He reeled the scrolls of telemeter tape forward to the moment the sabotage was discovered, double-checked the timed setting, scanned backward and forward across the area.
But that can't be!
Ramsey stared at the pattern of rivets on the bulkhead opposite him. The faint whispering of the drive seemed to grow louder. His hand on the blanket beside him felt every tuft, every thread. His nostrils sorted out the odors of the room: paint, oil, soap, ozone, perspiration, plastic . . .
Is it possible for a person to go through anxiety without glandular changes? he asked himself. Yes, under certain pathological circumstances, none of which fit Sparrow.
Ramsey remembered the sound of the captain's voice over the intercom during the period of stress: higher pitched, tense, clipped.
Again, Ramsey examined the tape. Could the telemeter be wrong?
He checked it. Functioning perfectly. Could there be disfunction in the mechanism within Sparrow's flesh? Then the other fluctuations would not have registered.
Ramsey leaned back, put a hand behind his head, thought through the problem. Two major possibilities suggested themselves: If Sparrow knew about the wiper-rag-oil-spray thing then he wouldn't be anxious. What if he planted the rag and set that lube-system pet-cock himself? He could've done it to disable the ship and stop the mission because he's lost his nerve or because he's a spy.
But there would've been other psychomotor indications which the telemeter would have registered.
This led to the other possibility: In moments of great stress Sparrow's automatic glandular functions are taken over by the higher cortical centers. That could tie in with the known paranoiac tendencies. There could be a systematic breakdown of normal function under stress: such a turning away from fear that the whole being believes there could be no danger.
Ramsey sat bolt upright. That would fit the pattern of Sparrow's religious attitude. An utter and complete faith would explain it. There had been religious paranoiacs before. They'd even tried to hang the label on Christ. Ramsey frowned. But of course Schweitzer made the ones who tried look like fools. Tore their arguments to shreds.
A sharp rap on Ramsey's door interrupted his thoughts. He slipped the tapes into the false bottom of the telemeter box, closed the lid, locked it.
Again the rap. "Ramsey?" Garcia's voice.
"Ramsey, you'd better take a couple of anti-fatigue pills. You're scheduled for the next watch."
"Right. Thanks." Ramsey slipped the box under his desk, went to the door, opened it. The companionway was empty. He looked at Garcia's door across the companionway, stood there a moment, feeling the ship around him. A drop of moisture condensing from the overhead fell past his eyes.
Abruptly, he had to fight off a sense of depression. He could almost feel the terrible pressure of water around him.
Do I know what it is to be truly afraid? he asked himself.
The Ram moved to the slow rhythm of the undersea currents, hiding under every cold layer her crew could find because the cold water damped the sound of her screw; creeping between the walls of underwater canyons like a great blimp with a tail because the canyon walls stopped the sound of her passage.
Watches changed, meals were eaten. A chess game started between Sparrow and Garcia. The automatic timelog's hands swept around, around, around, and around, clocking off the deadly dull routine of danger. The red dot marking their position on the sonoran chart crept around the tip of Florida, up the Atlantic coast, and out into the ocean -- a mite creeping toward Iceland.
Five days, thirteen hours, twenty-one minutes from point of departure.
Sparrow entered the control room, stooping for the door, pausing inside to sweep his gaze over the dials -- his other sense organs. Too much moisture in the atmosphere. He made a mental note to have Garcia check that on his watch. Now, it was Bonnett's watch. The main board was set up for remote control. A repeater board was missing from its rack.
On the sonoran chart, their position marker stood almost due east of the northern tip of Newfoundland, and on a line south from the southernmost tip of Greenland: course sixty-one degrees, twenty minutes. The static pressure gauge registered 2360 pounds to the square inch: about 5500 feet below the surface.
Sparrow stepped across the control room, ducked through the door and out onto the engine-room catwalk. The catwalk padding felt soft under his feet.
