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Husband, father, and writer working on a short story project and submitting my novel, The Windsmith, to agents.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Under Pressure

The sleek, black submarine glided through the water as if it were flying. It moved quickly, hardly making any noise, and surprised a school of brightly colored tropical fish as it came over a ridge. It continued making it’s silent way down, deep into the Pacific Ocean, reaching a level where the sun almost didn’t reach. Their destination, however, was light up by it’s own lights, making the trip there easier.

“Pac Deep One,” the pilot said, turning his head to the group of men in orange jump suits and chains behind him. “You’re new home, boys. Get a good look now, it’ll be the last time you see the outside of it.”

James Devorall looked out the window at the massive structure in front of him. It was mostly dome shaped, with a large, round tower behind it. The two shapes were connected, however, to form one great structure. He was surprised to see that most of the lights were windows. He never expected a maximum-security prison to have that many windows in it.

Behind the structure was a large mountain. He knew what that was right away. Apparently, one of his fellow prisoners didn’t, because the man next to him bumped his arm and pointed with both hands.

“What is that?” he asked.

“It’s called Mount Poseidon,” James said. “It’s a volcano.”

“A volcano? Under water?” the other man asked.

“Sure,” James replied casually, sitting back in his chair. He’d seen all he needed of the prison facility. “There are lots of them down below the sea.”

“Why’s the prison built next to a volcano?” another man asked, hearing the conversation.

“Power,” James replied. “They use it to provide power to the who facility.”

“Isn’t that dangerous?” the second man asked.

James shook his head. “It’s dormant. Hasn’t gone of in thousands of years.”

“How do you know all this?” the first man said, looking sideways at James.

“Simple,” Jack said, settling in his seat more and closing his eyes. “I was part of the team of Navy SEALS that scouted out this area ten years ago, before they started building the facility.”

**********

James and the other new inmates, six men in total, were brought to a large room with several fold-up chairs that all faced a podium. James noticed that everything, even the podium, was made out of a light plastic. Probably designed to fall apart easily and no doubt had a low melting temperature. Easy to get around if someone wanted to use them as a weapon.

Guards with rifles led him and the other men to the seats, but didn’t force anyone to sit in any particular row. James chose a seat in the middle, rather than in the back with most of the others. Only one other man sat in the middle, a younger man, in his early twenties from the look of him that looked like he was trying his hardest to show how tough he was. Tough enough to not sit in the back row, but not enough to sit in the front row, or even in the row in front of James. Just in the same row. James smiled and turned to look at the podium.

There was no one standing at on it at the moment, which didn’t surprise James. The head of the complex was a man of power, and men of power liked to throw their power around. Making people wait was a very simple way to show those people that you were the one with the power. It was all very predictable to James. Behind the podium, on the wall, was a white board that had the remains of some previous meeting, nothing James could really make out. And standing on either side of that whiteboard were two guards, wearing bullet proof vests and holding shotguns. These guys were serious here. James smiled. Good. That would help curtail any desire he might have to escape.

A few moments later, a large man in a uniform that was identical to the guards walked into the room. That surprised James. He was expecting a man in a business suit. This man was a cop, and still an active one to look at him. He was muscular, tall and walked with that confidence that only someone that has served in the military has. James looked at all the various subtle clues that let him know this was a man that, should it come down to it, James would have a tough time beating in a fight. He was older, sure, and probably a hair slower than James was, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at him except for the thinning, gray hair on his head. He came up to the podium, stood behind it, and stood in an At East stance.

“My name is Captain Richard Waverly, and all of you will come to know me as Sir,” he said, and James realized he was serious. “Welcome to Pac Deep One. I won’t belittle you by calling this your new home. There is nothing homey about Pac Deep. You will spend your time here in your cell, except for four hours a day where you will do work we assign you. You will piss, shit and eat in your cell. You will not have much in the way of entertainment except that which we give you. This place is not home, gentlemen. This place is Hell, and I am the Devil. And just like Hell, no one gets out. These gentlemen behind me with the large shotguns will take you to your cells, and tomorrow you will get your first work assignment. This ends orientation.”

