Andrew Hoyle stmbles across a rusted old lock box amongst the reminants of the newly raised and deteriorating hull of H.M.S. Titanic. What he discovers inside the box leads him into a passageway of time and the closely guarded and elusive story of Elizabeth Brunnette. Caught in an era of scientific wonder and advancement she projects a freewilled and determined woman who continuously defies the class standard society of her time as she confronts an evil plot to weaken a cornerstone of capitalistic civilization. Forced into a battle of wills she will find danger as her guide and love for a mysterious rogue her only ally on the battlefield of the Titanic.
It was a calm sea. Hesitantly, I finally raised a still groggy head from the large indentation of a too soft pillow. My thoughts started to collect in a hazy abyss as I sat up and rubbed the vision back into my sleep laden eyes.
"Yeah, Atlantic Ocean...four hundred and twenty miles east of Newfoundland....What were those co-ordinates again? Damn it! They were drilled into me enough times before departure. Oh yeah, forty-one degrees six minutes north by fifty degrees fourteen minutes west, two and a half miles above the largest undersea tomb in the world, the remains of R.M.S. Titanic."
It was a simple assignment (my editor had enthusiastically decreed); just cover the story behind the raising of the Titanic.
“It was simple, yeah real simple.”
By the way, I think I should take the time to introduce myself.
My names Andrew Hoyle, ace correspondent for the Atlas News Agency and one of the most religious of landlubbers on the good old Mother Earth (as of the past three weeks).
May is not the warmest of months and as the North Atlantic winds tear at the very marrow of battered, brittle bone you find yourself existing in an uncomfortable, well below freezing environment. As you have probably guessed by now I am not an avid outdoorsman much less, a seafaring man.
Covering this story meant a chance at world wide exposure and the attention the major news Medias needed to alert them to an adventurous, tenacious journalist that, in earnest, could deliver. Following the tiresome, monotonous daily cycle I had adapted to and having to adjust to such cramp quarters, I got up, diligently, showered, omitted the morning cold water shaving (for a change) then dressed warmly after retrieving my trusty notebook and 'Aerospace' felt tipped pen then left the cabin making sure to duck my head so that my six-foot two- inch frame could squeeze through.
An icy froth slapped away any aftermath of lingering drowsiness as I mechanically stepped on deck. I shuffled towards the growing circle of misted silhouettes and joined in with the disgruntled nearly audible mumbles of the other news media also assigned to Project Phoenix. There were thirty tightly bundled, shivering, pacing individuals grouped together around the portable canteen that remained partially obscured by the thick, angry, white clouds of steam rising from four large percolators grouped on two hastily erected plank tables setup along the starboard side. Shouldering through the calamity of a line-up that stood anxiously waiting for the taste of their first cup of morning coffee I graciously accepted the offer of a full, simmering mug thrust my way in the hand of the ship's First Officer who had taken up a position away from the shivering crowd standing near the ice encrusted starboard railing. I thanked him between clenched, chattering teeth as I warmed my hands around the soothing hot mug, taking a quick sip before joining him in leaning on the top of the glazed guardrail. We looked over the small armada that encircled an area of deep blue-grey Ocean. Officer Edwards took the time to glance towards the Conning Tower before systematically returning his gaze to the portrait that unfolded before us. He was a good head and was a godsend to us media types. A career officer (and it showed), he was of average build with a lean
athletic look. It was the face that dictated the years of premature aging that only the sea can do to a man. Even the stock of jet black hair hadn't escaped and was beginning to show signs of peppering with unique shining speckles of silver-grey. His age was undeterminable. I had at first guessed him to be around forty but I was wrong by ten years his senior. He continued to stare out over the sea as if transfixed by a hypnotic summoning. I drew intimately closer but my presence failed to distract him. He broke the sound of the chilling whistling gusts with his slow, distinct drawl.
"There's a lot of shipping out there Hoyle, and that new rig they've designed to hoist her up sure looks pretty impressive."
He was right of course. The task force that sailed around us was most impressive with a defined mixture of scientific vessels and supply frigates. It was easy to find the questions that were going to be pertinent. I couldn't help but to instantly construct them in a dynamic persistence. What if the expedition failed? What if it succeeded? Hell, what if? What if?
