Saturday, May 25, 2019
Fluke, or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings Chapter 10~11
CHAPTER TENSafety system Demodocus drifted silently down separate(prenominal) the tail of the breath-h sr., moreoer the quiet hissing of his own breath in his ears. Breath-holders were c totallyed such because they hung there in the pissing for up to forty minutes, heads down like a singer, b bely holding their breath. Not swimming or sing or doing much of anything else. Just bring uping there, some quantifys three or iv of them, tails oxygenateing divulge like the points of a compass. As if some whizz had however dropped a handful of sleeping whales and forgotten to pick them up. Except they werent sleeping. Whales didnt really sleep, as distantaway as they knew. intumesce, the theory was that they slept with however half of their brain at a time, age the some other half excessivelyk care of non drowning. For an air- come ab egressr, sleeping in the water and not drowning is a big problem. (Go ahead, try it. Well wait.)Falling asleep would be so easy with the r ebreather, Clay mentation. It was very quiet, which was why Clay was using it. alternatively of using a tankful of air that was exhaled through a regulator into the water as bubbles, the rebreather sent the steeprs exhalation prickle through a scrub brush that took out the carbon dioxide, erstwhile(prenominal) some sensors and a tank that added some oxygen, and then back to the diver to be rebreathed. No bubbles, which do the rebreather perfect for examine whales (and for sneaking up on enemy ships, which is why the navy had developed it in the first place). Humpbacks apply bubble blowing as a means of communication, specially the males, who threatened one another with bubble displays. Consequently it was nearly impossible to rile close to a whale with scuba gear, especially a noneffervescent animal like a singer or a breath-holder. By blowing bubbles the diver was babbling away in whalespeak, without the slightest idea of what he was saying. In the past Clay had dropped on breath-holders with scuba gear, only to watch the animals swim off to begin with he got within fifty feet of them. He imagined the whales saying, Hey, its the skinny, retarded kid gabble of the town nonsense again. Lets secure out of here. exactly this season theyd gotten the rebreather, and Clay was getting his first ever decent footage of a breath-holder. As he drifted by the tail, he checked his gauges, looked up to plan Amy snorkeling at the surface, silhouetted in a sunbeam, a small tank strapped on her back ready to come to his return should something go wrong. The one big drawback to the rebreather (rather than a fairly simple hose on a tank as in a scuba setup) was that it was a very complex machine, and, should it break, there was a good chance it would kill the diver. (Clays experience had taught him that the one thing you could depend on was that something would break.)Around him, except for the whale, was a field of clear blue below, nothing but blue. Even with great visibility he couldnt bump into the bottom, some tail fin speed of light feet down.Just past the tail he was at a hundred feet. The navy had tested the rebreather to more than a thousand feet (and since he could theoretically stay down for 16 hours if he consumeed to, decompression wasnt a problem), but Clay was still wary of termination too deep. The rebreather wasnt set to mix gases for a deep dive, so there was still the danger of nitrogen narcosis a sort of intoxication caused by pressurized nitrogen in the bloodstream. Clay had been narced a couple of times, once while under arctic ice filming beluga whales, and if he hadnt been tethered to the opening in the ice with a nylon line, he would accept drowned.Just a few more feet and hed be able to sex the breath-holder, something that they hadnt done more than a few times forward, and then it was by crossbow and DNA. The school principal so far was, are breath-holders all male like singers, and if so, does the b reath-holding behavior have something to do with the singing behavior? Clay and Quinn had first come together over the question of sexing singers, some seventeen years in the lead, when DNA testing was so rare as to be nearly nonexistent. Can you get under the tail? Nate had asked. land photos of the genitals?Kinky, Clay had said. Sure, Ill give it a try.Of course, except for a few occasions when he was able to hold his breath long enough to get under an animal, about a third of the time, Clay had failed at producing whale porn. Now, with this rebreatherAs he drifted below the tail, so close instantly that even the fisheye lens could take in only a third of the flukes, Clay noticed some unusual markings on the tail. He looked up from the display just as the whale began to move, but it was too late. The whale twitched, and the massive tail