And with that, Sir walked out of the room through the same door he came through. James let loose a low, slow whistle. That was a serious hard ass. All business, no bullshit. The two guards rounded up everyone and moved them down a hallway in the opposite direction Sir went in. James was kind of surprised that there weren’t that many people out and about. He saw some below in what looked like a glass dome, doing something that looked like farming. He realized quickly that the dome was filled with water. The men inside were wearing orange wetsuits that didn’t look much different than the jumpsuit he wore now. They harvested a long, green plant that James figured was some kind of sea weed, probably so it could be processed into food for the surface. Hell with the surface, probably fed the prisoners, here too. Pac Deep was built to be self supporting.

That was about all he saw on his first tour of the facility, though, as the guards took his group to an elevator, down a few levels and then down a plain, white hallway to their cells. These were not traditional, Hollywood cells, made out of stone with iron bars. These were high tech cells, with smooth, almost soft plastic walls that you couldn’t hurt yourself on, and solid metal doors. There were no windows on the door, though James noticed there were windows in the cells themselves. Small portholes would be a better description, but they were there none the less. After entering his cell and looking out it, he realized why. The only view was the deep, dark ocean. It sent a clear signal. Escape is impossible. There is nowhere to escape to.

**********

The next day, James got his first meal and his initial thoughts about the seaweed proved to be true. He was fed a gruel of green paste that tasted salty. Surprisingly, despite it’s rather one sided taste, it was satisfying. It was difficult to tell time in Deep Pac One, given that the light outside the window never changed, and the lights above his head only shut off at Lights Out, and who know what time that was, really. Still, James figured it was about noon time when he was called to his first work shift.

A guard came and got him from his cell. He spoke little, only calling James a dirt bag, and took opportunity to shove and smack James with the butt of his shotgun as often as possible. It became obvious quickly that this man had something personal against James. Great, that mean he knew who James was. Not good. To make matters worse, James knew that he could disarm and kill the man in a matter of seconds. He wouldn’t even know what happened. But his victory would only last a few more seconds before he was shot by one of the other guards that were all over the place. James decided a different tact.

“All right,” James said the next time the guy hit him in the back with the rifle. “I get it, you don’t like me. I’m walking as fast as I can with a guy jabbing me in the back every twenty seconds.”

“I ain’t done shit to you yet, you traitor,” the guard said. Yup, James though, this guy knew. At least, he knew the story the media spun.

James walked the rest of the way in silence. No need to further provoke the man. Especially since the outburst seemed to have caused the number of hits from the gun to drop drastically. The guard led him to an elevator that took him down to the bottom floor of the complex. James wondered briefly if that was the sea floor, of if the place went underground. That was answered when they exited the lift and James was staring directly at the large domed seaweed garden he saw yesterday.

“Welcome to you first work assignment,” said the guard. “I hope you fucking drown.”

With that, he turned and headed back to the elevator, leaving James with four other prisoners. There appeared to be no one else present. Sure, there were guards, on the catwalk half a level up, but no one official looking.

“Dr. Lee will be here in a second,” one of the other prisoners said to James. “Dude is always late.”

As if on cue, another elevator door opened, and out came a young man in a blue and black wet suit covered in police symbols.

“Sorry I’m late guys,” he was saying as he cleaned off his glasses with a rag, “Sir was chewing me out of always being late. Ah, newcomers,” he said when he put on his glasses and looked at the group. “Excellent. Let’s get started, shall we?”

The man, who introduced himself as Dr. Marcus Lee, botanist and seaweed farming expert. He explained to the group what they would be doing, suited them up in their orange wetsuits and gear, and set them out.

“Keep in mind that your suits can communicate to each other via radio, but that all communications are monitored,” he concluded his lecture. “So, keep it civil and work related in there. Okay, let’s go.”

