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lights. I turned on my own, but could see only the single line, taut now,
leading from the net which was now thoroughly tangled around me to a vague
bulk just on the edge of visibility.
The line, it may be remarked, was quite strong enough for what it had to do;
we were descending much faster than my original ballast had carried me down.
If the owners of that rope were prepared to trust it under such stress, I saw
no point in doubting their judgment. I didn't even bother to hope it would
break. I calculated that I'd be on the bottom in twenty minutes or so, and let
it go at that.
At least, I could eat now. I began to absorb a dextrose pill with such
calmness as I could collect. There was nothing else to do; they had me.
We were still several hundred feet from the bottom when company showed up. Two
more subs, brightly lighted, hove into view. They were work machines similar
to the one I'd had trouble with a few hours before. If they were in
communication with the one which had me in tow, it was by means of something
none of my instruments could pick up. They probably were, since their
maneuvers were perfectly coordinated. First one and then the other newcomer
swung close beside me, and each used its
'hands' to hang several hooked slugs of metal into my net. These weights took
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nearly all the stress off the tow rope and removed any hope there might have
been of its breaking at the last moment.
Then a swimmer slipped out of each boat and took station beside me, saving
themselves work by holding onto the net too. I flicked my lights on for a
moment, but couldn't recognize either face. I
began to wonder about the fellow I'd hit and what his friends might think
about it if I'd hurt him really seriously. The human mind sometimes goes off
on funny sidetracks; I never once, while I was being towed, thought about
their reaction to my having discovered their obviously secret installation. If
I had, I'd probably have told myself that if they really wanted to do anything
final any of their subs could have cracked the tank with no trouble at all.
Eventually the bottom came into view in the range of my own lights.
It wasn't luminous this time. I thought at first that they must have turned
their lights off; then I realized that the storm must have carried me some
distance, and there was no reason to expect to be very near the tent. This was
ordinary sea bottom complete with crab burrows; I could tell, because after
reaching it the sub reeled in most of the tow line and left me only about
twenty feet up. This gave me a good look at the boat itself, too, and I could
see that it wasn't my former antagonist. For one thing, it was about twice as
big.
It wasn't very different in general design, though. There was still plenty of
equipment on the outside -
more, if anything. It was meant for work, not travel. Even without the drag of
my tank it wouldn't have made very good speed over the bottom, but I could see
that we were moving. I had no doubt we were heading either for the entrance
I'd seen earlier or for some other one and kept looking ahead for its lights.
As it turned out, we reached a different one. We were a couple of hours
getting there, though that's an academic point since I didn't know where we'd
started from anyway. This pit was smaller than the
other, and the lighted tent roof was nowhere in sight when we reached it.
This entrance was only about twenty-five feet across, much too small for the
sub that was towing me and borderline for the other two. It was perfectly
cylindrical, with vertical sides, and opened from the bottom of a shallow bowl
just as the other had. It was very well lighted, so I had no trouble making
out details.
There were many ladders around the rim. At first they led down out of sight,
but as I came closer I
found I could see the bottom ends of those on the farther side of the opening.
The pit was apparently a hole in the roof of a chamber something like forty
feet deep.
There were several more swimmers in and above the hole who seemed to be
waiting for us. As we approached, they paddled out rather casually and
gathered around the tank as the sub that was towing me settled to the bottom
just beside the entrance.
My tank drifted upward and slightly forward until the tow rope was vertical.
One of the swimmers waved a signal, and an escort sub swung back in and hung
another slug of ballast onto my net. That took the rest of the tension off the
rope, and I began to sink.
The swimmer signaled again, and the tow line came free of the big sub. Several
men grabbed it; the rest took hold of the net, and they all began to work me
toward the pit as I settled. This seemed to be the last lap. Unless they had
the stupidity to leave me right under their hole in the roof, which would be
too much to expect even in twentieth-century realistic literature, the most
remote chance of my getting
back without their consent and assistance would vanish once I was inside that
entryway.
I was nearly frantic. Don't ask me why I felt so scared at one time and so
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calm and steady at another; I
can't tell you. It's just the way I am, and if you don't like it you don't
have to live with it, at least.
I don't know what I did or thought in those few minutes, and I'd probably not
want to tell anyone if I
did remember. The fact was that there was nothing whatever I could do. I had
all the power of a goldfish in his bowl, and that sometimes upsets a man 
who, after all, is used to having at least a little control over his
environment.
I was a little more calm as I reached the edge of the pit; I don't know the
reason for that, either, but at least I can report the incident. There was a
pause as we reached the tops of the ladders, and the subs and swimmers both
clustered around and began hanging more ballast onto my net, adding insult to
injury. The swimmers also picked up what looked like tool belts from hooks
near the ladder tops and buckled them around their waists, though I couldn't
see why they should have more need of these inside than out. At least, I
couldn't see any reason at first; then it occurred to me that tools might be [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]




 

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