Under Pressure 1.05 - Two Years Before the Hatch
DR JAMIE MACMILLAN-BARRIE
DR HAMISH TURIN
DR RAMONA RAMIREZ
SCENE ONE: Jamie’s Office – Day
JAMIE MACMILLAN-BARRIE Hello. These are the audio notes of Dr Jamie MacMillan-Barrie aboard the DSS Amphitrite. I am recording these notes for review by the board of the Cassida Memorial Research Fund. Assuming that the station doesn't break off the side of this trench and plummet to the bottom, sending us all to our deaths.
SOUND INTRO MUSIC
JAMIE Lately, the Amphitrite has been experiencing some...rumbling. And a little bit of shaking. I've been seeing...clouds outside my porthole window sometimes, I'm not sure what they are. Thinking back, I remember seismic activity was mentioned as a possibility in some of the paperwork about the station. Someone stationed here would have to be comfortable with a few minor earthquakes, like you might experience living in California. But there hadn't been any until recently. At least, nothing I noticed. The occasional ground rattle is one thing when you're at sea level, but I think it's pretty safe to say that the further you are from sea level, the more alarming it gets. This far down...I don't mind saying, in the privacy of my own office -- well, and the theoretically somewhat lesser privacy of my audio notes -- that it's more than a little alarming.
JAMIE Sure, we're submerged under thousands of feet of water, and if the station broke down I could be drowned, or crushed, or suffocated, or die a hundred other ways in an instant. But at least I wasn't worrying about the stability of the very bedrock the station is built into...until now.
SOUND (KNOCKING ON HATCH DOOR)
JAMIE Come in!
JACK --how're those pipes holding up?
JAMIE No new leaks. I think.
JACK Good, good. Look, that patch job should be solid, but the way the station's been rattling lately, I wanted to take a look, maybe put a few more spots of welding on there.
JAMIE Yeah, that would be-- is it not safe? How much time do you need?
JACK Won't be ten minutes. It's plenty safe, don't you worry your pretty little head about it. Just making sure everything's extra double secure, in case these quakes get serious.
JAMIE (DUBIOUS) Sure. Okay, well, I'll be back in ten minutes then.
JACK Or you could stay. I won't be a bother...much.
JAMIE (NOPE BYE) No, no, I don't want to distract you or interrupt your very important work. Have fun with your pipes. (BEAT) I'm-- just gonna-- bye!
SOUND (RECORDER BEING PICKED UP, FOOTSTEPS ON METAL GRATING AS JAMIE WALKS TO HAMISH & RAMONA'S LAB AREA, THEN KNOCKING ON HATCH)
HAMISH Come in!
SOUND (HATCH OPENS)
HAMISH Jamie! A pleasure to have you in the lab, as always. You've just missed Mona, though. She's out collecting some samples; apparently the seismic activity is affecting the current patterns and some of her favorite nematode colonies are positively abuzz with activity.
JAMIE Oh. (DEFLATES A LITTLE) That's...fine. Jack's in my office, doing some more patching on the pipes, so I wanted to be elsewhere for a bit.
HAMISH (CONCERNED) It didn't spring a leak again?
JAMIE No! No, thank goodness. As you can see, I am not covered in greywater this time. Jack just wanted to check the patch job on my pipes because of the quakes, and maybe add a little more work to make sure it's solid.
HAMISH Good idea, the way things have been picking up lately. (BEAT) Not sure how much he'll accomplish by adding to that patch job, though.
JAMIE Mmm. I meant to ask you about the quakes, Hamish. You're our resident rock star--
HAMISH (HEARD THAT ONE A MILLION TIMES, STILL LOVES IT, FCKN NERD) Quite.
JAMIE What's the deal? What's going on?
HAMISH Aye, things have been a bit unsteady lately, haven't they? It's quite exciting.
JAMIE You say "exciting," I say "concerning."
HAMISH Mm, fair. I take comfort in the fact that if we are all going to die, then we are going to die regardless of whether your pipes are patched. If something catastrophic happens, it's going to happen and there is almost certainly not a thing we can do about it.
JAMIE That's a...bleak way to look at it.
HAMISH Is it? There is only so much we can prepare for and prevent. Beyond that, our fates are very much in the hands of whatever higher power you might happen to believe in. Or not.
JAMIE Hamish. That's not comforting at all.
HAMISH Really? I beg your pardon. I find it extremely comforting. We do what we can, but there's only so much we can do.
JAMIE (SIGH) All right. Anyway, what's going on? Is the station in any danger?