The six men all entered the dome to get to work. It was dreary work, and surprisingly difficult, but satisfying after being cooped up in his cell all day. James liked the simple, repetitive nature of it. Good, hard labor, his dad used to call it. Builds character, and now James was starting to see what that meant. It just felt… right.

“Hey, you Devorall?” one of the other prisoners said after sideling up to him.

James just looked at him and nodded. Things were about to start.

“You really a Navy SEAL?” the man asked.

James nodded again, returning to his work. James didn’t recognize him as one of the men on the sub on the way in to Pac Deep, so that means someone on that sub blabbed.

“Think you’re a tough guy, huh?” the man said, and James had to fight from rolling his eyes. He had been expecting this since he stupidly let slip his former profession. “You don’t look so tough. I bet I can take you.”

James continued to work, but the man just wouldn’t let it go. James looked outside the dome and saw that a couple of guards were watching them. They had been listening. For some reason, Dr. Lee didn’t seem to notice what was happening, even though they all shared the same radio frequency.

“Hey, I’m talking to you, boy,” the other man said. “No one ignores Willy Brown.”

He pushed James hard, up against the edge of the dome. James was surprised at how strong the other man was. He kept pushing, trying to jerk James’ arm around his back for leverage. James reacted before he even thought about it. He grabbed the Willy’s wrist and bent it at an unnatural angle. Then, as the man started to let go, he spun around and smashed his hand into Willy’s visor, causing it to break and lodge shards of sharp plastic into his nose and left eye. Not done yet, James twisted Willy’s arm around his back and slammed him up against the wall of the dome, yanking the breathing tube out of his mouth after he had Willy pinned.

He got up close to Willy’s face then, his good eye staring franticly at James. Even though he knew it would be picked up on the radio, for effect, he whispered to Willy, “I suggest that you not try that again.”

Then, he let go. A second later, Dr. Lee had some sort of cattle prod looking device on James, and he felt the electricity travel through his body. He cried out for a moment and dropped to the floor. Unresisting, he allowed the wet suited guards drag him out. He spent the next three days in his cell with the window closed, no outside time at all. He accepted the punishment. He also knew that Willy would spend the next few weeks in the prison hospital.

After that, no one bothered James again, and things settled into a routine. Sergeant Fox, the guard that hated him, would come get him every day for his work assignment. He mostly got assigned to the seaweed farm, but he also did food processing and some machinist work once it was learned by the staff that he could fix things. And so it went, for six months near as James could tell. He learned to like Dr. James, who was the only member of the staff that was even remotely nice to the prisoners, and he accepted the punishments of Sergeant Fox as due for the crime he was, in fact, guilty of.

Then, one day, Poseidon awoke, and brought fire and brimstone to the watery Hell.

**********

James was working in the seaweed garden that day. He was focused on the task, floating in the water and enjoying the simple pleasure he always gained from doing this. It therefore took him a few moments to realize that the ground was shaking. He felt it in the water. He looked up to see that people outside the dome had noticed and were stopped. Everyone was looking around in confusion, wondering what was going on, and how long would it last.

“Hey Doc,” he said to Dr. Lee, who had also noticed the strange activity, “has there ever been an earthquake at Deep One before?”

“Not that I recall,” Dr. Lee answered. “I think we should exit the farm for now, return you all to your cells until this is over.”

Just then, the alarms went off. James knew instantly what was happening. A second later, the shaking got worse, and James heard a rumbling coming through the walls.

“It’s Poseidon,” he said. “It’s erupting.”

“Now way, man,” said one of his fellow prisoners in a panicked tone of voice, “I was told that thing was dormant.”

“Well, it ain’t dormant anymore,” James said, rushing to the farm doors behind Dr. Lee. Dr. Lee was pushing buttons, but the door wasn’t opening. James saw the terrified look on the older man’s face. They didn’t have time for this.