came down on Clays head, driving him some twenty feet deeper in an instant. The wash from the flukes tumbled him half-witted three times befo re he settled in a slow drift to the bottom, unconscious.As he watched the pseudo-Hawaiian try to kick down to the singing whale for the eighth time, Nathan Quinn conceit, This is a rite of passage. Similar things were done to me when I was a grad student. Didnt Dr. Ryder send me out to get close-up blowhole pictures of a white-haired whale who had a hideous head cold? Wasnt I hit by a basketball-size gob of whale snot nearly every time the whale surfaced? And wasnt I, ultimately, grateful for the opportunity to get out in the field and do some real look for? Of course I was. Therefore, I am being neither cruel nor unprofessional by sending this young man down again and again to perform a hand business concern on the singer.The radio chirped, signaling a call from the Always Confused. Nate keyed the mike button on the mobile phone/ devil-way radio they used to communicate between the two sauceboats. Go ahead, Clay.Nate, its Clair. Clay went down about fifteen minutes past, but Amy just dove subsequently him with the rescue tank. I dont get it on what to do. Theyre too deep. I sack upt see them. The whale took off, and I cant see them.Where are you, Clair?Straight out, about two miles off the dump.Nate grabbed the binoculars and scanned the island, found the dump, looked out from there. He could make up out two or three boats in the area. Six or eight minutes away at full throttle. documentation looking, Clair. Get ready to drop a look tank if you have one set up, in case they need to decompress. Ill be there as soon as I get the kid out of the water.Whats he doing in the water?Just a bad decision on my part. bread and butter me apprised, Clair. Try to follow Amys bubbles if you can find them. Youll want to be as close to them as you can when they come up.Nate started the engine just as Kona stony-broke the surface, spitting out the snorkel and taking in a great gasp of air. Kona shook his head, signifying that he hadnt accomplished the mission. Too deep, gaffer.Come, come, come. To the side. Nate waved him to the boat. Quinn brought the boat broadside to Kona, then reached over with both hands. Come on. Kona took his hands, and Quinn jerked the surfer over the gunwale. Kona landed in a heap in the bottom of the boat.Boss Hang on, Clays in trouble.But, boss Quinn buried the throttle, yanked the boat around, and cringed at the bunny-in-a-blender screech as the hydrophone cord jailed around the prop, sheared the prop pin, and chopped itself into a whole package of expensive, rainproof licorice sticks.Fuck Nate snatched off his baseball cap and whipped it onto the console.The hydrophone sank peacefully to the bottom, bopping the singer on the back as it went. Nate killed the engine and grabbed the radio. Clair, are they up yet? Im not outlet to be able to get there.Amy felt as if someone were driving huge ice picks into her eardrums. She pinched her nostrils closed and blew to equalize the pressure, even as she kicked to go deeper, but she was moving too fast to get equalized.She was down fifty feet now. Clay was a hundred feet below her, the pressure would triple before she got there. She felt as if she were swimming through thick, blue honey. Shed seen the whale tail hit Clay and toss him back, but the good news was that she hadnt seen a asperse of bubbles come up. There was a chance that the regulator had stayed in Clays mouth and he was still breathing. Of course, it could also mean that he was dead or that his cervix uteri had snapped and he was paralyzed. Whatever his condition, he certainly wasnt moving voluntarily, just sinking slowly, relentlessly toward the bottom.Amy fought the pressure, the resistance of the water, and did math problems as she kicked deeper. The rescue tank held only a thousand pounds of air, a third of the capacity of a normal tank. She guessed that shed be at around a hundred and seventy-five to two hundred feet before she caught Clay. That would give her just enoug h air to get him to the surface without s brightenping to decompress. Even if Clay was unhurt, there was a good chance he was going to get decompression sickness, the bends, and if he lived through that, hed spend three or four days in the hyperbaric decompression chamber in Honolulu.Ah, the big oaf is probably dead anyway, she thought, trying to cheer herself up.Although Clay Demodocus had lived a life spiced with adventures, he was not an adventurer. Like Nate, he did not seek danger, risk, or fulfillment by testing his mettle against nature. He sought calm weather, gentle seas, comfortable accommodations, kind and loyal people, and safety, and it was only for the work that he compromised any of those goals. The in the end to go, the least compromised, was safety. The