Chapter 5

The Black Sea – January 2012

Doctor Mack Flynn leaned on the bow rail of the RV Nostromo staring out at the shifting horizon as the giant research vessel bobbed gently in the waves. The afternoon sun twinkled off the water, leaving reflective patterns along the hull of the ship. The air was cool and dry with a small breeze seeming to lift off of the water.

He leaned over and watched as Carp, cruising close to the surface of the brackish water, slid from under the boat and moved toward deeper waters. Lifting his hat, he scratched his head.

“Have fun, buddy.” He called after the departing fish.

Charles Marshall, Mack’s temporary lead diver, came out of the on-board lab. He slid the door closed, rubbed his eyes, yawned, and leaned on the rail. His eyes were red and puffy. Hangover was obvious. The light pitching of the deck seemed to turn him a deep shade of green.

“I think I’ve got a touch of food poisoning,” he said at last.

You’re so full of shit, Mack thought. He didn’t care too much for Charles, but he was a necessary evil. If it weren’t for the fact that he was an experienced diver here in the Black  Sea, Mack would have tossed him back in to that Bulgarian dive bar. He knew the guy was cheating on his wife, smoking marijuana in the observation tower, drinking until all hours of the night, and using the vessels research computers for internet porn. Luckily, today was his last day.

Oh well. What was it his friend used to say? He’s over the mountain; a good way of saying soon to be out of sight and out of mind.

He looked at Charles. “Well, Chuck, that happens when you drink your dinner.”

Charles looked up at him, his face ruddy and pale. “What?”

“Nothing. You gonna’ to be ready to dive in an hour?”

“We’re not going after the big one?”

“No. I told you that’s Lindberg and Asberg at the end of May. You might be able to get on with them if this dive goes well. We’re diving for the smaller one. Are you going to be ready?”

Dave gave a thumbs up and then leaned over the rail, vomiting.

What a dumbass. Mack rolled his eyes. “One hour, Chuck, or I’m going to let Yegor do it.”

Charles looked up at him, trying to appear hurt. “Ah, man, why you gotta’ be like that?”

“Because Yegor was checking the dive gear last night instead of drinking Tequila and watching Ukrainian porn.” Mack turned and began walking aft. “One hour, Chuck.” He yelled over his shoulder.

“Shit.” Charles whispered and then threw up.

An hour later the ship’s crane arm was positioned over the target area. Charles was wearing his diving gear, as was Yegor.

Mack stepped out onto the observation deck and looked down at the two men. “Okay, let’s get this started.”

“I can do this myself.” Charles yelled up to him.

“Yeah, and dog shit is a great lawn ornament. I told you Yegor was going to assist in this dive or do it himself if you weren’t available. Your available, he’s assisting, Chuck. End of discussion. Play nice and I’ll call Lindberg tomorrow.”

Charles pulled down his mask and moved off to the dive platform. Yegor waved, smiled, and then mounted the platform.

Mack waved back. He knew he was going to offer Yegor a full-time position as his lead diver after this. He was still planning on calling Lindberg on Chuck’s behalf like he said he would. But he never said he was going to give Chuck a recommendation. Exactly the opposite, in fact. He was going to let all of his research acquaintances know they should avoid Chuck Marshall if they wanted a successful mission.

Charles slide beneath the waves, his temper boiling. Mack Flynn was an ass, even if he was a well-known research scientist. What kind of doctor was he anyway? Proctologist. Had to be. Charles smiled at his own joke. It didn’t matter. Today was his last day of work and he needed that recommendation the proctologist was going to give him.

He glanced to his left, seeing Yegor’s dive light cutting through the water. He switched on his own dive light and began swimming toward their intended target.

To his right, the ship had already started lowering the steel-mesh capture harness. He watched it slide deeper into the dark water until it was swallowed by the blackness.

They reached the rock sphere resting in the sand. Charles thought it was quite possibly the weirdest thing he’d ever seen. First, the rock was perfectly round. Second, nothing, not sponges, not Actinia, absolutely nothing, grew near the rock for almost fifteen feet. Beyond that was almost a perfect circle of normal Black Sea aquatic life.

Not my job to speculate, he thought. He watched as Yegor began to rig the capture harness. Charles swam down and began securing the other side. From the looks of it the proctologist was probably right in that it weighed about four tons.

Yegor brought around his side of the harness as Charles finished securing his. Using the interlocking bolts they connected the two sides of the harness together and locked them in place. Yegor checked the connection and then swam to the master cable, checking the point at which cable and harness came together. He gave a “thumbs up” to Charles. Charles nodded pointing up. The pair began their ascent.

Charles glanced over at Yegor. The guy’s a kiss-ass. It doesn’t matter. In a matter of minutes his job would be finished. Within the hour they’d be headed for Constanta. He knew his wife was expecting him tonight, but he could call her with an excuse. He was going to help the crew unload the rock and spend most of the night on the ship. Yeah, that sounded good. Then he could spend the night with Raya. A little romp around her apartment is just what the doctor ordered. Besides, after the last few days of being reamed by the proctologist, he wasn’t up to dealing with the wife and kids.

The divers broke the surface and swam for the platform. Mack watched them come aboard. Well, the asshole didn’t drown. Too bad. Looks like he’s going to get paid after all.

“Are we secure,” he yelled down to them once they were aboard.

Charles pulled off his mask and looked up. “Why don’t you ask your boy?”

Mack balled his fists and was about to unload on the man, but stopped himself. “Yegor, are we secure?”

The Russian nodded and smiled. “We are secure all the way around. She is ready to bring aboard.”

Mack waved a thanks and pulled a walkie-talkie from his belt. He keyed the radio. “Let’s do it.”

The crane operator flipped several switches. The take up spool began winding up the cable, bringing the sphere to the surface.

Mack watched the cable rising and was surprised at the speed at which it wound up. He keyed his radio again.

“What’s the weight on the cable right now?”

There was a pause and then his radio squawked. “I know all of our pre-lift readings said this thing should weigh three to four tons, but the gauges show that it’s only slightly over a ton. Weird. What do you think?”

Mack ran the calculations through his head. That just wasn’t possible. After a moment he realized he’d left the crane operator hanging.

“Oh, uh, yeah. Weird. I guess we’ll see when it gets here. Gonna’ come up faster than we expected?”

“Maybe by a minute.”

“Roger that. Thanks.” Mack clipped the radio back on his belt. He looked back down at the divers in the process of peeling off their equipment. He smiled. He knew what he was about to do was mean-spirited, but he figured Chuck deserved it. Besides, he was planning on doing it anyway.

“Hey, Yegor, when we’ve got the rock secured come on up to the main lab. I want to talk to you about becoming a permanent member of the crew.”

Yegor smiled up at him. “You bet.”

Mack turned away and started down the stairs to the main deck. “That ought to frost Chuck’s ass.”

Yegor grabbed his dive gear and headed for storage, smiling all the way.

 Charles grabbed up his dive mask and slung it over the side of the ship. “Son of a bitch!” The proctologist has just reamed him again! He watched as the mask began to sink below the waves. It took several seconds for him to realize that it was his own Oceanic Reef Neptune Space Raptor dive mask that had cost him over a thousand dollars that was sinking to the bottom of the Black Sea. He ran, cursing, for the platform and dove into the water, knowing his mask was probably gone forever.

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