Chapter 23

 Michael Crichton

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"Norman, if you pull that cable you'll set off the explosives. I swear to you - it'll blow you and me and Harry and everything to hell, Norman."
He didn't think it was true. Beth was lying. Beth was out of control and she was dangerous and she was lying to him again.
He drew his hand back. He felt the tension in the cable.
"Don't do it, Norman. ...
The cable was now taut in his hand. "I'm going to shut you down, Beth."
"For God's sake, Norman. Believe me, will you? You'll kill us all!"
Still he hesitated. Could she be telling the truth? Did she know about wiring explosives? He looked at the big gray cone at his feet, reaching up to his waist. What would it feel like if it exploded? Would he feel anything at all?
"The hell with it," he said aloud.
He pulled the cable out of the cone.
The shriek of the alarm, ringing inside his helmet, made him jump. There was a small liquid-crystal display at the top of his faceplate blinking rapidly: "EMERGENCY"... "EMERGENCY"...
"Oh, Norman. God damn it. Now you've done it."
He barely heard her voice over the alarm. The red cone lights were blinking, all down the length of the spacecraft. He braced himself for the explosion.
But then the alarm was interrupted by a deep, resonant male voice that said, "Your attention, please. Your attention, please. All construction personnel clear the blast area immediately. Tevac explosives are now activated. The countdown will begin ... now. Mark twenty, and counting."
On the cone, a red display flashed 20:00. Then it began counting backward: 19:59 ... 19:58 ...
The same display was repeated on the crystal display at the top of his helmet.
It took him a moment to put it together, to understand. Staring at the cone, he read the yellow lettering once again: U.S.N. CONSTRUCTION/DEMOLITION USE ONLY.
Of course! Tevac explosives weren't weapons, they were made for construction and demolition. They had built-in safety timers - a programmed twenty-minute delay before they went off, to allow workers to get away.
Twenty minutes to get away, he thought. That would give him plenty of time.
Norman turned, and began striding quickly toward DH-7 and the submarine.
0140 HOURS
He walked evenly, steadily. He felt no strain. His breath came easily. He was comfortable in his suit. All systems working smoothly.
He was leaving. "Norman, please ..." Now Beth was pleading with him, another erratic shift of mood. Norman ignored her. He continued on toward the submarine. The deep recorded voice said, "Your attention, please. All Navy personnel clear the blast area. Nineteen minutes and counting."
Norman felt an enormous sense of purposefulness, of power. He had no illusions any more. He had no questions. He knew what he had to do.
He had to save himself.
"I don't believe you're doing this, Norman. I don't believe you're abandoning us."
Believe it, he thought. After all, what choice did he have? Beth was out of control and dangerous. It was too late to save her now - in fact, it was crazy to go anywhere near her. Beth was homicidal. She'd already tried to kill him once, and had nearly succeeded.
And Harry had been drugged for thirteen hours; by now he was probably clinically dead, brain-dead. There was no reason for Norman to stay. There was nothing for him to do.
The sub was close now. He could see the fittings on the yellow exterior.
"Norman, please ... I need you."
Sorry, he thought. I'm getting out of here.
He moved around beneath the twin propellor screws, the name painted on the curved hull, Deepstar III. He climbed the footholds, moving up into the dome.
"Norman - "
Now he was out of contact with the intercom. He was on his own. He opened the hatch, climbed inside the submarine. He unlocked his helmet, pulled it off.
"Your attention, please. Eighteen minutes and counting." Norman sat in the pilot's padded seat, faced the controls. The instruments blinked on, and the screen directly before him glowed.
Do you require help?
Yes   No    Cancel
He pressed "YES." He waited for the next screen to flash up.
It was too bad about Harry and Beth; he was sorry to leave them behind. But they had both, in their own ways, failed to explore their inner selves, thus making them vulnerable to the sphere and its power. It was a classic scientific error, this so-called triumph of rational thought over irrational thought. Scientists refused to acknowledge their irrational side, refused to see it as important. They dealt only with the rational. Everything made sense to a scientist, and if it didn't make sense, it was dismissed as what Einstein called the "merely personal."
The merely personal, he thought, in a burst of contempt. People killed each other for reasons that were "merely personal."
Descend             Ascend
Secure                 Shutdown
Monitor              Cancel
Norman pressed "ASCEND." The screen changed to the drawing of the instrument panel, with the flashing point. He waited for the next instruction.
Yes, he thought, it was true: scientists refused to deal with the irrational. But the irrational side didn't go away if you refused to deal with it. Irrationality didn't atrophy with disuse. On the contrary, left unattended, the irrational side of man had grown in power and scope.