Bonnett stood on the lower catwalk, back to Sparrow, staring down to the left. Sparrow followed the direction of his first officer's gaze: the door sealing one of the emergency tunnels into the reactor room.
Something odd about Bonnett's movements, thought Sparrow. Looks like he's counting.
Then Sparrow recognized the motion: Bonnett was sniffing the air. Sparrow took an experimental whiff himself, smelled the omnipresent stink of their recirculated air plus the ozone and oil normal to the engine room. He strode out onto the catwalk, bent over the railing. "Something wrong, Les?"
Bonnett turned, looked upward. "Hi, Skipper. Don't know. I keep smelling something rotten in here."
Sparrow's lips twisted into a half smile. "How can you tell in this stinkpot?"
"I mean actually rotten," said Bonnett. "Carrion. Rotting meat. I've been getting it for several days -every time I go past here."
"Has anybody else noticed it?"
"They haven't said."
"Its probably your imagination, Les. After five days in this floating sewer pipe everything stinks."
"I dunno, Skipper. I can sort out most of the smells. This one doesn't fit."
"Just a minute." Sparrow stepped to the connecting ladder, dropped down to Bonnett's level. "Take a sniff, Skipper."
Sparrow drew in a deep breath through his nose. There was a faint carrion odor in the air, but then meat got high quickly in the heavy oxygen of a sub-tug's atmosphere. "Could it be a dead rat?" he asked.
"How would it get aboard? Besides, we went over the Ram with a fine-tooth comb. A mosquito couldn't --" He broke off, turned, stared at the radiation bulkhead.
"There's one place we didn't comb," said Sparrow. "Still, we looked it over with the internal eyes," said Bonnett. "There --" He fell silent. "Let's take another look," said Sparrow. He led the way back to the control room, keyed the master screen to the reactor-room scanners, one by one.
"Nothing," said Bonnett. He looked at Sparrow, shrugged.
Sparrow glanced at his wrist watch. "Joe went off stand-by about an hour ago." He looked at the now blank screen. "Get him up to that tunnel door anyway. Put Ramsey on stand-by here in the control room. I'm going forward." He stooped for the forward door, went out onto the catwalk, dropped down to the lower level.
In the control room, Bonnett went to the communications panel, buzzed Garcia. A sleepy voice came on
the speaker. "Yeah?"
"Skipper wants you forward. Number-one reactor-room tunnel."
"He'll tell you."
Bonnett closed the circuit, opened the call network. "Ramsey."
"Aye. In the rec room."
"Stand by on the control deck."
Bonnett clicked the call switch off, joined Sparrow at the tunnel door forward. Garcia was with them almost immediately, still buttoning his shirt, his black hair tumbled over his forehead. "Something wrong?"
Sparrow said, "You made the last pile check, Joe. Did you open the tunnel doors?"
"Sure. But I didn't go inside. The Security crew gave us a clean --"
"That's okay. Did you smell something?"
Garcia frowned. "You mean like with my nose?"
"I don't believe so." Garcia scratched his head. "Why?"
"Take a sniff," said Bonnett. Garcia wrinkled his nose, inhaled. Again. "Rotten."
"Les has been smelling it for a couple of days."
"Has anybody checked the ventilator duct?" asked Garcia.
"First thing," said Bonnett. "I couldn't be certain. Far enough in there it'd be a race between bacteria and sterilizing radiation."
"With the bacteria winning as soon as we hit high oxy," said Sparrow. He pointed to the screened outlet of the tunnel vent. "It's worst right there. Joe, get me a length of our spare high-pressure tubing."
"About twenty feet. Something that'll bend for the center dip of the tunnel and reach out into the open section."
"Righto." Garcia went aft and into machine stores.
Sparrow turned to a wall rack, broke out a portable TV eye and spotlight. "All of us have a blind spot on the reactor room. We don't like to think about it. We count on the stationary eyes being arranged for maximum inspection. This way we'll lose one portable eye and one spotlight when they get hot, but we'll see into the odd corners."
