(Disclaimer: I wrote this for fun, and have made no profit from Irwin Allen’s original scenario or characters)
Men At Work
By Rita Wilcoxon
"The last time I was down here," Chip Morton said reluctantly, edging along the narrow, pipe-lined tunnel, "was a total disaster. It's so badly designed. There's not an inch of space to work in."
Lee Crane took a deep breath and squeezed his broad shoulders in behind him. "It certainly is tight," he admitted, "but then space is at a premium, so I wouldn't expect a ballroom. Where's the pump ?"
"Along here… a bit further." Chip paused to get his breath. "Lee, I don't know that we should be doing this ourselves. We should get help."
"We don't need help." Lee Crane sounded as though he were trying to persuade himself. "We know exactly what we're doing. Now, how much time do we have ?"
Chip shone the torch at his watch. "Not enough," he responded grimly.
"Well, that's an optimistic start." Lee dragged the tool bag after him as Chip began to edge along the vent again. It was hot and stuffy, and smelled of oil, but at least it was dry until they neared the farthest end of the tunnel. There they found a pool forming under the largest of the pipes, and they could hear the faint drip of water coming from somewhere underneath it.
"This is it," Chip commented tensely, turning over onto his back and shining the torch up at the joint between the pipe and the large water pump. A fine mist was issuing from the joint and he had to shield his eyes to see properly. "She's cracked," he announced soberly. "If the weld gives, we've had it."
Lee Crane nodded slowly. "How long have we got ?" he asked again, in a tone which indicated that he wanted an answer this time and not rhetoric.
Chip glanced at his watch again. "Twelve and a half minutes," he replied. "We'll never do it in time."
"We have to," Lee insisted. "Can we reduce the pressure anywhere else ?"
"No, the pump is off." Chip wiped a dirty hand over his eyes. "Lee if the thing blows it could be real nasty," he said slowly. "I can handle this myself. It doesn't need the two of us."
"I say the less time we spend arguing and the more we spend doing the job, the less likely we are to be washed away in the flood of all time," Lee assured him. "Now are you going to weld the joint, or am I ?"
"I'll do it." Chip offered. "I'm closer, and we can hardly trade places down here."
Lee dug out a visor and handed it to him. Then Chip held the torch while he drew out the acetylene welding equipment and set it up on a dry patch of tunnel behind him.
"The crack seems to have got wider since we arrived," Chip commented nervously, flashing the light up at the pipe, "and I seem to have got wetter !"
"Will it be too wet to weld, d'you think ?" Lee asked.
"I don't know." Chip took the welding gun from him and pulled the guard down to shield his eyes. "I'll do my best."
The blue glow of the welding gun cut into the damp darkness of the tunnel and lit up the walls, showing them all too clearly how difficult it would be to get out of the tiny space in an emergency. They tried not to think about it. When there was a job to do they were used to getting on with the work and pushing the thought of danger to the backs of their minds.After five minutes it became obvious that the welding was having no effect. On the contrary, the crack seemed now to be getting larger by the minute.
Disgusted, Chip turned off the equipment and lifted his visor. "It's no use," he said. "I'm getting nowhere fast. We're going to have to tackle this some other way."
Lee shone the flashlight over the pipes and the large pump at the end of the tunnel. "We have to reduce the pressure," he said thoughtfully. "Are you sure there aren't any valves to reduce the inflow on the other side of the pump?"
Chip thought about it. There had been repairs down here in the early days, when the pump was first installed, but he had not been responsible for that particular work, and hadn't a clue how it was carried out. "Maybe there is one, " he said hopefully, and edged a little further along the tunnel into the black darkness. An unexpected jet of water from the widening crack shot out and hit him from behind, and he started violently, hitting his head on the protruding steel of the pump.
Manfully he kept his temper and reined the urge to blaspheme. "Pass me the light," he said shortly.
As Lee did so, the jet of water seemed to increase in volume. "She's going to go any minute," Lee commented, trying to keep his voice level.
"And we're nearly out of time, blast it !" Chip responded, checking his watch. "There's no valve on the other side… No, wait… " he struggled to get into position to shine the torch under the pump. "Hey, look, there's a valve down here," he announced triumphantly. "Here, Lee, hold this." Passing back the flashlight, he rolled over onto his back and took hold of the valve in both hands. It was stiff, and for a long moment it seemed as though it was stuck fast. Then slowly, slowly it began to turn.
What Chip Morton did not realise at this juncture was that his valve had a left-hand thread, and he was turning it the wrong way, not shutting off the water pressure, but increasing it.
Instantly the crack in the damaged pipe ruptured.
A fountain of cold water gushed from the hole and hit the far side of the tunnel with a force which would have knocked a man down. Without waiting to agree on the evacuation, both men began to struggle towards the distant, single exit, but the tunnel was flooding and the steel walls were slippery and difficult to negotiate, especially backwards and on their knees.
The tunnel began to fill.
To a seasoned submariner there is no sound more menacing than the rush of escaping water, and they had to fight panic as they worked their way with agonising slowness to the daylight at the exit. Realising that Chip was not getting out as quickly as he was, Lee took hold of his collar and dragged him through the hatch.
There was already water pouring into the well beyond, so they wasted no time climbing the steel ladder into the garage above.
Arms folded to express her opinion of them, Claire Morton met them as they emerged, soaked and despondent, from the watery depths.
"It's all right," she informed them coolly, in her quiet English accent. "I've opened the sluice to drain the pool, so Noah's flood will abate in a few minutes. It's what you should have done in the first place, isn't it ?"
Chip and Lee looked at one another sheepishly. "I guess it would have made the job easier," Chip admitted.
"Correction my dear," Claire told him. "It would have made the job possible." She stood back to look them over. "It's a good thing your crew can't see you now. Do you know the ball game has started ?"
Chip looked down at his watch. "It kindof went from our minds," he said despondently.
She gave them both a patient smile - the kind mothers have for their grubby little boys - and steered them towards the door to the house. "Well," she concluded, "you were brave to try, anyway. Go and get dry and watch your game. I'll call in someone who knows what he’s doing."
She watched them go with a mixture of affection and vexation. Why on earth did those two have to be so stubborn ? And so useless in dealing with anything that didn't have ballast-tanks?
She shook her head, reaching for the mop to clear up the mess on the garage floor. For the sake of the Nelson Institute, it was a good thing they had more talent for sub driving than for pool maintenance.