And complaining about it didn't help, either. All those scientists whining in the Sunday supplements about man's inherent destructiveness and his propensity for violence, throwing up their hands. That wasn't dealing with the irrational side. That was just a formal admission that they were giving up on it.
The screen changed again:
1. Set Ballast Blowers To: On
Proceed To Next Cancel
Norman pushed buttons on the panel, setting the ballast blowers, and waited for the next screen.
After all, how did scientists approach their own research? The scientists all agreed: scientific research can't be stopped. If we don't build the bomb, someone else will. But then pretty soon the bomb was in the hands of new people, who said, If we don't use the bomb, someone else will.
At which point, the scientists said, those other people are terrible people, they're irrational and irresponsible. We scientists are okay. But those other people are a real problem.
Yet the truth was that responsibility began with each individual person, and the choices he made. Each person had a choice.
Well, Norman thought, there was nothing he could do for Harry or Beth any longer. He had to save himself.
He heard a deep hum as the generators turned on, and the throb of the propellors. The screen flashed:
Here we go, he thought, resting his hands confidently on the controls. He felt the submarine respond beneath him. "Your attention, please. Seventeen minutes and counting." Muddy sediment churned up around the canopy as the screws engaged, and then the little submarine slipped out from beneath the dome. It was just like driving a car, he thought. There was nothing to it.
He turned in a slow arc, away from DH-7, toward DH-8. He was twenty feet above the bottom, high enough for the screws to clear the mud.
There were seventeen minutes left. At a maximum ascent rate of 6.6 feet per second - he did the mental calculation quickly, effortlessly - he would reach the surface in two and a half minutes.
There was plenty of time.
He moved the submarine close to DH-8. The exterior habitat floodlights were yellow and pale. Power must be dropping. He could see the damage to the cylinders - streams of bubbles rising from the weakened A and B Cylinders; the dents in the D; and the gaping hole in E Cyl, which was flooded. The habitat was battered, and dying.
Why had he come so close? He squinted at the portholes, then realized he was hoping to catch sight of Harry and Beth, one last time. He wanted to see Harry, unconscious and unresponsive. He wanted to see Beth standing at the window, shaking her fist at him in maniacal rage. He wanted confirmation that he was right to leave them.
But he saw only the fading yellow light inside the habitat. He was disappointed.
"Yes, Beth." He felt comfortable answering her now. He had his hands on the controls of the submarine, ready to make his ascent. There was nothing she could do to him now. "Norman, you really are a son of a bitch."
"You tried to kill me, Beth."
"I didn't want to kill you. I had no choice, Norman."
"Yeah, well. Me, too. I have no choice." As he spoke, he knew he was right. Better for one person to survive. Better than nothing.
"You're just going to leave us?"
"That's right, Beth."
His hand moved to the ascent-rate dial. He set it to 6.6 feet. Ready to ascend.
"You're just going to run away?" He heard the contempt in her voice.
"That's right, Beth."
"You, the one who kept talking about how we had to stay together down here?"
"Sorry, Beth."
"You must be very afraid, Norman."
"I'm not afraid at all." And indeed he felt strong and confident, setting the controls, preparing for his ascent. He felt better than he had felt for days.
"Norman," she said.
"Please help us. Please."
Her words struck him at some deep level, arousing feelings of caring, of professional competence, of simple human kindness. For a moment he felt confusion, his strength and conviction weakened. But then he got a grip on himself, and shook his head. The strength flew back into his body.
"Sorry, Beth. It's too late for that."
And he pressed the "ASCEND" button, heard the roar as the ballast tanks blew, and Deepstar III swayed. The habitat slipped away below him, and he started toward the surface, a thousand feet above.
Black water, no sense of movement except for the readings on the glowing green instrument panel. He began to review the events in his mind, as if he were already facing a Navy inquiry. Had he done the right thing, leaving the others behind?
Unquestionably, he had. The sphere was an alien object which gave a person the power to manifest his thoughts. Well and good, except that human beings had a split in their brains, a split in their mental processes. It was almost as if men had two brains. The conscious brain could be consciously controlled, and presented no problem. But the unconscious brain, wild and abandoned, was dangerous and destructive when its impulses were manifested.
The trouble with people like Harry and Beth was that they were literally unbalanced. Their conscious brains were overdeveloped, but they had never bothered to explore their unconscious. That was the difference between Norman and them. As a psychologist, Norman had some acquaintance with his unconscious. It held no surprises for him.