"Will it be worth it, Edwards?”
Drifted out the question that kindled in the minds of every man
involved with the venture. There was no one answer and I really didn't expect a reply. The inquiry was simple-minded and I scolded myself for it.
"I certainly hope so if not, for your sake then..."
Edwards surprised me with his response. Then he looked up with a crease of a wry smile crossing his thin, course jaw.
"After all, how else are you going to be able to justify that Pulitzer Prize you were raving about last evening?”
The element of embarrassment became facially obvious and the way I had announced it during the drunken gaiety of that particular evening flooded a still sluggish memory. Edwards, after an emphasized short chuckle, had left it at that, preferring to gather the events that were beginning to
unfold before him. There on the smooth, ebony, hewn glass surface a group of seven light-grey expeditionary ships patiently circled the two massive barges that were linked together by a mingling of steel girders that eventually emerged into the most monstrous of cranes.
"What are the odds on things going according to plan?”
I asked after a full minute of silence.
Edwards took a glance my way and his eyes locked onto mine in a deep, searching lull. His moderate alto drawl shattered the measured silence when he obligingly uttered, "We're about to find out, my friend. The signal to
activate has just been given."
It was a cut and dry undertaking and everything went according to plan. The monster of a ship (or what was left of her), was carefully cradled and encased in a special carbonized acrylic mesh by an army of specialized underwater robots then manoeuvred into place by a crack team of marine archaeologists and combined Canadian and American armed forces underwater specialists. With breathtaking resolve she was gingerly guided towards the surface in a spectre not viewed for the better half of a century. Due to some technical reasons, concerning the effects of the coarse metals exposure to the raw atmosphere, it was decided that the ship remain at a designated depth under water to avoid any sudden violent, possibly serious deterioration once the corrosive oxidation started. It proved to be a very unpopular decision at the time but a necessary one. Though obscure it was still quite a sight to behold even from the limited view I was granted as we all watched the opaque dark-grey outline of the silent behemoth glide effortlessly through the icy waters that had once claimed her grave. The press went wild. Those shouts of 'Titanic hoist raises namesake', 'Phoenix raises seas sleeping Rip Van Winkle’ started ringing from the communications rooms. I was no exception.
'New life for an old ship?’
"Yeah, that sounded O.K.".
But, my story goes beyond the resurrection of R.M.S. Titanic. It explores the mystery that surrounded her downfall and her baptism and plunge into the elements of human history.
It was a week later after the Titanic had reached dry dock, that Officer Edwards invited a set number of news correspondents, specifically those that had covered the expedition, to examine the remains and interior of the
raised bow section. Previous salvage attempts had looted the exterior portions of the ship and some had even penetrated the outer most interior. It was the deeper bowels of the ship that had prompted our interest. Edwards was as usual most complying. We were given a freehand at inspecting the areas that had been cleared and deemed safe to enter. There was a stipulation. Any areas that were designated red zones (those with red caution lines painted about them), would be strictly off limits. No exceptions. The starboard side of the half ship had been almost completely disassembled. This is where the archaeologists began their investigations and had started taking the hull apart piece by piece in attempting to find a technical reason for the ships downfall. This was the abyss I was about to ascend into. The hastily arranged lighting was far too inadequate so, using initiative and with a mini-maglight in hand I entered the rusting and rotting corridors of what was once the most magnificent ship afloat.
