Written by: Lyle Deixler
ROSS SEA, ANTARCTICA – 2037
Deegan knew his bribe would only last so long. Then the Air Force had better things to do with its time, and especially its satellite tracking systems. The military was busy fighting wars on three fronts. No easy task, no time to bother with Hydro Runners playing games and trying to steal each other’s livelihood.
Three of Deegan’s crewmembers were putting the finishing touches on the towlines and netting they had attached to the iceberg. They were also preparing to cover the berg’s flat, tabular top with a solar blanket. The blanket had a fan driven air-cooling system that helped prevent the berg from melting too much during its trip up north. But until they were actually moving the berg, and Deegan’s ass, were all fair game.
The iceberg was a beauty that had naturally broken off from the Ross Ice Shelf. The berg was about one mile long by half a mile wide. It rose 30 feet high with a mass 300 feet deep below its water line. Deegan’s sonar readings confirmed this. She would probably yield about 25 billion gallons of water after losing whatever melted on its two-month trip to San Diego.
Deegan did some quick math in his head. Twenty five billion gallons at current water rates meant easily over one hundred twenty five billion dollars. But the government automatically gets half of the water and his Air Force contacts got five billion. Taxes, on his after-government gallons, would take another twenty billion dollars. The money goes fast, he thought. He also knew most of it was useless since people routinely bartered for things like food and clothing. At least he could add some good old sea bird guano to some of the ice, call it “nutrient enriched,” and charge a little more for what he sold to AgriTract.
Deegan had bribed his contacts in the Air Force into first telling him about the sighting and size verification of the berg. Deegan usually didn’t have to pay that bribe but his spotter plane had mysteriously exploded one night as it sat in its hangar in Puerto Natales, Chile. He was also paying his contacts the usual bribes, the money to keep the competition at bay and alert him if another runner was approaching as he hooked up a berg.
He really didn’t have much of a choice, especially if he wanted to stay in business. He needed his Air Force contact and also had to use government satellites. There were strict registration laws and waivers that allowed runners to bring nuclear-powered vessels, the only ships with enough power to feasibly tow a berg, into the no-nuke zone of Antarctica. He had to register with the government and constantly send signals to their satellites, letting him track their ships.
And that tracking, like anything else, was for sale. But the government was also busy with its water wars and every runner knew at any minute, and with no warning, their friends in the sky could be programmed by the Air Force to look elsewhere and they’d be screwed.
Deegan stood in the crow’s-nest of his 400-foot nuclear-powered Baqura. He had a commanding view of the beautiful scenery before him and still marveled at the vast stretches of pack ice and towering, glacial rises and mountains of Antarctica. Amazing, he thought, absolutely incredible. And untouched for so long but now we’ve got to take what we can get because we ruined what we had.
He enjoyed the scenery for another minute or two then pulled off one of his gloves, left the liner on to keep his hand warm, dug into the pocket on the front of his coat and pulled out a flask.
To the ice and good fortune, he thought, making the same toast again, clinking the bottom of the flask against the computer monitor in front of him, the way he always did when drinking in the crow’s-nest. He struggled not to gag as he took a swig of the cheap whiskey, then enjoyed the warm rush running through his body. Deegan took another drink, put the flask away, reached up and scratched at one of the weather-beaten lines on his face before putting his glove back on.
Deegan then thought about his father, who always tried to conserve everything, whether it was water or electricity. If his father heard a faucet running in their house he’d quickly check to make sure the water was being used and not wasted. If Deegan or his sister left a light on in a room after they left his father would get angry and tell them to always turn off the lights to save electricity. His father was a smart, caring man and concerned about the environment. He also grew up in a time when water was so plentiful shop owners used hoses to clean the sidewalks in front of their stores. Automated car washes cleaned millions of vehicles. Lawns were sprinkled for mere aesthetic purposes, wasting billions of gallons of water. His father was drafted into the United States Army when Deegan was twelve and died fighting in a place called Baqura in northern Jordan.
A sharp pain then stabbed at his left knee. Dammit, he thought, got to get that fixed one of these days. His lower back had been giving him problems too all day so he bent over, reached down to his toes with both hands and tried to do some stretching.