“The alarm must have closed all doors,” Dr. Lee was saying, “we need Sir’s authorization to open this up.”

James gritted his teeth. It was likely that Sir was headed to a private submarine by now. Quickly, James looked around to find something, anything, he could use to smash through the dome. But, he know it was futile. The dome was Plexiglas, and nothing inside it was powerful enough to get through it. That’s when he settled on something outside the dome. One of the guards that watched the prisoners in the farm was still standing outside, his shotgun drawn.

James waved frantically to get his attention, and finally he did so. He mimed shooting a gun at the wall, but the guard only narrowed his gaze. He turned to look at Dr. Lee. The radio on the Doc’s suit would be able to communicate with the guard outside.

“Doc,” James said, “you gotta tell the guard outside to shoot the dome down.”

“What?” Dr. Lee asked, turning to face James. “Don’t be ridiculous, James.”

More rumbling could be heard, and the shaking got momentarily worse. James could see pieces of the facility start to fall, mostly small chunks of the ceiling. Damnit, they needed out. He looked back at Dr. Lee, and sighed.

“Sorry, Doc,” he said, “you leave me no other choice.”

Quickly, he grabbed Dr. Lee and put him in a headlock, making sure to do all this while the guard outside was watching. He pointed to the doctor, and then once again mimed shooting, this time with one hand, at the wall. He figured that the guard would get the wrong impression, but that’s what he was counting on. Sure enough, it worked, and without hesitation, the guard swung up his gun and shot the Plexiglas dome. The water rushed out the hole, shattering the rest of the section of dome the hole was made in, and causing thousands of gallons of high pressure water to pour out. The guard out side, James, Dr. Lee and the four other men in the dome with them were all pushed to the floor.

Without waiting, James got up and started moving. He wasn’t sure where he was going, just yet, but he knew he couldn’t stay here. Just to be sure some guard still trying to do his job wouldn’t stop him, he grabbed the now unconscious guard’s shotgun. He checked it for ammunition. It was one of those newer magazine fed shotguns, and thus still had several rounds in it. They were odd weapons, as far as James was concerned, but it worked, and that was all he needed. He would be dammed if he let them drag his ass to his cell to wait for death.

He didn’t get very far, though, before he heard an explosion. He turned just in time to see fire bursting through the upper levels of the facility. He ducked and took cover in a hallway, and then ran to a lift that he saw several other people cramming into. The lift moved up, but it was away from the destruction caused by the explosion. He watched as emergency bulwarks came down to seal off the rushing ocean water that was entering the gaping hole in the facility. He lost sight of it after a second, though, as the lift entered an upper section.

Another, larger explosion happened, a few seconds later. Wherever it was, though, it was not in the section James still found himself in. But, it rocked the facility hard, and caused the lift emergency programming to kick in and stop, opening the doors and depositing everyone on whatever floor they were. Just in time for the power to shut off, too. There, in the dark, he listened as people screamed and ran around in terror. People were attacking other people, some times killing them. One arm grabbed him, and without hesitation he lowered the shotgun in the direction of that arm and fired. A few moments later, the lights came back on. At least, some of them did. It was dimmer, sure, but at least they could see. But what James saw had him worried that no one was going to be leaving Deep Pac One alive today.

Through a large observation window that must be in one of the Staff lounges, he saw that the facility was now split nearly in two. Special, emergency bulwarks, built to be lava proof, were holding the molten material at bay, but for now, James and the people with him were stuck here, separated from everyone else. It didn’t take long for most everyone there to see the same thing he saw, and in a few moments, they all stood silently, or sat on the ground and sobbed. They stayed that way, watching the magma pour out of Poseidon into the sea around them, for about an hour before it all stopped. Now, James knew, came the hard part. Getting out of the damaged facility alive.

**********
“Okay, everyone,” a voice was saying. James turned to look, and saw an older man in glasses and what looked like a lab coat that was a size too big for him. He was addressing everyone in the lounge, his arms raised as if to get everyone’s attention. “It looks like it’s all over. Now, it’s time to start to restore order and get things back to normal.”

