Despite our shared concern for Sebastian, things have loosened up a little. At least, after our inhalers. Jo told me the inhalers were nanobots, microscopic robots placed into our airways, lungs, and nasal cavities, designed to protect us from the incredible pressure undersea.
Nanobots are a nonbiological steroid. As the pressure from the depths begins to constrict against our bodies, the nanobot-enhancements will allow our lungs enough force to move the denser oxygen molecules through our airways. Additionally, a second wave of nanobots will create a tissue-lacing, an exoskeleton that will prevent our airways from collapsing due to the extreme outside pressure. All this, apparently, will happen über quickly, so fast we will not even notice it, but it sounds painful.
The increase in pressure will not just affect our body cavities. It will also affect our blood. Gas embolisms are very common. The weight of the sea at this depth is three hundred times more than that of the air. Divers using normal oxygen tanks can only descend to about a hundred feet. When the increased pressure causes the oxygen molecules to become too dense for their lungs to breathe, they start using specialized, ultra-light TriMix gases. But even those gases only get them to the recorded depths of just over a thousand feet. Simply, we are not strong enough to breathe oxygen at that level.
Both pulmonary barotrauma (lung over-expansion due to changing atmospheric pressure) and decompression sickness (caused by nitrogen narcosis) owe to the changing pressure. This creates bubbles in the blood stream that can burst the lungs, the brain, the belly, or the veins.
Heavy oxygen isn’t the only problem. Atmospheric pressure also affects the body. Even military submarines usually experience a crush depth of less than ten thousand feet because of the pressure, and at that point they have no windows and are basically sailing blind. Anything with a hollow cavity is subject to being squished. Like boats. Or people.
Unless you’ve got itty bitty little robots in there to push back.
The nanobots (bots, for short) were originally designed to use in fighting cancer, attacking the cancer cells without doing any residual damage to the surrounding body. Unlike chemotherapy or most radiation, the bots could be highly localized and much more specifically targeted. With so many that can be controlled so conveniently, these little guys can get to parts of your body doctors never will. In recent years, however, nanotechnology has been both weaponized and repurposed for camouflage. The US military has developed a grey nano-goo, used to cover the movement of their armored divisions from radar like a thick veil. The Russians have developed a chemically-transmitted nanotech useful in inflicting combatants with severe shortage of breath. They claim it’s non-lethal, but people seem to keep dying during the trials.
What am I getting myself into?
I came into the medical bay late, after everyone else had left, owing to the fact that I had opted for one more cup of evening coffee. Dr. Perry was still there, though she looked at me strangely when I arrived. Before I could say anything other than a perfunctory greeting, she began scanning a chart on her tablet. She looked up at me again, and I wondered if she was about to call my bluff, saying there was no inhaler for me.
I mentioned that I had kept last night’s drunken events “just between us girls,” and she calmly walked back to the medicine cabinet and withdrew something that looked like a space pistol. When she turned to face me, I wasn’t sure if she was going to give me the inhalant or shoot me in the face, thereby eliminating her blackmailer.
Perry explained that a normal inhaler had insufficient force and capacity for the nanobot ingress. We needed something more robust: a turbo-charged rocket inhaler. When she stuck it in my mouth, she instructed me to take a deep breath on the count of three. She pulled the trigger on “two” and I felt like I was drowning. I imagined a horde of miniature machinated scarabs scurrying down my windpipe to lay eggs in my lungs. I had this mental image of a beetle ball, like a galla, in my chest. My eyes began to water. I started to heave and still didn’t know whether she was helping or hurting me.
Dr. Perry gently placed her hand upon my back and started to rub it in circles. She wasn’t being frisky, just reassuring me that this was normal. Normal, for having a million dollars worth of stolen Japanese go-bots shot into your mouth like whipped cream from a can. I guess that settles my internal debate about Dr. Perry. I’ll keep her dirty little secret, and hopefully she will keep mine.
I still can’t wrap my mind around Sebastian’s involvement in industrial espionage. I thought I knew him. Then again, given recent events, I wonder which of us has discovered the more unpleasant surprise.
With our new hitchhiking nano-friends now unnoticeably in tow, Jo, Nessa, and I played cards for the majority of the afternoon. Jo and Nessa were taking out the mini-subs to run some diagnostics later on, but nothing beats poker in the middle of the workday to build camaraderie. We played Texas Hold ‘Em for quarters and corn nuts. I didn’t bet much when we were playing for quarters, but I love corn nuts.
Nessa cheats. Her necklace gives her away. She has a pendant of St. Simeon the Holy Fool that she fingers when she is hiding something. I suppose that’s appropriate, given that Simeon is the patron saint associated with actors. I enjoyed watching Nessa act like she wasn’t cheating. When she gets caught, she slips into speaking Russian halfway between a purr and a mutter. That’s cute enough for me to ignore her dishonesty, but I don’t think Jo likes the competition.
At one point in the conversation things turned a little dark. Jo began telling stories about all the people who go crazy at sea, emphasizing how much worse it gets under the water. “Your mind plays tricks on you,” she said. “You imagine things are out there. Sometimes people even know their mind is playing tricks on them, but then they wonder if that’s part of the trick. Right?”
I ignored her, but Nessa took the bait. “Shush, child. These stories help no one.”
“They do!” Jo protested. “What are you going to do if one of us freaks out in the sub?”
Nessa didn’t even hesitate. “Push you out.”
Jo looked startled, then walked away. Nessa permitted herself a smirk, reshuffling the cards. I ate Jo’s corn nuts.
Stories of paranoia typically do not bother me, but these were convincing. For example, on board the HMS Challenger, discoverer of the deepest part of the world, two men committed suicide and another two men were institutionalized during the second year of their expedition. The captain of the Sen Toku Imperial Japanese submarine ordered his crew straight into the side of an underwater volcano, but was forcibly removed from command by his first mate before they crashed. Three other incidents occurred within the Japanese navy after their losses in World War Two, all of which took place in the very waters we were about to visit.
“Don’t let girl fool,” Nessa said, glinting. “Nobody is crazy. Just her.”
“You sure about that?” I asked.
“We are defined by how we handle adversity, doctor,” She replied.
“I’ll remember you said that.” Though, truthfully, I had no idea how I’d respond to underwater trauma. I didn’t really want to find out either.