"Right on, Skipper. Bring it forward three feet and lock it while you lift the rear hinge section into place."
The grapple moved as though it were a part of his body. He twisted his left grip to lock the end section, eased the next element of the grapple arm into alignment.
"Perfect. Now, can you lift the whole arm about an inch? You're a little close to that broken hinge."
"I can't see the end of the grapple and the next element at the same time, Les. I'd better watch the element."
"Okay. Fine it down and bring the grapple end up a quarter of an inch at a time."
Sparrow grunted as he made the first lift.
"That was a half inch, Skipper. One more exactly like it."
Again Sparrow grunted as he moved the grip.
"A hair over, Skipper, but you still have clearance."
"Do you want me to fine it down?"
"No. Let it stand there. Now bring the grapple end past the hinge. One straight push about three feet."
Sparrow twisted his head to get a view of the grapple in the mirrors. It looked as though it would smash directly into the broken hinge. Poor angle of view, he thought. How'd a piece of bad planning like that get by? He lifted his right hand grip. The grapple surged forward, stopped.
"Hold it right there a second, Skipper."
Sparrow heard mumbling over the phones.
Bonnett's voice returned: "You'll have to get three elements of the grapple arm past that break before you can drop the tip. Better align the next element."
Sparrow brought up the next hinged section, straightened it. "How's the alignment?"
"Right on. Bring it forward."
He complied, his hands moving the controls with increased sureness. The next element came up, was aligned, sent forward.
"Another foot forward, Skipper."
He moved the grapple arm.
"Now comes the ticklish part. Drop the end at number-three joint. Take it down slowly and stop when I tell you."
Sparrow bent the end elements downward. He thought that it was almost as though he could feel the moving part as he could feel his own arm. He sensed the position and stopped it while Bonnett was forming the order on his lips. The grapple end now was out of sight below the control base. It would take four adjustments of the mirrors to bring it back into view.
"You're about ten inches above the main drive bar. To reach it, you'll have to angle down with that section spanning the broken hinge."
"I don't dare jar that hinge," said Sparrow. "There's a lot of leverage that far up. I could break it right off."
"I've used the calipers on the screen," said Bonnett. "You'll have about an inch to spare."
Sparrow felt the fatigue in his wrists and forearms, whispered, "Just a little longer, Lord, We're making it."
"You ready?" asked Bonnett.
"Yes. Talk me down."
"Okay. Take the tip toward you about four niches."
Sparrow moved the grapple.
"Now down six inches."
Sparrow eased the tip downward, felt the sureness of his control, said, "How's the lateral alignment?"
"Half inch to the right."
He shifted the descent angle, continued down with the tip. "How's the upper clearance?"
"You still have two niches."
He felt the grapple jaws touch the drive bar, lowered them onto it, gripped the bar.
"Skipper, you couldn't have done that better if you'd had your own hand out there."
Sparrow locked the grapple into position, brought up secondary grapples to brace it. He slid backward down the tunnel until he could reach the manual controls at number-two position, reached up with a short grapple and clamped it onto the broken unit. The control shivered.
"Lordy," said Bonnett. "It would've gone right over without the bracing on that drive bar."
Sparrow swung an extension torch into place above the broken hinge, locked it into position, lifted the broken end until the sheared sections touched. He started the torch.
"Fuse it solid at the hinge. Only thing I can do now. There's enough play in the other elements to almost compensate for the lost mobility. We'll be able to cover more than eighty percent of this pile face. The manuals will cover the rest."
"What're you going to do, Skipper?"
"What about the base?"
"I'm going to knock the sheared bolts right on through into the catch basin." He lowered the torch, playing its flame onto the sheared hinge. At the molten moment, he cut the torch, crushed the broken elements together. The repair formed a wedge-shaped cup. He sprayed the inside with brazing flux, brought up the brazing rod, and filled the cup.
"That looks like it'll hold," said Bonnett, "I've been examining the base. It doesn't appear to be warped, but it's out of alignment. You'll need a spreader jack at the aft end."
"Right. What's the inclination?"
"About one degree. Put the replacement bolts along the inside face first. They'll hold it while you drop the drive bar."
"I've a better idea," said Sparrow. "Watch closely and tell me if anything starts to go wrong."
"What're you going to do?"
"Drop the bolts into place along the inner face, then throw a little torque into the drive bar. The thrust against the grapple will push the base back into position."
"No worse than thrusting a jack against the base of the pile to horse that thing into position. This way we don't touch the pile."
Sparrow continued to speak as he worked. "Rule one of pileroom repair should be: Don't touch the reactor unless you absolutely have to."
"You have nine minutes, Skipper," said Bonnett. "You should be on your way out in five minutes."
"That's another reason for doing it my way," said Sparrow.
"Couldn't Joe finish it?"
"Only if he has to. Best not to have two of us on the cooling-off list."
