“I say, Atkinson, there’s nothing more beautiful than the sun rising over the Mediterranean.”
“You’ve been sayin’ tha’ since we passed Gibraltar, Cap’n, though I must admi’ i’ doesn’ make much of a difference to me.”
They were sitting on the hull of their ship, enjoying their frugal breakfast of porridge and biscuits. The first lights of the day were grazing the surface of the water as the waves lazily hit the flank of the three vessels. The sea had not yet started to get agitated, and the morning was peaceful and tranquil. The only sound that they could hear was the uninterrupted lapping of the water, and they were in no hurry to replace it with the grinding and roaring of the engine.
“But how can that be?” Winston Grey asked with emphasis. “Can you not see all the great seafaring people who have preceded us amidst these waters? There, Minoan thalassocrats passing by on arched crafts. There, Phoenicians merchants on their way to Cyrene,” he said pointing left and right. “Right there, the mighty fleet of Ptolemy. There, a soaring ship of the Mahometan conquerors. And here, the unstoppable fleet of shrewd Admiral Nelson.”
The pilot laughed and filled his spoon with some of the thick porridge in his bowl. “Don’ even know ‘alf o’ those folks, Cap’n. I jus’ see a lo’ o’ water and a pretty sunrise, but no prettier than anywhere else.” He put the spoonful of porridge in his mouth and chewed as he talked. “Real peaceful, though, i’ is.”
“Shame on you, man,” Grey said with a wry smile. “Open your eyes and ears, today. It should do you good to learn a bit about the history of the Romans’ Mare Nostrum.”
“Can’ listen to the professors and look outside, and then keep an eye on the sonar, Cap’n. Wouldn’ be doin’ my job proper.”
There was a slight breeze, fresh and salty. Grey took a deep breath and felt appeased by the familiar smell of the open sea.
He considered the old pilot with a hint of annoyance in his eyes. “The day we forget our History is the day our civilization dies. If we forget how we got where we are, how can we truly know that we are going forward? A man has to know where he comes from, Atkinson, don’t you think?”
“That I reckon,” the pilot said as he rubbed his sleek forehead.
“Good,” Grey exclaimed. “Then I have a few books that you could borrow. Why not start with Hume’s History of England? Marvelous work. My copy I hold from my great-grandfather, a stark man to be sure, but of tremendous intellect and discipline.”
“Wanna try to teach me to read again, Cap’n.”
“I’m not one to give up on such a worthy endeavour,” said the captain.
The sun peeked out on the horizon, and a shaft of golden light sprang across the sea. The deep blue of the waters clashed with the pallor of the illuminated sky.
“To think that they’re still sleeping down there when the world offers us such a beautiful sunrise.”
Behind them, they heard the top hatch creaking and clanging, and they turned around as the ship’s radar operator popped out. He was a tall and rugged man, epitomizing American virility, and the uncouth vision of the Frontier that inhabited the European mind. Square-jawed, blond-haired and gray-eyed, with features that evoked doggish loyalty and unabashed protectiveness, he was a stalwart companion to all those he called friends.
“Simpson!” the captain called out with a jovial smile and a wave of the hand. “Come have breakfast with us, good man.”
The American shielded his eyes with one hand as he pulled himself out of the sub. Evidently, he had just woken up: he was still in his undershirt, his blond hair was a mess and the bright daylight seemed as irritating to him as it was invigorating to Captain Grey. “Mornin’, cap’n,” he muttered. “Glad you’re in a good mood.” He paused and looked around indifferently. “One of the professors is gettin’… fussy down there.”
Grey and Atkinson looked at each other and then eyed Simpson. “Fussy?” Grey wondered aloud. “What do you mean: fussy?”
Simpson was interrupted by one of their passengers whose head emerged from the hatch. He was a mousy little man with nary a hair left on his head. His clothes were bland and ill-fitting and his thick glasses made his eyes appear bulbous and inquisitive. “Captain Grey,” he said in a squeaky voice. “My esteemed colleagues and I were wondering where you had gone. Good Lord,” he said as he flinched. “The sun seems to disagree with my eyes after such a long journey in the steel innards of your ship.”
Grey immediately sprang from his chair and swiftly went around his crewmen to lend a hand to the shriveled old man who was having difficulty climbing out of the Scion “Good morning to you, Sir Clifton. You seem quite energetic today.”