Oh, great, thought James. This guy was going to try and put everyone back in their cells. He had no idea what kind of real damage that volcano did. Pac Deep One was split nearly in two, and no doubt there were several areas that were flooded. Escape was what was needed here.

“Now, it’s likely that the facility’s automatic SOS beacon went off the moment the volcano first erupted,” the older man was saying. “Which means that help is already on the way. So, what we’re going to do is gather up all the prisoners and put them back in cells, whatever ones are available here on this level. The rest of us will try as best as we can to go about our duties.”

As James knew it would, that announcement started an outburst of noise. People on both sides of that statement started arguing. Prisoners weren’t willing to simply go back to their cells, or even someone else’s cells. And what happens when there isn’t enough cells to hold the prisoners here? James ignored it all, and looked out the window. The damage looked even worse from here. It was obvious that the lava, which was still out there, was corroding the bottom of the dome, and it was only a matter of time before it collapsed in on it self. However, as he walked around the room, looking out the window, he saw something. Something that would be their salvation.

The rampage was still going on, and James saw that the few guards in the room were outnumbered by angry prisoners that were ready to charge them, shotguns or no. James raised his gun to the ceiling and shot it, getting everyone’s attention on him.

“Listen up folks,” he said. “This building is falling apart. It’s only a matter of time before the whole dome collapses. And at this point, even if the SOS beacon went out, which we can’t be sure of, it will take help several more hours to reach here. This facility was built in a remote location on purpose.”

“And what evidence do you offer that the building is falling?” the man in the lab coat asked.

As if on cue, the building shook, hard, and some dust rained down for the ceiling.

“As I said,” James said, “falling apart. I, for one, don’t plan on waiting around here for the building to collapse in on me. Now, I also noticed something else while looking out this window. A sub bus. Like the kind that took most of us prisoners here. It must have been dropping off a new load when the volcano erupted. It looks like it’s only four floors down. I suggest we all go down there, and get out of here on that bus.”

Silence followed for a few moments before the chaos of arguing exploded again. James let it go for a while before raising his shotgun to the ceiling again. He didn’t have to fire another shot, though, before one of the larger prisoners shouted to get everyone to shut up and pay attention to the man with the gun.

“Listen, folks,” James said. “This isn’t up for discussion. I’m heading towards that sub, one way or another. If any of you want to come with me, you’re welcome to. Anyone that wants to say with this nice, but insane, man in the lab coat, is welcome to.”

With that, James started walking out. He didn’t have to look back to know that several people followed him. He also knew that several stayed behind. He didn’t much care for them, though, he had other people to look out for now. Once he got to the lift that was further down the hall, the one he thought was closer to the location of the sub, he stopped and turned around. He saw about forty people, guards and prisoners alike, behind him. He nodded.

“Here’s the plan, folks,” he said, pointing to the lift with the shotgun. “Unless I’m mistake, the emergency power that’s running the lights right now doesn’t run the lifts, so they’re out of commission. Am I right?”

“You are,” said a man in the back, another guy in a lab coat.

“So, what, you gonna make us climb?” said a prisoner in the back. James recognized him as one of his fellow seaweed farmers.

“Nope,” James said simply. “You are more than welcome to stay behind with those guys at the end of the hall.”

With that, he turned to the lift and started trying to pry open the door. A few seconds later, a man was touching his shoulder. He looked up to see someone he wasn’t expecting. Sergeant Fox was standing behind him, shaking his head. James raised his eyebrow.

“You don’t need to pry it,” Fox said. “Back up power doesn’t run the lifts, but it does run all the doors, including the lift doors.”

With that, he entered a quick set of numbers into the keypad next to the door, and it slid open. Beyond them was an empty elevator shaft. James eyed Fox once again. Fox nodded.

