordings of whale songs and not to sit in judgment of scientists who have spent a lifetime working for the betterment of humanity. If you cannot do your job without disrupting someone else's work, I can have Kowalski return you to the Institute on the flying sub at once."
For the second time in twenty minutes, Kowalski thought Diane was going to wind up kissing the deck plates. But somehow she managed to pull herself together and give a strangled whisper of a plea. "Don't send me back, Admiral. Dr. Holden's work mustn't be..." She paused and swallowed hard. "I won't cause any more trouble. Just let me complete his recordings."
The Admiral harumphed loudly and then said in a somewhat milder tone of voice. "Just do what you came aboard to do, Miss McClellan, and there won't be any problems." He turned back to the observations that she had interrupted and Ski quickly hustled her out of the lab.
Guiding her faltering steps to the wardroom, he seated her at a table and brought them both cups of Seaview's strong black coffee. She clutched it defensively, trying to get her emotions back under control.
As her hands shook at the close brush that she'd had with the Admiral's temper, Ski warned her, "The Admiral's not regular Navy and Seaview's a pretty informal ship sometimes. But he still expects things to be run according to his rules, especially when it comes to scientific research missions. Dr. Carrick's work had to meet his standards, which are pretty demanding, even before he got government approval. And the Admiral's not about to abandon a project that he feels is worthwhile just because a supercargo charges in and tongue lashes him.
"Is that all I am, Ski? Just supercargo?" Her sea green eyes were bright with unshed tears and Ski felt his knees shaking at the plea for reassurance in her gaze.
He tried to answer with a gruff good humor, "Decorative supercargo, I'll admit. But you aren't crew and Dr. Holden's recording project was added on as an afterthought, so you were really on shaky ground when you tore into the Admiral's lab like that."
"I know," she whispered hoarsely. "Sometimes it seems like the Admiral's the only scientist who'll even listen to Dr. Holden's theories. Them I charge in, shooting my mouth off and nearly antagonize him as well. My mother always told me you draw more flies with honey that with red pepper sauce, but I never did learn how to control my temper."
Ski's sympathetic look almost unnerved her as she continued on a forlorn note. "But these recordings are absolutely essential to Dr. Holden's work." She took a long swallow of her coffee and then looked away, trying to hide the anguish on her face. "It would probably kill him if I came back empty‑handed."
"Why?" Ski peered at her, perplexed. "They're just ordinary recordings, aren't they? Routine whale song collection for long-term data analysis. Right?"
"Most of it is just routine, but there's one song that he wants more than all the rest. A whale he has monitored for the past seventeen years, noting the changes, the evolution, the complexity of its song in much greater detail than any of the others. Although the others in his pod mimic and echo the song, it is uniquely Hero's creation."
"Hero?" Ski questioned.
"An alphabetical code name. Hero was the eighth member of the group when Dr. Holden began his survey and he is the only one still surviving. No one else has been able to gather such a long‑term record of a single whale's songs and their seasonal and annual changes. It's become the center of Dr. Holden's work and he's determined to have a record of Hero's vocalization this year. Especially since it will probably be Hero's last migration, he's hoping it will provide him with the ultimate data he needs to make his language breakthrough and prove whale sentience beyond any shadow of a doubt."
Ski's expression was skeptical. "It's a big ocean, Diane, and even with Seaview's superior tracking equipment, the odds of us finding and recording one specific whale's song..."
"That's not what worries me," she shook her head in dismay. "You mentioned the type of whale that Dr. Carrick needs for his tissue samples. Larger, older males. Hero's one of the largest, oldest males that I know of. What am I going to do if he finds Hero first?"
Ski placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, "Is Dr. Holden's work really that dependent on a single whale's song? You're going to have a lot of recordings for him to analyze when you get back, surely one whale won't make that much difference."
"His health has been failing steadily for the past six months, Ski. That's the only reason that I'm here instead of him. He's depending on me to get this last recording of Hero's song to complete his studies and make the breakthrough that he's searched for so long. Whether I believe him or not, if I don't get that song the disappointment will probably kill him." She would not meet Ski's eyes but he saw the wet drop of her tears splash on the table's metal surface.
Cursing himself as three kinds of a fool for falling for a woman driven by this kind of obsession, he nonetheless lifted her chin and gave her a tentative, reassuring kiss, promising, "If he's out there, Diane, we'll find him. Before Dr. Carrick does."
* * *
Much later that evening, after Diane had left her precious recording equipment to the care of the midshift sonar watch, Ski had retreated to the far corner of the wardroom. Although he was usually glad to sit in on poker or gin games with his buddies, this time he begged off and was slouched at the table, pretending to read one of Stu Riley's dog-eared detective novels.
Just coming off duty himself, Patterson dropped down next to his friend turning an eager grin in his direction, "So, how's it going, you lucky jerk? Have you charmed your way into her confidence yet and got her booked for the weekend after we get back from this wild whale chase?"
Ski tossed the book to one side and gave a glib answer, "Piece o'cake, Pat. We are set to hit every hot spot in town once we dock."
Despite that quick reply, Pat knew his buddy too well to be fooled. Things were not running as smoothly as Ski pretended and Pat decided it was up to him to discover why before Sharkey noticed Ski's hangdog expression. Because as well‑intentioned as the Chief was, he had the delicate touch of a deck sander in affairs of the heart.
Pat's easy smile faded, "Ski, you always were a lousy liar. Now, come clean. What's the real story? She one of those super smart professor types who's strictly business? Or does she have her eye on one of the brass?"
Ski shrugged in defeat. "Well, she hasn't said more than two words to the Captain or Mr. Morton since she came aboard. About having her mind strictly on her job . . ." He paused looking down at his hands, then ruefully back to his friend. "Yeah, her job and her boss are important to her. But to tell you the truth, Pat, my biggest rival for her attention is a fifty ton humpback whale."
He shook his head in bemusement and tossed Riley's book to the startled Patterson. "How do you fight something like that?"
* * *
Early the next morning, Captain Crane's diving party was in the missile room making a final check of their tanks and equipment while Dr. Carrick described the particular whales that he wanted them to tranquilize for specimen.
"Stay as far as possible from the females and the calves. They're too young to have the necessary myoglobin concentrations in their blood so their livers won't be producing the enzyme that I need. Besides, approaching them just makes the rest of the pod nervous." He paused as though gathering his thoughts. "What you really should try to approach are the older, solitary males with darkest skin which indicates the greatest tissue saturation."
