Darkness all around.
Olivia and every single sailor around her froze in place.
She could barely see her hand in front of her face. The sunlight, the stars, it had all gone out. There was nothing but darkness, and the silent void that it created was haunting.
Even the wind had gone from the air.
Everything was gone.
“Stay put,” Bainbridge called out. “Don’t move a muscle.”
“Aye aye, Captain,” one sailor shouted.
“It’s a power loss,” Bainbridge explained, shouting so they could all hear him, though Olivia wasn’t sure it was necessary for this eerily quiet darkness. “Sawyer, you’re good in the dark. Make your way below deck and get our emergency lights. Commander Everwood, how far are we from the walls?”
“No more than a mile, Captain.”
“We need to get the anchor down. Once we get the lights, we’ll drop and hope for a connection at the bottom. We can remain here until power is restored. There’s no need to panic. There is no need to worry.”
A few moments later, the ship’s cook appeared from below deck with several flashlights in hand. He flipped one on, smiled at everyone, then handed the light to Bainbridge.
“Give the others to Everwood and the officers,” Bainbridge said. “Let’s get the anchor lowered and then we can talk about setting up a rotation… so… that…”
Bainbridge’s voice wavered. He looked up, and Olivia followed the light as he shined it upward, showing the sails above. That was when she realized what he had noticed. The sails were moving, only a little at first, but moving more as the wind started to grow.
Out of the silence, Olivia and the others heard a sound in the distance. At first, it sounded almost like static, but it grew louder with each second. Bainbridge rushed toward the front of the Ulysses and pointed the bright light across the black waters of the ocean. They all spotted it together, a massive swell of water that was rolling straight for them, at least twice the height of their ship and coming fast.
“Brace for impact!” Bainbridge shouted. “Brace! Brace now!”
The ship heaved as the swell picked them up and carried them higher and higher. Olivia could have never anticipated the force with which the full weight of the ship and crew would be moved. She held tight to the rope she’d managed to grab, but as the ship turned further and further, angling itself against the rush of water, she realized the rope itself was coming undone.
The ship reached a tilt of nearly ninety degrees, and the deck became a wall she was braced against, like a climber on the side of a mountain. The deck groaned and creaked from the force of the acceleration, and as they reached the top of the swell, she felt a momentary feeling of weightlessness as the water receded and the Ulysses tumbled down hard against the retreating water.
She heard a sharp and deafening crack from somewhere within the belly of the ship, and she felt a surge of panic bubbling up from her core.
As they rode down the other side of the swell, the front of the ship was suddenly pointing drastically downward, and the back and forth motion pushed the main mast too far. It broke in an explosion of splinters, tumbling over the bow of the ship and spearing the water below.
She heard the first scream.
A mix of pain and fear.
The Ulysses reached the bottom of the swell, and still angled downward, the bow of the ship dove below the surface of the black waters.
The warm water rushed over the deck, and while the Ulysses did right itself, Olivia was nearly swept overboard. She held fast to the rope and prayed that it would hold to whatever anchor it was fastened.
A few more splashes of water came, but none of them as powerful as the first.
The sound of the monstrous swell faded, leaving behind the moans and groans of the crew, screams for help coming from the darkness beyond the deck, and the bellows of Captain Bainbridge, taking back command of the situation.
“Steady yourselves!” he ordered. “Do not panic. I need those of you without injuries to stay quiet. Those of you who are wounded, I ask the same, as best you can. We have crew members overboard, and we need to hear them calling. Does anyone still have a flashlight?”
“I dropped mine,” Sawyer replied.
“I’ve got mine,” Everwood reported.
“Good man,” Bainbridge replied. “Shine it to anyone calling. Anyone that can, help the wounded, and strap them to the main structure if you can.”
“Captain?” Sawyer asked.
“We’re in a massive bathtub, Sawyer. That wave is going to hit a wall, and when it does, it’s coming back.”
“Aye… understood, Captain.”
Everwood was shining the flashlight over the edge of the ship, looking for the distant voices that called for them in the water. Olivia could see the beam of light reflecting wildly off the choppy waters, and she knew the chances of anyone being rescued were grim.
They couldn’t see anyone, and no one out there could see them, either.
She wondered if she could find a way to bolster the flashlight, and she was about to ask if there was something Bainbridge wanted her to do, but before she could manage, the darkness was purged in a blinding blast of light from the sky above.
Not the evening light as it had been before the power outage, but instead the blindingly powerful bright light of the sun at high noon. It was so sudden that almost everyone had to cover their eyes, temporarily blinded by it.
“A stroke of luck!” Bainbridge shouted. “Get eyes on those washed overboard. Bring the Ulysses about if we can manage it with the rudder!”
Olivia felt a brief moment of relief, but then she saw the damage the wave had really done to the Ulysses. The main mast had been ripped away, as she had assumed, but the bow of the ship had been heavily crunched when the main beam had come down, and it was clear the ship was taking on water, as they were lower than they had been before.
