"It's been going down as we climbed. Now it's about thirty gallons a minute. Have Ramsey rig you in a detergent suit. That oil is mucky stuff to work in."

Garcia said, "Remember in refresher school when your suit system failed? You looked like a --"


"All right, Joe. Some other time."

"How hot is it out there, Skipper?"

"You can take it for about one hour, Joe. That means you would be starting back within forty minutes."

"That's cutting it close, Skipper. Is there a margin?"

"I don't think so. Watch your suit counter. We're stabilized now at 150 feet. We'll slip down and balance on the pumps. Outside pressure is sixty-six pounds to the square inch. Milli-R . . . 9050. You're on, Joe. Be careful."

Ramsey said, "Shouldn't I go out with him, Skipper?"

"I don't want two of us on the radiation-limit list if I can help it," said Sparrow. "Get yourself rigged and stand by for an emergency call."

"Aye." Ramsey pulled a detergent suit from its locker, helped Garcia into it, tested the seals.

Garcia spoke over his suit system. "Make sure I'm tight. The suit will give me a little margin."

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Again Ramsey went over the seals. "You're tight."

"Control deck, do you read me?"

"Loud and clear, Joe."

"I'm going into the hatch now."

"We'll follow you on the eyes. Be careful."

"Righto." Garcia swung open the escape hatch, clambered through, closed the hatch behind him.

Ramsey heard the water pouring into the locker chamber. He turned, pulled out another detergent suit, donned it. His own suit seals came in for a double check. He could hear Bonnett's voice over the intercom: "Lock pressure equalized. Outer door open . . . closed."

Sparrow's voice: "Johnny?"


"Into the lock as soon as the water's out of it. Seal the hatch and stand by to flood it."

High pressure air roared and the green light beside the hatch flashed clear. "In I go," said Ramsey. He worked the outside dog controls, breached the hatch, climbed inside the escape chamber, sealed the

hatch behind him. The flood-valve release light blinked on. He leaned against the ring rail within reach of the valve, settled down to wait.

"Keep an open talk switch," said Sparrow.

"You mean me?" asked Ramsey.

"Yes. Joe's out of range of the stern eyes now."

Ramsey watched the water dripping from the damp flood-valve control, glanced at his suit snooper. Some residual radiation: about twenty-three-hour dosage. He looked around the oval compartment, up to the egg dome of the outside hatch. Garcia was out there, probably through the stricture valve by now and into the viscous crude of compartment twenty-seven. Ramsey could imagine the patient search by feel in the black muck of oil. His eyes began to get heavy and he opened the oxy regulator of his lung suit a crack.

The hands of the timelog swept around: fifty-five minutes.


He snapped up, realized he had been dozing. "Aye, Skipper."

"We've given Joe all the time we're able. Really too much. Go see what's wrong . . . and be careful."

"Right." Ramsey spun the big wheel of the flood valve, felt the gush of water around his ankles. It surged up about him, tugging at his suit. The warning light and buzzer of his snooper came on simultaneously. The red needle swung into the seventy-minute zone.

Compartment pressure equalized. Ramsey undogged the outside hatch, swung it clear, and locked it in open position. They could free the magna-lock inside if they had to and this would save time. He pulled a hand light from its wall rack, kicked his fin flippers, and drifted out the hatch opening. Immediately, he felt

a wave of aloneness. No intercom out here where signals could be heard by the enemy.

The hand light picked out Garcia's safety line snaking away in the darkness. Ramsey hooked his suit ring to it, struck out along the line. The water had an inky quality that swallowed the glow of the light. He sensed the bulk of the slug ahead and above him before he could actually see it and was struck by the oddity of the feeling. The line ran aft along the plastic wall, looped upward onto an external knob.

Ramsey tugged at the line. No response. He swam up to the knob. A coil of the line was caught in a half hitch around the projection, the end disappearing into a tiny hole through the slug's surface.

Fouled control on the stricture valve. Ramsey freed the half hitch, again tugged on the line. He grabbed the projection, felt the valve control through it, pulled downward and turned.

A gush of oil shot out around the safety line as the hole expanded. The oil diffused upward, leaving a darker shape within its cloud. The darker shape moved toward Ramsey's light trailing an oily smudge. Ramsey closed the stricture valve, reached out and touched the moving shape. A hand gripped his shoulder through the suit: once, twice, three times.

All well.

They turned together, swam back with the safety line. The hatch light glowed out of darkness and they followed it in. Ramsey unhooked the safety line while Garcia was entering the compartment, dragged the coil in behind him. Garcia brought the hatch down, dogged it. Ramsey cracked open the high pressure air line, turned to face Garcia.

"Are you okay in there?" Sparrow's voice over the intercom.

Ramsey said, "Apparently, Skipper."

"Joe's had a twenty-five minute overdose," said Sparrow.

Ramsey looked at the oil-dripping shape across from him. The last water swept out of the compartment with a sucking roar. Ramsey opened the detergent nozzles, felt the hard thudding of the pressure streams.

The oil swept off their suits, disappeared down the flushout

"Okay, Joe," he said.

Garcia remained motionless.

"Come on, Joe, let's go."

Still he remained motionless.

"Something's wrong with him, Skipper."

No answer.

Ramsey motioned toward the hatch between their feet.

Garcia nodded, stepped aside. Ramsey undogged the hatch. It swung back with an assist from outside and Ramsey saw Sparrow peering up at him. Sparrow motioned toward Ramsey's throat.

Then Ramsey recognized the silence. Dead mike switch. He fumbled for it with his suited hand, caught Sparrow in mid-roar. ". . . sickbay on the double, Joe!"

"Detergent spray turned off my mike," explained Ramsey.

