Corporeal Passage: Chapter 10: Liquid Metal
by Jeff Rand
Keith scampered up the ladder to greet the sun and sky. Although he was fascinated by the technology he experienced in Zero Node and the submarine, he was all too happy to be back in the natural world, even if it was far from any landmass. Climbing through the hatch to poke his head outside, he was not surprised to find the deck and railing were gone. He chose not to proceed any further, believing he would slip from the curved surface of the submarine and fall in the ocean to his eventual death from drowning if he did.
Wilbur was standing next to the ladder on the landing just below the hatch. Opening a cupboard, he offered some encouragement, "K2, I know you shouldn't try to stand on top of the sub, but we do have the inflatable raft here in storage."
"Well, I hope we can use it," responded Keith.
"It may be our salvation and get us to an island."
"Perhaps. Let's see if the others are OK and then we can make plans," said Keith, hopefully.
When Keith descended to the passenger chamber, he discovered Michaela sitting on the floor in the dim light coming through the open passageway. As his eyes adjusted to the reduced light, he could see Mike Osvath laying in the corner with the dog, Jo Jo, licking his face. "Michaela are you OK?" he asked.
"I think so," she said. "I haven't tried to stand yet. I was watching Mr. Osvath. He is awake, sort of. Jo Jo is trying to get his attention, but I am afraid he is back to a state of delirium."
Keith lit the caveman cooking oil lamp to check on Steve Donohue, who was believed to be in the small berth room. Donohue was alive and sleeping soundly. Keith shook Steve and shouted, "wake up." Steve rolled slightly but did not wake. Since Keith knew of Steve's propensity to be a difficult person to wake when he was very tired, more serious action would be necessary. Keith began piling objects on top of Steve and banging two pans to disturb his slumber.
Eventually Keith woke Steve, and Jo Jo's persistent attention to Mike helped him return to a responsive state. Keith gathered the others in the passenger chamber to discuss their situation. Though their prospects were brighter, the sub was stationery, now far from anything but the ocean. Many solutions were discussed with the best choice being the hope that they would eventually drift to an island.
"I think we can remain hopeful and still pursue alternatives," Keith declared, trying to direct the conversation to a more active solution. "What about using the raft?" he asked Steve. "Didn't you and Jeff build one to sail across the Pacific?"
"Yes. Ours was much larger. And you saw how that ended when you found me stranded and dying on its debris after many days of starvation."
"True, but didn't you make good progress before the typhoon hit?" countered Michaela.
"OK. It is possible. But we need a much bigger one than the small inflatable we have," said Steve.
"Then we scour this sub for materials to build one," stated Wilbur, surprising the others at his willingness to abort the submarine. "I think the air chambers on our current raft can be separated and will be a useful start for its construction," he added.
Steve chose not to get involved in the construction of another raft, opting instead to continue his efforts to read the manuals describing the operation and mechanics of the submarine. He was determined to decipher the symbols and learn the new language. Michaela and Mike were eager to help Wilbur with the construction of the raft, while Keith decided to support both efforts.
Wilbur took responsibility for the overall design of the raft based upon Steve's suggestion, which disappointed his friend. Until recently Mike was the authority figure in Zero Node, having assumed the role as Infinite Wisdom for this small community in the depths of the ocean. Now Mike would be the chief scavenger for materials to build the raft. At least he could put his ability to tear things apart to good use. Michaela took responsibility for securing supplies and storage units for the planned voyage of the new raft. The insides of the sub would be torn apart to build the raft.
As Mike and Michaela began their attack on the sub, Keith had to enforce some rules to be sure the electronics and mechanics of the submarine were not further damaged so that it would be impossible to reactivate it on the slim chance the Steve's efforts were successful. He feared what Mike might do to the sub's electrical system.
When Wilbur located the tool cabinet, the raft builders were pleased to find some useful gadgets. Besides some hammers and pry bars, the hacksaw would be useful. Wilbur expressed his disappointment when he pointed out that the portable power tools, he had used on Howland Island were removed from the sub for recharging when it returned to Zero Node and were not replaced.
"Are there other things on this sub with batteries that we could have used for lights when we were stranded on the bottom of the sea?" questioned Steve, scowling at Wilbur.
"There were some for the Island expedition, but we did not need to bring them on this trip. The submarine has always worked perfectly," responded Wilbur, emphasizing the perfection of the vessel.
Initially, the raft building project would require restoring some sort of working platform on top of the sub, since the original decking had been expunged to reduce weight. Wilbur was able to extend the ladder to support the effort, while Mike removed the table and flooring panels from the passenger cabin inside the sub. Also, he removed pieces from the bunks in the small berth. These materials would be used for the new platform but also the raft itself.
Steve continued to ignore the raft building project to concentrate on reading the manuals. He made slow progress, as he was being forced to decipher the strange code, reading the manuals with the flicker of the flame from his cooking oil lamp. He wished the others would be satisfied with ending their project with the construction of the new deck, and he could move to the deck to read in daylight.