loss of his father, a hard-helmet sponge diver, had taught him that. The old man was just touching bottom at eight hundred feet when a drunken ditch hand dragged his ass across the engine start button, causing th e prop to cut his fathers air line. The pressure immediately drove Papa Demodocuss entire ashes into the bronze helmet, leaving only his weighted shoes poseing, and it was in his great helmet that he was lowered into the grave. Little Clay (Cleandros in those days in Greece) was only five at the time, and that last vision of his father haunted him for years. He never did see a Marvin the Martian cartoon that great goofy helmet trunk riding cartoon shoes when he did not have to fight a tear and sniffle for Papa.As Clay drifted down into the briny blue, he saw a bright light and a dark shape waiting there on the other side. Out of the light came a suddenly but familiar figure. The face was still dark, but Clay knew the voice, even later so many years. Welcome, Earth Being, said the vacuum-packed Greek.Papa, said Clay.Clair dragged the heavy tank out of the Always Confuseds bait well and tried to attach the regulator in order to hang it off a line for Amy and Clay to breathe from so they could decompress before coming up. Clay had shown her how to do this a dozen times, but she had never paid attention. It was his job to position the technothingies together. She didnt need to know this stuff. It wasnt as if she was ever going to go diving without him. Shed permit him drone on about safety this and life-threatening that while she applied her attention to set on sunscreen or braiding her hair so it wouldnt tangle in the equipment. Now she was blinking back tears and cursing herself for not having listened. When she thought she finally might have the regulator screwed on correctly, she grabbed it and dragged the tank to the side of the boat. The regulator came off in her hands.Goddamn it She snatched the radio and keyed the mike. Nate, I need some help here.Go ahead, sistah, came back. He be in the briny blue, fixing the propeller.Kona, do you know how a regulator goes on a scuba tank?Yah mon, you got to keep the bowl above the water or your herb get nettled and wont take the fire.Clair took a deep breath and fought back a sob. See if you can endow Nate on.Back on the always Baffled, Nate was in the water with snorkel and fins fighting the weight of half a dozen wrenches and sockets hed put in the pockets of his cargo shorts. He almost had the propeller off the boat. With luck he could install the shear pin and be up and running in a couple of minutes. It wasnt a complex procedure. It had just been made a lot trickier when Nate found that he couldnt reach the prop to work on it from indoors the boat. Then, suddenly, his air supply was cut off.He kicked up, spit the snorkel out of his mouth, and found himself staring Kona right in the face. The fake Hawaiian hung over the back of the boat, his thumb covering the end of Nates snorkel, his other hand holding the radio, which hed let slip halfway underwater.Call for you, boss.Nate gasped and snatched the receiver out of Konas hand held it up out of the water. What in the hell are you doing? Thats not waterproof. He tried to sling the water out of the cell phone and keyed the mike. Clair Can you hear me? No sound, not even static.But its yellow, said Kona, as if that explained everything.I can see its yellow. What did Clair say? Is Clay all right?She wanted to know how to put the regulator on the tank. You have to keep the bowl above the water, I tell her.Its not a bong, you idiot. Its a real scuba tank. Help me out.Nate hand up his fins, then stepped on the trim planes on the stern and pulled himself into the boat. At the console he saturnine on the marine radio and started calling. Clair, you listening? This is the Constantly Baffled calling the Always Confused. Clair, are you there?Constantly Baffled, cut in a stern, official-sounding male voice, this is the Department of Conservation and Resources Enforcement. ar you displaying your permit personal identification number?Conservation, we have an emergency situation, a diver in trouble off our other boat. Im dead in the water with a broken shear pin. The other boat is roughly two miles off the dump.Constantly Baffled, why are you not displaying your permit flag?Because I forgot to put the damn thing up. We have two divers in the water, both possibly in trouble, and the woman on board is unable to put together a hang tank. Nate looked around. He could see the whale cops boat about a thousand yards to the west toward Lanai. They were alongside another boat. Nate could see the familiar figure of the Count standing in the bow, looming there like doom in an Easter bonnet. BastardConstantly Baffled, hold there, we are coming to you.Dont come to me. Im not going anywhere. Go to the other boat. Repeat, they have