The following hours passed in a blur of frantic calls to corporate, systems checks, and a near riot when the divers refused to collect the rapidly-dispersing grease slick that used to be John Edmundson.
The tension broke when Gervaso Zaragoza, whose headache had returned with a vengeance, grabbed a wrench that weighed almost as much as he did, hoisted it over his head like he was going to hit someone, and then toppled backward and fell on his ass. It’s amazing how the humor of someone falling down can diffuse a volatile situation. After a few minutes, the divers stopped complaining and did their part while the rest of the crew shut up and went back to work.
I hadn’t told anyone what I’d seen in the water. As far as corporate was concerned, a catastrophic failure in the hydraulics system was what had pulped their employee. Yes, people with knowledge of the systems involved would be able to dispute it, but at the moment, which was what mattered, no one did. I’d be able to talk with corporate later in the week, once I knew what was going on, and they’d appreciate me keeping it from the rest of the crew. A plausible lie is always better than a disruptive truth.
During the commotion, when I was trying to get everyone to calm down, the “tentacles,” or whatever they were, had fallen back to the floor of the plain. They sat in straight lines at the bottom. I dumped all the data showing their movement to a pair of USB sticks, pocketed them, and purged the storage array of the evidence.
For the rest of the day, I sat at the console and did my best to work without interruption. While the calls to and from corporate had slowed, every 45-or-so minutes, I’d be forced to respond to another board member’s secretary asking the same questions I’d already answered a dozen times. Thankfully, as the day came to an end, even those calls died down. It was quiet.
My direct supervisors left via helicopter in the early evening. I was in charge for the weekend. It wasn’t a new experience; the upper management of the platform had the freedom to go back to the mainland and visit their families a few times a month, and they did so as frequently as possible. I was used to being in charge. In fact, I enjoyed not having anyone breathing down my neck.
In the morning, more of the crew were reporting headaches. Gervaso was not one of them. He said he felt a lot better, and even volunteered to take the shifts of a few of his colleagues who were under the weather. His supervisor, Quan Williams, who felt like shit, told him to do whatever he wanted. I found out about that much later.
I’d been busy since early in the morning, working remotely from my dorm, and using my laptop to control one of the drones. I was studying the tentacles. Overnight, one had moved. Not much, but enough to warrant my investigation – especially because it was touching one of the platform’s support beams.
To make matters worse, the bottom was exceptionally murky. Sediment was floating in a thick cloud. Visibility was awful. While I could see the tentacle touching the platform through a visual/sonar composite, the resolution was low. It was obvious there was movement on the floor of the plain, but its source was invisible. Part of me was certain something was being intentionally hidden.
Around noon, Anand, the head medic, knocked on my door. I met him in the hallway. He informed me that 34 of the 66 crew members were sick with debilitating headaches. I told him to keep me abreast of what was going on, and if anyone took a turn for a worse, to keep it quiet and come to me immediately. He nodded. I think he understood the importance of avoiding another commotion.
I didn’t have to wait long. Anand came back at 2pm. He looked upset. When I asked who’d gotten worse, he looked around, then put his finger to his lips, shushing me. I nodded and he beckoned me to follow him. I did.
We traversed the labyrinthine staircases of the platform. We were heading toward the mechanical room. I hated the mechanical room.
The mechanical room was where all the heaviest equipment was located. It was always loud, always filthy, and always dangerous. Pumps and engines rattled and expelled noxious fumes while hydraulic cables transported fluids under pressures so high that a leak no wider than a human hair could cut a man in half. The crew who worked down there were a mixture of brave and insane. They’d been putting in double time over the last few weeks as they tested and prepared the platform to begin its main drilling cycle.
Anand and I reached the room and found five crewmembers being kept at bay by their supervisor, Karen Vant. When they saw me, they started asking questions – all relating to Gervaso Zaragoza, who’d volunteered to work there for the day, and Frank Panagakos. I’d never met Frank before, but I knew he was one of the newer mechanics on the platform. Karen told her guys to shut up and let us through. To their credit, they did.
Karen, Anand, and I walked down the main corridor between two massive generators. Karen told us how all the holes in the platform from the accident with Edmundson had been patched. All but one. The one we were coming up on.
The mechanical room was essentially the basement of the platform. Below it was nothing but pipes, cables, and water. I saw the hole ahead of us. As we got closer, I saw there was something coming out of it. Something bright red and glinting in the harsh, overhead fluorescent light. My breath caught in my throat.
We approached the hole. A hundred feet below, greenish-gray waves heaved against one another. I got on my knees and peered down, making sure not to touch the thing coming out. On the northern support beam, a thin line of red rose out of the Gulf, all the way to the underside of the platform and over to the hole. Once inside, it stretched down the corridor. Karen asked me if I had any idea what it was. I lied and told her I had no idea. Anand urged us forward, and we continued down the corridor, following the red tube.
We turned corners and ducked under cables and piping until we reached one of the hottest, noisiest, and filthiest corners of the room. Gervaso was there, facing Frank. They stood, motionless and open mouthed, staring at one another as we walked toward them. They didn’t move or acknowledge our approach.
The closer we got, it became obvious something was very, very wrong with them. The red thing had grown up Gervaso’s leg and chest and appeared to have entered his face under his chin. But that was the least disconcerting part.
The light was dim over here; blocked by the piping and machinery. I had to get in close to see exactly what was happening. Karen produced a flashlight without my knowledge and as soon as I was within a foot of their faces, she flicked on the light. I gasped.
Gervaso and Frank were joined by thin, red veins. They appeared to have sprouted from Gervaso’s eyes, and they entered Frank’s face at various spots in his mouth, eyes, and forehead. They trembled slightly, almost like they were shivering. As I watched, another cilia-like vein pushed from the center of Gervaso’s eye and twirled outward, searching for purchase, before settling on Frank’s temple and slipping inside.
“What is it?,” Karen asked. I looked at Anand. He shook his head. A string of drool oozed out of Frank’s mouth.
“We can’t leave them here,” Anand said. “They need to get to a hospital.”
“Can we move them?,” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Anand told me. “They might move on their own if we ask.”
“Gervaso, estas bien?,” I asked. He didn’t answer. He didn’t move. “Frank?” Nothing.
I took the flashlight from Karen and touched it to the veins. They stretched under the pressure, but didn’t react. I pressed harder.
“Maybe you shouldn’t –” started Anand, but I’d already pressed hard enough to detach one of the veins from under Frank’s tongue. Frank exhaled heavily and his left eye turned to look at me. Before any of us could react, the entire platform shook.
“What the fuck was that,?” Anand practically shouted.
“I have no idea,” Karen answered, wide eyed. “It felt like something just crashed into one of the support beams.”
Will be concluded.