Synopsis: Nambela-Swales, a deserted research station at the bottom of the Atlantic suddenly falls silent, its data streams cut off and unfixable from land. As the seaQuest is passing, Lucas is sent by a reluctant Captain Bridger to diagnose the hardware failure whilst the sub completes a trip to the Azores.
But the station wasn't completely abandoned; the violent death of a missing Japanese scientist and the riddle-making murderer still haunt the icy Station and when Lucas arrived, the man attempted to end his life too.
As he chased Lucas through flooded lower Station levels, the teenager fought back fracturing the man's face until he collapsed, but as Lucas tried to escape in the Stinger, the man again gave chase and was finally outwitted, blindly crashing his own sub through the vast Atrium glass roof. Lucas watched his foe's craft fall into the dark Station and burst into flames, quickly extinguished as the ocean poured into the structure…
Nearly forty minutes after leaving the ruin of the Nambela-Swales Research Station behind, the debilitated Stinger fell into the headlights of the two seaQuest fighter subs. Lucas, sitting slumped in his pilot's seat, straightened up and waved, calling through his radio and saw familiar faces return his greeting.
Bridger and Wendy waited in the docking area and watched on the monitor as the two subs towed the Stinger into seaQuest, waiting anxious minutes for the docking sequences to be completed.
When the airlock finally opened, Lucas trailed in, holding a rucksack in one hand and a blood-smeared flashlight in the other. He paused on the threshold and managed a wry half-smile at the Captain, his face pale and drawn.
'Hi' he said.
'Hi yourself young man' Bridger replied. He approached and held Lucas by his upper arms as he looked him over.
'How badly are you hurt?' he asked, concerned.
'Not really' Lucas replied. 'Just tired. I'd really just like to shower and crash, if that's okay. Can we leave the talking until tomorrow?'
'You're not doing anything until you've had a full medical check up' Wendy interjected, and glanced over Lucas, 'there's blood all over you.'
Lucas shook his head 'It isn't mine, I'm alright, really.'
Wendy gently ran her hands over his face and head, scanning for injuries and made Lucas lift up his fleece and t-shirt.
Other than the bruising around his back, she conceded he would live until the following morning.
'Fine, you can go to your quarters, but I want to see you at the breakfast table eight O'clock sharp'. Bridger said and squeezed his shoulder 'I'm glad you're home. Sleep well.'
Lucas nodded as he picked up his rucksack and followed them both out of the docking area, saying goodbye to them at the maglev.
He stumbled into his room to find Tony flicking through a magazine on his bunk.
'Hiya Tony.' Lucas dropped his bag, kicked of his shoes and flopped into his chair.
'Hey, always good to see ya in one piece my friend. Although, you know, had our axe-wielding friend there managed to remove one or more assorted limbs, I know a lotta ladies who really go for that helpless guy stuff' Tony said sitting up.
'What – even decapitated?' Lucas asked bemused.
'Sure, if meaningful conversation ain't a priority.'
Lucas rolled his eyes but smiled at his roommate's attempt to cheer him up. Yet the taste of fear was too raw, and his exhaustion left him feeling irritable and emotionally fragile.
'I'm really drained Tony …' and said no more as his friend nodded then shrugged in understanding and went back to his magazine.
Lucas peeled off his clothes and stood under the hot jet, scraping and scratching at his skin, trying to remove the unmistakable aroma of damp mould that seemed to have permeated his hair and pores.
And as the water washed down his face, Lucas's mind started to lose its tight bind, and images of the past 24 hours strafed unwanted but unstoppable; Dr Kimashoto frozen and bound to his chair. The man suddenly appearing in the pool of the office light. The man's breath close on his face. The man shouting, lethal axe poised. The sound of the copper pipe connecting with his face, again and again. The man's broken, angry, bleeding face at the airlock door.
