Authors: Frederik & Williamson Pohl,Frederik & Williamson Pohl
by Frederik Pohl
and Jack Williamson
I stopped at the edge of the deepwater pool and stiffened to attention. I had been playing sea-tennis with Bob Eskow in the pool courts on a hot Saturday afternoon. I had come out to adjust my oxygen lung—I could see Eskow still in the water, gliding restlessly back and forth as he waited for me—and the Cadet Captain’s sharp order caught me just about to dive back in.
“Cadet Eden, as you were!” I relaxed slightly and turned.
With the Cadet Captain was the O.O.D. He said, “Report to the Commandant’s office at thirteen hundred hours, Cadet Eden. Now carry on.” He returned my salute and walked off with the Cadet Captain.
Bob Eskow poked his head out of the water, flipped back his mask and complained: “Come on, Jim, what’s holding up the game?”
Then he caught sight of the Cadet Captain and the O.O.D. He whistled. “What did they want?”
“I don’t know. I’ve got to report to the Commandant at thirteen hundred, that’s all.”
Eskow climbed out and sprawled on the edge of the deepwater pool beside me. He said seriously, “Maybe it’s what Danthorpe was talking about.”
Eskow shook his head. “He just hints around. But it’s something involving you and me—and him.”
“Forget it,” I advised him, and sat down. I took off the mask of my lung and rechecked the bubble valve. It had been sticking. I had fixed it, but there is one thing you learn in the Sub-Sea Fleet and that is to make
sure that every piece of undersea equipment is working perfectly. The deeps don’t give you a second chance.
The Bermuda sun was hot on the back of my neck. We had marched a lot of miles under that sun, as cadets at the Sub-Sea Academy, but now we had lost the habit of it. We had been too long under deadly miles of black water, Bob Eskow and I. The sun was strange to us.
Not that we minded the sun. In spite of all the inventions that are conquering the sea—spreading domed cities across that dark, drowned desert that is stranger than Mars—no invention can ever take the place of the clean smell of natural air and the freedom of the wide surface horizon. Not for the first few days, anyhow.
Bob Eskow stood up. He looked around him at the bright green trees and the red-tiled roofs above the hot white beach; he looked out at the whitecaps flashing out on the surface of the sea; and he said what was in my mind.
“It’s worth all the pearls in the Tonga Trench just to be back.”
I knew how he felt.
The deep sea gets into your blood. There’s a strain and a danger that you can never forget. There’s the dark shape of death, always there, waiting outside a film of shining edenite that is thinner than tissue, waiting for you to pull the wrong switch or touch the wrong valve so that it can get in. It can smash a city dome like a peanut under a truck, or slice a man to ribbons with a white jet of slashing brine—
“Quit your daydreaming, you two!”
We looked up.
Another cadet was approaching us.
I hadn’t met him, but I knew his name: Harley Danthorpe. The one Bob Eskow had just mentioned.
He was slender and a bit shorter than Bob. He wore his sea-scarlet dress uniform with knife-edge creases; his hair slick down flat against his scalp.
I didn’t like the expression on his face as Bob introduced us; he seemed to be sneering, “Jim,” said Bob, “Harley Danthorpe is a transfer student, from down deep.”
“And going back there,” said Danthorpe. He flicked a speck of coral dust from his sleeve. “Along with you two,” he mentioned.
Bob and I looked at each other. “What are you talking about, Danthorpe? The fall term’s about to begin—”
Danthorpe shook his head. “We won’t be here. The orders will be out this afternoon.”
I looked hard at him. “You aren’t kidding us? How do you know?”
He shrugged. “I’ve got the inside drift.”
And something happened.
ft happened to Bob as well as to me; I could feel it and I could see it in his eyes. I didn’t like Danthorpe. I didn’t know whether to believe him or not—but the rumor had done something to me. The dry tingle of the sun felt just as good as ever. The sky was still as blue and as high, and the island breeze was just as sweet.
But suddenly I was ready to go down deep again.
I asked: “Where to?”
He stretched and glanced at me and at Bob, then turned and looked out over the sea. “Why Krakatoa Dome,” he said.
Bob said sharply: “Krakatoa?”
“That’s right,” nodded Danthorpe. He looked at Bob curiously. For that matter, so did I; suddenly Bob’s face had seemed to turn a degree paler.
I said quickly, trying to divert Danthorpe’s attention from whatever it was that was bothering Bob: “What are we supposed to be going to Krakatoa for?”
Danthorpe shrugged. “I’ve got the inside drift, but not about that,” he admitted. “All I know is that we’re going.”
Krakatoa! I wanted to believe him. Right at that minute I wanted it more than anything in the world. Krakatoa Dome was one of the newest of the undersea cities. It stood near the brink of the Java Trough, south of the famous volcanic island in the Sunda Strait, three miles down.