an emergency situation and are not responding to marine radio.The Conservation Enforcement boat lifted up in the water under the power of two 125-horse Honda outboards and beelined toward them.FuckNate dropped the mike and started to shake, a shiver born not of temperature, as it was eighty degrees on the channel, but out of frustration and fear. What had happened to Clay to prompt Amy to go to his rescue? Maybe she had misjudged the situation and gone down needlessly. She didnt have much experience in the water, or at least he didnt think she had. But if things were okay, then why werent they up?Kona, did Clair say whether she could see Amy and Clay?No, boss, she just wanted to know about the regulator. Kona sat down in the bottom of the boat and hung his head between his knees. Im sorry, boss. I thought if it was yellow, it could go in the water. I didnt know. It slipped.Nate wanted to tell the kid it was all right, but he didnt like manufacturing to people. Clay put you on the research permit, right, Kona? You remember signing a paper with a lot of names on it?No, mon. That five-oh coming up now?Yeah, whale cops. And if Clay didnt put you on the permit, youre going to be going home with them.CHAPTER ELEVENThe Mermaidand the MartianThe depth gauge rea d two hundred feet by the time Amy finally snagged the top of Clays rebreather and pulled herself down to where she was looking into his mask. If it werent for a small trail of blood streaming from his scalp, making him look like he was leaking black motor oil into the blue, he might have been sleeping, and she smiled in spite of herself. The sea dog survives. Somehow maybe through years of instruct his reflexes to keep his mouth shut Clay had bitten down on the mouthpiece of the rebreather. He was breathing steadily. She could hear the hiss of the apparatus.She wasnt sure that Clays mouthpiece would stay in all the way to the surface, and, if it came out, the photographer would surely drown, even if she replaced it quickly. Unlike a normal scuba regulator, which was frightfully easy to purge, you couldnt let water get into a rebreather or it could foul the carbon-dioxide scrubbers and render the device useless. And shed need both her hands for the swim up. One to hold on to Clay and one to vent air from his buoyancy-control vest, which would fill with air as they rose, causing them both to shoot to the surface and get the bends. (Amy wasnt habiliment a BC vest or a wet suit she wasnt supposed to have needed them.) After wasting a precious thirty seconds of air to consider the problem, she took off her bikini top and wrapped it around Clays head to secure his mouthpiece. Then she hooked her hand into his buoyancy vest and started the slow kick to the surface.At a hundred and fifty feet she made the mistake of looking up. The surface might have been a mile away. Then she checked her watch and pulled up Clays arm so she could see the dive computer on his wrist. Already the liquid-crystal readout was blinking, telling her that Clay needed two decompression stops on the way up. One at fifty feet and one at twenty, from ten to fifteen minutes each. With his rebreather hed have plenty of air. Amy wasnt wearing a dive computer, but by ball-parking it from her pressure gauge, she figured she had between five and ten minutes of air left. She was about half an hour short.Well, this is going to be awkward, she thought.The whale cops wore light blue uniform shirts with shorts and aviator-style mirrored sunglasses that looked as if theyd been surgically set into their faces. They were both in their thirties and had spent some time in the gym, although one was heavier and had rolled up his short sleeves to let his grapefruit biceps breathe. The other was thin and wiry. They brought their boat alongside Nates and threw over a bumper to keep the boats from rubbing together in the waves.Howzit, bruddahs Kona said. Not now, Nate whispered.I need to see your permit, said the heavier cop.Nate had pulled a fictile envelope out from under the console as they approached. They went through this several times a year. He handed it over to the cop, who took out the document and unfolded it.Ill need both of your IDs.Come on, Nate said, handing over his dr ivers license. You guys know me. Look, weve sheared a pin and theres a diver emergency on our other boat.You want us to call the Coast Guard?No, I want you to take us over there.Thats not what we do, Dr. Quinn, said the thin cop, looking up from the permit. The Coast Guard is equipped for emergencies. We are not.Dis haole, lolo pela, him, said Kona. (Meaning, hes just a dumb white guy.)Dont talk that shit to me, said the heavier cop. You want to speak Hawaiian, Ill talk to you in Hawaiian, but dont talk that pidgin shit to me. Now, wheres your ID?Back at my cabin.Dr. Quinn, your people need to have ID at all times on a research