Debris littered the choppy waters, but Olivia quickly spotted at least one person flailing their arms a hundred feet or so away from the ship.
“There!” she shouted. “Starboard! Twenty-two degrees!”
“Lifeboats?” Bainbridge asked.
“At least one!” Everwood called.
“Survivors first! Then supplies!”
“Aye aye,” someone shouted. “Lowering us down!”
Olivia watched the smaller boat vanish over the side of the ship. She turned to look off the port side, and that was when she realized just how far the wave they’d encountered had pushed them. The bulkhead that had been over a mile away loomed no more than a few hundred feet. They were close enough to the World Ship’s interior bulkhead that she could make out bolts and rivets.
“Captain,” she said.
“I’m aware,” he answered, seemingly in sync with her concern. “The spirals haven’t taken us yet. Let’s hope it stays that way.”
“What do we do?”
“Save the ones we can,” he answered. “Olivia, you’re an engineer. I think the ship has powered water pumps below deck. We’re going to need them. Get down there and see if you can—”
A thundering noise shook the waters once more.
“What now?” Bainbridge growled.
Olivia turned back to see the bulkhead was starting to move.
Three more thundering sounds.
“It’s opening,” the Captain mumbled, then turned back to the starboard side of the ship and shouted. “Get the lifeboat back now!”
“You heard my order!”
Reluctantly, the sailors listened, paddling the lifeboat back to the Ulysses. They climbed from the small boat and up the rope ladder to the main deck, looking utterly confused. In the waters below, several survivors had been swimming back, and even they looked shocked by Bainbride’s order.
Then, they heard the sound of spinning gears. A whirring sound started slow but grew louder and louder as the massive bulkhead on the other side of the ship began to open.
Olivia was watching in horror.
She had seen these bulkheads open before. There were several of these monstrous doorways throughout the World Ship. One of them divided the Garden from the rest of the habitat, while another sectioned the Garage from other areas. The question here was more about the water of the ocean. What awaited them on the other side? Was there more water? Or would the opening doorway cause a torrential flood?
No one could possibly know.
As the bulkhead opened, water began rushing in. As the gap widened, so too did the pull of the water rushing through. It became obvious to everyone that they were not going to escape this sudden and violent current.
“It’s pulling us in!” Bainbridge confirmed. “All hands, brace!”
The Ulysses, already beaten from riding the massive swell, was not prepared for the forces that began pulling and pushing against its broken hull. It groaned and cracked in protest, while the water beneath pulled the vessel aggressively closer to the opening, which was now wide enough for the entire ship to pass through.
As they got closer, Olivia saw that there was water on the other side, but it was a much lower level than the ocean water, so it did indeed begin to pour aggressively into the newly opened section. They were, effectively, about to plunge over a massive waterfall.
The sound of rushing water drowned out all other sounds.
She looked to Bainbridge, and he met her eyes. “Ride it out!” he called.
The Ulysses lurched, and then it began to spin. Olivia struggled to get a firm grip as she tumbled. The deck was slick, and she slid across it faster than she realized. A lone rope, likely the same rope that had already saved her once, caught her leg and halted her. The ship listed heavily, gaining speed, and it felt like they were going down an enormous water slide. The Ulysses groaned in protest, but no heavy crash came at the end of the ride. Instead, the ship slowed, and the force of the water pushed them away from the flow and into calmer water.
The sound quieted, and the massive bulkhead continued to open.
Soon, Olivia saw arms flailing in the water once more.
“The survivors got pulled in too!” she shouted.
“Aye!” Bainbridge called. “Let’s get to work!”
The lifeboats had been tumbled, but they were still afloat. She saw Sawyer dive over the edge of the ship and swim out to one. He hefted the entire dingy in one arm and climbed inside a moment later. “I’ll start pulling them out of the water, Captain. They must be tired by now!”
“Olivia!” Bainbridge shouted. “The water pumps! Now!”
Olivia shook herself free from what she assumed was a shock. She realized that the Ulysses was much lower in the water than it had been. The ship was sinking and the water pumps might be their last hope.
“I’m on it!” she answered.
She started toward the stairs when she heard yet another thunderous groan.
“What now?!” Bainbridge growled again.
Olivia looked up and saw the bulkhead had slowed.
It ground to a halt, then, slowly, reversed course.
“Oh no! It’s closing!” Olivia shouted.
“It doesn’t matter,” Bainbridge shouted. “The pumps, Olivia. Get the pumps working or we’ll all drown out here.”
She wanted to panic, she wanted to scream, but the look on Bainbridge’s face reminded her there wasn’t time for it. She turned back to the ship’s stairs and nodded.
As she descended into the darkness of the ship’s interior, with water washing up to her knees, she heard the distant rumbling thunder of the bulkhead door sealing shut once more, trapping them here with no way home.