I wanted to go there very much. But I couldn’t believe that it was possible.
I knew something about Krakatoa Dome. My Uncle Stewart Eden had spoken many times of the wealth around it, the sea-floor rotten with oil, pocketed with uranium and precious tin. But I had never heard that the Sub-Sea Fleet had a training station there. And what other reason could there be for detaching three cadets as the training year was about to begin?
Danthorpe said, in a voice tinged with contempt, “What’s the matter Eskow? You look worried.”
“Leave him alone,” I said sharply. But Bob’s expression had disturbed me too. His face had been pale with the pallor of the deeps, but he looked even paler now.
Danthorpe squinted down at him. “Maybe you’re afraid of—seaquakes,” he said softly.
Bob straightened up abruptly, glaring at him.
I knew that Bob was under pressure. He had driven himself far too hard ever since his first moments in the Academy, oppressed by the grinding fear of washing out. I knew that our adventures in the Tonga Trench had drained his last reserves; yet I couldn’t quite understand this now.
Then he relaxed and looked away. “I guess that’s so,” he said, barely loud enough to be heard. “I guess I’m afraid of quakes.”
“Then Krakatoa Dome’s no place for you! We’ve got plenty of them there!” Danthorpe was smirking smugly—as though he were actually boasting of the fact, as if the quakes were another valuable resource of the seabottom around Krakatoa, like the oil. “It’s near the great geological fault, where the crust of the earth buckles down in the Java Trough. Ever hear of the great eruption of Krakatoa, back a hundred years and more ago? It made waves a hundred feet high—on the surface, of course. That was part of the instability of the area!”
I interrupted him, really curious. “Danthorpe, what’s so good about sub-seaquakes?”
I couldn’t help asking it. Earthquakes on dry land are bad enough, of course. But under the sea they can be a thousand times worse. Even a minor quake can snap a transportation tube or turn the mad sea into the tunnels of a mine; even a very small one can shatter the delicate film of edenite armor for a second. And a second is all the deeps need to splinter a city dome.
Danthorpe had a cocky grin. “Good? Why, they’re the best part of it, Eden! Quakes scare the lubbers away!”
He sounded really happy. “That leaves richer diggings for the man with the inside drift,” he cried. “Take my Dad. He’s making plenty, down in Krakatoa Dome. He isn’t worried about sub-sea quakes!”
Suddenly something registered in my mind. “Your dad?” I repeated. “Danthorpe? Then your father must be—”
He nodded. “You’ve heard of him,” he said proudly, “Sure you have! He bought in at the bottom level at Krakatoa Dome, when it wasn’t anything but six edenite bubbles linked together and a hope for the future. And he’s traded his way to the top! Every time there’s a quake, prices go down—he buys—and he gets richer! He’s got a seat on the Stock Exchange, and he’s on the Dome Council. He’s lived down deep so long that people call him Barnacle Ben—”
Bob was getting more and more annoyed. He interrupted: “Barnacle Ben! If you ask me, that’s a good name—he sounds like a parasite! If you want to talk about
pioneers—the inventors and explorers who really opened up the floor of the sea when the dry land got overcrowded—you ought to ask Jim about his uncle Stewart. Stewart Eden—the man who invented Edenite!”
Danthorpe stopped short.
He squinted at me sharply. “Old Stewart Eden is your uncle?”
“That’s right,” I told him shortly. I don’t like to boast about it—Uncle Stewart says that family is only important for the inspiration and help it gives you, not for what effect a famous relative may have on somebody else. But I won’t deny that I am proud to be related to the man who made the whole sub-sea empire possible.
There was a pause.
Then, “My Dad could buy him out,” Danthorpe said challengingly, “and never miss the change.” I didn’t say a word, though he waited—that was part of what I had learned from my Uncle Stewart. Danthorpe squinted at Bob. “All right, Eskow,” he said. “What about
Bob’s face hardened. ‘Well, what about them?”
“Haven’t you got a family? Give me the inside drift. Who are they? What do they amount to? Where do they live? What does your old man do?”
“They’re just—people,” Bob said slowly. “My father makes a living.”
“Down deep?” challenged Danthorpe. “Or is he a lubber?”
That was too much. I cut in. “Leave him alone, Danthorpe,” I said. “Look. If there’s any truth to this inside drift you came buzzing around with, the three of us are going to have to get along together. Let’s start even! Forget about families—let’s just concentrate on our job, whatever it’s going to be.”
Danthorpe shrugged lazily. He pointed at Bob, who was staring out at the tiny white fin of a catboat, miles out on the smiling surface of the sea. “Better get him started on concentrating,” Danthorpe advised. “Because, to tell you the truth, it looks to me as though he’s the wrong man for Krakatoa! It isn’t a place for anybody who’s afraid of quakes!”