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Home > Sphere(2)

Sphere(2)
Author: Michael Crichton

The pilot listed them off: "You got your destroyers on the outside, for protection; RVS's further in, that's Remote Vehicle Support, for the robots; then MSS, Mission Support and Supply; and OSRV's in the center."

"OSRV's?"

"Oceanographic Survey and Research Vessels." The pilot pointed to the white ships. "John Hawes to port, and William Arthur to starboard. We'll put down on the Hawes." The pilot circled the formation of ships. Norman could see launches running back and forth between the ships, leaving small white wakes against the deep blue of the water.

"All this for an airplane crash?" Norman said.

"Hey," the pilot grinned. "I never mentioned a crash. Check your seat belt if you would, sir. We're about to land."

BARNES

The red bull's-eye grew larger, and slid beneath them as the helicopter touched down. Norman fumbled with his seat belt buckle as a uniformed Navy man ran up and opened the door.

"Dr. Johnson? Norman Johnson?"

"That's right."

"Have any baggage, sir?"

"Just this." Norman reached back, pulled out his day case. The officer took it.

"Any scientific instruments, anything like that?"

"No. That's it."

"This way, sir. Keep your head down, follow me, and don't go aft, sir."

Norman stepped out, ducking beneath the blades. He followed the officer off the helipad and down a narrow stairs. The metal handrail was hot to the touch. Behind him, the helicopter lifted off, the pilot giving him a final wave. Once the helicopter had gone, the Pacific air felt still and brutally hot.

"Good trip, sir?"

"Fine."

"Need to go, sir?"

"I've just arrived," Norman said.

"No, I mean: do you need to use the head, sir."

"No," Norman said.

"Good. Don't use the heads, they're all backed up."

"All right."

"Plumbing's been screwed up since last night. We're working on the problem and hope to have it solved soon." He peered at Norman. "We have a lot of women on board at the moment, sir."

"I see," Norman said.

"There's a chemical john if you need it, sir."

"I'm okay, thanks."

"In that case, Captain Barnes wants to see you at once, sir."

"I'd like to call my family."

"You can mention that to Captain Barnes, sir."

They ducked through a door, moving out of the hot sun into a fluorescent-lit hallway. It was much cooler. "Air conditioning hasn't gone out lately," the officer said. "At least that's something."

"Does the air conditioning go out often?"

"Only when it's hot."

Through another door, and into a large workroom: metal walls, racks of tools, acetylene torches spraying sparks as workmen hunched over metal pontoons and pieces of intricate machinery, cables snaking over the floor. "We do ROV repairs here," the officer said, shouting over the din. "Most of the heavy work is done on the tenders. We just do some of the electronics here. We go this way, sir."

Through another door, down another corridor, and into a wide, low-ceilinged room crammed with video monitors. A half-dozen technicians sat in shadowy half-darkness before the color screens. Norman paused to look.

"This is where we monitor the ROV's," the officer said. "We've got three or four robots down on the bottom at any given time. Plus the MSB's and the FD's, of course."

Norman heard the crackle and hiss of radio communications, soft fragments of words he couldn't make out. On one screen he saw a diver walking on the bottom. The diver was standing in harsh artificial light, wearing a kind of suit Norman had never seen, heavy blue cloth and a brightyellow helmet sculpted in an odd shape.

Norman pointed to the screen. "How deep is he?"

"I don't know. Thousand, twelve hundred feet, something like that."

"And what have they found?"

"So far, just the big titanium fin." The officer glanced around. "It doesn't read on any monitors now. Bill, can you show Dr. Johnson here the fin?"

"Sorry, sir," the technician said. "Present MainComOps is working north of there, in quadrant seven."

"Ah. Quad seven's almost half a mile away from the fin," the officer said to Norman. "Too bad: it's a hell of a thing to see. But you'll see it later, I'm sure. This way to Captain Barnes."

They walked for a moment down the corridor; then the officer said, "Do you know the Captain, sir?"

"No, why?"

"Just wondered. He's been very eager to see you. Calling up the com techs every hour, to find out when you're arriving."

"No," Norman said, "I've never met him."

"Very nice man."

"I' m sure."

The officer glanced over his shoulder. "You know, they have a saying about the Captain," he said.

"Oh? What's that?"

"They say his bite is worse than his bark."

* * *

Through another door, which was marked "Project Commander" and had beneath that a sliding plate that said "Capt. Harold C. Barnes, USN." The officer stepped aside, and Norman entered a paneled stateroom. A burly man in shirtsleeves stood up from behind a stack of files.

Captain Barnes was one of those trim military men who made Norman feel fat and inadequate. In his middle forties, Hal Barnes had erect military bearing, an alert expression, short hair, a flat gut, and a politician's firm handshake.

"Welcome aboard the Hawes, Dr. Johnson. How're you feeling?"

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