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Home > Sphere(3)

Sphere(3)
Author: Michael Crichton

"Tired," Norman said.

"I'm sure, I'm sure. You came from San Diego?"

"Yes."

"So it's fifteen hours, give or take. Like to have a rest?"

"I'd like to know what's going on," Norman said.

"Perfectly understandable." Barnes nodded. "What'd they tell you?"

"Who?"

"The men who picked you up in San Diego, the men who flew you out here, the men in Guam. Whatever."

"They didn't tell me anything."

"And did you see any reporters, any press?"

"No, nothing like that."

Barnes smiled. "Good. I'm glad to hear it." He waved Norman to a seat. Norman sat gratefully. "How about some coffee?" Barnes said, moving to a coffee maker behind his desk, and then the lights went out. The room was dark except for the light that streamed in from a side porthole.

"God damn it!" Barnes said. "Not again. Emerson! Emerson!"

An ensign came in a side door. "Sir! Working on it, Captain."

"What was it this time?"

"Blew out in ROV Bay 2, sir."

"I thought we added extra lines to Bay 2."

"Apparently they overloaded anyway, sir."

"I want this fixed now, Emerson!"

"We hope to have it solved soon, sir."

The door closed; Barnes sat back in his chair. Norman heard the voice in the darkness. "It's not really their fault," he said. "These ships weren't built for the kind of power loads we put on them now, and - ah, there we are." The lights came back on. Barnes smiled. "Did you say you wanted coffee, Dr. Johnson?"

"Black is fine," Norman said.

Barnes poured him a mug. "Anyway, I'm relieved you didn't talk to anybody. In my job, Dr. Johnson, security is the biggest worry. Especially on a thing like this. If word gets out about this site, we'll have all kinds of problems. And so many people are involved now. ... Hell, CincComPac didn't even want to give me destroyers until I started talking about Soviet submarine reconnaissance. The next thing, I get four, then eight destroyers."

"Soviet submarine reconnaissance?" Norman asked. "That's what I told them in Honolulu." Barnes grinned. "Part of the game, to get what you need for an operation like this. You've got to know how to requisition equipment in the modern Navy. But of course the Soviets won't come around."

"They won't?" Norman felt he had somehow missed the assumptions that lay behind the conversation, and was trying to catch up.

"It's very unlikely. Oh, they know we're here. They'll have spotted us with their satellites at least two days ago, but we're putting out a steady stream of decodable messages about our Search and Rescue exercises in the South Pacific. S and R drill represents a low priority for them, even though they undoubtedly figure a plane went down and we're recovering for real. They may even suspect that we're trying to recover nuclear warheads, like we did off of Spain in '68. But they'll leave us alone - because politically they don't want to be implicated in our nuclear problems. They know we have troubles with New Zealand these days."

"Is that what all this is?" Norman said. "Nuclear warheads?"

"No," Barnes said. "Thank God. Anything nuclear, somebody in the White House always feels duty-bound to announce it. But we've kept this one away from the White House staff. In fact, we bypass the JCS on this. All briefings go straight from the Defense Secretary to the President, personally." He rapped his knuckles on the desk. "So far, so good. And you're the last to arrive. Now that you're here, we'll shut this thing down tight. Nothing in, nothing out."

Norman still couldn't put it together. "If nuclear warheads aren't involved in the crash," he said, "why the secrecy?"

"Well," Barnes said. "We don't have all the facts yet."

"The crash occurred in the ocean?"

"Yes. More or less directly beneath us as we sit here."

"Then there can't be any survivors."

"Survivors?" Barnes looked surprised. "No, I wouldn't think so."

"Then why was I called here?"

Barnes looked blank.

"Well," Norman explained, "I'm usually called to crash sites when there are survivors. That's why they put a psychologist on the team, to deal with the acute traumatic problems of surviving passengers, or sometimes the relatives of surviving passengers. Their feelings, and their fears, and their recurring nightmares. People who survive a crash often experience all sorts of guilt and anxiety, concerning why they survived and not others. A woman sitting with her husband and children, suddenly they're all dead and she alone is alive. That kind of thing." Norman sat back in his chair. "But in this case - an airplane that crashed in a thousand feet of water - there wouldn't be any of those problems. So why am I here?"

Barnes was staring at him. He seemed uncomfortable. He shuffled the files around on his desk.

"Actually, this isn't an airplane crash site, Dr. Johnson."

"What is it?"

"It's a spacecraft crash site."

There was a short pause. Norman nodded. "I see."

"That doesn't surprise you?" Barnes said.

"No," Norman said. "As a matter of fact, it explains a lot. If a military spacecraft crashed in the ocean, that explains why I haven't heard anything about it on the radio, why it was kept secret, why I was brought here the way I was. ... When did it crash?"

Barnes hesitated just a fraction before answering. "As best we can estimate," he said, "this spacecraft crashed three hundred years ago."

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