To honor his father Deegan wore his black hair shortly cropped, military style. It was the way his father looked before he shipped out to the Middle East, the last time Deegan saw him alive.
His father was fighting in the Second Water War that started in 2025 and still raged on. It began when Turkey completed its third dam on the Euphrates and used the diverted water for irrigation in newly opened farmlands.
Neighboring Syria and Iraq suffered a huge loss of water due to the vastly depleted river. They formed a shaky alliance and invaded Turkey. America sent troops, ships and planes to help defend the Turks.
At the same time nearby Jordan, which had been struggling for years for water, attacked Israel. Israel still controlled the Jordan River. By 2023 Israeli and Jordanian troops were firing at each other, over the Jordan River and Israel’s Lake Genezaret reservoir, which stored much of the Jordan River’s precious liquid. It was the first time the peace between the two nations had broken down in over 70 years.
Although Syrian troops were busy fighting Turkey in the north they still had forces near the Golan Heights, which Syria wanted to take back from Israel. The Syrians quickly overran the U.N. troops in the Golan, pulled some Lebanese factions into the fray and invaded Israel from the north.
New Palestine, formerly called the West Bank, joined its fellow Arabs and the Palestinians and Jordanians retook Jerusalem. Soon the Israelis found their backs to the Mediterranean Sea as they desperately clung to Haifa and Tel Aviv. The two things that kept the Arabs from finishing off Israel were Israel’s limited use of small, nuclear-armed artillery shells and the constant bombardment by U.S. Navy ships. But the Navy was thinly spread, simultaneously defending Turkey. And it was still bogged down in the Arabian Sea, near Karachi, Pakistan, fighting where the First Water War began.
Suddenly the Whoop! Whoop! of the alarm sounded and Deegan glanced up at the sky. Thanks guys, he muttered, angry at the Air Force. “Radar has been locked on to you,” the computerized voice said out of the speaker in the console before him. “Radar has been locked on to you. Torpedoes approaching, contact range two miles, bearing zero nine zero. Torpedoes approaching, contact range less than two miles, bearing zero nine zero.”
Deegan’s radar and sonar must have been partially jammed for him to pick up an intruder and torpedoes that close and late.
“What’s goin’ on Kelly?” he yelled into the vidphone of the crow’s-nest computer. “Talk to me!” He scanned the horizon with his binoculars, in the direction of the torpedoes, and saw the speeding Cruiser-Breaker coming toward him.
“Looks like cutters comin’ in fast!” replied Kelly, his second-in-command and navigator, who was at the helm on the bridge below. Deegan watched the images of the simulated torpedoes heading straight for his towlines on the computer screen. The lines were six steel cables, each with a diameter of 20 inches and sheathed in a waterproof casing.
“Pop the ‘loons!” Deegan yelled at the computer, and upon hearing the voice command the computer inflated the mini-salvage balloons that were soldered into the tops of the towlines.
The three balloons on top of each of the six towlines blew open and started to slowly raise the heavy lines.
The crewmembers on the berg heard through the speakers in the helmets of their thermo-suits what was going on and watched the approaching boat. The towlines continued to slowly rise as the torpedoes and boat sped closer.
Deegan saw the torpedoes moving in on the screen. “Come on you bastards move!” he yelled at the towlines, then to the vidphone and Kelly, “Straight ahead straight ahead move it!”
Kelly gave the ship power as his heart pounded and he wondered what Deegan was going to do. They had six lines hooked up and were almost ready to leave. The slack on the towlines wouldn’t give them much chasing room and an emergency dump-off, or disconnecting the lines, could mean losing the berg. He looked at the computer screen to his left as the torpedoes closed in on the lines.
Suddenly the noses of the torpedoes flipped open and spinning blades protruded forward. They hit the lines and started cutting through them. The torpedoes also fired a spray of spikes at the balloons, popping them.
The Cruiser-Breaker sped closer and was about one hundred fifty feet off the starboard side of the Baqura. Soon it reached the Baqura and sped past it. Deegan saw the scruffy face of Claude LaCroix as he stood in the crow’s-nest of the Charon. The bastard was waving, smiling.
