His finger was cut, the controls were cold. Was he going to sit at the bottom of the lake for good?
Through the tough plastic glass, Vauxhall watched the streams of tiny dark fish swirling around the static form of the submarine saucer.
"How is everything, Mr. V.?" crackled the radio. Vauxhall sometimes marveled at how this piece of technology a from Victorian times – little more than a coil of wires - often proved sturdier, more robust, and more reliable than some of the slicker bits of kit crammed into the tiny vessel.
He bumped the 'speak' button with his clenched fist. "The boat's intact." He realized how light his voice was, barely adding the words to his heavy breathing. "A bit bashed up, Weed. Like myself. Should have been strapped in, but we got a hell of a bump."
From the other end, the Texan, Allbright, pulled things together. "We've got your location and the depth, sir. What's the location like?"
Vauxhall turned his head around in the bubble window stretching his neck liking a chicken waiting to be dispatched. "She's tilted up the way. I can see the surface at about forty-five degrees from the axis. Could be boulders sitting on the top hull of the boat."
"We're reading the telemetry up here. The internal pressure seems to have increased a little. Something might be squeezing the hull."
Vauxhall sat back in the control chair, his breathe slowing. "Give me a couple of minutes. My hands are all cut. I had to brace against the tool rack."
Allbright cut in curtly. "Do you need medical help? It'll be a few hours before we can winch you up."
"Don't worry, old chap," Vauxhall replied. "I've got some painkillers in a packet here. Should be enough to last me until you get here. I'll flip a few of the instrument switches when the feeling comes back."
Vauxhall swallowed a few of the dry tablets. A padded water bottle contained a finely balanced sports drink for sipping during each underwater sortie. But at that particular moment, salty water was not what he wanted. There was plenty above him waiting to burst in.
"What happened chief?" Allbright quizzed. "The water should have been pretty clear at that depth."
Vauxhall could see the onboard computer sending little flecks of information up to the command ship, hopefully reporting that all the systems, electrical and mechanical, were functioning properly.
"I don't know about clear; the amount of algae and plant life is very high. The view is mostly murky green from the portholes. Still bright. A lot of sunlight getting down here. And a lot of little fish."
"Did you hit something… organic?" Maybe Allbright had not paused before saying that last word, but every second seemed to be lengthening. "A plant? Or a… fish?" There was that non-existent pause again.
The blood on Vauxhall's knuckles had started to dry, but the muscles were still stiff, jarred to the point of breaking by the sideways shunt. He angled the big knuckle of his middle finger and punched the square plastic switch marked "O2". The small numbers on the tiny linear display read "08%".
"Oxy is at zero-eight percent," he communicated, flatly. There was a hiss before Allbright replied. "We see that on telemetry. Plenty enough for a couple hours, sir."
"If I switch to second oh-two, will that increase the pressure inside? Would that be a good thing, or a bad thing?"
"Hold on, sir." Allbright's transmission went silent. Counting to one. Counting to two.
"Sir. Yes. Affirmative on the pressure increase. Wait a few minutes until he hull pressure stabilizes. We'll see how solid it still is before we adjust anything."
Vauxhall paused for his own second or two. "Okay. Yes, affirmative."
"The saucer hit something jagged when I was ascending. We were only doing about eight knots, but there was a point impact on the port side, just above my left shoulder. We started to spin and I lost control. We wedged back-end-first into these rocks. I think when I tried to shake us free, a bigger boulder must have rolled onto the top."
"We'll send down Stokes with a hook and a light. Maybe she can kick off anything that's holding you in. We'll tow you and the saucer up from where you are."
Vauxhall thought briefly about donning a suit and leaving the saucer, but he could barely lift his arms, let alone pull on a full set of diving gear. Maybe – as a last resort – he could put a breathing mask on his face and ride an air tank back to the surface. But that was a last resort. For now, all was calm.
No risk of the bends anyway at this relatively shallow depth. They were only about fifty metres under at this edge of Lake Peary, which some of the American drillers still liked to call one hundred fifty feet. No-one in the science world called it twenty-five fathoms, which was a shame, but Vauxhall knew that money called the tune, and – indeed – all the musical notes too. He would have preferred just to be an adventurer in a bell, trapped at twenty-five fathoms with no way out and a slim chance of rescue. But even in this claustrophobic reality, he was little more than a researcher, delayed at fifty metres, waiting a few minutes for a ride home.
"Okay, Weed." Vauxhall pressed the call button. "Get Stokes to drop in. Tell her not to disturb anything if at all possible."
"We'll see what can be done, Mr. V." Allbright replied as if ready to bring things to a close. "Our priority is to get you and the old girl up in time for tea."
Vauxhall smiled at the patronizing joke. His back catalog of salty sea tales contained a particularly obscene account of a Japanese Tea Ceremony.
"Just the one sugar then, Mr. Tumbleweed sir," he answered quietly as a creak rippled through the little boat. "Rocks are shifting."