That was why Harry and Beth had manifested monsters, but Norman had not. Norman knew his unconscious. No monsters awaited him.
No. Wrong.
He was startled by the suddenness of the thought, the abruptness of it. Was he really wrong? He considered carefully, and decided once again that he was correct after all. Beth and Harry were at risk from the products of their unconscious, but Norman was not. Norman knew himself; the others did not.
"The fears unleashed by contact with a new life form are not understood. The most likely consequence of contact is absolute terror."
The statements from his own report popped into his head. Why should he think of them now? It had been years since he had written his report.
"Under circumstances of extreme terror, people make decisions poorly."
Yet Norman wasn't afraid. Far from it. He was confident and strong. He had a plan, he was carrying it out. Why should he even think of that report? At the time, he'd agonized over it, thinking of each sentence. ... Why was it coming to mind now? It troubled him.
"Your attention, please. Sixteen minutes and counting." Norman scanned the gauges before him. He was at nine hundred feet, rising swiftly. There was no turning back now. Why should he even think of turning back?
Why should it enter his mind?
As he rose silently through black water, he increasingly felt a kind of split inside himself, an almost schizophrenic internal division. Something was wrong, he sensed. There was something he hadn't considered yet.
But what could he have overlooked? Nothing, he decided, because, unlike Beth and Harry, I am fully conscious; I am aware of everything that is happening inside me.
Except Norman didn't really believe that. Complete awareness might be a philosophical goal, but it was not really attainable. Consciousness was like a pebble that rippled the surface of the unconscious. As consciousness widened, there was still more unconsciousness beyond. There was always more, just beyond reach. Even for a humanistic psychologist.
Stein, his old professor: "You always have your shadow."
What was Norman's shadow side doing now? What was happening in the unconscious, denied parts of his own brain? Nothing. Keep going up.
He shifted uneasily in the pilot's chair. He wanted to go to the surface so badly, he felt such conviction. ...
I hate Beth. I hate Harry. I hate worrying about these people, caring for them. I don't want to care any more. It's not my responsibility. I want to save myself. I hate them. I hate them.
He was shocked. Shocked by his own thoughts, the vehemence of them.
I must go back, he thought. If I go back I will die.
But some other part of himself was growing stronger with each moment. What Beth had said was true: Norman had been the one who kept saying that they had to stay together, to work together. How could he abandon them now? He couldn't. It was against everything he believed in, everything that was important and human.
He had to go back.
I am afraid to go back.
At last, he thought. There it is. Fear so strong he had denied its existence, fear that had caused him to rationalize abandoning the others.
He pressed the controls, halting his ascent. As he started back down, he saw that his hands were shaking.
0130 HOURS
The sub came to rest gently on the bottom beside the habitat. Norman stepped into the submarine airlock, flooded the chamber. Moments later, he climbed down the side and walked toward the habitat. The Tevac explosives' cones with their blinking red lights looked oddly festive.
"Your attention, please. Fourteen minutes and counting." He estimated the time he would need. One minute to get inside. Five, maybe six minutes to dress Beth and Harry in the suits. Another four minutes to reach the sub and get them aboard. Two or three minutes to make the ascent.
It was going to be close. He moved beneath the big support pylons, under the habitat.
"So you came back, Norman," Beth said, over the intercom.
"Yes, Beth."
"Thank God," she said. She started to cry. He was beneath A Cyl, hearing her sobs over the intercom. He found the hatch cover, spun the wheel to open it. It was locked shut.
"Beth, open the hatch."
She was crying over the intercom. She didn't answer him.
"Beth, can you hear me? Open the hatch."
Crying like a child, sobbing hysterically. "Norman," she said. "Please help me. Please."
"I'm trying to help you, Beth. Open the hatch."
"I can't."
"What do you mean, you can't?"
"It won't do any good."
"Beth," he said. "Come on, now... ."
"I can't do it, Norman."
"Of course you can. Open the hatch, Beth."
"You shouldn't have come back, Norman."
There was no time for this now. "Beth, pull yourself together. Open the hatch."
"No, Norman, I can't."
And she began crying again.
He tried all the hatches, one after another. B Cyl, locked. C Cyl, locked. D Cyl, locked.
"Your attention, please. Thirteen minutes and counting." He was standing by E Cyl, which had been flooded in an earlier attack. He saw the gaping, jagged tear in the outer cylinder surface. The hole was large enough for him to climb through, but the edges were sharp, and if he tore his suit ...
No, he decided. It was too risky. He moved beneath E Cyl. Was there a hatch?
