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Secrets of the Deep

Gordon R. Dickson

  Secrets of the Deep

  Gordon R. Dickson


  An Imprint of Start Publishing LLC

  New York, New York

  SECRET UNDER THE SEA © 1960 by Gordon R. Dickson. © 1988 by Gordon R. Dickson.

  SECRET UNDER ANTARCTICA © 1963 by Gordon R. Dickson. © 1991 by Gordon R. Dickson.

  SECRET UNDER THE CARIBBEAN © 1964 by Gordon R. Dickson. © 1992 by Gordon R. Dickson.

  First Start Science Fiction edition 2013.

  All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the publisher, except in the case of brief excerpts in critical reviews or articles. All inquiries should be addressed to Start Science Fiction, 609 Greenwich Street, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10014.

  All characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  Published by Start Science Fiction,

  an imprint of Start Publishing LLC

  New York, New York

  ISBN: 978-1-60977-170-6

  Secret Under the Sea

  To all dolphins, wherever they may swim

  The Footprints

  Balthasar was uneasy. In fact, Balthasar was scared—or at least he showed every sign that he was. And what could be here in this sunny, shallow reef water of the Point Loma Research Station, Robby Hoenig wondered, to cause the big dolphin any fear? Certainly not any of the usual sort of sharks. Balthasar was too big, too tough, and—above all—too fast for them. The Greenland shark or the great white shark, otherwise known as the man-eater, should not be in this particular area of tropical waters. That left only the killer whale.

  But killer whales were rare, too, in this part of the ocean. And, in any case, if it actually was a killer, Balthasar would be asking to be let into the station through the lock five levels down, as he had once or twice before. But he had refused to come in when Robby had gone down to the control room and opened the lock for him.

  Instead, Balthasar continued to patrol the underwater station, curvetting now up to the surface, and now underneath it—his slick, grey, thirteen-foot length flashing in the sunlight every time he broke water.

  Robby stood on the surface platform by the boathouse, watching him. Robby was twelve, and would one day be as tall as his father. Meanwhile, he was lean as a fishing spear from the many hours he had spent in the water, and brown as a peanut from the same tropical sun that had bleached his hair almost white. He had grown up around salt-water research stations like this one, for his father was a marine biologist.

  His mother was a marine biologist, too, but she had given up active work in the field when she had married his father.Times were not the same as they had been back in the twentieth century when a marine biologist was anyone who cared to study the plants and animals of the seas and oceans.This was the year 2013, and all the sciences had moved so fast and become so complicated that it was just not possible—as Robby's mother said with a sigh—to do honest research and take care of a son and a husband at the same time. One or the other of the two jobs had to go. And although it was quite a wrench, she sent in her resignation to the International Department of Fisheries—Salt Water Research Division—and concentrated on seeing that Robby and his father got their meals on time and sleep enough to keep them going.

  At the moment, however, she was away on a short vacation visiting her father, and Robby and Dr. Hoenig were on their own. Her father was that noted, if somewhat elderly, marine biologist, Jacob Von Hoffer—the very man who had first tried the breeding and domestication of dolphins like Balthasar.

  Robby frowned at Balthasar now, as he cavorted around the station. If his mother were back from her visit to the Marine Museum in Hawaii, he thought, she might be able to tell him what was bothering the dolphin. But on the other hand, possibly not, since after all he, Robby, knew Balthasar better than anyone else in the world, having grown up with him. Robby’s parents had deliberately arranged it. It is no small thing, when swimming around in tropical oceans, to have as a companion a lightning-fast, thirteen-foot watchdog that is afraid of nothing in the seven seas except the great black-and-yellow killer whale.

  Robby leaned over the railing at the edge of the platform.Below him, the round, dark mass of the station plunged away to the sandy sea floor thirty feet below. It looked like a tower underwater. Through the glass-clear water he could see nothing but a few colourful small fish, some rocks, and coral.

  For a moment he thought about going down to the laboratory section of the station, four floors below, and putting the whole problem in his father’s hands. But his father, he remembered, was right now engaged in some rather tricky breeding experiments in experimental tank number seven and would not like to be bothered with problems about the dolphin.

  “Well,” said Robby out loud to Balthasar, “I guess I’llhave to investigate.”

  He stepped over to the boathouse and took from a hook his water lung. This was a marvellous little atom-powered converter that clipped around his neck like a collar and extracted oxygen from the plain sea water, making atmosphere for him to breathe steadily as he went along. The atmosphere came up from the converter at his neck into a transparent diving mask that fitted over his face and was watertight. The result was that he was as much at home under the water as he was above it. The device had been invented by a man named Cogswellin the 1980’s.

  Having put on his lung, Robby simply walked off the platform into thirty feet of water, the same way he might walk off a kerb. One moment he had the bright sun and the air about him, and the next moment the glass-green water had closed over his head and he found himself flying.

  Flying is indeed the word to describe it. Wearing a lung in this clear, warm water, above the white sand of the bottom,was exactly like being suspended in mid-air. Robby kicked his feet together. Swim fins spread out from the toes of his convertible sandals and sent him gliding through the water like a soaring hawk in the world above.