Pulling the wet suit hood over his dark hair, Crane was disturbed by the possible dangers to his men and the Seaview herself. "Just how powerful is this tranquilizer gun of yours, Dr. Carrick? I've had some bad experiences with trying to sedate whales in the past."
"Captain," Carrick continued in a very patient tone of voice. "This device emits a sonic wave which acts directly on the whale's brain, totally bypassing the usual metabolic difficulties. It keeps the animal passive without affecting the blood or liver chemistry, enabling me to obtain uncontaminated tissue samples." He pointed to the controls once again. "It's at the lowest setting. You aim it at the whale's head, turn it on, and you can take your specimen sample without the whale being aware you're there. When you're finished, swim a safe distance away and turn off the device. What could be simpler than that?"
Crane busied himself adjusting his throat mike and tank regulator flow, before commenting wryly. "Dr. Carrick, while I've been the Captain of the Seaview, it is my unfortunate experience that it's the `simple' solutions that tend to turn around and bite your arm off."
After verifying his team's readiness, Crane notified Chip Morton in the control room. "Mr. Morton, we're ready to enter the airlock. Are we still at the outer perimeter of Dr. Carrick's pod?"
"Hold on a minute, Skipper." Morton's voice rang with a definite exasperated edge. "Something seems to have spooked them. They had halted at the surface, apparently to feed and rest, just a few minutes ago. Now something's put them on their guard. The males have drawn into a protective formation around the females and calves and they're moving out of the area, at about eight knots instead of their usual four."
"Damn!" Crane swore under his breath and then hit the intercom again. "Resume tracking, Mr. Morton. I'm coming forward as soon as I shed my tank."
Carrick glared at Crane in frustration. "It's Holden's damn recording devices, I'll bet. The equipment must be producing some kind of feedback that's driven them off! I told Nelson that girl was trouble!"
Crane attempted to placate the outraged marine biologist. "Whatever happened, Doctor, I'm sure it wasn't intentional. Let's just get up to the bridge and see if we can determine how disturbed the whales are.
Moments later, still in his
wetsuit, Crane was listening to Morton's terse explanation of the situation.
"Brannen had to relieve the 3rd watch sonar operator who's presently in
Carrick's face flushed angrily as he growled, "I told Nelson that Holden's damned fuzzy‑brained recording apparatus would be a problem. It could take us days to find another pod or for these to quiet down long enough so we're able to collect my specimens."
"It's not that bad, Robert." Nelson broke into the scientist's tirade, coming aft from the nose of the sub where the flying sub was docked. Ski and Diane were following cautiously in his wake, not wanting to be the target for another one of Dr. Carrick's outbursts. "We've identified at least three more pods within a fifty mile radius. Some of them even have large dense echoes that should be the post-mature males you need."
Carrick gestured accusingly at Diane, "But what if her equipment malfunctions again? I don't have time to waste chasing pods all over the Pacific, Harry. I need those specimens!"
"I've taken care of that," Nelson reassured him. "Frankly, I'm ashamed of myself for not thinking of this earlier. Dr. Holden just wants a diverse range of whale songs, and doesn't need Seaview's sophisticated tracking system and lab facilities like you do to track down specific whales and take tissue samples. As soon as she gets her recording equipment set up, Miss McClellan and Seaman Kowalski will make Dr. Holden's recordings far enough away so they can't possibly interfere with your procedures."
Diane's expression was distraught but a hard look from the Admiral silenced her. Carrick nodded in sullen agreement, "That sounds like an ideal situation, Harry. But how do you know that this glorified diving saucer of yours won't blunder right into the middle of my specimen collectors?"
The Admiral responded with a calm rationality determined to defuse Dr. Carrick's protests. "I'm sending her out with one of my best flying sub pilots. When we locate the other pod, we'll radio the coordinates to him and he will steer well clear of that section of ocean bottom."
As the Admiral soothed Dr. Carrick's ruffled feathers once again, Chip and Lee exchanged rueful glances. This simple data collecting expedition was becoming a major exercise in diplomacy.
* * *
Some hours later, after her recording equipment was stowed aboard the flying sub, Ski and Diane undocked from the Seaview and began spiraling outward in a standard search pattern. Only half‑listening thru her earphones for the haunting melodies that she needed to record, Diane turned an accusing glance toward Kowalski.
"You're going along with the Admiral's scheme just to keep me out of Dr. Carrick's hair. What if one of those whales on the Seaview's sonar is Hero?"
Ski's attention was focused on the piloting demands of the flying sub but he answered pragmatically, "Miss McClellan, there are no guarantees that this whale of yours is anywhere out there. That he's even survived to make this year's migration. But aboard this craft we can cover a much wider area and increase your odds of finding him before Dr. Carrick does."
He scanned their sonar screen as though searching for something. "Besides there's an underwater phenomenon, a boundary layer between the cold deep sea waters and the warm offshore currents, that sometimes acts as a long‑range transmitter for certain undersea sounds."
"The sofar channel!" Diane recalled excitedly from her own acoustical studies. "If we can locate it, we can listen out for songs hundreds maybe even thousands of miles away."
"If he's vocalizing and if you can identify that one particular song," Ski warned darkly.
"Oh, I'll know his song all right. The way a mother knows her particular child's cry. I've heard it often enough that it's sunk into my bones."
Ski looked up in surprise but Diane's gaze was focused on middle distance, her attention absorbed in the routine background noise of undersea life; hoping to hear that particular haunting lyrical sound of whale song. Especially one particular variation of that harmony.
They continued their search grid, sweeping through the middle depths, out beyond the shallow, off‑shore waters where Dr. Carrick's specimen gathering was taking place. Ski navigated cautiously between the tricky currents that they were riding to monitor the sofar channel and kept a close eye on their power and oxygen levels as well.
Diane had taken off her earphones and turned up the volume so that the odd chitters and bellows of undersea life filled the flying sub while she tried to locate any hint of whale song. His sonar training left Kowalski able to screen out the random background noise and focus on certain critical sounds, so she relied on his reactions as well as her own.
Despite his pragmatic, down‑to‑earth nature, Ski couldn't help but wonder if she was really right about the whales' songs being more than a simple echolocation and navigational method. The tapes that she had played for him aboard the Seaview had been eerily moving and even filled with a kind of lyrical beauty.
