April 11, 2012 4:27 pm
Lucas Thompson took a deep breath, allowing the salty sea air to penetrate every inch of his being. As the ship bobbed gently along the waves, Luke knew that this was where he was meant to be. He closed his eyes and stretched out his arms to let the fine spray mist over his face and soak into his dark gray T-shirt.
“Reliving a movie moment, are we?” a voice said behind him. He turned to see Kyle Stanton, Master of the Vessel, standing there with his hands stuffed into his coat pockets. Kyle was an average-looking man, with his dark-brown beard and constantly mussed hair. He wasn’t very tall, but he was strong and seemed to take every opportunity he could to prove so.
“Just taking in the air,” Luke replied. Kyle raised an eyebrow at him.
“Do you mean the nearly forty-degree air?” He began shrugging off his thick jacket. “Come on, Luke. You know better. I can’t have the head man getting sick on me.” Luke rolled his eyes but welcomed the warmth when Kyle placed his coat over Luke’s shoulders. The amount of cologne lingering in the fabric nearly choked him, but he endured it, if only to save Kyle’s feelings.
“Being out here clears my mind. Besides, there’s a whole team of people, and any one of them could take my place on Alice if they needed to. They’ve all been properly trained.” Kyle wrapped an arm around Luke and began to lead him down into the ship. He stopped at the base of the steps and turned to look at Luke.
“This is your expedition,” he said sincerely. He reached up, almost as if he wanted to touch Luke, but stopped himself. “You’re the heart and soul of this trip. You and this crew have been good to me over the past couple of years, you know. I’d follow you anywhere.”
“And what better opportunity to prove that than this wild goose chase?” Luke laughed and handed Kyle his jacket. “Thank you. I’m really glad the gang’s with me on this.” He turned to go to his room, the grin never leaving his face.
Luke pushed the door to his quarters open, shoving at it with his shoulder to widen the entrance. He’d been having to slip in and out of the narrow opening due to the stacks of boxes piled all around the room. Scrolls of maps and schematics littered every surface and boxes of records were stacked so high that Luke feared a paper avalanche might happen at any minute. Even the bed was buried somewhere under the journals and books. As much as he would like to excuse the mess as part of the expedition, both he and his friends knew better.
This was Luke’s collection, formed over the last eighteen years. It was his life’s work, which had started when he was only eight years old. Luke crossed the room and looked over his belongings, eventually coming to stand in front of the culmination of it all—his maritime archeology degree. He smiled sadly.
“This one’s for you, Gam.” Next to the degree hung an old black-and-white photograph of his great-grandmother, Lucinda Hughes. It had been taken back in the thirties and showed Lucinda posing on the beach, a soft breeze lifting her curls and a dazzling smile lighting up the camera. Luke touched the frame, then backed away. He had a lot of work to do before they reached the site.
* * * *
“All right, people, listen up!” Amanda Langley’s voice boomed through the meeting room. “There have been some recent developments that you need to be aware of.” She pointed to a spot on the screen beside her that showed their current location. “This is where we are. We’re close to our destination and should arrive tomorrow as scheduled, but…” She clicked a button on her controller and the screen rolled so that a large storm could be seen on the radar. A collective groan resounded in the room.
“None of that, now.” Johnny Fuller, the team surveyor, stood from his seat. His deep voice and Australian accent commanded the attention of the rest of the team. “The Tanker has faced worse storms and survived. And it looks like the storm is growing weaker as it gets closer, so it won’t be too bad.”
“Johnny’s right,” Amanda said, crossing her arms. “It shouldn’t be anything to worry about—a little rain, a little lightning. My main concern is for you, Luke. As diving supervisor, I have to say something.”
“You already have,” Luke said in a bored tone. “Every day since we told you the plan.”
“Well, I’ll say it again.” Amanda leaned close to Luke, her blue eyes flashing and turquoise hair forming a curtain between herself and the rest of the room. “It is beyond foolish for you to dive alone, especially in these conditions. If this were funded by anyone other than the people in this room, we could lose a lot more than our jobs. There should be someone else with you in Alice.”
“We’re bare bones, Amanda,” Kyle spoke up. Luke tossed him a thankful look. He was tired of arguing with Amanda at this point. “We don’t even know if what we have will be enough.”
“And all over some stupid blip on the screen.” She tossed her dyed hair over her shoulder as she stood. “I still think it’s ridiculous.”
“You know I’ve been following this my whole life,” Luke said in a quiet voice. “You know how much this means to me.” Amanda wouldn’t meet his eyes. The whole room was silent, save the beeping and whirring of machinery. “It’s been one hundred years since RMS Titanic went down, almost to the day. This anomaly around the wreck cannot be coincidence.”
“We understand, Luke.” Hannah fidgeted in the corner. Luke was surprised that she had even spoken, as she was usually quiet during these meetings. “I’m your oldest friend, so I understand more than anyone. But you’ve been down there half a dozen times in your career and haven’t found anything new. I just don’t see what difference this makes.”
Luke stood as he rifled through the folder before him, pulling out several sheets of photographs and slamming them down on the table for everyone to see. He set his palms flat on the surface, leaning over the pictures. They showed radar imagery of the Titanic wreck site, only this time, there was a strange shape similar to the crescent moon, as though a ripple were passing through the water. It was impossible at that depth, yet Luke had monitored its movement day and night for the past month.
