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Space was at a premium in the Comptoni underwater settlement of Deliverance. Whereas on Earth a submarine pen would be a large spacious structure for a submarine to emerge into, free of the risk of bumping into other vessels, in Deliverance submarines had a very different function. Underneath Comptoni settlements were a series of large one-way tunnels for submarines to travel through as though they were underground trains. They emerged in tiny rooms that looked remarkably like subway stations. Indeed, passenger submarines that ferried Comptonians from one settlement to another ran frequent routes. The submarine carrying our heroes emerged in one such station pen.
Relieved to get out of the cramped conditions of the submarine the group soon observed that Comptoni settlements were not much spacious. The under water city was full of people sitting and sleeping in the corridors. The overcrowding was deplorable and the faces of the people they passed were long pale and sullen.
“Why is this place so over crowded?” asked Kimberley, “the last time I was here it wasn’t like this.”
“The last time you were here the water level was much lower and no part of our city was flooded. However, the limits of our engineering have been reached, we can’t keep up with the rising water pressure,” explained the Comptoni Guild master.
“I hadn’t realised things were this bad!” Exclaimed Fiona.
As they were shuffling through the crowds an alarm went off. The people were obviously spooked by this and despite how tired and haggard they were they started shuffling towards the sub pen with a gloomy determination. Alfred and Harold looked at the people with appalling sympathy welling in their hearts.
“What’s happening?” Shouted the guild master.
A passing workman of some sort answered his question, “there’s another breech in the hydroponics level! It could flood at any moment! No one is fool enough to try and seal it!”
The guild master looked forlorn as he turned to the four adventurers he was leading, “I’m afraid we’d better run back to the submarine where we will be safe.”
“No way!” Declared Kimberley and she took off towards to siren, “I didn’t come here to be safe!”
Quickly the others followed her into a large chamber full of plants growing out of elaborate hydroponic boxes. Heat lamps and water pumps were everywhere feeding the plants struggling to thrive in this underworld. There was water on the floor and over at the other side of the room they could see a rip in the wall where water was spurting inside the room. Alfred and Kimberley reached it first.
“We need to seal this tear!” she shouted.
“It’s too long to cover up with a sheet of metal, we need to stop the water coming in so we can weld it closed,” Alfred felt powerless watching the water squirting into the room, “We can’t weld water, but we could freeze it if only we had something cold to spray on it.”
“Great idea! Here grab some of these tubes and stick them around the perimeter of the tear!” Commanded Kimberley. Harold came to help, and using an adhesive the two men managed to coil some insulated hose around the rip in the wall.
“What are you doing?” Cried Fiona, “stay away from that breach it could burst open any second!” She lunged forward at one point to try and pull Alfred away.
“There’s too many people out there to fit on that sub. We have to seal this,” shout Kimberley, “I won’t let anymore of our people die if I can help it.”
Kimberley took the ends of the hose and was feeding it into a pump she’d found. She attached the pump to a large cylinder labelled “Danger Liquid Nitrogen.”
“Ok, I have not idea if this will work, this might not be a good enough pump for this. and that tubing might burst open, so stand back!!”
She switched the pump on and the hose immediately started to turn misty white as the water froze to it. The wall gradually grew colder and the water jet reduced in pressure and eventually stopped altogether. The crack was completely frozen over.
“Ok, that’s going to seal it for now, but someone has to get outside to cover that crack immediately!” Instructed Kimberley.
“What did you do?” asked Harold.
“I pumped liquid nitrogen through this hose and froze the water coming in solid to temporarily seal the breech.”
An hour later they were being congratulated for their courage and quick thinking by the Comptoni. Engineers in a submarine had been dispatched and were sealing the breach up from the other side. The civilians who were evacuating slowly started returning to their cabins. Kimberley was given free use of their research facilities while Alfred had Fiona were helping the civilians move their things back. Deliverance was in a mess and there was plenty for Alfred and Fiona to help the locals with. Harold stayed with Kimberley who was busy examining the settlements sonar and radar equipment.
“What are you doing?” asked Harold.
“I’m modifying the equipment here so that I can pinpoint where the energy source keeping the rift open comes from. Once we know exactly where it is we can ask the Ferrens to take us there.”
“Why are you so good with this technology?”
“I am a Kiron, we’re the smartest. One needs to have an IQ of 140+ to be a member of the Kiron guild, we’re the most exclusive guild on this planet.”
“Do you have an IQ of 140?”
“Wow, that’s really high. There mustn’t be many Kirons on this planet if the IQ cut off is so high.”