Turning the gain down momentarily to take a break, she massaged her temples and complained in a frustrated tone of voice, "Sometimes it just makes me so angry! All this money spent on trying to contact and communicate with alien life forms and intelligence in outer space and we ignore an intelligent species right under our noses. One that originated in the same salty birth waters that we did; that has called out to us for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years and we haven't even tried to decipher their meaning."
"Yes ma'am," Ski nodded absently, keeping his eye on the screen for any undersea anomalies that might be a threat to them.
Diane shook her head ruefully. "So we're back to ma'am and `Miss McClellan', Seaman Kowalski? I guess I deserve it after the way I behaved this morning. I should realize that your first loyalty is to the Admiral and this ship and I've been making demands that conflicted with them badly."
She stared down at her hands clenched into fists.
Ski's expression softened slightly, as he tried to explain. "Ma'am . . . Diane, I like you . . . a lot. I admire your spunk, your loyalty, the way that jumpsuit fits when you bend over." He gave her a raffish grin, and then sobered. "But the Seaview is important to me as well. The Admiral and the Captain trust me and I don't want to abuse that trust, for any reason."
Diane nodded her head in resignation and replaced her earphones to resume her search. They continued on in silence for the next hour and a half as Ski noted that the flying sub's energy reserves were hovering just below the halfway mark and he needed a break as well, since he was starting to see ghostly images on the screen.
He was about the suggest returning to the Seaview to refuel when Diane held up her hand suddenly, an intent expression on her face, "Bring her about, Ski."
"Which direction?" he questioned sharply, glancing again at the compass marker on the controls.
Too immersed in her listening to even attempt to translate into compass headings, Diane waved vaguely with her left hand. "That way. Just a fraction. So I can get a better reading on the signal."
Turning fifteen degrees to port, he was rewarded by seeing her expression light up in joy. "That's Hero's song! I'd recognize those staccato eighth notes anywhere! Head in this direction, Ski. I've got to get as much of this on tape as possible."
Glancing with concern at their air recycling and energy reserves, Ski decided that he could risk another fifteen minutes following the whale since they would be heading directly back to the Seaview instead of retracing their circuitous search pattern. At the end of that allocated time period, he tapped Diane on the shoulder since she was still totally absorbed in recording the sounds made by that particular whale.
"We have to turn back. The flying sub is a short range vessel and we're not equipped for a prolonged stay at this depth."
Diane's gaze was troubled as she turned towards Ski, appealing desperately, "But the tapes aren't complete and as long is Dr. Carrick is intent on harvesting an older whale, this may be my last chance to record these songs."
Kowalski grimaced in chagrin, "I know and that's why I kept us out here as long as I did. But the flying sub's air recycling charge is limited and even her energy levels are running low. We'll be limping back, breathing our sweat socks by the time we dock with the Seaview."
Diane nodded reluctantly, despite her eagerness to continue. She was as cognizant of the dangers of oxygen deprivation and CO2 narcosis as Kowalski was. "I understand," she agreed, her bitterness barely under control. "Just try to keep us close to the deep sound channel and I'll continue recording as long as possible. Maybe I'll get lucky and he'll stay away from the Seaview and Dr. Carrick's butchering operation."
But as they were putting about to head back to the submarine, the deep sound channel she was monitoring suddenly no longer held the quiet whispers of an elderly whale's final harmonies. Instead, it was filled with agonizing sounds that could only be interpreted as the agonized cries of frightened or injured whales.
Diane's face went chalk white as those terrible cries drowned out Hero's song. Her lips were tightly compressed as she switched off the recording device with a savage motion and turned to Ski, her eyes glistening with angry tears. "Well, that tears it! Carrick must have begun his harvesting operation. Those sounds will echo through the sofar channel for a hundred miles, driving Hero into hiding until he dies of old age... or a broken heart."
Before Ski could respond, suddenly the flying sub was caught up in a powerful, tidal‑like surge as if they were leaves swept along in a hurricane. He fought the controls, trying to wrestle them out of their power-drained spiral to the bottom as sparks flew wildly from the overloaded instrument panels. Diane gripped the arms of her seat in dismay, wondering what on Earth was causing their loss of control. Only Ski's ever cautious eye on their viewscreen gave them any inkling of the cause of their catastrophic plunge to the bottom.
"It's a whale. . ." he gasped.”He sideswiped us! A thermal layer must have confused the screens. You weren't recording him from miles away, but practically on top of us."
"But why?" Diane gasped as they pitched and yawed wildly. "Why would he attack . . .?”
"It's not us he's after, but those cries you just heard on the sofar channel. He's headed for the Seaview!" His expression was filled with anguish at that thought.
"No," she gasped in denial. "Humpbacks are gentle, peaceful . . . they don't attack humans."
"Not even when provoked?" Ski's dark glance stabbed through her.
Her heart slammed in uncertainty as he gritted out, still fighting to level off their craft. "Just get on the radio and warn the Admiral. They've got fifty tons of outraged whale headed in their direction!"
Fumbling hurriedly with the transmitter which had been taken off automatic to prevent any recurrence of her earlier feedback problems, she gasped out her warning, praying that their transmitter was not one of the controls that was presently shorting out. "Seaview, this is F.S. One. Halt your harvesting and call in your divers. I repeat. CALL IN YOUR DIVERS! We've just been attacked by a whale now headed in your direction. Halt your harvesting operation."
There was no acknowledgement that she had gotten through and before she could repeat her warning, the flying sub's attitude controls failed completely and it dropped downwards, skidding and pitching along the bottom and finally come to a halt amid a cloud of silt and debris.
Long seconds of darkness and silence filled the interior until the auxiliary generator came on with its dim emergency lighting, as Ski coughed weakly in the smoky stale air.
Pushing painfully out of his seat, he went back to the circuit box and reset the breakers, although it did not restore power to the controls. With a grim look, he quickly noted the extent of the damage as well as the extremity of their situation. Dead on the bottom, power and communications out and little chance of restoring either before their very limited air supply ran out.
He touched Diane's shoulder gently and she roused from her dazed condition, trying to lurch out of her seat but restrained by the seat harness. "Uuuhhh...what happened? Where are we?"
"Your whale happened," he answered, only half‑joking. "We're on the bottom, with no power and very little air. Did you get through to the Seaview?"