Lucas careered close to collapse, and in his tiredness, he struggled to pull himself together. He swallowed and rubbed at his face forcing the tears to stay back, determined not to cry for the life he nearly lost so violently. But overwhelmed by the memory of the terror, he sank down in the cubicle, drawing his knees close to his chest, hiding his face in shame as the water ran down his bruised back...
After some time, numbness started to envelope his mind and his skin became increasingly red and raw from the hot water. Yet he felt far from cleansed; he could still smell the cloying damp. He thought that he could see dark, dead blood under his nails and every time he touched his body, it left a new stain, fingerprints tainted with guilt.
Lucas shuddered, his spine tingling with the memory of the Station's piercing cold and stepped from the shower into the bathroom, wrapped a towel around his waist, and started to brush his teeth at the sink. He wiped at the steamed-up mirror and froze, his arm pressed against the glass, partially obscuring a hazy shadow flickering in the room.
Lucas's body suddenly felt like it was stretching with the sudden horrible tension. He couldn't move, he was petrified, stuck at the washstand with his eyes as big as the moon, looking at something that shouldn't be there. As he stared, it slowly disappeared under a new film of steam until the mirror was opaque once more. Gasping, trying to breathe with his constricted chest Lucas looked carefully, slowly over his shoulder, past the showers to the far end of the bathroom.
It seemed that he was alone.
As he couldn't believe his eyes when he thought there was someone there, he couldn't comprehend now, how there wasn't.
'No fucking way' Lucas mumbled in confusion around his toothbrush still clenched between his teeth.
In a blind panic, desperate to get out, Lucas threw on most of his clothes and barrelled out of the bathroom.
On the way back to his quarters, he started to feel faintly ridiculous and stopped to put on his shoes. Just as he was finishing, a frosty chill breathed over his damp neck making him shiver and glance uncomfortably around the silent corridor. Lucas picked up his wash bag and dirty clothing, and then he paused - where was his towel?
Vaguely puzzled, Lucas could only think he'd left it in the bathroom and started back to his quarters, walking quickly. Once back, Lucas placed his bloody clothes on floor, adding to the general detritus that seemed to drift continuously around the room.
Tony looked up at Lucas 'Feeling better?'
Lucas replied 'yeah sure' and climbed up to his bunk.
Tony didn't seem to know what to do, glancing quickly at Lucas but not saying anything further, he continued to read his magazine and eventually dropped off to sleep.
Lucas, however, did not and instead twisted and turned, tangling in his sheets, feeling increasingly restless, the light from the aquatube annoying him even though he'd always found it so restful before. He was torn between waking Tony to chat and going for a walk but in his agitation he couldn't decide what to do and tried to sleep. Lying on his side he looked at everything in their quarters; familiar things, his home. Yet every shadow was denser and darker than he'd noticed before and made his skin prickle uncomfortably, so he shuffled over onto his back and sighed.
As the traces of light wavered and merged on the ceiling, a patch slowly blackened and clustered in his peripheral vision, growing until an outline was visible.
Lucas stilled his breathing. It wasn't Darwin in the aquatube, it was the wrong shape and it didn't move like a dolphin, even a sleepy one.
He turned and alongside him within the watery tunnel, face as blank and empty as before, was Kimashoto.
Lucas's mouth dropped slowly open in horrified shock, and as his lungs filled for a yell of terror, Kimashoto blinked his dead unfocused eyes.
Lucas cried out and shook his head to find himself half-tumbling from his bunk. He pulled himself upright and sat up in bed eyes flying back at the empty aquatube and around the room trying to clear his head of the harrowing dream.
Moments passed where Lucas's breathing heaved, fingers wrapped tightly around the blankets and he murmured 'it was only a dream' over and over.
Shaken but relieved he started to slide back into his bed until his feet jolted at the sensation of something damp and cold under the blankets too. He whipped off his blanket and gasped when he saw that it was his missing towel.
'Huh?' Tony mumbled at the sound of Lucas jumping from his bunk.