vessel, you know that.Hes new.Whats your name, kid?Pelekekona Keohokalole, said Kona.The cop took off his sunglasses for the first time ever, Nate thought. He looked at Kona.Youre not on the permit.Try Preston Applebaum, said Kona.Are you trying to fuck with me?He is, said Nate. Just take him in, and on the way take me to our other boat.I think well tow bo th of you in and deal with the permit issues when we get into harbor.Suddenly, amid the static of the marine radio on in the background, Clairs voice Nate, are you there? I lost Amys bubbles. I cant see her bubbles. I need help here Nate AnyoneNate looked at the whale cop, who looked at his partner, who looked away.Kona jumped up on the gunwale of the police boat and leaned into the wiry cops face. Can we do the territorial macho power trip after we get our divers out of the water, or do you have to kill two people to show us how big your fucking dicks are?Clair ran around the boat searching for Amys bubble trail, hoping she was just missing it, had lost it in the waves hoping that it was still there. She looked at the hang tank sitting in the floor of the boat, still unattached to the regulator, then ran back to the radios, keying both the marine radio and the cell-phone radio and trying not to scream.SOS here. Please, Im a couple of miles off the dump, I have divers down, in tr ouble.The harbormaster at Lahaina came back, said hed send someone, and then a dive boat who was out at the lava cathedrals at Lanai said they had to get their divers out of the water but could be there in thirty minutes. Then Nathan Quinn came back.Clair, this is Nate. Im on the way. How long ago did the bubbles stop?Clair checked her watch. Four, five minutes ago.Can you see them?No, nothing. Amy went deep, Nate. I watched her go down until she disappeared.Do you have hang tanks in the water?No, I cant get the damn regulators on. Clay always did it.Just tie off the tanks and tie the regulators to the tanks and get them over the side. Amy and Clay can hook them up if they get to them.How deep? I have three tanks.Ninety, sixty, and thirty. Just get them in the water, Clair. Well worry about exact depth when I get there. Just hang them so they can find them. Tie glow sticks on them if you have any. Should be there in five minutes. We can see you.Clair started tying the plastic line a round the necks of the heavy scuba tanks. Every few seconds she scanned the waves for signs of Amys bubbles, but there werent any. Nate had said If they get to them. She blinked away tears and concentrated on her knots. If? Well if Clay made it back when he made it back he could damn sure get himself a safer job. Her man wasnt going to drown hundreds of feet under the ocean, because from now on he was going to be taking pictures of weddings or bar mitzvahs or kids at JC Penneys or some goddamn thing on dry land.Across the channel, near the shore of Kahoolawe, the target island, Libby Quinn had been following the exchange between Clair and Nate over the marine radio. Without being asked, her partner, Margaret, said, We dont have any diving equipment on board. That deep, theres not much we could do.Clays immortal anyway, said Libby, trying to sound more blas than she felt. Hell come up yammering about what great footage he got.Call them, offer our help, the older woman said. If we deny our instincts as caretakers, we deny ourselves as women.Oh, fuck off, Margaret Im calling to offer our help because its the right thing to do.Meanwhile, on the ocean side of Kahoolawe, cliff Hyland was sitting in the makeshift lab belowdecks in the cabin cruiser, headphones on, watching an oscilloscope readout, when one of his grad students came into the cabin and grabbed him by the shoulder.Sounds like Nathan Quinns group is in trouble, said the girl, a sun-baked brunette wearing zinc-oxide war aggravatort on her nose and cheeks and a hat the size of a garbage-can lid.Hyland pulled up the headphones. What? Who? Fire? sinking feeling? What?Theyve lost two divers. That photographer guy Clay and that pale girl.Where are they?About two miles off the dump. Theyre not asking for help. I just thought you should know.Thats a ways. Start reeling in the array. We can be there in a half hour maybe.Just then Captain Tarwater came down the locomote into the cabin. Stay that order, gr ommet. Stay on mission. We have a survey to finish today and a charge to record.Those guys are friends of mine, Hyland said.Ive been monitoring the situation, Dr. Hyland. Our presence has not been requested, and, frankly, there is nothing this vessel could do to help. It sounds like theyve lost some divers. It happens.This isnt war, Tarwater. We dont just lose people.Stay on mission. Any setback in Quinns operation can only benefit this project.You asshole, Hyland said.Back in the channel, the Count stood in the bow of the big Zodiac and watched