"I tried," she answered miserably. "But they didn't acknowledge my warning. Do you think. . .?"
"I don't know," he answered tersely. "I'm not going to just sit here and wait though. Keep trying the radio while I haul out the diving tanks."
"But why?" she questioned with a nod toward the depth gauge that read seven hundred and fifty feet. Too deep for regular scuba gear, even if the Seaview was nearby.
"Because our air supply is almost out and these tanks may be the only thing that keeps us alive until the Seaview can rescue us."
"Assuming they weren't damaged by that whale, how will they find us?" Diane's voice was uncertain.
Ski gave her a reassuring smile, "What I said about the Admiral and the Captain trusting me, it works both ways. They'll get us out. Believe me, they won't abandon us down here."
* * *
Watching from the nose of the sub, Nelson kept up with the progress of the diving party's sample collections. Finally after another long discussion with Carrick and against his better judgment, he agreed to allow the cetalogist to `harvest' the oldest of the two males in order to obtain the whole organs that were required.
Dr. Carrick instructed Captain Crane to adjust his sonic device to the highest setting and use it instead of the Seaview's laser.
"I assure you, Admiral. It will be swift and painless and there will be less chance of damaging the organ systems by using ultrasonic frequencies instead of the laser."
But whether Carrick had overestimated the potency of his weapon or Lee had somehow missed the central autonomic brain center that he had been aiming for, the end result was not as neat or painless as they had been led to expect. Instead, the whale that Carrick had targeted had gone into the cetacean equivalent of a gran mal epileptic convulsion, forcing the diving party to hastily retreat to the Seaview's airlocks to keep from being crushed by the violent spasms that wracked the creature.
Even worse were the cries of distress echoing throughout the area as the whale continued the thrash painfully for what seemed an interminable length of time. Though the pod that the male belonged to was horrified by his suffering and alarmed by the Seaview's presence, they did not flee but remained nearby, attempting to aid the suffering whale. Various members clustered around him, voicing cries of distress and attempting to guide him toward the surface so he could fill his laboring lungs with air.
Nelson's face was haggard with guilt at the creature's plight as he turned in tightlipped anger when Carrick clumped forward to the nose. "You assured me this was a quick, painless procedure."
Carrick's retorted uneasily, "It worked in the lab."
Nelson's gaze was glacial, "Lab results often differ vastly when tested in the field. You should have warned us before we put divers at risk. Now, unless you can give me a very good reason not to, I intend to use the Seaview's laser to put this poor creature out of its misery."
Carrick's face was equally haggard and his eyes haunted. Just make sure it's a head shot, Nelson. I must have those organs intact and undamaged!"
Nelson's voice was glacial as he replied, "I'm sure that Captain Crane will do his best to comply."
As he entered the control room to
give the order to ready the laser,
Nelson's face went even grimmer, "Was that all you got? Could you get a range or directional heading on the signal at all?"
"Not yet, sir. I'm still working on it."
"Well, let me know when you do. It sounds like the flying sub may be in trouble as well."
In the control room, he encountered Lee, still shaken by the whale's agonized reaction after Carrick had told him the sonic device assured a swift painless death for the animal.
Nelson gripped the younger man by the shoulder trying to restore his composure, "It wasn't your fault, Lee. The device simply wasn't powerful enough. We're going to have to use the Seaview's laser to finish the job. Do you want Chip. . .?”
Lee stared down at his clenched fists, then turned to his friend and mentor, a resolute set to his jaw.
"No, Admiral. It's my responsibility."
"Good man," the Admiral squeezed his shoulder again and then stood aside as Lee brought down the targeting screen and began to position it.
Although his face was covered by a sheen of perspiration, his hands were steady as he readied the laser. "I'm aiming for the eye, Admiral. That way there will be less chance of bone deflection preventing the beam from penetrating to the brain itself."
Nelson nodded in agreement, wanting to say more to reassure the Captain but held his tongue as Lee took a deep breath, focused the targeting sensors and whispered a harsh, "Fire!"
With the speed of light the beam penetrated the leviathan's brain, ending its painful convulsions with the stillness of death. As the corpse sank slowly to the sea floor, Nelson turned a compassionate gaze in the younger man's direction, "You did what you had to, Lee."
The Captain nodded before turning a resentful gaze at Carrick as he studied the drifting corpse anxiously. "We need to get the divers out with laser saws to extract the liver, heart and spleen as soon as possible."
Lee straightened up and started aft
to the missile room to lead the diving party when the Admiral glared in
Carrick's direction. "Belay that order.
"Nelson, you aren't going to let Holden's grad student sabotage my project out of some deluded idea about whale intelligence? Good Lord, man! We already have the body, we can't let this valuable source of essential organ tissue just lie there and rot!" Carrick's expression was filled with outrage and an undercurrent of dismay.
Nelson looked like his features had been carved in stone as he replied impassively. "I refuse to endanger my ship or my men any longer on your word, when it appears that you've been less than honest with me in some very critical areas. The flying sub is long overdue and we're going to find out what happened to it and its passengers before we continue with your specimen collection."
Dr. Carrick dragged himself angrily out of the nose, leaving Crane and Nelson wearily facing one another.
"As soon as
Lee nodded, his expression grave. "They should have been back over an hour ago. Ski knows the flying sub's limits better than any man on this boat and he's not one to take unnecessary risks."
Following the heading that
AJudging by the signal sir, it's another one of those whales,@ Riley informed him
"Alter course fifteen degrees," Lee ordered, with a note of sadness. "We've done them enough harm for one day."
"Aye, sir," Helm responded as their nose swung slightly.
"Whale is also changing course," Riley reported from the sonar station.
"Give it another fifteen degrees," Chip interjected, somewhat perturbed.
"Whale is still on a collision course, sir." Riley's voice had a definite nervous edge.
"Evasive maneuvers, helm." Crane ordered, taking a firm grip on the periscope well, determined to get Seaview out of the whale's way and back to their search for the flying sub as quickly as possible.
The sub moved as swiftly as mechanical reactions permitted but Riley's warnings continued. "Whale is still on a collision course, sir. Fifty yards and closing."
