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Home > Sphere(13)

Sphere(13)
Author: Michael Crichton

"Okay," Barnes said. He squinted at a photograph, put it down. "What about the weather?"

"No change, sir. Satellite reports are confirming we have forty-eight plus-minus twelve on site, sir."

"Hell," Barnes said.

"Trouble?" Norman asked.

"The weather's going bad on us," Barnes said. "We may have to clear out our surface support."

"Does that mean you'll cancel going down there?"

"No," Barnes said. "We go tomorrow, as planned."

"Why does Harry think this thing is not a spacecraft?" Norman asked.

Barnes frowned, pushed papers on his desk. "Let me tell you something," he said. "Harry's a theoretician. And theories are just that - theories. I deal in the hard facts. The fact is, we've got something damn old and damn strange down there. I want to know what it is."

"But if it's not an alien spacecraft, what is it?"

"Let's just wait until we get down there, shall we?" Barnes glanced at his watch. "The second habitat should be anchored on the sea floor by now. We'll begin moving you down in fifteen hours. Between now and then, we've all got a lot to do."

"Just hold it there, Dr. Johnson." Norman stood naked, felt two metal calipers pinch the back of his arms, just above the elbow. "Just a bit ... that's fine. Now you can get into the tank."

The young medical corpsman stepped aside, and Norman climbed the steps to the metal tank, which looked like a military version of a Jacuzzi. The tank was filled to the top with water. As he lowered his body into the water, it spilled over the sides.

"What's all this for?" Norman asked.

"I'm sorry, Dr. Johnson. If you would completely immerse yourself ..."

"What?"

"Just for a moment, sir ..."

Norman took a breath, ducked under the water, came back up.

"That's fine, you can get out now," the corpsman said, handing him a towel.

"What's all this for?" he asked again, climbing down the ladder.

"Total body adipose content," the corpsman said. "We have to know it, to calculate your sat stats."

"My sat stats?"

"Your saturation statistics." The corpsman marked points on his clipboard.

"Oh dear," he said. "You're off the graph."

"Why is that?"

"Do you get much exercise, Dr. Johnson?"

"Some." He was feeling defensive now. And the towel was too small to wrap around his waist. Why did the Navy use such small towels?

"Do you drink?"

"Some." He was feeling distinctly defensive. No question about it.

"May I ask when you last consumed an alcoholic beverage, sir?"

"I don't know. Two, three days ago." He was having trouble thinking back to San Diego. It seemed so far away. "Why?"

"That's fine, Dr. Johnson. Any trouble with joints, hips or knees?"

"No, why?"

"Episodes of syncope, faintness or blackouts?"

"No ..."

"If you would just sit over here, sir." The corpsman pointed to a stool, next to an electronic device on the wall. "I'd really like some answers," Norman said.

"Just stare at the green dot, both eyes wide open. ..."

Chapter 3

He felt a brief blast of air on both eyes, and blinked instinctively. A printed strip of paper clicked out. The corpsman tore it off, glanced at it.

"That's fine, Dr. Johnson. If you would come this way ..." "I'd like some information from you," Norman said. "I'd like to know what's going on."

"I understand, sir, but I have to finish your workup in time for your next briefing at seventeen hundred hours."

Norman lay on his back, and technicians stuck needles in both arms, and another in his leg at the groin. He yelled in sudden pain.

"That's the worst of it, sir," the corpsman said, packing the syringes in ice. "If you will just press this cotton against it, here ..."

* * *

There was a clip over his nostrils, a mouthpiece between his teeth.

"This is to measure your CO2" the corpsman said. "Just exhale. That's right. Big breath, now exhale. ..."

Norman exhaled. He watched a rubber diaphragm inflate, pushing a needle up a scale.

"Try it again, sir. I'm sure you can do better than that." Norman didn't think he could, but he tried again anyway. Another corpsman entered the room, with a sheet of paper covered with figures. "Here are his BC's," he said.

The first corpsman frowned. "Has Barnes seen this?"

"Yes."

"And what'd he say?"

"He said it was okay. He said to continue."

"Okay, fine. He's the boss." The first corpsman turned back to Norman. "Let's try one more big breath, Dr. Johnson, if you would. ..."

Metal calipers touched his chin and his forehead. A tape went around his head. Now the calipers measured from his ear to his chin.

"What's this for?" Norman said.

"Fitting you with a helmet, sir."

"Shouldn't I be trying one on?"

"This is the way we do it, sir."

Dinner was macaroni and cheese, burned underneath. Norman pushed it aside after a few bites.

The corpsman appeared at his door. "Time for the seventeen-hundred-hours briefing, sir."

"I'm not going anywhere," Norman said, "until I get some answers. What the hell is all this you're doing to me?"

"Routine deepsat workup, sir. Navy regs require it before you go down."

"And why am I off the graph?"

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