  But Robby had no intention of making his investigation under his own power. There was a far faster way than that.He whistled through the microphone set inside his face mask, and Balthasar came shooting like a torpedo through the water to meet him. Robby reached for the two reins trailing back from the dolphin’s shoulder harness, and fitted his wrists through the loops in the ends. Taking a firm grip, he whistled again, and Balthasar was off.

  But not in the right direction. For Balthasar had a mind of his own, and if he did not feel like leaving the area around the station, he did not feel like having Robby leave it either. So, instead of heading directly out as Robby requested with a twitch of the reins, he spun right and spiralled down. Robby had a flashing glimpse through the underwater windows of,first, the equipment room on the top level, then his own living room on the level below, then a moment’s view of his father up to his elbows in the wiring controls of experimental tank number seven on the fourth level, and finally the stand-by tanks on the fifth level with the so-called Martians. The Martians were very interesting, and ordinarily Robby never passed them by without taking a look. But right now he was too busy getting Balthasar under control.

  Balthasar, like most people who have just done something they know they are not supposed to do, was trying to pretend that it was all a joke.

  “You know better than that!” Robby told him, out loud,the sound of his voice carrying through the microphone of his face mask and through the water to Balthasar’s sensitive ears.Robby pulled his own head up alongside the bashful eye and grinning mouth of the dolphin. Balthasar really could not help the grin, being born with his mouth turned up. “Now gos traight!”

  Balthasar gave an apologetic flip of his flukes, s
cattering as mall cloud of angelfish, and shot off on a tour of the surrounding sea bottom.

  The station had been built on an undersea high spot, actually an underwater hilltop or plateau. While it was a good eight miles off the coast in the ocean, the water was really quite shallow. No place was any deeper than seventy-five feet, and in some places it was no deeper than twenty. The area was marked as “shoals” on the navigation charts, and stretched for about a mile and a half in length, and up to half a mile across. Robby knew every inch of it like the palm of his hand. If anything out there was making Balthasar nervous,one thing was certain—it could not hide from Robby for very long.

  “And if it is a killer,” Robby told Balthasar, “we’ll just duck back to the station and turn in the alarm. Then the Mexican coastguard can come and capture him.”

  But Robby had been underwater king of the shoals around the station for so long he could not really believe that there was anything dangerous nearby.

  They began to circle outward, going farther and farther each time. On the fourth circle they came around a twelve-foot spire of rock that Robby had long ago named the Castle,because of the way it looked. Beyond the Castle, the sea floor dropped another dozen feet to an open stretch of white sand some thirty feet below the surface. As they swung over this, Balthasar veered sharply.

  Robby forced him back, and when the dolphin resisted, he let go of the reins and swam down himself. As he approached the stretch of white sand, he saw that there were marks on it.They looked like a line of holes, about fifteen feet apart,leading off into the dimness of the water beyond. Curiously,he swam to the nearest one—and then checked, a cold feeling running suddenly down his back. For the first time he began to feel thoroughly frightened.

  The marks were not holes. They were footprints. A good four feet in length, a good half foot in depth—and with four sharper, deeper indentations along their front edge such as claws might make.

  Something—something enormous which Robby had never heard of—had gone, not swimming, but walking here across the bottom of the sea.

  The Unseen Singer

  A chill gliding down his spine, Robby began, with little kicks of his swim fins, to back up along the line of footprints.Without realizing he was doing it, he had covered about tenor fifteen feet when he was bounced backwards in the water by the big body of Balthasar, who immediately began to push him away.

  For a second Robby tried to hold his position, but it was a little like trying to stand still on the ice of a skating rink when the sweeper truck is pushing you ahead of it. He could not escape from the point of Balthasar’s nose, and the big dolphin was too strong for him to resist, so after a moment he gave in. Some people, Grandfather Hoffer included, think pushing is an instinct with the dolphins. There is even an old sailors’ legend which says that if human beings will lie still in the water, porpoises will push them ashore.

  So, in the end, there was nothing for Robby to do but leave. What settled the argument more than anything else was the clear sound of a bell ringing through the water. It was the warning bell of the station, calling Robby home. Perhaps Robby’s father had decided that he needed Robby for some-thing, or maybe it was time for lunch. Robby grabbed Balthasar’s reins and let the relieved dolphin tow him quickly back.

  At the top of the station Robby climbed out of the water onto the platform. He hung his lung on its hook and ran down the ladder leading from the deck to the communications room below.

  “Dad!” he called.

  There was no answer. Guessing that his father was still on the fourth level, Robby went through the door leading to the interior stairway of the station, and down three flights to the laboratory section.

  His father was there all right, half-hidden in the temperature control system of experimental tank number seven. The metal panel that usually covered the controls was off, and some of the system’s parts were lying on the floor. Evidently things were not going very well because his father was muttering to himself in a bad-tempered tone of voice.

  “Soldering gun!” Robby heard as he came up. “Half-size temporary circuit lead-ins! Squeeze my fingers in there some-how and put the hot end of the gun—ouch!”