Lee and Chip exchanged perturbed glances, wondering if this was some kind of mythic act of vengeance for the whale that they had slaughtered? Or was it just a poor dumb beast whose echolocation sense had somehow been deranged by the Seaview's sonar so it no longer knew where it was going. But there was no more time for answers. Only the harsh grinding roar of tortured metal and overstressed turbines as the two undersea denizens collided. The force of the impact momentarily disrupted their gyros and sent them heeling hard to starboard. Losing his grip on the conn, Lee was thrown over Riley's shoulder, the sonar controls impacting his ribs with bruising force.
"Close collision doors," Chip ordered sharply from the deck where he had been flung. "Missile room, stand by to fire torpedoes." He climbed unsteadily to his feet, still not believing that they had been attacked by one of the graceful, peaceful creatures that he had swum so casually beside earlier that day.
"Where's the whale?" Lee demanded breathlessly, still hanging over Riley's shoulder. “Is he going to hit us again?"
"Dead astern, sir..."
"Ready aft torpedoes." Lee ordered in a hard voice.
He glared at the sonar man and demanded, "Is he making another pass at us?"
"Twenty‑five yards and moving away, sir." Riley reported, breathing a small sigh of relief. "He's not interested in us, Captain." The young seaman's eyes were glued to his sonar screen. "Looks like he's gathering up the surviving members of the pod and swimming away.
"Damage control, report," Chip Morton queried while Lee and the Admiral hurried over to the communication center.
"Any damage, Sparks?" Crane's expression was worried.
"No sir." The comm specialist shook his head tentatively to clear it. "And I've got a fix on the flying sub's last transmission. It was at these coordinates when the radio went dead. No further signal."
Lee and the Admiral exchanged alarmed glances, then Crane ordered, "Helm, come to 126 degrees, mark 60 and bring her up to flank speed as soon as possible."
Chip had the initial damage reports. "We got away relatively unscathed. In spite of the way it felt, he must have just hit us a glancing blow. Most of the damage is in the forward sections, but the shoring will hold until we can send a diving party out. But the magnetic retrieval system for the flying sub was totally blown. Ski will have to dock her manually."
Nelson's expression was grim. "Get someone to work on it, Chip. A manual docking may not be possible."
* * *
In the chilly, tomblike darkness of the flying sub, Diane huddled under a blanket from the survival stores while Ski worked at increasingly shorter intervals under the control panel. Taking another break as his vision blurred, Ski took several deep breaths from the scuba mouthpiece that Diane offered then gestured her to use it herself.
She shook her head in denial, whispering, "I'm not working as hard so I don't use up as much oxygen."
He shoved it back to her, ordering harshly. "Take it, Diane. It won't help either of us if you pass out from O2 starvation. The tanks work on a demand system and I can't breathe for you if you're unconscious."
Acquiescing to his grim logic, Diane used the mouthpiece until she felt the dim grayness that fuzzed her brain recede before an icy awareness that they probably weren't going to survive much longer.
"Why are you still working on those controls, Ski?" she demanded. "You know we'll never get off the bottom."
Trying to focus his increasingly blurred vision, Ski persisted in his efforts. "Maybe not, but I can't just sit here and wait for us to be rescued. I've gotta do what I can."
Diane nodded and lapsed back into silence, unsure of what she should do or say. Finally, she spoke up meekly, "Ski...I'm sorry."
He paused in his task, a confused expression on his rugged features. "Why?"
"For asking you to follow Hero for so long, for pushing us past the flying sub's limits. I guess it's my fault that we're in this fix."
Kowalski pushed himself out from under the control panel and met her sorrowful, frightened gaze. "Diane, it was my decision as well. I knew how important recording that song was to you and I figured that it was worth the risk we were taking."
"Dr. Holden's life's work," she answered softly. "I didn't think it would be mine as well."
"Don't count us out yet," he placed a reassuring arm across her shoulders. "The Skipper's pulled me out of tighter spots than this."
* * *
As the Seaview approached its disabled flying sub, Nelson was dismayed to see it listing at a 30 degree angle with its stern half‑buried in the bottom silt. He hit the intercom for the repair party in the docking area, "Any progress on the magnetic links? Is there any possibility of making a passive retrieval?"
Sharkey answered in chagrin, "No Admiral, these controls are totally fused. It'll take at least another six hours of circuitry work to even bring them up to half power."
Nelson turned an expectant look
toward the communications tech but
Crane and Morton were studying the flying sub from various angles by means of the Seaview's external cameras.
"There's no indication of hull breach or catastrophic internal damage. They could still be alive in there." Lee stated, his brows drawn down in concentration.
"Lee, their air supply ran out over an hour ago. Let's face it. Kowalski and Miss McClellan are dead. There's nothing to do but wait until the magnetic coupling is repaired and then bring the sub aboard."
"What about a diving party?" Lee offered impulsively.
"It's too deep for anything but the special mixture helium tanks and we left those in Santa Barbara because following the humpbacks was not going to be a deep water operation." Chip observed with a grim expression.
Lee subsided momentarily then recalled, "But there were scuba tanks in the flying sub. If Ski and Miss McClellan were using them...."
"They're only prolonging their suffering. Even if they are using those tanks, there's not enough air to last until the retrieval system is repaired. It's hopeless." Chip turned his eyes away from the screen, not wanting to think about the two people in the craft less than fifty feet away slowly suffocating to death.
Lee's fists clenched hard on the chart table. "We can't just stand here and do nothing!" He looked toward the Admiral in blatant appeal.
The `Old Man's' brilliant piercing blue gaze was hooded, a sign that his thoughts were galloping at a furious pace, considering and discarding options that other people couldn't even imagine. A particularly vivid picture was playing over and over again in his brain; landborne animals existing comfortably at depths where only sea creatures had survived before. He spun on his heel and strode swiftly to the Seaview's lab where Dr. Carrick was listlessly cataloguing and labeling the specimens that had been brought aboard earlier.
"Robert..." he grabbed the man's shoulder urgently.
"Now what, Harry?" he retorted bitterly. "Are my tissue slides considered unethical and inhumane, as well? Will I have to abandon them like you forced me to abandon my whale organs?"
Nelson halted, momentarily taken aback by his old friend's resentment, then continued on doggedly. "Robert, did you bring any of your experimental serum with you?"
The marine biologist returned defensively, "Why? Do you want to destroy it as well?"
"ROBERT!" Nelson's voice was thunderous. "Will you stop nursing your grudges and listen to me? Did you bring any of the serum with you?"