He found a hatch, spun the wheel. It opened easily. He pushed the circular lid upward, heard it clang against the inner wall.
"Norman? Is that you?"
He hauled himself up, into E Cyl. He was panting from the exertion, on his hands and knees on the deck of E Cyl. He shut the hatch and locked it again, then took a moment to get his breath.
"Your attention, please. Twelve minutes and counting."
Jesus, he thought. Already?
Something white drifted past his faceplate, startling him. He pulled back, realized it was a box of corn flakes. When he touched it, the cardboard disintegrated in his hands, the flakes like yellow snow.
He was in the kitchen. Beyond the stove he saw another hatch, leading to D Cyl. D Cyl was not flooded, which meant that he must somehow pressurize E Cyl.
He looked up, saw an overhead bulkhead hatch, leading to the living room with the gaping tear. He climbed up quickly. He needed to find gas, some kind of tanks. The living room was dark, except for the reflected light from the floodlights, which filtered in through the tear. Cushions and padding floated in the water. Something touched him and he spun and saw dark hair streaming around a face, and as the hair moved he saw part of the face was missing, torn away grotesquely.
Norman shuddered, pushed her body away. It drifted off, moving upward.
"Your attention, please. Eleven minutes and counting." It was all happening too fast, he thought. There was hardly enough time left. He needed to be inside the habitat now. No tanks in the living room. He climbed back down to the kitchen, shutting the hatch above. He looked at the stove, the ovens. He opened the oven door, and a burst of gas bubbled out. Air trapped in the oven.
But that couldn't be right, he thought, because gas was still coming out. A trickle of bubbles continued to come from the open oven.
A steady trickle.
What had Barnes said about cooking under pressure? There was something unusual about it, he couldn't remember exactly. Did they use gas? Yes, but they also needed more oxygen. That meant
He pulled the stove away from the wall, grunting with exertion, and then he found it. A squat bottle of propane, and two large blue tanks.
Oxygen tanks.
He twisted the Y-valves, his gloved fingers clumsy. Gas began to roar out. The bubbles rushed up to the ceiling, where the gas was trapped, the big air bubble that was forming.
He opened the second oxygen tank. The water level fell rapidly, to his waist, then his knees. Then it stopped. The tanks must be empty. No matter, the level was low enough.
"Your attention, please. Ten minutes and counting." Norman opened the bulkhead door to D Cyl, and stepped through, into the habitat.
The light was dim. A strange green, slimy mold covered the walls.
On the couch, Harry lay unconscious, the intravenous line still in his arm. Norman pulled the needle out with a spurt of blood. He shook Harry, trying to rouse him.
Harry's eyelids fluttered, but he was otherwise unresponsive. Norman lifted him, put him over his shoulder, carried him through the habitat.
On the intercom, Beth was still crying. "Norman, you shouldn't have come."
"Where are you, Beth?"
On the monitors, he read:
Counting backward. The numbers seemed too to move fast.
"Take Harry and go, Norman. Both of you go. Leave me behind."
"Tell me where you are, Beth."
He was moving through the habitat, from D to C Cyl. He didn't see her anywhere. Harry was a dead weight on his shoulder, making it difficult to get through the bulkhead doors.
"It won't do any good, Norman."
"Come on, Beth. ..."
"I know I'm bad, Norman. I know I can't be helped."
"Beth ..." He was hearing her through the helmet radio, so he could not locate her by the sound. But he could not risk removing his helmet. Not now.
"I deserve to die, Norman."
"Cut it out, Beth."
"Attention, please. Nine minutes and counting."
A new alarm sounded, an intermittent beeping that became louder and more intense as the seconds ticked by.
He was in B Cyl, a maze of pipes and equipment. Once clean and multicolored, now the slimy mold coated every surface. In some places fibrous mossy strands hung down. B Cyl looked like a jungle swamp.
"Beth ..."
She was silent now. She must be in this room, he thought. B Cyl had always been Beth's favorite place, the place where the habitat was controlled. He put Harry on the deck, propped him against a wall. But the wall was slippery and Harry slid down, banged his head. He coughed, opened his eyes.
"Jesus. Norman?"
Norman held his hand up, signaling Harry to be quiet.
"Beth?" Norman said.
No answer. Norman moved among the slimy pipes.
"Leave me, Norman."
"I can't do that, Beth. I'm taking you, too."
"No. I'm staying, Norman."
"Beth," he said, "there's no time for this."
"I'm staying, Norman. I deserve to stay."
He saw her.