as the Conservation and Resources Enforcement boat towed away the Constantly Baffled. He turned to his three researchers, who were trying to look busy in back of the boat. Let that be a lesson to you all. The key to good science is making sure all the paperwork is in order. Now you can see why Im such a stickler for you people having your IDs with you every morning.Yeah, in case some other researcher rats us out to the Conservation and Re sources cops, one woman said.Science is a competitive sport, Ms. Wextler. If youre not willing to compete, youre welcome to take your undergrad degree and go guard seasick tourists on a whale-watching boat. Nathan Quinn has attacked the credibility of this organization in the past. Its only fair play that I point out when he is not workings within the rules of the sanctuary.The ocean breeze carried the junior researchers under-the-breath whispers of asshole away from the ears of Gilbert Box, over the channel to wash against the cliffs of Molokai.Nate wrapped his arms around Clair and held her as she sobbed. As the downtime passed the first half hour, Nate felt a ball of fear, dread, and nausea forming in his own stomach. Only by trying to stay busy looking for signs of Clay and Amy was he able to keep from being ill. When Amys downtime passed forty-five minutes, Clair started to sob. Clay might have been able to stay down that long with the re-breather, but with only the niggling rescue tank, there was no way Amy could still be breathing. Two divemasters from a nearby tour boat had already used up a full tank each searching. The problem was, in blue water it was a three-dimensional search. Rescue searches were usually done on the bottom, but not when it was six hundred feet down. With the currents in the channel well, the search was little more than a gesture anyway.Being a scientist, Nate liked true things, so after an hour he stopped telling Clair that everything was going to be all right. He didnt believe it, and grief was already descending on him like a flight of black arrows. In the past, when he had experienced loss or trauma or heartbreak, some survival mechanism had kicked in and allowed him to function for months before hed actually begin feeling the pain, but this time it was immediate and deep and devastating. His best friend was dead. The woman that he Well, he wasnt exactly sure what hed felt about Amy, but even when he looked past the sexu ality, the differences in their ages and positions, he liked her. He liked her a lot, and hed become used to her presence after only a few weeks.One of the divers came up near the boat and spit out his regulator. Theres nowhere to look. Its just blue to fucking infinity.Yeah, Nate said. I know.Clay saw blue-green breasts gently bobbing before his face and was convinced that he had, indeed, drowned. He felt himself being pulled upward and so closed his eye and surrendered.No, no, no, son, said Papa. Youre not in heaven. The tits are not blue in heaven. You are still alive.Papas face was very much smashed against the glass of his helmet, wearing the sort of expression he might have had if hed run full speed into a bulletproof window and someone had snapped a picture at maximum mash, yet Clay could see that his eyes were smiling.My little Cleandros, you know it is not time for you to join me?Clay nodded.And when it comes time for you to join me, it should be because you are old and tir ed and ready to go, not because the sea is wanting to crush you.Clay nodded again, then opened his eyes. This time there was a stabbing pain in his head, but he squinted through it to see Amys face through her dive mask. She held his regulator in his mouth and was gripping the back of his head to make him look at her. When she was sure that he was conscious and knew where he was, she gave him the okay signal and waited until he returned it. Amy then let go of Clays regulator, and they swam slowly upward, to surface four hundred yards from where theyd first submerged.Clay immediately looked around for the boat and found nothing where he expected it, the closest vessels being a group of boats too far away to be the Always Confused. He checked his dive computer. Hed been down for an hour and fifteen minutes. That couldnt be right.Thats them, Amy said. She looked down into the water. Oops. Let me get my top off of your face.Okay, Clay mumbled into the rebreather.Kona was in tears, waili ng like Bob Marley in a bear trap inconsolable. Clay gone. The Snowy Biscuit gone. And I was going to poke squid with her, too.You were not, said Nate.But the artificial Hawaiian didnt hear. There Kona shouted as he leaped onto the shoulders of the stocky whale cop to get a better view. Its the white wahine Praise to Jah Thanks be to His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie. Go there, Sheriff. A saving be needed.Handcuff this kid, said the cop.