"Yes," the other scientist answered reluctantly. "But it's still in an experimental form. I told you about the cellular toxicity that I'm trying to neutralize. Besides it hasn't been tested on humans yet."
"I know," Nelson answered, his expression resolute, "but it may be the only chance that Kowalski and Miss McClellan have of survival. Get it and come aft with me to the missile room."
Too bemused to even react to Nelson's mention of his antagonist's name, Dr. Carrick brought out a half‑filled vial and several syringes. Then with Nelson's help he struggled laboriously to the aft section of the submarine where the diving gear was stored.
Nelson was irritated to discover that Lee had somehow anticipated him and was already in scuba gear, with extra tanks strapped to his waist.
"Where the hell do you think you're going? Those tanks aren't any good at this depth. And with the flying sub out of action, there's no way we could get the three of you to a depressurization tank in time to prevent permanent damage or possibly even death from `the bends'."
"I know," Lee answered sharply, pulling the diving hood on, "but there's a small chance that we can survive. If we leave them there to die, there's no chance at all."
Nelson's expression was sour, "This may improve those odds slightly." He held up Carrick's serum.
"What is it?" Crane paused, a curious look darting across his face.
"My reason for `slaughtering' whales," Carrick answered dourly. "It utilizes the whale's capacity for fixing oxygen in the muscles rather than dissolving it in the bloodstream to allow for longer dives and to prevent pressure change problems like `the bends'. But there are side‑effects. . . and it hasn't been tested on humans."
"What sort of side effects? And how soon?" Lee asked suspiciously.
"Breakdown of red blood cells. Liver and kidney damage, possibly to the point of organ failure. But it doesn't begin for at least twenty‑four hours and it may be preventable with the whale enzyme . . ."
Lee held up his hand to halt the technical explanation, "You just got yourself a human volunteer, Dr. Carrick. Ski and Diane don't have any chance at all otherwise. We can deal with the side effects later."
Holding out his arm, he allowed Dr. Carrick to inject the drug and listened as the dosage and administration technique was quickly explained before placing the vial in a waterproof pouch at his belt.
As Lee entered the airlock to exit the submarine, Carrick turned an angry, uncertain expression to the Admiral. "This is the most stupid, ethically irresponsible act that I've ever been a party to, Harry. Why am I risking my scientific reputation in this kind of reckless proposition anyway?"
"Because lives are at stake, Doctor. And science has always taken risks to save lives."
* * *
Diane McClellan barely opened her eyes before the red aura surrounding the fluorescent lamp overhead forced her to close them again. She stifled a groan at her throbbing head and the sense of nausea that suffused her. Just beyond the privacy screen surrounding her bunk, there was a barely muted whispering and she eavesdropped shamelessly trying learn what had happened to her.
". . . stabilized for the moment. The fact that they were both hypoxic when the serum was administered only adds to the complications." She recognized the concerned voice of the Seaview's CMO, Dr. Jameson.
"How long do they have before the situation becomes critical?" That was the Admiral's voice, but he seemed to be addressing someone other than Dr. Jameson.
Carrick's dour tones shocked her with his observations, "Our lab studies on white rats indicated anywhere from 72 to 96 hours before the build‑up of toxic metabolites resulted in liver or kidney failure."
Dr. Jameson's voice held a disapproving edge, "Well, making the jump from white rats to human subjects doesn't take into account that the metabolites that you mentioned are also toxic to the higher brain centers as well. Your humans are going to be showing signs of nerve tremors, hallucinations, delusions and other brain damage even before you get to the point of total organ shutdown. Probably in 24 hours or less."
Nelson's voice had a strained note, "You mentioned some success with an artificially synthesized enzyme that retarded the tissue breakdown."
"The process is painstakingly slow, Nelson. By the time I had enough synthesized to save one of your people, the other two would be in irreversible comas. No, their only chance of survival is to find an older whale with enough of the natural enzyme stored in its liver to break down the build‑up of the toxic products and pray that it works as well in humans as it does in whales." Carrick's voice was adamant.
Diane swung her feet to the floor and stood up swaying, as she pushed the privacy screen aside. "You did this deliberately, didn't you? So I'd have to approve the slaughter of another whale just to save my own life. Well, you're wrong," she wheezed. "I'd rather die than see any whales killed for my sake."
As Dr. Jameson tried to make her lie back down, Nelson answered tiredly. "It wasn't Dr. Carrick's fault, Miss McClellan, it was my choice. I couldn't just stand by and do nothing while you and Kowalski asphyxiated. The risk seemed valid and with any luck, we won't have to kill any more whales. The one that we tagged should be sufficient."
"And if it's not?" Diane demanded bleakly.
"It's not just your life at stake, Miss McClellan, but Kowalski's and the Captain's as well," he answered with a grim determination. "And I don't intend to see them die if it's in my power to save them."
She glanced quickly around
"I won't let them die." was the Admiral's angry response.
She pulled angrily away from Dr. Jameson's support, "I'm coming up to the control room,” she vowed. "At least if another whale has to die for our sakes, I want a recording of his songs so something of value might come out of this."
Jameson threw up his hands in despair, "Why not? The Captain and Kowalski are back on duty despite their condition. I ought to just set up my office there and be done with it."
Nelson glared at Diane, but this time she refused to back down and so with Carrick following along as well, he went forward.
In the control room, Kowalski was on sonar trying to locate the pod of whales that Dr. Carrick had been studying before the Seaview had gone to rescue the flying sub. Tensions were running high and Sharkey was muttering to himself as he prowled from one station to another, making sure that everything was running at optimum efficiency.
"I don't see what the problem is. Kowalski and the Skipper need some kind of chemical from a whale's liver. That's fine. We just find the nearest whale and blast it. Boom! The problem's solved."
Overhearing the Chief's rather simplistic solution, Carrick couldn't help but explain as he looked up from where he'd stationed himself at the sonar screen, trying to help identify the correct whales. "It's not quite that simple, Chief. The whales don't even begin producing the enzyme until they're fully mature at approximately ten years of age. Then it accumulates slowly as they grow older. Unfortunately, with pollution, groundings, and the over-hunting of whale populations, the number of whales to survive past that tenth year is vanishingly small. We could scour the whole Pacific and not find another group with a male of the proper age."
"And the three of them don't have the time for us to spend chasing the wrong whales down," Sharkey's gaze drifted between the two men.
