“More and more, when I single out the person who inspired me most, I go back to my grandfather.” –James Earl Jones
At first, Keisha thought she was blind, but then she remembered the lights went out. She was alive, but she wasn’t sure Isaiah or Josiah were. “Hello?”
It was definitely Isaiah. He didn’t want her to make any noise. They had been depth charged. Whoever was on the surface of the Bay wanted them dead. She remembered the sound of the propellers of their ships coming through the speakers. It probably went both ways. What if someone were searching for them by listening? That’s why she couldn’t talk.
She listened more carefully and could hear both Isaiah and Josiah breathing. It was amazing how much your ears could pick up when there wasn’t a lot of noise to get in the way. The spray of the damaged pipes was gone, but she could hear dripping from above. Then she realized she was wet. Actually, her shirt was soaked. It was the first pipe that had started leaking. What happened to the others?
Her head hurt, like she’d hit it against something. Had she been unconscious? It would explain a lot. The last thing she remembered was it felt like the sub hit something, but they had still been traveling at full speed. Now they weren’t moving at all.
Occasionally, there was light. The bulb that had shattered still sent out occasional sparks along with a crackling sound. It let her she bulky shadows where the man and boy were sitting. Her bladder was full again. Why did this always happen when she had to be really quiet, and making noise would get them all killed?
She felt like she was leaning to her left, but shifting in her seat didn’t help. They were on the bottom and the boat wasn’t quite level.
“It’s been an hour. I think they’ve moved off.” Isaiah was whispering. Then Keisha heard a click and the lighting came back on. She saw the floor was covered with about an inch of water. Isaiah was wearing a headset, which is why she didn’t hear anything over the speakers.
“Can I talk now?”
“Yes Ma’am, but we’ve got bigger problems.”
“You mean the air, Josiah. It smells stale.”
“Our main engines shutdown. We’ve been on emergency battery power, so the air recycler hasn’t worked too well.”
“I got news, Pa. It’s not working at all. There must be a fault in the power system.”
“Damn. That’s hard enough to fix in dry dock. Underwater. I don’t know, son. We may have to surface.”
“Clock says it’ll be dawn in a few hours. Might be risky.”
“Excuse me. Don’t you have anything like a snorkel?”
Both Covingtons turned toward her, but it was Isaiah who spoke. “A what?”
“You know. A tube that extends to the surface and that pulls down air using a compressor.”
The inventor paused. “So simple and yet so brilliant. Wonder why I didn’t think of it when I designed the Dakuwaqa?”
“What my dear wife…” Isaiah paused as the memories flooded in. “…christened this vessel. It’s the pagan shark-god of the people of Fiji, her own departed Mama’s kin.”
“Papa, I think we’ve got enough flex tubing in the machine shop to reach the surface. Depth is just under nine meters, and I think that auxiliary pump we were working on to replace the current one will do the trick. We can run it up the Optiscope conduit.”
“I’ll have to go outside and adjust the valve manually, but by God’s grace it shouldn’t take long. You two get to work on the snuffer device.”
“Fine. I’ll get the aux engines up and pump out the excess water, then get to work on the leaks.”
“Wait. I didn’t say I knew how to…”
“Come with me, Miss Davis.”
Keisha pulled herself out of her seat but had to grab onto the consoles and bulkheads to keep from slipping. Josiah took her through the rear hatch and down a narrow passageway, their footsteps echoing on the metal plates. The engine room must be all the way to the rear, because she heard some small motors powering up from that direction. Then they took a hatch to the right.
“Tubing’s stored in back. I’ll get it. You’ll find the compressor fastened down on the work bench.”
The lighting was a little better in here than the main control room, and she found herself looking down at a roughly cylindrical device about the size and shape of a propane barbecue tank. One side was open exposing the interior, and she could see baffles, tubing, gears, and pistons inside, a mechanism in potential and ready to be.
“I think this’ll do. Should fit on the intake and outtake valves on top.”
Keisha eyeballed the circumferences and they seemed right.
“This thing seems a lot more straightforward than most of your technology, but what powers it?”
“We’ll hook it into the backup power so it can pull in air the way you tell us it should, even if the main engines are down.”
“Where does the power come from? Diesel? Can’t be steam. Not down here.”
“Pa developed an electrical conversion extractor, takes power directly from ocean water.”
“I can’t see how that would work.”
“It’s why submersibles aren’t nearly as common as airships. Airships can use steam engines but like you said, underwater, that’s not going to work. Pa created the process based on Ma’s figures. Pa’s wrong when he says I’m like her. No one’s as good at mathematics as Ma.” He looked down at his shoes and was quiet for a minute.
“I’m sorry about your Mom and your sister. Your Dad seems to think they got away and that everything will be alright.”
“Pa, he’s got a powerful faith, Ma’am. I guess mine ain’t…mine ain’t…”
She pulled the little boy to her and let him sob against her still sopping wet blouse. Keisha didn’t doubt that Isaiah was a good man and a good Dad, but he seemed like the sort of guy who had strong principles and expectations. Sometimes, you have to let your kids just be kids and need you. She closed her eyes and thought about Grandpa. She really needed him right now.
Finally, Josiah pulled away. “Sorry about that, Ma’am. I guess I got…”
“Don’t apologize. I know how it feels.” They both shared that same look in their eyes, a haunted, emptiness, revealing a hole in their hearts that could only be filled by someone you love who was never coming back. Keisha knew what it was like to lose a Mom, but right now, Grandpa was the one she was wishing for the most.
