Outland: Chapter 2
The cloudy eye stared back at me, the bony carcass of the fish from the night before sitting on the plate beside me. I had allowed myself to fall asleep on top of the map, luckily avoiding scribbling any ink or drooling onto the paper.
Outside the small window of the compartment, I could see the morning sun start to cast it’s glow over the land.
“Good morning, Andrew.”
“Good morning, Gulliver.”
“You’ve risen earlier than usual.”
“I slept well last night, I guess. Having a full stomach helps.” I said, rubbing my neck. Picking up on the fishy odor, I quickly picked up the plate and shoved the carcass into a self-sealing bag before depositing it into the compactor.
My body felt refreshed as I ascended the ladder to the cockpit, noticing the shudders still open from the day before. Looking down at the control panel, I noticed the switch for the solar panels still in the off position.
“Charge at 21%, Energy cells…”
“I get it.” I stopped him. “Looks like we can stay put for a bit and catch some rays.” I flipped the instruments and heard the sound of the raising panels at the back of the cockpit. “Since I’m up…” I stopped to yawn. “… do you detect any maintenance you require, Gulliver?”
“Yes, well… Yesterday, while exiting the water, I felt as if my ballast tanks were slow to equalize.”
“I think I noticed that too.” I noted. “It felt sluggish getting you back up on land. Shall I check that the pump is working properly down there?”
“That is what I would suggest, Andrew.”
“I’ll get to it then.”
Sliding down the ladder once again, I found myself at the bottom level. A faint puddle had been left behind from the day before, and I had left the fins and air tank sitting on the ground as well. Shaking my head, I placed them back up where they belonged. Grabbing a pair of gloves, I stepped down to the bottom hatch.
“Gulliver, if you could.” I shouted up.
The aperture of the hatch slid open once again, revealing the sand dirt below. Unlatching the rope ladder from the wall, I tossed it downwards, watching the metal rungs jump and dance as they tumbled down to the ground. As it finally stopped swaying, I swung myself around and started to descend carefully.
As I descended the ladder, I could see the worn paint upon the machined plating of the legs. The ladder swayed back and forth gently, and thought it had been a long time since exiting Gulliver in this manner, it felt like the same as usual. The storage aboard had been built to hold enough supplies for a month, which at the time of me working with Gulliver, had always been filled to the brim. These days, I managed to keep somewhat of a stock, buying or, well, looting, from wherever I could. A few people along the way had supplies that were leftovers from various jobsites. They were more than happy to trade for information or my maps. Mostly, though, I would search for an opportunity to eat real food, such as the fish from the night previous.
Finally reaching the ground, I found my ground legs once again. The dirt was finely dusted with sand, and had various small plants growing out of it, but otherwise was desolate. Moving towards Gulliver’s left leg, I unlatched the access hatch and popped open the section holding the big tool kit. I could feel the dried salt upon the edges of the panels, but the seal had kept all the water out. Despite my current worries about the power cells, everything else seemed built just fine to last.
Pulling out the necessary tools, I got to the paneling on the feet. Gulliver and models like him had been built with a wide stance and flat feet, complete with ballast tanks to better stay in place submerged or partially submerged underwater. As a downfall, it made the particular model slower. Not that I ever dreamt of trading him away.
I quickly examined the ballast ports on the feet, making sure that they had not been plugged or otherwise damaged. Discovering their intactness, I decided to go ahead and get into the inner workings. Extracting the breaker bar, I got to work pounding on the bolts along the paneling of the footwork. Hands becoming raw, I eventually was able to extract each of the rusting bolts, being careful as to not shear any of them off.
The panel came off with a crackling of the rubber sealing, and the stench of old sea water entered my nostrils. Sitting at the bottom of the ballast tank was a puddle of standing water, green from algae, and a collection of barnacles that shrunk back from the sudden entrance of the light. They had grown slightly over the drainage port, bottlenecking it and allowing the water to collect.
I held my nose as I began to chip away at the hard, crusty shells of the sea creatures. Through the sound of my pounding, I could hear the waves ebb and flow in the background, attacking the shoreline. As the clacking of the screwdriver began to make contact with the metal of the tank lining, I could hear the sound of the ocean slowly die out.
Wiping my brow, I stood up and rested my back for a moment, taking a second to look out at the water. The land beside me was suddenly bare; water having been pulled away suddenly by some strange force. The realization suddenly hit me, and I quickly shoved the tools back into the case and lifted the plating back on Gulliver’s foot, pounding it down. I wouldn’t have time to bolt it down, and I could only hope that it would stay put from it’s weight alone. Scrambling with the heavy tool box, I dragged it through the sandy soil and hefted it back up into it’s compartment.
The rope ladder swung violently as I mounted it myself, hands holding as tight as I could muster. The sound of the sea had begun to return to my ears just as I reached the port. As I hoisted the heavy ladder up, I shouted out to Gulliver.
“Override Solar Panel array! Gulliver, take the position; there’s a tsunami coming.”
I could hear the faint sound of the actuators start to pull the panels down, followed by the creaking of Gulliver’s metal body, bending down so that his arms could meet with the ground in a kneeling position. The room started to tilt with the movement of the machinery, causing me to slide around slightly on the slick metal floor. As we made contact with the ground, I could hear the sound of the waves below make contact with the ground. Grabbing onto the rim of the hatch, I peered over the edge and down to the ground below. Water began to wash over the land like a landslide, pushing past Gulliver’s legs below.
I could feel the faint shower of mist from the water splashing up against the hard land, and I pulled my head back inside. The shaking within the machinery rattled the tools and lockers around the room. I covered my head in the event one of them may fall from their hooks and topple over on me. Holding my breath, I listened to the sound of the wave, eventually dying off in the distance. Peering back out the hatch and down at the ground, I could see the residual streams of water wicking their way back down to the edge of the water.
Sitting silently, I stopped and waited, breathing heavily, hoping that there wouldn’t be an aftershock to send another wave our way. After several minutes, I called back up to Gulliver.
“Systems, Gulliver? How are we?”
“No immediate damage, Andrew.”
“Good. Set us back upright.” I ordered. Hanging onto one of the handholds along the wall, I waited patiently for Gulliver to right himself, moving back up to his bipedal position. I hoped silently that my work from before had gone untouched. Arriving back upright, I tossed the ladder down again and quickly slid down to survey the damage.
The ground was damp and cold, depressions in the ground still holding onto puddles of water. Long strands of seaweed and other organic matter had been washed up around, along with a few fish flapping helplessly. Turning back to Gulliver, I immediately spotted the open compartment on the foot, panel having been strewn elsewhere. The rest of the food module was intact, but the ballast would be mostly inoperable if the panel was missing.
I combed the beach for the panel for at least an hour, eventually coming across it having been smashed into a rocky outcropping, bending and denting it beyond use. I ended up dragging it back through the sand, below the hatch. Climbing up the ladder once again, I set up the hand cranked pulley system which would allow me to hoist it up. Exhausted, I went back down the ladder once again to attach it to a harness that would allow me to hoist it up. One day when I was less exhausted, I would be able to pound it back into shape enough to put it back where it was meant.
I managed to collect a couple of the bigger fish that had been washed up on the beach. If nothing else, I would eat well that night.