HAMISH Well, setting aside the matter of there only being so much we could do if something did happen, I will say that, given the historical levels of activity in this area, the station will probably be fine.
JAMIE I wish you would sound a little more confident about that.
HAMISH I wish I were a little more confident in the construction of the station. But I'm far too familiar with contract work for confidence.
JAMIE Okay. But. Let's-- not talk about the station. What's happening outside, though? In the time I've been down here it's been completely quiet until recently.
HAMISH You're familiar with the basics? Plate tectonics, et cetera?
JAMIE Well, I do have vague memories of middle school Earth Science.
HAMISH Here on the edge of the Marianas Trench, one plate is slowly sliding underneath another at a pace that makes a glacier look like a cheetah. Sometimes the two plates grinding against each other causes earthquakes, rockslides, the occasional magma eruption.
JAMIE Does that also explain the clouds of...whatever that I've been seeing outside my porthole sometimes?
HAMISH Sediment getting stirred up by the tremors and water currents, mostly.
JAMIE Right. So this is-- what, weather? Plate tectonic weather?
HAMISH More or less. Thunderstorms, you might say, but below ground instead of above it.
JAMIE Do you think it's gonna stop soon? Or is this going to be continuing for a while? Are we in any danger?
HAMISH Believe it or not, it's actually good for us to get an extended period of activity like this, so long as the station holds up and our geothermal plant doesn't get disrupted. It's like a release valve, letting off some of the pressure of the plates rubbing against each other.
JAMIE Hang on. The station could be fine but our power could get cut off?
HAMISH Yes. The station operates on geothermal power, which comes from tunneling deep -- well, deeper -- into the Earth's crust and piping water down until it's superheated and returns upward as steam, which powers turbines, which generate the electricity the station uses to operate.
JAMIE That system is more vulnerable than the station's hull?
HAMISH Better to say differently vulnerable. The station might not spring a leak, but the boreholes we've drilled could be obstructed, slowing or even stopping the flow of water. There are things we can do to clear a blockage, but it might get very cold and dark in the meantime.
JAMIE You're just full of disconcerting scenarios today.
HAMISH Mmm. Apologies.
JAMIE So, I did ask, but let's talk about something else now. Can I see what you're working on?
HAMISH Certainly! Pull up a stool and take a look at this screen. I've got live feeds from a few different sensors here, and even a few fresh rock samples we've been able to pick up with the ROVs.
SOUND (HATCH CLANGING, WATER DRIPPING, FOOTSTEPS)
RAMONA (DISAPPOINTED NOISE) Oh, c'mon, no--
JAMIE (NAUSEATED, HORRIFIED) What is THAT?!
RAMONA Oh, hey! It’s a pressurized box for collecting deep sea specimens and-- science, it’s a science box, for science, what’s up with you?
JAMIE Jack is doing some preemptive extra patching on those pipes in my office, so I thought I'd swing by instead of (SHUDDER) watching him work.
RAMONA (SYMPATHETIC NOISE) I see.
JAMIE And since you weren't here, Hamish was entertaining me by showing off his rock collection and telling me all about how the station probably isn't going to fall off the trench wall and kill all of us.
HAMISH But also that if it is going to, there's really no sense in worrying about it, because we certainly won't be able to prevent it.
RAMONA (ASIDE TO JAMIE) Yep, he's like that all the time.
HAMISH Aye, and don't pretend you don't find it amusing. We share too much lab time to not have made peace with each other's quirks.
RAMONA You're right. Jamie, this is what life is truly like on the Amphitrite: a lab partner working in a field completely unrelated to yours, who knows your sense of humor far too well and somehow still manages to be both annoying and entertaining.
HAMISH You know the feeling is mutual, Dr. Ramirez.
JAMIE (LAUGHS) Don't forget, it is my job to analyze how people behave down here. Don't think I'm not taking notes on you-- you two, especially since you're the only ones who seem to actually get along.
RAMONA (TEASING) Jamie! We get along!
JAMIE Of course! I think we get along the best! I'm not counting myself. My research is a lot fuzzier than the hard sciences but I'm pretty sure there's something written somewhere about not involving yourself in your own experiments.
HAMISH (DUBIOUS, AMUSED NOISE)
RAMONA If you think about it, really it's just Aspros and Petersen that are the problem. Technically, Phaedra's got authority over all of us, so she can only get so friendly with anyone without risking the appearance of favoritism. And not that Sidney is inclined to be besties with any of us in the first place, but they've got that bad blood since...well. Before you came down here.