Two weeks had passed before the new deck was completed and work could begin on the raft. Wilbur started the project by splitting the existing inflatable raft. The air tubes would be used as pontoons and the bottom would be used in the construction of a sail. Since building the new raft was now his priority, Wilbur forced Steve to continue his study with the dim light inside the submarine.
Osvath struggled to find materials in the sub to build the raft. Other than the air tubes from the old raft, he could not find anything else suitable to increase flotation. At best, the new raft would be limited to 1,000 pounds, including its structure, supplies, and human passengers. When Steve indicated that the raft he and Jeff built to sail across the Pacific could hold 3,000 pounds, the new raft builders became discouraged.
The struggle to decipher the texts continued for Steve. He had spent more than a month on the project with little progress. He knew a little French from his Canadian roots, but wished he had taken more interest in learning a foreign language. Chinese or Japanese would have been most beneficial. Initially, his approach was haphazard, but soon he learned to take copious notes in an effort to identify every symbol and what he believed to be words, even if he could not understand their meaning or pronunciation.
During the sixth week since surfacing, the others were anxious to depart with their raft, even if their plan lacked clarity. Steve had a significant breakthrough when he used his notes and the diagrams to identify objects in the submarine. In a moment of inspiration, he realized the sentence structure to be mathematical and began to understand meaning without having to know pronunciation. Steve was accustomed to the adjectives and adverbs preceding nouns and verbs in English. This language was closer to the romance languages where these modifiers followed, but they were offset with parenthetical elements. There were even special characters to delineate subordinate clauses as well as direct and indirect objects. Steve was especially pleased when he understood the logic behind spacing. A single character marked the transition between words. If this character was repeated, it marked the equivalence of a period at the end of a sentence. A triple representation, Steve surmised, was marking a group of thoughts together as in a paragraph.
Keith gathered the group together in the passenger compartment that was now missing its table and flooring, which were used in the construction of the raft. "I have my doubts regarding the raft," he said. "But it is time for action."
"What do you mean?" Aren't we ready to leave?" inquired Mike.
"When there were four of us on the raft to test it, it sunk so low we got our asses wet. And this was without Steve or supplies," responded Keith.
Wilbur joined the conversation, "I have given it some thought, and I think the raft will hold two of us. We could sail with the wind and current to the west. I believe we will get to an island nation where we could find a real boat. Then we could come back for the others. We will have the best chance if Michaela and I make the journey."
"Great. You're going to take my daughter to perish in the middle of the ocean. How will you navigate and find us again, should you be lucky enough to make it to land," Keith retorted.
"We could make tools for navigation. Steve, didn't you say that you had made them for your raft trip?" asked Wilbur.
"We did make a sun dial to use with a watch. Also, we created our own table of trigonometry tangents. I suggest that you give this some more thought. Jeff and I were much better equipped for our voyage," said Steve.
Later that evening, Steve pulled Keith aside, "K2, I could use a hand in the engine room with something I just read in the ship's manual."
"OK. I am glad you are making sense of the strange language," Keith responded.
Keith grabbed the toolkit and joined Steve in the engine chamber. Steve moved his cooking oil lamp to illuminate a plate on the wall near the engine reactor. Then he directed Keith to use the prybar to remove the plating.
Steve pointed to a horizontal cylinder and said, "This functions much like a mercury switch. If the angle of the vessel exceeds more than one-third pi or 30 degrees, as you might say, the flow of deuterium to the reactor is blocked and the ship's power is disconnected. This is to prevent the ship from a disaster. This happened when we encountered the vortex."
"OK. And weeks being trapped in the bottom of the sea without any power was not a disaster?"
"Here... I'll just turn this," said Steve, grabbing a knob next to the cylinder. Momentarily, the reactor came alive, and power was restored to the submarine.
With the sub now operational, the raft was disassembled and most of its elements were placed back in their original locations. Everyone was glad to have the floor and table returned to the passenger quarters. They gathered around the table to discuss the journey ahead.
"Where to now?" asked Wilbur, having confirmed the working mechanics of the sub.
"Weren't we going to go west to the nearest island?" questioned Michaela.
Keith became irritated, believing recently that his daughter had been ready to depart with Wilbur on the raft to live on some South Seas island. "Our plan has been to return to the United States and rescue our friends and families," he declared.
"And everyone else stuck in neural virtual reality," added Steve. "But it will be a long trip."
Wilbur responded, "The sub should make it now. However, I suggest we stop in Hawai'i, as it will be on the way."
"That's great," said Steve. "I've always wanted to vacation in Hawai'i.
"Steve, you may recall that we were actually in Hawai'i when we reached Kure Atoll after we rescued you at sea. However, I do agree that we should stop in Hawai'i - Pearl Harbor to be specific," Keith said.