Garcia returned with the tubing. "What're you going to do?"
"Rig a portable eye and light on the end," said Sparrow.
Garcia blushed. "I didn't think of that."
"Like I was telling Les," said Sparrow. "Our minds don't function right on --"
Ramsey's voice came from the speaker on the bulkhead above them. "I have you on my screen here. What's doing?"
Bonnett thumbed his chest mike. "Something rotten in this pile-room tunnel."
Sparrow looked up from where he was rigging the TV eye and light to the tubing. "Have him take it from the portable board you left up there on the catwalk railing. We may need his help."
Bonnett relayed the order.
Presently, Ramsey came out on the catwalk above them, checked the portable control board. He leaned over the railing, looked down at them. "I just smelled it," he said. "Do you think it's a rat?"
"Don't know," said Bonnett.
"Here." Sparrow passed the tubing to Garcia, turned to the tunnel door, undogged it, paused. He looked up at Ramsey. "Take that board back a ways."
Ramsey complied, moving about ten feet back along the catwalk.
Sparrow nodded to Bonnett. "Les, move over a bit."
Bonnett stepped back out of line of the door. "What're you expecting?"
Sparrow nodded toward the fixed radiation counter above the tunnel door. "It may be a little warm. Keep an eye on that thing."
Garcia brought a portable radiation snooper from its wall rack, stood beside Sparrow.
"Okay," said Sparrow. "Here goes." He pulled the door open.
"Wheee-ew!" gasped Sparrow.
"If you'll excuse the pun," said Bonnett, "I don't like the smell of that."
Ramsey leaned over the railing. "That's no rat," he said. "Too much of it."
Sparrow took the length of tubing, snapped on the light. It was turned so that its beam flashed full into Ramsey's eyes, blinding him momentarily. When Ramsey's vision returned, Sparrow had the tube pushed into the tunnel. Garcia was bent over the portable receiver beside the door, staring into the screen.
Ramsey tuned one of his own circuits to the portable unit, gasped as Garcia barked, "Skipper! Look at this!"
The screen showed part of the downward curve of the tunnel floor. Just within view were the soles of a
man's shoes and part of his legs. The picture stopped just below the knees.
Bonnett looked at Ramsey, who caught a glimpse of staring eyes under the shaggy brows. Sweat glistened on the first officer's forehead. "You getting this on your screen?" he asked.
Ramsey nodded. Because of the angle of view, the men below him had a foreshortened, gnome-like appearance. A trick of acoustics brought their voices to Ramsey with a faint ringing quality. He felt like a man observing a marionette show.
Bonnett turned back to examine the fixed meter above the door. "Radiation's up slightly," he said.
"Nothing the filters can't take care of," said Garcia.
Sparrow was bending over to maneuver the TV eye and light farther into the tunnel. Garcia moved the portable receiver back where Bonnett could see it.
"Anything?" asked Sparrow.
"More leg," said Bonnett.
Ramsey became conscious of a low murmuring, realized that Garcia was whispering: "Holy Mary, Mother of God . . ." The engineering officer's hands were tolling the Rosary under his shut.
Sparrow gave the tubing a gentle twist.
"Knife!" blurted Bonnett.
Ramsey saw it on his panel. The hilt of a knife projected from the chest of the man in the tunnel.
"Get a record camera on this," ordered Sparrow.
"I have it up here," called Ramsey. He pulled the camera from its rack beside the control board, hung it over the receiver screen.
Sparrow pushed the tubing farther into the tunnel until the scanner picked up the man's face. "Anybody recognize him?"
"I think I've seen him," said Garcia. "That's a rating uniform. Looks like atomic tech insignia." He shook his head. "But he's not one of the Techs I let aboard for the final embarkation check."
Sparrow turned, looked up at Ramsey. "How about you, Ramsey?"
"He's a special Security officer attached to Admiral Belland's office," said Ramsey. "His name's Foss or Foster. Something like that."