JAMIE What about Jack?
RAMONA Jack is...well, he's Jack. He thinks he gets along better with everyone than he actually does. Which leaves us two paragons of normality here to be--
SOUND (WET SQUELCH AS SPECIMEN IN BOX...EXPLODES?)
JAMIE (GAGS) What was-- what just--
RAMONA Shoot, sorry, I'll just-- put this away--
JAMIE (DON'T BARF, DON'T BARF, DON'T BARF) Please.
HAMISH Jamie? That patch job in your office should be done by now. Perhaps we should get you back there and away from Mona's biological horrors--
JAMIE (WEAK) Yeah, let's-- let's do that, let's do that right now.
SOUND (HATCH OPENS)
RAMONA (FADING INTO DISTANCE) Man, I really hoped that was gonna work--
SOUND (HATCH CLANGS CLOSED, FOOTSTEPS)
HAMISH Deep breaths, there you go.
JAMIE Okay, thanks, I'm fine, that was just-- it exploded!
SOUND (HATCH CREAKS, PROPPED OPEN INSTEAD OF LATCHED)
JACK (EFFORT) Jamie! Came back to watch me finish? You're just in time.
JAMIE (BEST PHAEDRA IMPERSONATION SHE CAN SUMMON UP, IT'S NOT GREAT) ...No.
HAMISH Well done, Jack, thank you for all your hard work, et cetera, et cetera.
SOUND (METAL CREAK, WRENCH CLANG)
JACK There you go. (SLAPS METAL) Should be solid till these tremors subside.
SOUND (AS IF ON COMMAND: VARIOUS METAL RATTLING, LOW RUMBLE, CREAKS AND GROANS AS THE STATION SHAKES)
HAMISH If they subside.
JACK What else would happen? And isn't it part of your job to tell us if they're going to continue or get worse?
HAMISH They might stop, they might continue, or they might get worse. Accurate, nuanced, useful seismic activity prediction is about as far from a perfect science as weather forecasting. Farther, in fact, to be entirely honest.
JACK You're saying even you don't know what's gonna happen? Not one hint whatsoever?
HAMISH (THE HUMAN SHRUG EMOJI) In the case of a catastrophic event, it's...more likely than not that I'd be able to provide sufficient notice for us to evacuate in time. Even if I knew, though, I couldn't change anything. All I can do is recommend evacuation.
JAMIE That's so reassuring. (NARRATOR: IT WAS NOT.)
HAMISH What I can't predict is how much more of this rumbling we might be in for, or how much the station can take before somewhere a rivet pops that can't be fixed.
JACK (HACKLES RISING) Look here, Doc, I keep this station in good shape!
JAMIE (UNDER HER BREATH) Oh, God...
HAMISH You're only one man, Jack, and this is a large station, with frequent comings and goings by other very large underwater craft. You can only do so much to keep this plane in the air, to borrow a vastly inappropriate metaphor.
JACK In your...scientific observation, exactly how many life-threatening incidents have you experienced since you came down here? Exactly zero. You don't think that after two years it's settled that the station is basically fine?
HAMISH Tell me, Mr. Vernon: if I could say that we'll continue to have varying levels of seismic activity for, I don't know, two weeks, but that it won't be severe enough to exceed what I've been informed is the level at which we must evacuate...what would you do?
JACK I'd-- I would-- keep a close eye on the monitors. Do more inspection patrols. So that if anything broke, I could fix it. Because that's my job.
HAMISH And if something breaks while you're already doing repairs elsewhere, then what?
JACK Then-- I fix that next.
HAMISH What if it's in a lab? In the living quarters?
JAMIE (C'MON DUDE) Hamish--
JACK Then maybe someone will lose some data or have to do laundry once it gets fixed. It's not gonna be a total disaster.
HAMISH To paraphrase the astronaut John Glenn, we're wrapped up in two million different parts, all built by the lowest bidder on contract. If there's a single panel or bolt designed to do better than the contracting specs called for, I'll eat that monstrosity Mona just brought in.
JACK That's what the specs are for. If it's built to specs, we're safe.
HAMISH (OH YOU SWEET SUMMER CHILD) Yes, because trusting enormous corporations to create safe working conditions for their employees has historically been a very safe bet. Not to mention trusting construction companies to actually build to specs without cutting any corners.
JACK Who's going to construct a deep-sea station six thousand meters below surface level that doesn't even last three years?
HAMISH Skylab only lasted 6, and it had the backing of the US government.
JAMIE (HEY LOOK A NEW TOPIC) Hey-- Skylab? What's that?