The assertions that men have dreamed of for decades, never to accomplish, were now mine. Entering from the bright, red-orange rust encrusted stairway close to the forward hatch I descended into what must have been the Third Class Passenger's open space which was designated the area aboard ship reserved for the Steerage passenger’s recreational activities. The Class system at the time of the Titanic's sinking was quite strict and severely adhered to. Those of the lowly Third Class were not permitted to mingle with the more predominant classes who considered them to be socially substandard. I descended via a makeshift ladder (compliments of some absent minded handyman) and entered the
remains of the first level of Third Class berths. The total devastation of the elegant woodwork was one of heart wrenching disappointment. Ravenously eaten away by the little known microbes and wood boring organisms that inhabited the great wreck had left nothing but rusted, etched, crumbling metal framework. I could barely make out the remains of a doorway much less a room's interior. Small mounds of debris outlined invisible corners and I could (with a little imagination), identify small familiar shaped pieces of twisted metal. Packed away neatly in a uniform position and made nearly invisible by the jumble of still shining brass that was packed around it the small, square metal container awaited discovery. It was encrusted in the bright orange rust that had seemingly devoured the rest of the ship and was making it impossible to pry open by hand. Using my sleeve as a chamois I rubbed away at what appeared to be the remains of an engraving that was stamped deep into the heavily oxidized lid though not completely legible. A clogged obscured keyhole produced a budding curiosity that rose to screaming proportions (with a Reporter it's habitual) and the urge to delve into the locked boxes secret.
"Now, do I, as a deemed guest aboard this ship turn in this little trinket?”
It was a stupid question.
The problem I now faced was in avoiding detection in the designated area when departing the ship.
"What if the bastards had metal detectors?”
Thoughts of how the tight security measures that had been impressed upon us prior to our boarding came to light. I decided to take the chance and slipped the six by six inch deformed metal under my official Project Phoenix Expedition parka before proceeding past the off limits barriers. Then I casually passed by the security desks with a vapid nodding in departure to the lone man staffing it while making sure to point to the Press I.D. conspicuously pinned to my right breast pocket before heading in the direction of the makeshift parking lot.
"Hey you! You! You, Hoyle!"
Boomed the sharp, cracking voice from behind.
"Stop! Hoyle, stop!"
I felt the small hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention as my stomach churned in nauseating anticipation at what was in store for me.
"Hoyle! You forgot to sign the visitor’s departure log."
I turned with a seedy grin on my face and stared into the craggy face of the spit and polish security man who rigidly walked towards me with a book held open at mid-chest in one hand and a black, slim-line ball point held demanding in the other.
"Sorry. I had other things on my mind."
Apologizing as I signed the ledger with my free left hand.
"Yeah, we get a lot of that, Mr. Hoyle. The sight of the old
relic causes ones mind to wander."
The Guard offered in response.
And with a slight wave of my hand I turned and walked to my car as my heart continued at a breakneck pace.
It's a bitch trying to open an old metal box that has been encrusted with rust for over ninety years. After emptying the fourth can of WD-40 and using up the sixth roll of steel wool the pangs of discouragement began to slither through. But with an undying perseverance I managed to clear away enough ferrous-oxide to make the stamping legible and expose the outline of the keyhole. The insignia stamped on the top of the metal container was in Russian with the symbols forming a circular design breaking away into a mass of illegible symbols. Taking a small hammer and steel chisel in hand the forcing open of the tortured box took but a few short moments. When I opened the lid I was greeted by a stirring mixture of disappointment and curiosity. There was a tarnished brass framed photograph of a striking young woman wearing a traditional peasant’s dress (the type with a tied bodice in the front) and the profile of a youthful middle aged gentleman dressed in proper attire for the turn of the last century. The photo was in remarkably good shape except for a deep, brown stain that divided the image in half. It was what lay under the six by four photograph that grabbed my attention and intensified this Reporter's intuition. An oilcloth packet, resembling those used by couriers to transport documents in the old days making them weatherproof, snugly clung to the boxes interior. After carefully removing the packet I began to unwrap it in a careful, methodical motion. Carelessly, I suddenly remembered that sudden exposure to the atmosphere could damage the inner contents. Then I realized it was too late.
I voiced, chastising my stupidity.
Going for broke I turned back the final flap in the material to reveal a heavy, yellowing parchment with hastily scrawled writing.
'To Sir Rodney Deanne'
Was boldly written across the top of the page in a seemingly
'Special Head to British Intelligence'
It continued on in a larger more defined script looking suspiciously like an afterthought. 'Elements of...' Here the writing grew uneven, static, as if written in haste as did the rest of the documentation except for two distinctly legible names formally ending the dictation, Elizabeth Brunnette and Christopher Ryan.