He touched the drive-bar switch. The control base rocked against its grapple braces. Metal protested. Two of the bolts dropped into position. Sparrow slipped nuts onto them, drove them tight with a motor wrench. Again he rocked the base with the drive bar. The remaining bolts slipped home.
Sparrow's fingers flew over the manual controls as he completed the job. He disengaged the grapples, swung the repaired control arm out of the way, clamped it.
"Two minutes, Skipper. On your way, right now!" Sparrow released the last temporary brace, dropped it, slid backward down the tunnel, closed and dogged the door at the bulkhead limit. His helmet light was a pale flame after the blue glare of the tunnel end. He crawled backward, heard Garcia undog the door behind him, felt the other man's suited hands on his legs helping him the last few feet.
Bonnett's voice came over the phones: "You went about a minute over. Get down to the sick bay and take your shots."
Sparrow grinned: It was good for Les to give orders, eased his tensions.
"On the double, Skipper," said Bonnett. "Every second's delay means that much more time cooling off for you."
Sparrow fought down a feeling of irritation. Under Rule Ninety, Bonnett was technically in command when his superior officer had taken an overdose of radiation. But one minute!
Garcia ran a snooper over him, working silently, gesturing for Sparrow to turn. The engineering officer straightened, racked the snooper. "Into that decon chamber." He unhooked Sparrow's hose from the tunnel system, closed the door and dogged it.
Sparrow climbed into the decontamination chamber, felt the surge of foaming detergent around him.
"Joe, what's the delay?" Bonnett again.
"He's in decon now, Les. Thirty seconds more."
"Cut it short, Joe. Ramsey is on his way down with the needles to give him his shots there. It'll save a couple of minutes."
Ramsey came out on the catwalk above them, carrying a radiation-first-aid kit under his arm. He dropped down to their level, helped Garcia break the seal on his suit.
Sparrow came out of the chamber without his suit, frowned at the kit in Ramsey's hand.
"Bend over, Skipper," said Ramsey.
Sparrow obeyed, dropped his trousers, winced at the needle. "Just don't enjoy yourself, Johnny," he said.
Ramsey extracted the needle, wiped the bare skin with disinfectant. "That does it and I hope you never have to do the same for me."
The lifting of tension about Sparrow was an almost physical thing.
Ramsey replaced the hypodermic in the kit, sealed it.
"Let's go," said Sparrow.
Garcia hung his ABG suit in its locker, followed them up the ladder.
Ramsey thought: What's on the telemeter? Lord, I thought he'd never come out of that tunnel.
They stepped out onto the center catwalk, headed for the control room. Abruptly, the giant motors around them fell silent. Sparrow broke into a run, ducked through into the control room. Ramsey sprinted after him, went through the door on Sparrow's heels.
Bonnett stood at the search board, one hand on the drive controls. His eyes were on the oscilloscope of
the limit sono-finder. He spoke without turning: "Signal. At extreme range. We've lost it."
"By now they must have a rough idea of our course," said Sparrow. "They're quartering the area. What's the depth?"
"We're over the sub-arctic shallows," said Bonnett. "Bottom's about 350 fathoms."
"Too shallow for us to lie doggo," said Sparrow. "They would range too close for --"
"There it is again," said Bonnett. He nodded toward the scope, adjusted two flanking dials. "Northeast. A pack by the noise. Damn! Lost them again. That's probably a school of fish between us."
"Head for the Norway basin," said Sparrow. "We need deep water." He glanced at the sonoran chart. "Course nine degrees."
Bonnett engaged the drive, swung the helm to the left until they were on the new course.
Sparrow stepped to his nav-plot board, bent over it, figuring. Presently, he straightened. "Estimating time of arrival two hours and six minutes." He turned. "Johnny, stay with search here. We've the range on them, but not so much that we can afford to get careless."
Ramsey moved to the search board. Garcia stepped through the door from the engine room. "The real danger is an EP that lies doggo until we're in range," he said.
"It's a big ocean," said Sparrow.
"And a small world," said Garcia.
Sparrow looked at the radiation kit which Ramsey had placed on one of the control-board stools. He glanced at his wrist watch. "Does someone have a timer set for my next shots?"
"I have," said Ramsey.
"Get what rest you can, Skipper," said Bonnett. "I'll have a look at you as soon as we find a sitting spot."
"I can do it," said Garcia.
Bonnet nodded. "Okay."
"Timer's in the kit," said Ramsey.
Garcia picked up the sealed box, gestured for Sparrow to precede him aft.
They're worried about me, thought Sparrow. But one minute over isn't that important.
Ramsey noted the proprietary attitude of Garcia and Bonnett toward Sparrow, realized abruptly that he shared it. He's our skipper, he thought.
Sparrow and Garcia went aft.
The Ram crept onward.
"It's a little deeper," said Ramsey. "We're over the hump."
"Sill depth across here runs 400 to 600 fathoms," said Bonnett. "When we reach 600 we'll be close to the basin slope."