“Quite indeed, Captain, quite indeed,” Sir Clifton said as Grey carefully pulled him out of the hatch and upon the blue hull of the ship. “As are Dr. Kenyon and Dr. Grimes, of course.” He dusted himself off and rearranged his loose-fitting suit. “How exhilarating to feel the breeze.” The old man stretched his back a bit and looked at the rising sun shining on the horizon, and the long shadows cast by the three submarines that were part of the expedition. “Tell me, Captain, which direction is the north?”
Grey pointed to the back of the ship.
“Ah, so Egypt is but a few hundred miles ahead of us.”
Sir Clifton nodded. “I have to admit, Captain, that my colleagues and I are very much anxious to get started with our survey, and I see you’re nearly done with your breakfast,” he said in his posh accent without tearing his gaze from the blue horizon. “So I suppose we shall get going in a short while, shall we not?”
The captain and his men exchanged a few looks.
“Most certainly,” the captain said joyfully. “We’ll contact the Black Cat and the Peary at once and inquire as to their state of readiness.” From the corner of his eyes, he saw Simpson mouthing: inquire as to their state of readiness?
Grey cleared his throat as he went and folded his chair. “Well, let’s get on with it, then.”
“Splendid!” Sir Clifton said raising his little fist with unconcealed enthusiasm. “We shall be waiting for you in the diving chamber, Captain.” Then, he promptly took his leave and began his slow climb down the ladder, as he had little dexterity and strength in his limbs.
“Come now, men,” Grey exclaimed. “Today we lift the veil of time.”
Simpson sighed as Atkinson, in turn, folded his chair.
And down they went into the fore airlock, which was just large enough for four grown men.
After Grey closed the hatch, he climbed down the ladder slowly to give his eyes a bit more time to get used to the relative obscurity. Although the narrow corridors of the ship were well lit with frosted light bulbs, of which he was, once again, quite proud, noisy darkness was the lot of the submariner.
“Goodness gracious,” he heard Sir Clifton exclaim. “I can barely see a thing. I am dreadfully sorry, but would you mind giving me but a few seconds? I’m afraid these old eyes are not as good as they used to be.”
Grey could not see his operator, yet he knew Simpson was rolling his own eyes. He had the sight of a cat, that one, and it seemed his pupils never even needed those few seconds. Sometimes, the captain even wondered if he was not more comfortable in the dark. Also, the American had become rather short-tempered in the last week or so: he did not seem to appreciate the company of their scholarly guests.
“Now, that’s better. I shall go get Doctor Kenyon and Doctor Grimes at once,” Sir Clifton said as he shuffled away in his timid gait.
“Stairs, sir,” Atkinson called out as the little man was about to head toward the bridge.
“Yes. Yes, indeed. How flippant of me!”
The captain and his crewmates exited the airlock and turned right to directly enter the bridge, where they found the comforting familiarity of the pale lights and the shrill sounds of the instruments. It was a simple place, and there were but a few pieces of wood to dignify a décor that offered little more to the eye than the cold glint of naked metal. There was only one seated station on that bridge, as Grey wanted his crew to be always at the ready. His own post was in the very middle of the room, where he had access to the periscope and to a desk where he could put a few maps, as well as a few cartographer tools. In front of him, there was Atkinson, at the wheel, with his short range radar. To his right, Simpson was ever-vigilant, with a lynx’s eye gazing into the abyss through the dark lens of the sonar and the long range radar. And to the left, Fitzmoore was always scanning for any radio chatter.
Captain Grey was prouder of his ship and his crew than he had ever been, and the Scion of Albion herself was more imposing than ever before. After a disastrous trek in the depths of the Cayman Trough, his first ship had been badly damaged, and following some legal gymnastics on the part of his family’s solicitor, Lloyd’s had paid him a hefty sum. Afterward, he only had to ask a few favours from his old friends in the Royal Navy to find the perfect submarine for him to take out to sea. She was practically brand new, and although the captain missed his old ship, he had to admit that the Scion of Albion II was a far more reliable vessel.
She was also quite elegant and spacious, with as many as six cabins, a dining area, and two observation rooms. There were just a few specks of rust to be found as of yet, and the copper pipes and sheaths were not so green as to be deemed unfashionable. However, she lacked the modifications that Buchanan, his mechanic, had made to the first Scion, and so she was not deep seaworthy… yet.
She was dark and noisy. She smelled of oil, and steel, and copper.
She was the best place to be.
(c) Jean-Philippe Savoie