A Thousand Starry Eyes by Linda Reiche
The solitary figure rested his back against the curved surface, head lifted towards the star filled sky. A barely visible wreath of smoke sent tendrils out into the darkness.
Chief Curly Jones rounded the front of the flatbed truck; checking the diving bell was the last item on his list. A whiff of cigarette smoke made him pause.
“Admiral? Is that you, sir?”
“Hello, Chief. Final rounds?”
“Yes, sir. Crew’s in their billets. Doc’s still at the hospital. Reporters are gone.”
Nelson smiled. “About time! Amazing how many different ways they can ask the same questions, isn’t it?”
“You said it, Admiral,” snorted Curly.
“BOQ, except the Skipper and Mr. Morton, sir.”
“Ah, and where would they be?”
“Last I saw, they were walking the beach.”
Nelson nodded in understanding. The last 24 hours had been hell, to say the least. Seaview’s sinking; the rescue and the horde of reporters that had descended on them had put the thoughts of mortality front and centre in everyone’s mind. The endless rolling of the surf would soothe the anxiety and frayed nerves better than any sedative the Doc could subscribe.
The Admiral drew out his cigarette package, offering one to Curly. “Come on up, Curly, have a seat.”
“Thank-you, sir.” Curly swung his bulky body with ease up onto the flatbed.
They sat in a comfortable silence, the light wind swirling the cigarette smoke around their heads before drawing it out across the dock. They each loved serving on submarines, the confined space a familiar and accepted companion. Mortality was also a companion, but one that was normally tucked away in the back corner of their minds.
They had had to face it today.
“They say that space is the final frontier,” said the Admiral quietly. “There are millions upon millions of stars and planets, but in between it is mostly empty. A ship could travel for light years without encountering a black hole, or a comet, or remnants of a star gone nova. The light we are seeing now is millennia old, a glimpse of a very distant past.
“We’ve barely started exploring our inner frontier, the sea. It is not as vast as space, but it has just as many mysteries. Sea currents shift their directions, strengthen and weaken, become warmer or colder. Each change effects the surrounding water and the atmosphere. There is an endless array of sea life covering every layer, from the air-breathing mammals at the surface to the creatures that live in the cold, dark, high-pressure depths. We visit it, study it and hope to someday understand it.
“It is breath taking in its complexity, a siren song for the scientist. But, the cold and pressure of the ocean depths can kill, just as quickly as the cold and lack of pressure can kill in space.” The Admiral held his breath for a moment, and then released it in a sigh. “We’re lucky that the ocean can sometimes be forgiving, allowing us the chance to survive and learn from our mistakes.“
“Amen,” agreed Curly.
Nelson smiled. “It also doesn’t hurt to have two stubborn people like yourself and Chip defy the odds to tip the scales in favour of survival.”
Curly ducked his head. “Aw, Admiral, without you and the Seaview, there is no Nelson Institute of Marine Research. We couldn’t just sit there waiting for you guys to meet your maker. We had to do something.”
“And something was definitely some thing. It is most appreciated, Chief.”
The darkness hid the Chief’s embarrassed blush. “Thank-you, sir.”
The Admiral clapped him on his shoulder. “Now, I think it’s time for us to turn in, Chief. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. I think Seaview wants to spend as little extra time at the bottom as possible.”
“Aye, sir.” Curly looked up at the stars. “She’s not a space ship, but I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t object to seeing the stars, again.”