Crane wiped a fine sweat off his flushed features and gave the Chief a game smile, "It's not that bad, Sharkey. We'll be back where we left the marker buoy in less than fifteen minutes. That whale should have enough enzyme to solve all our problems and leave some for Dr. Carrick's research as well."
But when they reached the marker buoy, the whale's body was gone!
"What could have happened to it?" Carrick demanded peevishly. "If it was sharks, you'd think that at least the skeleton would remain or some sign of a feeding frenzy."
"I don't know, Dr. Carrick" Nelson answered in tired voice. "In my years of oceanographic research, I've learned that there's more that I don't know about the sea than I do know. There's no use crying over lost whales. We simply have to find another one."
Diane's expression was remote as she sat at her monitoring station, apparently listening to the hydrophones but her eyes fixed on Kowalski where he bent over his screen trying to find some party of migrating whales in the vast ocean.
"Ten whales, very faint echo about a mile ahead 14 degrees starboard."
Lee checked his charts then ordered, "Helm, come to a new heading, 38 degrees relative. Ahead one third. We don't want to spook them."
The great sub moved through the waters as quietly and carefully as any inanimate object could and soon they had overtaken the slow‑moving herd of whales. As soon as their cameras picked up the animals, the pictures were relayed back to the control room to everyone's obvious disappointment. The group that they were following consisted of females and calves, all of them much too young to be producing the necessary enzyme.
Nelson's lips thinned in frustration as he scanned the group of gracefully swimming behemoths and Carrick reported curtly. "No males at all."
Diane's expression was filled with relief until she turned back to her hydrophones and heard the mournful, echoing notes that she knew so well. It was Hero and judging by the resonance curve on her instruments, he wasn't that far away! She bit her lip in frustration. If she heard him, Ski must have spotted him on sonar as well and it would only be a matter of time until his location and direction was identified.
Carrick started to return to his vigil by the sonar screen but instead joined Diane where she was monitoring Hero's underwater harmonies. She sat there mutely, waiting for Ski to identify the whale's heading and inform the Captain, but instead he shook his head when asked if he had any readings on the screen.
"All right," Crane said pragmatically. "We'll start a spiral search pattern out from this position. Heading 162 relative."
With relieved amazement, Diane noted that their new heading would take them in the opposite direction from Hero's present course and breathed a small sigh of relief. Surely they'd find another whale to harvest without silencing the one song that Dr. Holden wanted to hear more than all the rest. She activated her equipment even as they moved away from Hero's position hoping to record the rest of his vocalizations, despite the increasing distance separating them.
As she was doing that, Dr. Carrick studied her intently and when she removed her earphones, he observed with surprising gentleness. "This work means a great deal to you, doesn't it?"
"It means a great deal to Dr. Holden," she answered. "I've only been a part of his project for a little more than a year."
"But you seem so obsessed, so committed to his whales. To the point that you'd throw away your own life?" He was genuinely curious.
Diane felt the tears welling in her eyes because she really didn't want to die. "I . . . I'm not that brave. But the whale songs are so amazing, expressing beauty and wonder with a kind of ethereal quality that takes them beyond mere communication. Dr. Holden's work has to succeed. If it doesn't . . ." Her voice trailed off as she looked into Dr. Carrick's kind grey eyes and saw a similar commitment and a growing sympathy.
"I don't want to destroy his work, Miss McClellan and it wasn't my idea to use you for a guinea pig. But your lives were at stake and if there is one thing that I know about Harriman Nelson, it is that he does not surrender anyone to the Grim Reaper without making a battle of it."
Diane nodded reluctantly, "I should be grateful I suppose. . ." Somewhat ill‑at‑ease, she turned aside replacing her earphones, reluctant to credit Dr. Carrick with kindness, compassion or any other human feelings. To her shock, instead of continuing to recede, Hero's song was moving closer, getting louder and louder as though he was following them even as they steered away from his previous course.
Putting her earphones down, she stepped over to Kowalski's station to see what he had picked up on sonar. He glanced over in chagrin, "I looked for another group, Diane, but he put about and started trailing us as soon as we began the search grid. If I didn't know better, I'd say he wanted us to find him."
"That's impossible," Diane disagreed, then pointed to his screen. "Look, there's another reading. It's big enough to have some of the older males that Dr. Carrick needs!"
Carrick came over to the sonar screen while Ski fine-tuned the signal, trying to see how many whales were ahead of them. He informed the Captain, "Sir, I have another reading that seems to be a somewhat smaller group, maybe six whales maximum. But there's no way of telling if it has any of the older males that we need."
Lee turned a guardedly optimistic look to the Admiral, "The only way to find out is to get in visual range. Bring her to this heading, Mr. Morton." Lee gestured to Ski's screen. "Ahead two‑thirds."
Long tense minutes passed as the Seaview trailed the leisurely swimming group until they were within scanning distance of the underwater cameras. In chagrin, the Admiral noted the small bodies of two calves which meant that at least two of the group were females. Another futile pursuit! He started to give the order to break off and resume their search pattern when he saw Carrick point to the far edge of the screen. "Look, off in secondary escort position . . .it's hard to tell from this distance. But he's big enough to be a male and possibly old enough to have the enzymes we need."
"How old?" Nelson demanded bleakly.
"It's hard to say without making a tissue scraping" Carrick hedged.
"HOW old?" Nelson refused to be put off.
"Maybe twenty," Carrick hazarded. "Twenty‑five at the most. His flukes are relatively unscarred."
"He's not one of the post‑mature males that you intended to harvest. He's still capable of breeding, of making a genetic contribution to the survival of his species." Nelson's voice was ragged with emotion and he did not notice the apprehensive expression on Diane's face as she continued listening to her earphones, her hands clenched and white with strain.
Carrick turned with a deliberate effort to confront Nelson, "Dammit, Harry. You cannot have it both ways. You need this whale to save your people. You heard what your own doctor said about possible neurological damage. And if we keep searching, what will you do if the next whale we find is Holden's, the one that he's so determined to record for his language studies. What will you do then?"
"You're right, Robert," the Admiral admitted angrily. "It just doesn't make what I have to do that much easier." He nodded to Crane. "Bring us as close to the male as possible before you ready the laser. We want to make absolutely sure that we kill him with the first shot."