Lucas shivered and stared at the towel, trying to think of an excuse as to why something he was sure he'd left behind in the bathroom earlier was now in his bed.
'Sorry Tony, it's nothing,' Lucas muttered, his hands clammy and heart palpitating. 'I'm just - uh…' but Tony had already fallen back to sleep.
Lucas rubbed his face. He certainly wasn't going to get any relaxing sleep with his mind so stressed, and after casting his gaze fruitlessly around the room for something to occupy himself with, he decided he wanted to speak to Bridger after all.
Bridger squinted at the boy at the door.
'Come in,' he said pulling Lucas gently by the arm to a chair, pulling another one up for himself. 'Couldn't sleep, huh?'
Lucas nodded. 'I just keep going over and over what I saw, trying to rationalise it, to make some kind of sense from it.' He described to the captain the body of the dead scientist, the mysterious man and his riddles, and his violent desire to end Lucas's life.
Bridger said nothing as he listened intently and with increasing incredulity to the unravelling story.
'Who was he?' Lucas said, almost to himself. He looked the captain in the eye. 'He wasn't just some guy holing-up down there. I mean...' and he trailed off debating whether to tell the Bridger about the uncanny way the flood doors opened and lights flickered on seemingly without instructions, and decided against it. 'I mean, how was he surviving in that cold with no water of food? He was crazy but beyond just madness crazy. I beat him round the head with the goddamn flashlight and smashed his face almost to a pulp. And then he disappeared. Just got up and left. Then he was throwing big, heavy stuff down the stairs and trying to break the airlock down, even with his head all smashed in…' Lucas' voice nearly cracked at the end, and he dropped his head into his hands. 'In the lower corridor, I thought I'd killed him, Captain. I thought I had killed a real, living, breathing man with my hands, beaten him to death.'
Bridger shook his head 'Lucas – you were fighting for your life, you had no choice. I shouldn't have let you go alone, unarmed. It was reckless and thoughtless of me and I'm sorry that I left you in such a difficult situation with no back-up.'
Lucas sighed and leant back in the chair 'I'll look through the database of Nambela-Swales scientists and see if I can work out who he might have been. If he wasn't part of a project linked to Kimashoto...' he paused. 'I dunno, maybe I'll never find out' Lucas shrugged and he thought over all the questions that could remain unanswered.
'Thanks for listening, Captain, I'll leave you to go back to bed.'
They stood and Bridger opened the door. 'If you still can't sleep come back and talk some more if you need to.'
Lucas nodded. 'I think I'll swim with Darwin for a while. I can't imagine I'll be able to sleep anytime soon.' He smiled ruefully and returned to his quarters with trepidation, glancing repeatedly over his shoulder, unable to shake off the uncomfortable weight that had been pressing on him since his return to the sub.
He changed quietly in his quarters and walked quickly to the moonpool tapping the water gently to call the dolphin round. Darwin nodded in welcome and nudged him as Lucas climbed in and started to swim cathartic, leisurely laps on his back.
After a few minutes, Darwin started to squeak increasingly impatiently until Lucas stopped and tread water for a while, reluctant to get out of the pool to switch the vocoder on.
'What?' he said, whilst making the questioning hand signal.
Darwin swam to the far end of the pool, looked at Lucas and dived. He resurfaced and swam back to nudge Lucas.
'There?' Lucas asked pointing and making the go-dive sign. Darwin swam off and back agitated. Lucas followed him to the end and saw that there was indeed something lying on the bottom of the pool and dived down to retrieve it.
He barely touched it before his heart pounded in shock. When he resurfaced he held the copper pipe in his hand in horror…
I hope that you've enjoyed reading this even half as much as I've enjoyed writing it! Many thank yous to every single comment and piece of feedback that you have all left; they're each appreciated and treasured.
And of course a big thank you to my unwavering beta, Teresa1, I'm a lucky girl!