"You've got to watch that," said Sparrow, "Come down out of there."

Ramsey followed Garcia, helped Sparrow strip the suit from the engineering officer. The skipper helped Garcia up onto the catwalk mounting, peeled off the flipper sections. Ramsey stepped back, pulled off his headgear.

"Tired," said Garcia. "Knew somebody'd come for me. Coulda cut my way out in 'mergency." He slid off the catwalk mounting, led the way down the stairs.

Ramsey stripped off his own suit, put both suits away, went down the stairs; Garcia and Sparrow had disappeared through the control-room door. The motors came to life as Ramsey dropped to the control room.

Bonnett stood at the helm, alone in the maze of control arms and dials. He spoke without turning. "Get on the board and help me find that thermal."

Ramsey moved to his station, checked the outside temperature reading. The radiation counter caught his eye. "Who shut off the alarm?"

"Skipper. He had his eyes glued to it."

"Were we in that?"

"No. You had the hatch sealed before the count went up."

Ramsey shivered, stared at the dial: 42,000 milli-R. "That's almost at a self-sustaining level. Would be if it weren't for current diffusion."

"Where's that thermal?" asked Bonnett.

Ramsey tried a short-range pulse, checked the back wave. "Try two degrees starboard . . . right."

"My, we're salty," said Bonnett.

"We're in it," said Ramsey. "Radiation dropped, too." He looked at the big pressure gauge: 262 psi.

The Ram's deck remained tilted downward.

"We're in it," repeated Ramsey. "Let's level out."

"Buoyancy in the tow," gritted Bonnett. He flicked the button on his chest mike: "Skipper, buoyancy in the tow."

Back came Sparrow's voice: "What's our depth?"

"We're in the thermal -- about 600 feet."

"Bring us around to westward -- make it 260 degrees even."

"What if we lose the thermal?"

"Just see that we don't."

"How's Joe?" asked Ramsey.

"Full of needle holes," said Sparrow.

Bonnett spun the helm, brought up the bow planes, dropped them, found the stabilizing point. The deck inclined forward at an uneasy three degrees.

"She wants to coon dog on us," said Ramsey.

"Why couldn't oil be a nice heavy substance like lead?" asked Bonnett. He changed the pitch on the rear planes, readjusted the bow planes, glanced at the pitlog. "The drag's cutting our speed in half."

Sparrow ducked through the door into the control room, looked to the rear plane setting, swept his glance across the control reading dials.

Ramsey abruptly realized that in the one sweeping glance Sparrow had familiarized himself with the facts of his vessel's life.

He's part of the machine, thought Ramsey. "The tow's riding stern-heavy," said Bonnett. "We lost ballast from the bow. What we need is some nice non-radioactive bottom muck to replenish ballast."

Ramsey looked at the sonoran chart. The red dot on their position stood north of the blighted Scottish skerries, course line pointing toward Newfoundland. "Seamount Olga is right in our path," he said. "Its west slope would be scoured by clean currents and --"

"It may be hotter than our damper rods," said Sparrow. "But it's a good chance. That's why we changed course."

"Outside radiation's up a few points, Skipper. The thermal's thinner than our diameter here."

"Steady as she goes," said Sparrow. "The tank hull took a near-limit dose back there. It'll have to go through decon anyway. Our concern now is to get that oil home."

"It's hot, too," said Bonnett. "But usable," Ramsey reminded him. Sparrow said, "The immediate problem is how to get that ballast off the bottom when we can't go down to it. I think we're going to have

to waste another fish." He turned to Ramsey. "Johnny, do you feel hot enough on the remotes to snag our ballast hose in the fin prongs of one of our Con-5 fish?"

Ramsey remembered Teacher Reed at the torpedo base on Boca Raton. He had patted the agate-smooth skin of a thin torpedo. "This is the Con-5. Those buttons in the nose are radar and TV eyes. Through them, you sit right in the nose of this baby while you guide her into the target." And he had turned then to a black radio case with stub antenna protruding from it. "Here are the controls. Let's see what you can do. This one's a dud, so you can make lots of errors."

"Well, what do you think?" asked Sparrow.

"Once that baby's out of her rack, she's charged and ready to blow. If I smack the pin into something near the hull, we've had it."

"You don't think you can handle it?"

"I didn't say that." Ramsey looked at his hands. They were steady. "I can do it if anybody can but --"

"Youth is what it takes," said Sparrow. "Les and I are growing old."

"Howdy, Grandad," said Bonnett.

"I'm serious," said Sparrow. "The end of that ballast hose sticks out only about a foot. The Con-5 will have to be moving better than fifteen knots to snag the hose tightly. That means --"

"That means I'd better be right," said Ramsey.

"Right the first time," said Bonnett.

Ramsey shrugged. "Well, at Boca Raton they said I took to the Con-5 like it was --"

"Boca Raton?" asked Sparrow. "What's at Boca Raton?"

And Ramsey realized he had made another error. Boca Raton was a torpedo school . . . for Security specialists.

"Isn't that a Security school?" asked Bonnett.

"I missed out on my regular class because of illness," said Ramsey. "So they sent me there." He said a silent prayer that his lie would be believed.

"We'll be over Olga in twenty minutes," said Bonnett.

"I'm going back for another look at Joe," said Sparrow. He turned, went out the aft door.

"Garcia's trying for homestead rights on the sick bay," said Ramsey.

"I hope he's okay," said Bonnett. "I don't think the skipper should've let him make that slug repair. I could've done it."

"Even I could've done it," said Ramsey. "But I guess the skipper had his reasons." He frowned. "Only I'd like to know his reason for picking me to do this snag job."

"Did you ever get into a Con-5 game?" asked Bonnett.

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