JACK It's a lot easier to send replacement parts down here than it is to send them to bloody space. And they want this place to turn a profit, right? Can't do that if it falls apart.
HAMISH Tax writeoffs. Business restructuring, the desire to spend the money they invest here on some other program. Public sympathy -- difficult card to play considering they built it, but a skilled PR firm could spin just about anything as an unavoidable, tragic natural disaster.
JACK Look, think whatever you like about surface projects, but there's no sense in taking the risk of having to rebuild the whole station within three years and having to deal with with the bad press of the first one being destroyed. There's cutting corners and then there's downright bloody stupidity.
HAMISH Hopefully we'll never know which side they've come down on.
JACK (FEATHERS EXTREMELY RUFFLED) Well, you ever need the pipes in the lab patched, you feel free to send the work order right on up topside so better contract specs can be written up.
HAMISH Oh, no, I'm not doubting your skills, Mr. Vernon. It's strictly as I said -- that you're only one person who can be in one place at one time, and I don't trust this station not to spring two leaks at once. It's not a reflection on the quality of your work.
JACK (HOSTILE) ...Sure. I'm done here. Later Doc. Jamie.
SOUND (TOOLS BAGGED UP, FOOTSTEPS, HATCH CLANGS SHUT)
JAMIE ...wow, Hamish, and here I thought you got along with everyone.
HAMISH I wasn't trying to cast aspersions on Mr. Vernon's work. If the station does fail, it's not going to be his fault.
JAMIE Well, I suspect that wasn't his takeaway from the conversation.
HAMISH (SIGH) In any case, is your stomach quite settled? I should get back to the lab and check my seismographs, make sure we aren't, in fact, in danger of needing to evacuate.
JAMIE Right. Yeah. That's important, you go do that, I'll be fine.
HAMISH Take care, Jamie.
JAMIE Bye Hamish.
SOUND (CLANG OF HATCH OPENING, THEN CLOSING)
JAMIE (SIGH) So, the station might be fine, or it might not. We might be about to die due to seismic bad weather, or we might not. Hamish will probably be able to give us advance warning of anything that's going to be bad enough that we should evacuate. We hope. (PAUSE)
JAMIE CONT'D Even if the station does survive this seismic activity, that still leaves the six of us here, trapped in a very fancy tin can, where the only people who seem to sincerely get along with each other are Hamish and Mona. Not counting myself, I mean. I get along with Hamish and Mona!
SOUND (ANOTHER SERIES OF RATTLES/CREAKS/GROANING METAL NOISES)
JAMIE CONT'D (TOO BRIGHT) But hey, everything's a tradeoff, right? There are new and exciting dangers inherent to living down here, but there are also dangers inherent to normal surface life that we don't have to contend with. There's no chance of me getting mugged and murdered in a dark alleyway tomorrow. I won't-- I won't be on my way to work and get killed in a completely unforeseeable accidental car crash. (PAUSE, SIGH)
JAMIE CONT'D (SOBER)...I'm trying to look on the bright side here. It's--I'm scared, okay? I was doing all right, I was getting used to living down here, and now there's this whole new and different set of dangers that I wasn't thinking about.
JAMIE CONT'D But there's nothing I can do about it, unless I want to quit and head back up to the surface, and that's--that would be giving up completely. I can't do that. (BEAT) People adjust to new circumstances all the time. Even...unthinkable ones. (PAUSE)
JAMIE CONT'D I already got used to living in a deep-sea station thousands of meters below the surface. This is just another aspect of that. I just have to get through each day, and over time, the fear will fade -- hopefully, anyway. And in the interim I guess I'll, I don't know, listen to a soothing white noise generator or something.
JAMIE CONT'D (UGH) Whatever. Either we're all going to die or we aren't. This might be, but hopefully isn't, the final audio notes transmission of Dr. Jamie MacMillan-Barrie, signing off.
SOUND (EXIT MUSIC)
CREDITS Under Pressure is a production of the Procyon Podcast Network. This episode was written by Phoebe Seiders, with script supervision by Margaret Clark, and directed by Margaret Clark and Phoebe Seiders. The episode was mixed by Erin S. Dominic Wright composed our theme. Madison Schaeffer played Jamie, Zach Valenti played Jack Vernon, Greg Martin played Hamish Turin, and Thea Rodgers played Mona Ramirez. You can find us at underpressure.procyonpodcasts.com, on tumblr at underpressurepodcast.tumblr.com, and on twitter @U_P_podcast.