“It sounds to me like you’ve all forgotten why we’re here,” he started, trying his best to keep his voice from shaking. “No one else believed me. When I went to the research facilities, they all thought I had doctored the photos, that this was all fake. It didn’t show up on any other crew’s monitors, only ours.”
“Sounds like we need new equipment,” Johnny quipped. Luke fixed him with an arctic glare that shut him up.
“This is a sign. There is a reason all this is showing up to us. Maybe you all think I’m crazy, and that’s fine—but you know me. We’ve all worked together for years and I’ve always been level-headed and dependable.” Luke looked around the room at their regretful faces. “I wouldn’t lie to any of you—not about this.”
“Except when it comes to Titanic,” Hannah said. “You’ve always been too close to that ship. Your emotions get in the way.” She stood, coming over to Luke and wrapping an arm around his shoulders. “I know it’s the only connection you have left to your Gam, but it does cloud your judgment.”
Luke swallowed hard and nodded. It was true that, as a Titanic survivor, Luke’s great-grandmother had raised him on stories of that voyage. It was true that after Gam had passed when Luke was eight, he had immersed himself into the world of 1912. And it was true that his entire reason for pursuing this passion was for his love of Gam and that ship. But that wasn’t the point.
“You’re all my friends,” Luke said tersely. “I have never thought of you as co-workers. We’re a family.” There were scattered nods from the others in the room. “I know I’m asking a lot and I hate to do it. But I’m asking as a man who needs the support of those he loves most—one who needs their trust. Please.”
Once again, the silence swallowed them whole. Luke knew this wasn’t something entirely emotional. Something was happening two-and-a-half miles below the surface of the Atlantic and he would find out what if was, even if he had to do it alone.
“We’re over halfway there,” Kyle said with a shrug. “And we all knew what we signed up for when we boarded the ship. We’re all a little on edge now that it’s really happening, which is to be expected. It’d be a waste to turn back now.”
“Johnny,” Amanda snapped with a newfound energy, “you’ll be on monitors. Keep an eye on every screen, okay?”
“Aye, cap’n.” Johnny gave her a sharp salute.
“Hannah, it’s up to you to keep our boy breathing. You’ll have all his stats there on your tablet. His life is in your hands.” Hannah nodded and smiled at the joke, but her knuckles turned white from her grip on the device. She went on, “I will be overseeing everything and prepping Luke to go down. As insane as it is, he will be acting as head researcher and sole pilot of DSV Alice. Are there any questions?”
“What am I supposed to do?” Kyle asked.
“Right, Kyle. I forgot about you.” Amanda tapped her chin with a perfectly manicured finger. “You can help with communications, I guess. Other than that, the usual… Look pretty and keep throwing money at us.” The rest of the crew laughed, and Kyle stroked his beard, assuming a blue-steel expression that earned more than a few whistles.
“Over here,” Johnny said, raising his arm as high as it would go. “I have a question.” He swept his hair back and grinned at Amanda when she acknowledged him. “When this is over, will you let me take you out to dinner?” Luke and Hannah exchanged a look. Almost a year ago, Johnny had decided he was in love with Amanda and had taken every chance he found to try his luck with her.
“In your dreams, Fuller.” Amanda slammed her binder closed, signaling the end of their meeting. As they all gathered their things to leave, Kyle came up to Luke.
“Can I talk to you for a second?” he asked. Concerned by his urgent tone, Luke nodded and followed him out into the empty corridor.
“Is everything all right?” he asked. Kyle fiddled with the end of his beard, chewing at his bottom lip.
“Everything’s fine. I’ve just been thinking.” He blew out a puff of air and shoved his hands into his jeans. “I have complete faith in everyone here, especially you. But I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow when you go down there. And I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t say something now.” He shuffled his feet, looking up at Luke with his dark blue eyes.
“I know this will sound cheesy, especially after what Johnny just did, but I would like to take you out when we get back to the mainland—something nice and normal once all this craziness is over. If you’ll have me, that is.” He seemed to search Luke’s face eagerly for his answer.
“Kyle, I…I don’t think this is the time…” Luke cleared his throat and stared down at his shoes. The offer wasn’t altogether unwelcome or unexpected, but the timing could have been better. He and Kyle had always gotten along. When he’d been in high school, Kyle and Hannah had offered their home to him, becoming the family he’d never really had. The siblings had supported him and made it possible for him to pursue his dreams. With his thoughts jumbling together in his brain, he could only answer honestly. “I need to think about it.”
“I-I understand.” He could see the disappointment written all over Kyle’s face and reached out to tug at his arm.
“That’s not a no, Kyle,” he told him with a smile. “I’m a little caught off guard, so just give me some time, yeah?” It wasn’t a complete lie. Luke had been catching Kyle’s flirtations more and more with each passing day. It had only been a matter of time before he made his move and yet Luke still didn’t have an answer.
“Yeah,” he said, brightening a little. He gave him a small wave and started down the opposite end of the hall. Luke held the folder against his chest and watched him until he turned around the corner and disappeared. Luke started to make his way back to his room, humming a small tune. This expedition might be the craziest, most dangerous thing he’d ever done, but if things went right, it wouldn’t be completely fruitless.