“Actually no. The average IQ on Proxima Minor is 125.”
“Wow! Why so high?”
“Because all the settlers were volunteers who came here by their own means. They were far more resourceful and intelligent than the general population. Weren’t just convicts dumped here, nor did they just fall out of a ship that was broken down in orbit.”
Harold laughed at this, but then remembered what Kimberley’s sense of humour was like and that he was probably making this joke at his expense. He watched her insert a piece of equipment into a compartment and then start coding a program to make it compatible with the existing equipment.
“What’s it like being so smart?”
“You can figure that out yourself.”
“Well imagine you had an IQ of 100, you can read and write well enough, follow instructions, and look after yourself. People with IQs of around 130 seem friendly but goofy because they always talk about reading, science, economics, reason, and evidence. Occasionally you just wanna put one of those smarty-pants in their place but you don’t have any serious issues with them. But think about those people with an IQ around 70. They can barely read and write, they’re always asking silly questions, and you need to tidy up after their mistakes all the time. Yet you’re still kind and patient to them. Just like the folks with an IQ of 130 treat you. However, because you’re only IQ 100 it never occurs to you that those 130 IQ people see you the same way you see those 70 IQ people; always asking silly questions, and them needing to tidy up after your mistakes all the time.”
Harold paused to consider what she had just said, “my IQ is 124. Do you see me like that?”
“Well you just asked me what I was doing even though I have explained several times now why we came to this Comptoni settlement. Not only that, you often think that this smarty-pants,” pointing to herself, “needs to be put in her place.”
Harold gaped, it was all true. He frowned and felt indignant about what Kimberley had just said. He thought hard and said, “Have you noticed that Fiona pays a lot of attention to Alfred?”
Kimberley dropped the tool she was using. Made a frustrated groan, muttered “touché,” and continued working. Harold enjoyed the jab he’d dealt Kimberley when he realised that he had also just proven her correct! The smugness of his victory lost its glow. Instead he decided to ask her a more personal question.
“Why do you keep so much distance between yourself and other people?”
Kimberley looked up at Harold for the first time during their conversation. “I guess I just prefer it that way.”
“Yeah, but why?”
She looked thoughtful, “I guess I just figure that I can relax when this rift is closed. My parents wouldn’t want me to be distracted.”
“What happened to your parents?”
“They died,” she said flatly.
“That’s it? They just died?”
“Yeah, that’s it. Now speaking of not getting distracted, could you please guard me from outside the room for awhile? I need to concentrate.”
Harold left Kimberley to continue her work alone. Kimberley looked in the direction of the door as it closed leaving her on her own for the first time in days. She pulled her legs in tightly to form the foetal position and took a few deep breaths.
A few hours later they were all back in the same room again, this time with several Comptoni and Ferren guild masters. Kimberley had gotten the equipment working and was presenting her findings to the group.
“I have located the source of the energy keeping the rift open. It’s underneath the Oblique Plateau, but oddly not nearly as deep as I had expected it to be. Originally, I thought that this energy source would be near the core of the planet and it was the result of some mineral concentration in an unusual conformation. Instead it is remarkably close to the surface. We may not need to block it, we might just be able to mine it out.”
There was much excitement in the room as this news settled in. One of the Ferren guild masters explained they already had a settlement nearby as the region under the Oblique Plateau was full of natural caves that were surprisingly resistant to flooding and many of their people had taken shelter there some years ago. The adventurers could access the area through a Ferren tunnel underneath Deliverance.
The four adventurers were escorted to a chamber in the lowest part of Deliverance. This chamber was full of cargo containers, cranes with winches, and a great round dark hole streching down deep into the crust of the planet. A Ferren worker manipulated some controls and a large elevator pod was hoisted up over the top of the hole. The Ferren guild master beckoned them to climb inside the elevator which looked remarkably like a birdcage.
“So this is it?” Said Alfred, “we descend deep into the crust of this planet and onto the last leg of our journey.”
Harold nodded, “Let’s hope it’s over soon.”
Alfred shook his head, “Let’s hope the Aerons are evacuating Pearl. I don’t want any of those people getting hurt. If we can, we should give them as much time as we can afford them, or that the Comptoni can give us.”
Fiona looked at Alfred, he looked back and smiled at her. Kimberley looked on momentarily distracted. Snapping fully awake she called out of the Ferren operating the elevator controls.
“Drop us down, we’re all ready!”
The elevator cage slid straight down, and the darkness ate the adventurers up entirely.