Deegan yelled at the vidphone and Kelly, “Move it faster!” and the Baqura picked up speed.
The Charon followed the length of the massive berg. LaCroix told his computer where to aim the harpoon guns mounted on the ship’s port side. Then he shouted, “Fire!”
The harpoons shot forth and dug into the top of the berg. The Charon continued to speed forward. LaCroix was going to use all of the temporary lines on the harpoon to encircle and snare as much of the berg as he could. Then he’d worry about Deegan and attaching real lines.
“Pick it up and closer to those lines!” Deegan shouted to the vidphone. Then he scrambled down the crow’s-nest ladder and went to one of the laser cannon turrets up on the bow.
“Can’t do it man unless we dump,” Kelly said, slowing down the ship.
Deegan felt the boat suddenly lose power and ran past the turrets to one of the bridge windows. “What the fuck are you doing? Chase him goddammit go get him!” He then pounded a fist onto the thick glass.
“We don’t have the slack, not unless I dump. Which will almost guarantee us losin’ the berg!”
“You idiot! You fucking moron!” Deegan yelled.
“We can’t chase ‘em. No way man.” Oh shit, Kelly thought, he’s goin’ off again.
Deegan darted across the deck to the laser cannon turret. Standing behind the gun he aimed, then squeezed the trigger. The laser bolts went flying, missed too high. He looked through the gun-sight, adjusted the weapon and fired again. This time he hit one of LaCroix’ temporary lines, cutting it and dropping the line to the sea.
He slammed his hand on the transmit button on the radio below the gun. “Fuck off LaCroix she’s mine and you know it! I was out of here in ten minutes, fifteen tops!”
“I did not see anything moving. Just a beautiful iceberg my friend,” the wise-ass French-Canadian replied.
“Yeah well,” Deegan began as he adjusted the big gun again and squeezed the trigger, nailing another one of LaCroix’ lines. “I just dropped your second line and this gun is a little old and shaky. I’m not sure where this next bolt’s goin’. Either that line or your ugly fuckin’ frog face.”
“Getting nasty, are we Mr. Deegan? Looking to become only the second asshole to sink a nuclear-powered vessel in this lovely no-nuke zone?” he said, referring to the Miss Chelsea incident. In 2032 things got real nasty between two Hydro Runners and the Miss Chelsea was sunk. Fortunately the nuclear engine didn’t take any direct hits and had no serious damage.
“You’ve got one temp that ain’t worth shit and I’ve got three men on a berg that’s covered and ready to roll.” Deegan then blasted LaCroix’ last temporary line and glanced at the computer screen under the laser gun turret. The torpedoes cut only two of his six lines.
“I got four lines and I’m outta’ here. Go find your own berg LaCroix. I didn’t spend the last two months on a pleasure cruise and I sure as fuck didn’t waste my time like you apparently have.”
“Now, now Mr. Deegan, what’s life without a little risk, eh? Pretty boring if you ask me. Okay, that really is a lovely netting job you did. Maybe I’ll find another free floater, or blast away.”
“You do that, my friend. Blast away,” Deegan sarcastically replied, mocking LaCroix. “All I know is that I’m on my way to San Diego with a cool couple of bill and you’re stuck down here watchin’ the whales. Tell the penguins I said hello.”
“Oh I will, Mr. Deegan. And you tell Miss Desalinization that I said hello,” LaCroix replied, referring to Deegan’s girlfriend.
“No problem, LaCroix. And remember, a spiked head’s the best head.” Deegan made a crude, practically cliché joke about the “punk” hairdos of irregularly molted Adelie penguins and the sick rumors of what horny runners supposedly did to satisfy themselves between the long, spiked hair of some of Antarctica’s native inhabitants.
Deegan listened as LaCroix laughed over the radio.
A Sensible Lunatic (Chapter 1) | A Sensible Lunatic (Chapter 2)
Antarctica 2037: Hydro Run Fiction Excerpt
Antarctica 2037: Hydro Run Fiction Excerpt
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