“Look,” Fox said, “I may not like what you did, or your reasons for doing it, but I also know you’re our best bet of getting out of here alive. I can always re-arrest you when we get back to the surface.”

James smiled, and Fox smiled back.

“I’ll give myself up to you once we’re out of here, Sergeant,” James said, and meant it.

James looked into the shaft. As he expected, on the wall next to the door was a set of metal bars that extended down into the depths below.

“Come on, all,” he said. “It’s a long trip down.”

Without any further waiting, he started climbing. He looked up to see that Fox was helping people onto the ladder. He knew that the guard would be the last on. Sure, some of that was out of pure willingness to help others, but mostly it was because Fox was the only other person in their group with a shotgun, and he wanted to keep an eye on all the prisoners in the group.

The trip down was slow, and painful, if James had to be honest. The group of them climbed down a total of twelve flights. They exited into large room one that appeared to have been a conference room before the eruption. The boardroom table in the middle of the room was smashed in two, and the lights from the ceiling lay crushed in the middle of them. James waited in that room until all forty people had climbed down. He gave them all a five-minute break to catch their breath, and then announced he was moving on.

Moving on proved to be more difficult than he at first expected. It seemed easy, sure, moving down hall way after hall way, following directions from staff and guards, they ran into a corridor that was flooded, and blocked off by blast doors. The hallway was opened to the ocean itself. Thankfully, there was a way around it. Unfortunately, flowing lava that had managed to eat through the blast doors also blocked the way around.

James made a decision. He called over Fox to confer before taking action.

“Are you insane?” the guard was saying in a harsh whisper. “It’s still two hundred yards to the sub! You’ll never make it.”

“I will,” James said, waving away any further protest along that line. “I’m more concerned on if the second part of my plan will work. You’ve piloted those subs before, right? You’re the expert, you tell me.”

Fox thought about it for a few seconds. “Yeah,” he said at last, “It should, if you can keep the sub steady long enough.”

James nodded. He didn’t wait for any further discussion, and headed towards the flooded hallway. Fox quickly moved everyone to another section of hallway, where he lowered another blast wall with a code. James waited for that wall to drop before opening the pressurized door on the other side. He let the water rush in around him, holding onto the door for support. When it was up to his face, he took in a deep breath, and then dived under and started swimming. Years in the SEALS had taught him how to hold his breath for an extended period of time, and he used that training as he swam out the hole in the wall to the sub. It took him five minutes to get there, the longest he had ever had to hold his breath, and when he got through the air lock and into a pressurized air cabin, he was gasping for breath.

He didn’t waist any further time, however. He went to the pilots seat and started up the sub. He couldn’t get the docking clamps to release remotely, it required a password that he just didn’t have time to try and figure out. He just pulled and pulled on the sub until they broke off. Sadly, they took chunks of the sub with them, but at least it was to a part of the ship that he wasn’t going to use. He drove the sub back down the maze of corridors to the particular hole in the wall that lead to the hallway he was in last.

He waited there for a few minutes, and was starting to wonder if he had the wrong hall. As he watched the water, waiting for someone to come out that hole, he started to give up, planning on going to another hole and checking there. Just as he was about to do that, however, he saw a figure come up through the water towards the sub. James sprung to life, rushing towards the airlock, letting the figure in. It was an older man, a prisoner that had been there since Pac One had gone online. He told James that Fox was sending people in one at a time, so as not to crowed the air lock.

It was slow going, but eventually, all forty, including Fox, were on board. Once he was in the sub, James smiled.

“Good job, there, Sergeant.,” he said. “I thought you might just take the opportunity and re-arrest everyone.”

“Well,’ Fox said, “like I said before, you’re the last chance we have of getting out of here alive. And it looked like I was right.”

“Well,” James said, extending his arms to the guard. “I’m good on my word. I’m turning myself into your custody.”

“Damn straight you are,” Fox replied. “And the first think I want you to do is to pilot us to the surface.”

James smiled. “You got it, Sergeant.”

The End

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