36: Another Unexpected Guest

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Doctor Marshall rapidly made his way across the lab to Eugene. Knowing the alien's sensitivity to light, the doctor left the primary lights off. Truth be told, the alien's necklace was doing a fine job of illuminating the room all by itself.

Eugene's huge eyes were still locked with the doctor's and he still retained the same comforting smile as the doctor approached. For once, the creature actually looked -- at ease.

At least that made one of them.The doctor stopped just shy of the observation tube."I think you've got a visitor."As if on cue, the doctor watched through the exterior side of the observation tube as the tiny craft slowly lowered itself into view behind Eugene.Upon getting a better look at the 'ship' with his own eyes, it was much harder to tell, much like the one Eugene piloted, if it was mechanical or biological in nature. The spinning motion the doctor witnessed earlier had stopped. The corkscrew fins had flattened to each side of a main cylindrical center, which seemed to have a glowing network of lights that ran along the length of its body. The necklace around Eugene's neck pulsed with a sequence of flashes. Then, for the first time since his "visit", Eugene spoke. The language was a combination of a series of rapid clicks and whistles with a soft, low guttural sound emanating from deep within the creature's throat.Eugene uttered a phrase, if that's what you could call it, and a moment later, the crystals around its neck answered back with an incomprehensible sequence of long and short flashes. The conversation continued as the Doctor stared I awe."Oh boy..." 20,000 feet below, the countdown for the Cav drive had begun."Cavitation Drive engaging in 5 seconds.", the computer aboard the M.A.N.T.A. announced.The tiny sub was already traveling at more than 60kn, as Jordan gripped the controls tighter. The glowing gloves of the M.A.N.T.A. suit, now emanating a deep purple hue, hid her white knuckles. Nick was also more than a little apprehensive about their plan, but he did his best not to let that show to Jordan. Instead, he thought it might be best to inform the Commander about the kick in the pants she was about to receive in 5 seconds."Ok. When this thing fires off it's got one heck of a kick.", he said with forced calmness."4...", updated the M.A.N.T.A.'s verbal countdown. "Don't let that kick force you to pull back on the controls.", he continued."3...""Keep the ship as straight as possible and...""I got this.", Jordan interrupted defiantly. "2...""...try not to get us killed.", Nick completed his statement quietly to himself. "1."5,245. That was the number of tests the M.A.N.T.A. had run through in the labs. That's 5,245 different scenarios that the M.A.N.T.A. might possibly encounter. 5,245 situations that were dreamed up by the military's top engineers and scientists. They ranged from the loss of power, to partial system shutdowns, to accidental impact with large marine life. There were scenarios that involved water leaks, short circuits and even a total blackout of the lights. In all those 5,245 tests, not once had they ever imagined that there would be two people sitting in the M.A.N.T.A.'s pilot seat when the Cavitation drive was engaged.The sudden jolt of the drive sent Jordan sliding backward against Nick's body. With a sudden stab of pain in his chest, he was pretty sure he felt a rib or two crack. Without the head and neck support of the high-backed chair, Jordan's head whipped back and slammed Nick's lower lip. Nick didn't make a sound as the taste of blood filled his mouth.Once again, the front window of the M.A.N.T.A. was engulfed in tiny white bubbles totally obscuring the forward view."Whoa!", the commander said in awe, as the field of white bubbles dissolved and merged into one solid bubble which surrounded the ship.The front windshield of he M.A.N.T.A. was once again clear. Engaging the Cav drive alone was one thing, but doing it with someone sitting in his lap was a different matter altogether. The weight of Jordan's body combined with the continued climb in G-forces was making it noticeably more difficult for Nick to breath.In Deep Blue's laboratory, the conversation between Eugene and whoever was on the other end of his necklace continued.The doctor wasn't understanding a thing."Syndi," the doctor called out to the A.I., "see what you can make of all the flashing pulses and...his...whatever those sounds are.""Yes doctor.", Syndi replied as her rendered image appeared on a monitor adjacent to the observation tube."Doctor, the M.A.N.T.A. has engaged its Cavitation drive and is headed this direction. I thought you would want to know."It took a moment for the doctor to pull his attention away from the alien and process Syndi's statement."They did what?!", the doctor had no idea what the commander and Sheppard had in mind, but engaging the drive to get to shallower depths sounded like a damn fool thing to do."They have engaged the Cavitation drive and are returning to Deep Blue.", the A.I. restated."Syndi, reroute the comms from the command console to this room.", the doctor ordered."Yes doctor.", the A.I. responded, followed a moment later by a soft computer ping."The comms are open."Doctor Marshall's eyes never left Eugene, or the slowly pulsating crystals around his neck. Although his thoughts may have been shouting in his head, he knew better than to raise his voice at this exact moment.The doctor's next statement was delivered in an overly calm and forced manner, "Lieutenant Commander, is there anything you'd like to give me an update on?""Doc, you're alive!", Nick was able to force out even while the commander's increasing weight was crushing down on him. On top of that, he actually sounded happy to hear him. The doctor's voice was a welcome surprise to Nick, it pretty much eliminated his "worst case scenario". At the very least, he had confirmed that Deep Blue was still there."For the moment, yes.", the doctor replied calmly as Eugene continued his private conversation with whoever was on the other end