The descent took two hours and twenty minutes, and then we felt this large shudder. We all hoped that shudder was us docking at the Daedelus undersea station. It was.
The Daedelus is very large, spidering out over a shelf beneath the Kamchatka Peninsula at just below three thousand foot depth. There are three main sections to the station, each one stuck out like the arms of a peace sign but elevated according to the various ridges and rises of the undersea mountain against which the shelf rests. The station is secured to the mountain using a cantilevered system of anchors and cables, each of which could sustain pull and pressure equivalent to twice that required by the maximum stresses of the sea. The three wings house the crew quarters, the research center (including the medical bay), and dry dock. The Dumbwaiter in at the lowest, most northeasterly end – the dry dock – that was outfitted with both decompression and recompression chambers as well as facilities for longer term atmospheric adjustment. When we return home, it will take us almost three weeks for us to decompress before heading back to the surface. Thankfully, descending and adjusting to the heavier pressure only takes a few hours.
We were held in a large decompression room where TriMix gas was pumped into our bodies for about five hours. Several times Joy came to the window of the decompression chamber. I don’t know how that cat knew Chris was there, but she did. And she was certainly there for Chris. I went to the teardrop window in the center of the steel door and wiggled my finger playfully like Liz used to do, but Joy didn’t even register my existence. She was fixated on Chris.
I have to remind myself to think of the cat as “Puss.” It’s obvious that Chris loves herand that allows me to think of him as someone who might have gotten along well with Elisabeth. She was always bringing home strays of one sort or another. Liz found Joy in the park and brought her home. No one wanted her I asked myself if Liz would have brought Chris home maybe for Thanksgiving if he had no place to go and I knew immediately that she would have had him carve the bird.
I fell asleep, or at least tried to, and when I woke up I saw Sebastian hovering protectively over a sleeping Nessa. Chris sat on the opposite side of the room, Puss momentarily forgotten as he worked furiously in his sketch book.
“What’s that?” I asked, doing my best impersonation of a genuinely interested party.
“Offspring.” He crowed. I looked at the book. I been wrong. These weren’t sketches. They were photographs of actual cryptids. There was a dead horse with one long deer antler coming from its head. On the opposite page were squid-legs beneath the torso of a plastic baby doll. I flipped the page, or started to, and caught sight of a two-page spread. It was an eagle’s head on a dog’s body. Bat’s wings were stapled to it, just north of the snake-tail.
A horrifying image of Joy’s possible future blew through my mind. “That’s messed up.”
“Pound sand, holy man. We’ve all got our religion.”
I didn’t ask what his was.
When we finally got out of the decompression chamber, Joy clambered right up the side of Chris’ pant leg and into his arms. She nestled into his scraggly beard and he kiss-kissed her on the nose and on the mouth, snuggling her tenderly. It was amazing.
I called to Joy, but she had always been standoffish. T wasn’t any different. y distance from Joy reminds me of my separation from Liz.
I was escorted to my quarters and given a few hours to shower, shave, and get ready for a meet and greet. On the way to my room, the Daedelus steward introduced me to the wonders of HPNS (high-pressure nervous syndrome), a nervous disorder common among undersea novices. He told me that it’s impossible to tell if you susceptible to it, until you it, and then it slowly drives you crazy. You tremors, seasickness, uncontrollable twitching in your muscles, and vertigo before your brains turn to broth. I think he was kidding, though, because he ended this last bit with an overly-maniacal laugh.
I hope he was kidding.
Daedelus is named after an ancient Greek inventor. He was famous for two things, both of which turned out to be lessons in morality. He built the labyrinth into which the Greek King Minos placed the minotaur as both protection (for the minotaur from mean-spirited hunters), and punishment (for the wicked who were themselves placed within the labyrinth and fed to the creature). Daedelus also built wings for his son, Icarus, warning him that if he flew too close to the sun the heat would melt the wax adhering the wings to his ankles. Icarus ignored the warning and plummeted to his death in the depths of the sea.
So that’s Daedelus: one who protects, punishes, and warns.
And that’s why the Daedelus’ motto is everywhere displayed:
Protection :: Justice :: Advocacy.
This station is here to defend against international aggression, provide and monitor ecological accountability, and give early indicators of biological disaster. The motto largely explains the make up of the crew. There is a pretty even split between Russian military (and some ex-military) and French oceanographers. Think of a marriage between Jaques Cousteau and Ivan the Terrible and you’ve got the idea. I found myself immediately dividing them into the Jacques (and Jaquelines) and the Ivans (Ivannas) as a result.
The Jacques re all awkward and slouchy, constantly pushing up their glasses and adjusting their clipboards and tablet PCs. I had fun imagining a game of dodge ball between them and the crew of the Atargatis. The Ivans, on the other hand, re all ramrod straight, square-jawed and wolf-eyed, at rest with a leer. They would perform exceptionally well at dodge ball, if played with hand grenades.
The general air the place s one of contained enthusiasm. We all knw we re about to make history, but we re aware of the high human drama yself especially. Come to think of it, I wonder if their enthusiasm as contained when I around.
When the steward finally opened the door to my quarters I caught my breath. This was where Liz spent the last three weeks of her life. I thanked the steward and closed the door behind me. All of my thoughts were focused in one direction. I knew there was nothing left, but I checked for Liz’s leftovers anyway. I pulled aside and looked for her shampoo. I checked the sink for earrings and nail polish. I wanted so badly to find a strand of her hair. Sitting on the edge of the bed I tried to remember how her hair smelled. It’s a little sad, how emotional I’ve become. But we had something precious.
And now we don’t.