APAGear - Volume 5, Number 5 - August 2003

The Tablets of Thera, Part 7

Tom McGrenery

This episode continues part six of the series. -ed

With a clatter of levers and gears, Ogilvie turned the submersible, pitching it into a steep dive after the U-boat. I braced my feet against a console and held on to a lantern housing for stability. Aftwards, and therefore above me, Emily was clinging somewhat desperately to a handrail. Doctor Ogilvie had placed himself at the helm and leant forwards against the console with his knees. Reaching up above his head, he pulled something down towards him. The thing resembled a set of binoculars closed at the far end, attached to the ceiling by means of an articulated arm, jointed in several places along its length. Coiled cables stretched from the back of the binoculars to a lit control panel next to the root of the armature. Ogilvie brought the dvice to his eyes.

"I can see the U-boat," he said, "It's pumping out an awful lot of air."

His left hand turned the helm a little, adjusting for some current. The Nemo began to shiver, juddering up and down. I tightened my grip on the lamp housing.

"In fact," said Ogilvie, "I shouldn't be surprised if we start to experience some--"

The sub snapped with a lurch to starboard, then back once more to port. I tripped from my place and tumbled down, cracking my knees on the steel (though carpeted) floor, before coming to rest in an undignified heap against the foreward bulkhead. Emily still clung to the handrail, but Ogilvie had taken a nastier fall. I could see blood seeping from a cut above his temple -- though thankfully nothing in the way of straw-coloured fluid. He must have struck his head on the way down. Ogilvie's eyes flickered open and shut.

"Turbulence," he said, then passed out.

He was not wrong, either. The sub pitched and yawed in the wake of the German U-boat. With pained effort I hauled myself to my feet and clambered up the inclined cabin to the helm. I gazed across the banks of dials and switches, more or less utterly ignorant of what they did.

"How in blue blazes do you steer this thing, by Jove?" I shouted to Emily. She was as stumped as I was, and further away from the dials and switches.

A moment's deduction, after reading some of the labels (an operation complicated by the constant shaking of the Nemo) led me to one inescapable conclusion -- we were hurtling out of control on full power towards the bottom of the Mediterranean. This, I concluded, was very bad. My pondering was cut short by the sea-bed.

We must have flattened out somewhat in our descent, as an awful tearing sound announced our contact with the rocks of the sea floor. Something sheared away from the underside of the hull. Emily and I were both sent reeling by the impact. I belted the back of my head against something and teetered, before plunging into a whirling pit of oblivion.

I came to, Lord alone knows how much later, to find myself gazing into Emily's eyes. Her hair was hanging down, brushing the tip of my nose. Not an unpleasant way to wake up by any means. You could drown in those eyes. However, the pressing possibility of drowning in the Mediterranean was rather more urgent.

"What's happening?" I breathed, which is at least a little more original than 'Where am I?', I suppose.

"We're beached on some rocks. One of the hull compartments has sheared open, but that's not too much trouble. One of the engine pods has been damaged, though, so we have to go outside and fix it. How are you feeling?" she said.

"I've got a headache," I replied, "But otherwise I'm not feeling too bad at all."

"Good," said Emily, "The Doctor over there's broken his ankle, so you'll have to come outside with me instead. He's got some rather neat diving suits we can use."

I'm not sure what I said to that. I'm sure it was convincingly enthusiastic, though. Before long, I and my aching head were firmly ensconced in one Ogilvie's "Subaqua Manoeuvre Suits". Painted a startling royal blue, the suit was essentially a bulky, armoured diving suit with a helmet like a goldfish bowl. I was well-insulated in there, and the boots must have added a good half-foot to my height. The Doctor had told us that electrical motors in the suits' joints amplified the efforts of our own bodies, thus enabling us to move easily through the water, and to bear weights greater than a mere mortal could. Suitably reassured by this knowledge, Emily and I stepped into the airlock. The inner door cycled shut with a clunk.

"I'm scared," said Emily. Her voice was strange, tinny and distant through the short-range radio in the suit's neck.

The airlock was rapidly filling with water. "Join the club," I said.

The airlock filled, and we turned the handle to open the outer door. The sea here must have been fairly shallow, as the light was not too dim. It filtered through the rippling water, dappled and blue. The sea-bed was rocky here, so I stepped forward and down from the Nemo. My feet moved almost as lightly as if I were on dry land thanks to Ogilvie's ingenious suit. Emily stepped down after me, and we headed aft to examine the damage to the engine pod. Although the floor was uneven, it seemed to be firm enough to hold us. I turned to check where Emily was and found my view obscured by the plume of bubbles rising from oxygen feed unit. Assuming she was still there, I plodded on. The engine pod had hit the rocks hard when we grounded ourselves. The pod hung skewiff like a drooping branch. The wishbone arm that attached it to the hull of the Nemo had been buckled severely.

The rock that had caused the damage stood unmoved several yards distant. It was surprisingly regular in shape, a perfect oblong silhouetted against the ridge behind it. I stepped closer to the rock. As I'd suspected, it was the work of stonemasons, three cut blocks one atop the other. A bas-relief of Neptune or Triton or some other Hellenic figure with a trident was carved upon the pillar's surface. As I examined the sea-worn contours of the carving, it occurred to me that it was rather strange for it to be silhouetted against anything. I heard Emily's voice suddenly, like a distant whisper over the radio.

"Piers? Where's that light coming from?"

A soft luminance crowned the ridge behind the Greek pillar. It was altogether too pure a white to be natural light. I glanced over towards Emily. She nodded once, clumsily due to the suit, and we slowly climbed the slope. A peculiar sight awaited us when we crested the rise. On the plateau of the sea floor ahead of us lay a veritable vista of industry. Men in diving suits moved slowly from one place to another amidst the sunken ruins of a Hellenic city. On the outskirts of the settlement, four grounded U-boats lay as if patiently waiting. Beside them, large walkers adapted for subaqua deployment trudged towards the ruins carrying girders and sheet metal. The whole scene was illuminated by the harsh white glare of magnesium lanterns strung from the broken pillars and peristyles of the ancient town.

Was this the operation the Jerries had been talking about? While an undersea base for U-boats could be useful, I could not fathom how the Tablets of Thera could be relevant to this. Maybe these undersea explorers weren't the fellows we'd been chasing. Just as I thought that, I saw one diving suit clad figure greet another with the familiar fingernail-inspection salute. It was the Nazis, all right.

"Fancy sneaking in there?" said Emily.

"We've not fixed the aft starboard engine yet," I said, "Though I suppose we can just try to compensate for it when we do leave."

"Come on, Piers," said Emily, "What's the point of having Nazis around if you can't foil them?"

And with that, we set off towards the sunken city.

To be continued....