He turned toward Diane, expecting an outraged protest at this blatant violation of the conditions that they were supposed to adhere to in harvesting a whale but her attention was elsewhere. Listening and recording something on her hydrophones that had her almost mesmerized. Returning his attention to the grim business of readying the Seaview's laser, he was startled to find a much older whale swimming slowly but determinedly between the Seaview and the whale they were targeting.
He looked from the screen to Carrick. "Robert . . .why not use this one instead?"
Carrick gestured to Diane, whose face was stricken as tears welled up in her eyes, "It's Hero, Admiral. The whale that Dr. Holden has been recording longer than any other. The song that Diane hopes can give him the information he needs to make his breakthrough."
Nelson, who rarely swore, muttered an imprecation under his breath, denouncing the gods of fate who had a rather sadistic sense of humor. He ordered Crane, "Try to keep him out of the target area, Lee. We are still going to try for the younger whale."
"Five degrees to port, Helm" Lee gritted out, hanging on to the laser targeting module in the nose.
The Seaview shifted a fraction but the whale drifted as well, still maintaining his position between their laser and the younger whale.
Chip glared out the forward ports in frustration, muttering, "If I didn't know better, I'd swear he's deliberately trying to shield that other whale."
"Self‑sacrifice, Chip?" Nelson's craggy brows expressed skepticism even as he turned toward Diane. "I doubt even Miss McClellan would credit that emotion to her whales."
Diane looked out the nose of the Seaview as though seeing a reality that did not fit even her wildest speculations about whale intelligence. Then hardly realizing what she was doing, she turned up the gain on the hydrophones so the entire control room was filled with the eerie beautiful harmonies of the humpback's song. Whether a love song or communion with the depths or the intellectual expression of an alien mind, it had a mournful dirge-like sound. Yet through it all there was an oddly triumphant note as well.
"Hero's song," Nelson whispered in amazement.
"Elegy for a dying species," Diane mourned.
"Or a chorus of hope?" Dr. Carrick countered. "You have your recording, Miss McClellan. It should be enough for Dr. Holden, along with your observational data about whale behavior. But even if he doesn't make the language breakthrough, he and Hero have left a valuable legacy for their heirs. Let Hero's final gift be life for you and his fellow whales."
Diane nodded a reluctant agreement. As the whale's song echoed throughout the boat in a final melodic diminuendo, the crew was momentarily frozen at their stations by its poignant ending. Then the control room was filled with silence, even the machines were still.
Nelson's voice rasped across everyone's nerves like sandpaper, ""Do you have him in your sights, Lee?"
"Yes sir," was the Captain's strained reply.
The brilliance of the killing beam pierced the blue‑green depths and Hero's body settled gracelessly to the bottom, its empowering spirit fled like the notes of his song. There was a stunned awkward silence that Dr. Carrick broke with his usual brusqueness. "I'm going to the missile room to make sure the divers know where to cut in order not to damage his liver or lose the enzyme samples.
"I'll join you in a
moment," Nelson's voice was strangely thick, as though choking back some
emotion. He placed his hand gently on
Lee's shoulder. "The three of you should get down to
Lee just nodded, his and Ski's gazes drawn to the young woman silhouetted against the Seaview's forward ports. Her face was buried in her hands; her grief silent as Hero's song echoed outward, throughout the ocean depths and in the voices of every whale who heard its triumphant cry.
* * *
Some twenty‑four hours later in the nose of the ship, Crane was back on the bridge, staring pensively out the great viewports into the depths that he had knew so well. Or at least as well as any air‑breathing creature can know that strange environment.
He looked up as Diane joined him, the signs of strain from the experimental serum and its counteragent still evident on her youthful features.
"So, what did Dr. Holden say after you transmitted the tapes of Hero's final song to him this morning?" Crane's expression was genuinely curious.
Diane gave him a brief smile, "Well, he's still weak and confined to his hospital bed but he wants me to sneak his modem and laptop in when I come to visit, because he says that there are new elements in this song that he just can't wait to analyze."
"What did he say when Dr. Carrick came on the line and commended your persistence and thoroughness."
She tried to stifle the giggles that threatened to overwhelm her. "Well, he called Dr. Carrick `Old Sourpuss' to his face and said that if I can communicate with a hard‑headed fossil like him, then I should hurry home and help him with translating the whale tapes because obviously I have a `flair' for communication." She paused thoughtfully, "But Dr. Carrick said one thing to Dr. Holden that surprised me. He said, `Lin, she taught me that we are going to have to accept the whales on their own terms if we're going to survive in the depths someday. We mustn't treat them as sheep or cattle but instead as equals, no matter how different.'"
"That sounds like a good recipe for survival on land as well as undersea," the Admiral interjected gruffly as he came forward. He nodded over to where Ski was back on sonar and then looked to Lee and Diane as well. "It's good to see all of you completely recovered from your whale blood injections.
Lee's grin flashed brightly, "Not even a residual craving for krill, Admiral."
Diane got a brief thoughtful expression on her face, "Oh, I wouldn't object to shrimp occasionally, although I prefer mine dipped in batter and deep‑fried."
The Admiral chuckled as he retorted, "I prefer steak myself.
But before their menu preferences could continue, Chief Sharkey came forward bringing several mugs of coffee.
"Just thought you could use some coffee, sirs, ma'am," the Chief beamed eagerly, glad to see things back on an even keel again. "I fixed yours just the way you like it, sir. Black, with two spoons of sugar."
Lee stared at the coffee for a moment, then replied dead‑pan, "Actually, Chief, I'd prefer it with two teaspoons of krill instead."
"Krill...sir?" Sharkey's expression was stricken.
Going along with the joke, Diane remarked, "Why yes, Chief, I noted a craving for the little crustaceans myself." The Admiral struggled hard to keep a straight face as he watched the momentarily befuddled petty officer, then exploded in laughter.
"He's just pulling your leg, Francis."
"Oh." The craggy faced chief's expression momentarily cleared then clouded up again. "I can have the galley lay in a supply..."
"That won't be necessary, Chief," Lee reassured him with a laugh. "Hopefully no one else will be developing whale‑like appetites anytime soon."
"Unless you count Riley. That kid could eat his way around the world and still have room for dessert," Sharkey shook his head in amazement.
"Then we better get back to
"Aye, Aye, Admiral" Lee answered eagerly. "Mr. Morton take us home."