of the line, "but we've had some interesting developments.""Yeah, here as well.", Nick admitted as he couldn't help but to let out a minor grunt from the weight.Nick fought to take another sizable breath, "Listen doc, we've fired up the Cav drive and we're headed your way." "So I've heard.", the doctor quipped. "Syndi, what's the M.A.N.T.A.'s current speed?""The M.A.N.T.A. is currently traveling at 210 kn, and accelerating." "If all goes well, we should be there inside of 15 minutes."The thought of more than a dozen fail scenarios were still running through Nick's head, from visions of the M.A.N.T.A. exploding, to a sudden encounter with some large undersea wildlife, to the seemingly much more likely case of Nick being crushed to death by the combined G-forces and weight of Jordan."And if things don't go well?", the doctor inquired. There was a moment of pause from Nick, "It could be a little longer.""What's the situation there?", Nick asked, attempting to change the subject."It seems our guest has friends,", the doc answered, still trying to make sense of what was going on, "and it appears they sent someone to find him.""Okay," Nick said trying to be optimistic. "Can you hide him or something?" At that moment, the flashing and pulsing of the necklace stopped and the alien's oversized, black, reflective eyes looked up, as a content, satisfied smile slid across his face. It was the kind of smile that meant everything was going to be ok. That grin meant only one thing to the doctor, "Oh, I think it's a pretty good bet they know he's here."As the necklace dimmed, Doctor Marshall watched as the small unidentified craft outside Deep Blue jumped to life once again. It performed a tight 180-degree turn before speeding out of view."Syndi," the doctor ordered, "track that thing. I want to know where it goes. Send the stooges after it if you have to.""Yes doctor.", she replied.The exterior cameras surrounding Deep Blue all turned in unison to target the quickly fleeing object. The four drones in their docking stations jumped to life and headed for the moon pool, but they wouldn't be fast enough. The illuminated ship darted over the rocky edge in a streak of light and headed to the depths below. By the time the robotic stooges made the same dive, the ship was nothing but a tiny dot of light quickly accelerating into the darkness. The last thing Mo, Larry, Curly and Shemp recorded was a distant flash of light where the ship had been. The M.A.N.T.A. continued its skyward ascent at a record-breaking pace.The Commander had all her attention focused on piloting the M.A.N.T.A., and noting their current speed. The ride was smooth, there was no low-frequency rumble; No shaking. Obviously, whatever Jordan had done to tune the engine had worked. The M.A.N.T.A. handled as designed, it was as if they were flying underwater. "Passing 420kn.", Jordan announced, knowing that was a new record for the ship -- and the world. The M.A.N.T.A. suit was doing its job of helping Jordan counteract the effects of the growing G-forces, but for Nick, who was only wearing a tank top and shorts, the G-forces and the weight of the commander were taking their toll. He felt two more 'pops' in his chest, followed by sharp, intense pain, and was pretty sure that two more ribs were either fractured or broken. The black vignette around his vision slowly closed in on itself, he knew he was only moments away from blacking out. He tried every trick he knew to fight the darkness, but the human body has its limits. Before the black circle in his vision collapsed completely, Nick heard the Doctor's voice in his ear."You can take your time getting back here Lieutenant Commander.", the doctor announced with more than a touch of disappointment in his voice. "Our guests have left the area."Not letting a moment pass, Nick relayed the message to Jordan. "Shut it down. Shut it down.", he said with a cough."Do what?!", Jordan asked, needing confirmation of the request."Shut it down!", Nick said more forcefully, oddly having flashbacks to the same command the doc gave him on his first trip down.The bright red "disengage" button on the control panel made it clearly obvious how to perform the shutdown task, however, Jordan had no warning as to what followed next.With a single tap of the button, the Cavitation drive was silenced and the giant bubble around the M.A.N.T.A. shot forward and collapsed in front of the ship. Without the 5-point harness securing them, the sudden deceleration sent both Nick and Jordan flying forward into the ship's control console. They let out a collective "ouch" when they impacted the console -- and each other.As the M.A.N.T.A. settled into a gentle rock as it traveled through what remained of the Cavitation bubble, the twin engines on the wings rotated into operational position and engaged. For a moment, there was a much-needed silence in the cockpit -- but only for a moment."Do you want to tell me why I just aborted our trip back to the station?", Jordan asked calmly as she began the process of repositioning herself back into the pilot's seat.Nick, who was also slowly attempting to return to a more upright position nodded, "The ship, the visitor, whatever it was -- it left.""Is the doc ok?""Yeah, as far as I can tell.", Nick said as he carefully leaned against the back of the pilot's seat, and exhaled. He was relieved to be able to breathe freely once again. He took a partial deep breath before sharp pain electrified his right side."Yes, defiantly at least one broken rib.", he noted to himself as he let out a small grunt."So um, what's the plan?", Nick asked to no one directly as he wiped away a stream of blood from his busted lip.Eugene released his necklace, letting it fall to his chest, then approached the front of the observation tube. He still held the same satisfied, content look on his face with the same peaceful smile. He stared for a moment at the doctor then gave the slightest of nods as if to say "thank you"."I think you need to get back here. I've got a hunch we're going to have a lot more company."

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