“Okay. Let’s see what we can do with the compressor and your tubing. It’s not a complicated machine.”
“No, Ma’am. But you’re the only one who thought of using it to save our lives.”
An hour later, the floors were dry, the batteries were recharging, the leaks were repaired, and even the shattered light bulb in the control room was replaced. Main engines were still out, but they’d have to wait.
“I think we got it, Pa. Mounted the compressor in the atmosphere room and hooked it up to the main gas vessels. Ran the tubing up the Optiscope conduit through the vent system and sealed off the inner access, but you’ll have to handle the rest.”
“Got a valve that’ll pass air in but keep the water out?”
“Yes sir. Miss Davis checked it and said it would do.”
Isaiah smiled at Keisha. “Your Grandfather said you were an asset, and I can see he wasn’t exaggerating. Well done. Well done both of you.”
“Thank you, Pa.”
“Thanks, Isaiah.” In spite of herself, she felt proud at being able to contribute. Most of what she encountered in this inside out, upside down world made no sense to her, but a snorkel was basic engineering, and that’s what she did the best. For a minute, being complemented by Isaiah felt like all the times when her own Grandpa would tell her “well done.” She’d give anything to hear his voice just one more time.
Isaiah put on what looked like an old-time diving suit, complete with round, iron helmet and air hoses leading back to the Dakuwaqa. The air lock was pretty much what she expected, except, he attached the helmet’s rubber hoses to valve connections on the wall inside. Then, he flooded the compartment and opened the outer hatch.
Keisha and Josiah watched though a port in the inner door. “Too bad no one invented Scuba gear yet.”
“What’s Scuba, Ma’am?”
“I’ll tell you later.”
The suit had a weight belt and lead attachments to the boots. There was a second belt that held a number of different tools, including a few Keisha didn’t recognize. He stepped ponderously out of the hatch and out of sight.
They ran back to the control room where his voice crackled and hissed from the main speaker over the helm. “Climbing up the ladder on the starboard side now. It’s like trying to run up the mountain carrying a blacksmith’s anvil, but at least I won’t float away.”
Josiah, picked up the headset and keyed the microphone. “Yes, Papa. We hear you.”
“Good lad. I’m on the top of the main hull now. Proceeding to the tower. What the…?”
“Pa, what is it?”
They could hear him laugh. “My own damn foolishness, son. Just a couple of seals diving for their breakfast. The motion startled me, that’s all. Continuing to climb the tower.”
They waited, listening to static for a few minutes. “Got it. Loosening the main restraining assembly. This’ll take a bit. You two might as well relax some.”
“Tell him we’ll relax when he’s back inside and we’re sucking fresh air from the surface.”
“I can hear you, Miss Davis, and it’s a sentiment I share. I’ll do my best, but it’s slow going in these heavy gloves. Good thing the electric lantern mounted on my helmet provides adequate illumination.”
Thirty minutes passed. Only an hour until dawn, which meant even if the snorkel worked, it would be far more visible once it was daylight. But the alternative was to surface, and that would surely make them vulnerable to their enemies, whoever they were.
“Damn, devil’s spawn, come loose, will you.”
“Pa, you keyed your mike when I don’t suppose you thought to.”
“Looking out for my integrity, Josiah? I appreciate that, but just remember, me being your Pa and a believer means I do my best every day, but it sure don’t mean I’m anywhere near perfect.”
“Yes, Pa. I understand.”
“Got it off. Fine. I can see the snorkel valve. Starting to make the switch, wait a moment. Thought I saw something.”
“Is it those seals, Papa?”
They had been pestering me for a while, but this is something else.”
“Big fish, Pa?”
“You might say that son. Must be fifteen feet nose to tail. Son, remember when I said that the only sharks we get this far into the Bay are leopards and sevengill? Seems I was wrong.”
“A fifteen footer?”
“Or more, son. Looks like maybe she weighs in at about two tons.”
“A Great White. Pa, you’ve got to get out of there!”
“In this rig, I couldn’t move fast enough to matter. Best I can do now is be still and try as hard as I can not to look like a seal.”
“Hold your water, Josiah. Remember, no matter what happens, be a man. The Good Shepherd looks after his own, son.”
“Isaiah, he’s only nine. Give him a break and get your ass back in here.”
“I can hear you, Miss Davis, but I don’t think it matters now. She’s done circling me. I can see her eyes. She’s coming right at me. Keisha, if you ever thought about learning how to pray, I suggest you start now. She’s opening her mouth, giving me a nice, big smile. She’s…”
Previous chapters of Keisha’s wild adventure are:
Keisha, Isaiah, and Josiah aboard the prototype submersible “The Dakuwaqa,” have managed to evade a barrage of depth charges and are now stranded at the bottom of San Francisco Bay. Their air supply all but exhausted and power systems slowly being restored, it seems like the young teenage girl’s idea to create a makeshift snorkel will save their lives. But while her host, the submarine’s innovative inventor, is performing the final installation tasks outside the boat, he is attacked by a Great White Shark. In his bulky, weighted down diving suit, there’s nothing he can do to escape in time.
Oh, as it turns out, sometimes Great White Sharks do invade San Francisco Bay, but not as far as I’m suggesting here.
The next chapter is Below the Waves.
2 thoughts on “Menace in the Dark”
With all of their ‘modern gadgetry’ it was great that they did not know about the snorkel. Nice.
If you think about steampunk technology, it’s incredibly complicated and usually dependent not just on steam, but esoteric substances. Something as basic as a snorkel could well be overlooked because it’s pretty straightforward engineering.
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