  Robby’s father backed out of the control system, blowing on his fingers, and saw Robby.

  “Oh, there you are,” he said. “I’m skinny enough, but not for this. Squeeze round the back of the control system there and see if you can pass the leads for the stand-by thermostat through to me. Think you can make it?”

  “Sure,” said Robby. He slid in behind number seven. It was tight there between the tank and the wall, but he was able to move his hands and arms about where a grown man would have been as helpless as if locked in a box.

  “I’m there!” called Robby. There were noises from upfront as his father wormed his way in from the other side.

  His voice filtered through a maze of wires and odd mechanical devices. “Right. Pass the leads through.”

  Robby found the leads to the stand-by thermostat and poked them through the clutter of equipment in front of him. He felt his father take hold at the far end, and the sharp smell of the soldering gun at work drifted back to him.

  His father was still grumbling as he worked, but Robby knew his words were all directed at the temperature controls.Dr. Hoenig had a furious temper. When he had been younger,it had got him into all sorts of difficulties. Then he became interested in zoology, and later in marine biology. When he discovered how many wonderful living things there were in the world, he fell in love with them all and began to make a valiant effort to contain his temper.

  Shortly after graduation from college, he joined a scientific expedition to explore the Mindanao Deep, a spot more than six miles deep in the ocean east of the Philippine Islands. He went down in a bathyscape to where there is no light at all, nor has there ever been, and where the weight of the water could crush a steel bank vault in two seconds. When he came up he was a changed man, and after that he only lost his temper with things, seldom with anything living.

  Seeing life under conditions that would have destroyed him instantaneously had made him humble. So now he was a hasty man, but very gentle with most people. He was also gentle with cows, horses, guinea pigs, dogs, cats, white mice, snakes, fish, and even insects and plants. He was gentle with creatures that people did not think of being gentle with, such as tigers, sour-tempered rhinoceroses, blood-thirsty weasels that kill whole hen houses full of chickens when they’re not even hungry, the dangerous water buffalo,and the carrion-eating hyena. He could also be gentle with sharks.

  Robby, having waited to see if his father needed him behind number seven tank for anything else, wriggled his way out again.

  “There we are,” said his father with satisfaction, putting the panel cover back on the controls. “Fixed. I want you to watch that now. The temperature of the water in the tank’s to stay the same while I’m gone.”

  “Gone?” said Robby.

  “Gone, departed, absent, or—by golly, that’s right,” said his father, straightening up from the panel which was now in place. “I didn’t tell you about that. Now, where did I put that soldering gun?”

  “It’s in your pocket,” Robby told him.

  “Oh. Yes. There it is. Well, what do you say to a little lunch?” Robby’s father glanced at his wristwatch. “Great foraminifera, it’s nearly three o’clock! Well, we’ll have some-thing to eat anyway and call it an afternoon snack instead. I wish your mother were back. She keeps track of meals better than I do,” he went on, bounding up the stairs two steps at a time to the third level where the kitchen was. “Not that it makes much difference to me, but a growing boy like you needs his food.” Reaching the kitchen, he opened the refrig-erator and paused to glance at Robby who had followed him.“You’re too thin.”

  “So are you,” said Robby.

  “Ah yes—but an old man like me,” said Robby’s father,forgetting he was a prize athlete and could still swim twice as fast as Robby, “I don’t get enoug
h exercise to require food.”He stopped, struck by a thought. “Maybe we had better eat some vegetables.”

  “Wouldn’t a steak be quicker to fix?” said Robby.“True,” said his father.

  “And I could have a peanut-butter sandwich while I’m waiting,” said Robby. “That way I’d get whatever I needed that was extra.”

  “Very sensible,” said his father, taking a steak out of the freezer and popping it into the infrared quick-thawer. “And you can make your own sandwich, which will save me the trouble. We have,” he went on, taking another look into the freezer, “been eating a lot of steaks since your mother left. I don’t know what she’ll say when she gets back. Particularly if she comes back while I’m gone.”

  “Where are you going?” asked Robby, who knew better than to risk reminding his father that he had already mentioned being gone, and had never explained what he meant.

  “Can’t tell you, I’m sorry,” said his father regretfully.“Top-secret, of course. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I got the call from Washington just now.Tell your mother not to worry.”

  “What’ll I tell her when she gets back and asks all those questions?” said Robby, who had been through this sort of thing before.

  “All what questions?” said his father.

  “All the questions she’ll ask when she gets here and findsyou gone,” said Robby.

  “Oh, tell her I had to go somewhere on government business and couldn’t say where, or when I’d be back—there’s some steak sauce around here, somewhere,” said Robby’s father, peering into a cupboard. And he took down a brown earthenware bottle with rings of different colours around it.The bottle contained a steak sauce Robby’s father had in-vented himself, containing soy sauce, mustard, Worcester-shire sauce, little red-hot chili peppers, beef bouillon cubes dissolved in water, and a secret Chinese herb. It was very tasty, but lit a roaring furnace in your mouth that three glasses of cold milk could not put out. Robby’s father put it on his steaks by tablespoonfuls and never turned a hair or drank a drop of milk.