Beth was huddled in the back, wedged among pipes, crying like a child. She held one of the explosive-tipped spear guns in her hand. She looked at him tearfully.
"Oh, Norman," she said. "You were going to leave us. ..."
"I'm sorry. I was wrong."
He started toward her, holding out his hands to her. She swung the spear gun around. "No, you were right. You were right. I want you to leave now."
Above her head he saw a glowing monitor, the numbers clicking inexorably backward: 08:27 ... 08:26 ...
He thought, I can change this. I want the numbers to stop counting.
The numbers did not stop.
"You can't fight me, Norman," she said, huddled in the corner. Her eyes blazed with furious energy.
"I can see that."
"There isn't much time, Norman. I want you to leave." She held the gun, pointed firmly toward him. He had a sudden sense of the absurdity of it all, that he had come back to rescue someone who didn't want to be rescued. What could he do now? Beth was wedged back in there, beyond his reach, beyond his help. There was barely enough time for him to get away, let alone to take Harry. ...
Harry, he thought suddenly. Where was Harry now? I want Harry to help me.
But he wondered if there was time; the numbers were clicking backward, there was hardly more than eight minutes, now. ...
"I came back for you, Beth."
"Go," she said. "Go now, Norman."
"But, Beth - "
" - No, Norman! I mean it! Go! Why don't you go?" And then she began to get suspicious; she started to look around; and at that moment Harry stood up behind her, and swung the big wrench down on her head, and there was a sickening thud, and she fell.
"Did I kill her?" Harry said.
And the deep male voice said, "Attention, please. Eight minutes and counting."
Norman concentrated on the clock as it ticked backwards. Stop. Stop the countdown.
But when he looked again, the clock was still ticking backwards. And the alarm: Was the alarm interfering with his concentration? He tried again.
Stop now. The countdown will stop now. The countdown has stopped.
"Forget it," Harry said. "It won't work."
"But it should work," Norman said.
"No," Harry said. "Because she's not completely unconscious."
On the floor at their feet, Beth groaned. Her leg moved. "She's still able to control it, somehow," Norman said. "She's very strong."
"Can we inject her?"
Norman shook his head. There was no time to go back for the syringe. Anyway, if they injected her and it didn't work, it would be time wasted -
"Hit her again?" Harry said. "Harder? Kill her?"
"No," Norman said.
"Killing her is the only way - "
" - No," Norman said, thinking, We didn't kill you, Harry, when we had the chance.
"If you won't kill her, then you can't do anything about that timer," Harry said. "So we better get the hell out."
They ran for the airlock.
"How much time is left'?" Harry said. They were in the A Cyl airlock, trying to put the suit on Beth. She was groaning; blood was matted on the back of her head. Beth struggled a little, making it more difficult.
"Jesus, Beth - how much time, Norman?"
"Seven and a half minutes, maybe less."
Her legs were in; they quickly pushed her arms in, zipped up the chest. They turned on her air. Norman helped Harry with his suit.
"Attention, please. Seven minutes and counting."
Harry said, "How much time you figure to get to the surface?"
"Two and a half minutes, after we get inside the sub," Norman said.
"Great," Harry said.
Norman snapped Harry's helmet locked. "Let's go." Harry descended into the water, and Norman lowered Beth's unconscious body. She was heavy with the tank and weights.
"Come on, Norman!"
Norman plunged into the water.
At the submarine, Norman climbed up to the hatch entrance, but the untethered sub rolled unpredictably with his weight. Harry, standing on the bottom, tried to push Beth up toward Norman, but Beth kept bending over at the waist. Norman, grabbing for her, fell off the sub and slid to the bottom.
"Attention, please. Six minutes and counting."
"Hurry, Norman! Six minutes!"
"I heard, damn it."
Norman got to his feet, climbed back on the sub, but now his suit was muddy, his gloves slippery. Harry was counting: "Five twenty-nine ... five twenty-eight ... five twentyseven..." Norman caught Beth's arm, but she slipped away again.
"Damn it, Norman! Hold on to her!"
"I'm trying!"
"Here. Here she is again."
"Attention, please. Five minutes and counting."
The alarm was now high-pitched, beeping insistently. They had to shout over it to be heard.
"Harry, give her to me - "
"Well, here, take her - "
"Missed - "
"Here - "
Norman finally caught Beth's air hose in his hand, just behind the helmet. He wondered if it would pull out, but he had to risk it. Gripping the hose, he hauled Beth up, until she lay on her back on the top of the sub. Then he eased her down into the hatch.
"Four twenty-nine ... four twenty-eight ..."