Archive for July, 2010


7/13

We’re back again at the Cavern of the Gods, and this time we’re in it for the loot. First though, I stop by Mushroom Rock to get a good picture of Big Boeing the whale shark, at the request of mystery man ML. Then we turn on the mulitsensor and pick up everything we find (except the Pacifica Treasure in the Celestial Mausoleum—that’s off limits). There’s a lot to pick up: nearly every room in the temple has salvageable material in it, many yielding lucretive lightning bolts. The bag fills up super fast.

Then in the Celestial Mausoleum, something weird happens. One of the Commerson’s dolphins swims right up to me and starts shouting,  “Kee kyee kyee! Kyu! Kyu! You must make an offering to the lady! She requires two symbols of protection!”

"Kee! Kyee! Kyu!! Kyu!!!

Jean-Eric is flabbergasted by this, and recalls us back to the boat straightaway. In the pilothouse, he’s throwing his hands up and shaking his head in disbelief. “It’s impossible! Dolphins can’t talk! I mean, you’re a trustworthy fellow and all; I believe you, but…you must be crazy!”

“But boss,” Hayako puts in, “we all heard the voice on the transmitter. It’s got to be true!”

“And beside,” I wish I could say, “You believed in singing dragons, and moving islands, and magic balms and all kinds of other nonsense—why not talking dolphins?”

More hand throwing and head shaking.

“Hrmmm…I-I…just don’t know! Let’s all go back to Nineball Island and talk this out.”

Okay. Back on the island, another confab around the table.

“Two symbols of protection, huh? What could that mean? Well…let’s see what Nancy’s got.”

So the upshot of all this overheated drama is that we’ve got another animal companion to recruit, and it involves buying those Christmas gift boxes Nancy’s got in her catalog.

Meanwhile, our treasure haul was enormous, including an orichalcum ingot worth 13,000 P and a flask of Amrita ointment worth 11,000. Orichalcum, as  you armchair Platonists might know, is the mythical metal found only in the Lost Continent of Atlantis. Amrita ointment conveys immortality on the applicator.

In other news, ML was happy to get his whale photo, and in appreciation, gave us a new photography gizmo—the ability to develop pictures in Black and White! Because as everybody knows, underwater photography is much better in shades of grey.

What a weird day in EO!

Do you see my little pet here, Mr. Bond?

Do you know what it is?

Tut-tut, Mr. Bond, you disappoint me. It is Megaleledone selebos, a species of octopus, native to our Antarctic regions. It injects a venom into its victims, a venom which is deadly even at sub-zero temperatures, such as we are enjoying right now…

So you see, even here in my ice fortress at the South Pole, there is no escape.

And now Mr. Bond, I expect you…to die…

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/us_antarctica_octopus

7/7

On my second return to the Cavern of the Gods, I’ve decided to take Felix the false killer whale with me. That way, if I run out of air he can tow me back to the surface more quickly than I can swim.

Right at the entrance, directly in front of us is an ascending stone staircase. I don’t know how I missed it the first time, but I did. This leads immediately to the upper level of the temple, to the Pillars of Light. How in the world did I miss this? These silt-shrouded columns are like the trees of an enchanted forest, teeming with strange sealife. Pods of sleek black and white Commerson’s dolphins and albino humpback whales, including the Singing Dragon herself, unharmed by the rampage that wrecked the temple. Swimming up a pillar, I discover a Nomura’s jellyfish, floating near the ceiling like a grand chandelier.

Commerson's dolphin

The Singing Dragon

Nomura jellyfish

Through a skylight in the ceiling I pass straight into the Celestial Mausoleum. It’s all there as it was before: the windlass, the animal statues, the golden god that sits in the vault, with the Pacifica treasure spread at his glittering feet. Months ago, I’d barely gotten a glimpse at that statue before everything started coming apart.

In the lap of the gods.

I no sooner lay eyes on the Pacifica Treasure than Jean-Eric gets on the phone and urges me to leave it alone. According to him, they’ve received an offer from the mysterious Karia Foundation to undertake the salvage; they’ll pay us 50,000 p not to touch a thing. It’s hard to pass up treasure when my mutlisensor is going crazy, but okay. Back on Ninball Island I’m gifted with a frogman suit for leaving well enough alone.

Today’s selection:

Shadow Divers

by Robert Kurson

Plot: A group of amateur divers discover the wreck of a WWII German U-boat off the coast of New Jersey, and proceed to ruin (and in some cases, forfeit) their lives attempting to explore and identify it.

Review: Playing the game Endless Ocean, we take a lot of diving experiences for granted: exploring shipwrecks, tickling deep sea monsters, swimming below 500 feet while eating a box of Fiddle Faddle. But in the oceans of the real world, diving is not so convenient. Or safe. It’s often cold, and dark, and filled with very real risks. Even with sharks out of the picture, Davy Jones can find any number of ways to kill you. You can get stuck in a cave or a wreck; you can get lost and run out of air; you can overstay your visit and shoot back to the surface without decompressing, turning your blood to champagne; you can even lose your mind, think you’re a fish, and draw in deep lungfuls of seawater. Scuba Diving: Just Don’t Do It.

This public service announcement has been brought to you by Shadow Divers, the scariest freaking book about diving I’ve ever read.

Shadow Divers—which is nonfictionbegins by introducing a trio of distinctive characters—Vietnam vet John Chatterton, working-class salvage pirate Richie Kohler, and alcoholic treasure seeker Bill Nagel, crazy mothers all—and charting the disperate paths that bring them together and ultimately bind them over the wreck of a mysterious submarine lying under 250 feet of dark, turbulent water off the Jersey Coast. On one of the first dives to explore the wreck, a less experienced diver dies by succumbing  to nitrogen narcosis, a disaster that unfolds with the slow-motion logic of a nightmare.

Although the sub is definitely identified as a German U-boat, none of the wartime records acknowledge sinking one in the area. Which U-boat is it, and what brought it to the bottom of the sea? Because Chatterton and Kohler are not your average weekend wreck raiders, they begin to dig for answers.

The second part of the book resembles a cross between History Detectives and Treasure of the Sierra Madre, as Chatterton and Kohler comb archives and interview veterans on both sides of the Atlantic for details that can help identify the wreck they’ve come to call “U-Who,” returning for yet more ill-fated dives while charter captain Nagel slowly drinks himself to death.

The final chapters, which alternate between recounting the last days of the doomed U-boat crew and the divers’ ever more desperate attempts to find something, anything that can identify the wreck, are so suspenseful and harrowing that ultimately, the book is exhausting. I put this down with a sense of relief many weeks ago, and haven’t wanted to revisit it until now. Not light reading, no. But recommended.

Journalist Robert Kurson had a great story on his hands when he began writing Shadow Divers, and he delivers it well with careful documentation and a terse, hard-boiled style. Moreover he produces a complex and unsparing portait of determined, sensitive but flawed men and the mystery that changed, and in some cases, cost them their lives.

Next time you return from grabbing loot from the wreck of  HD-9 in the Zahhab Depths and think that someday you’d like to go treasure diving for real, give Shadow Divers a read—it’s a thorough reality-check.

7/5

After 124 hours and 58 minutes of gameplay, I’ve returned to the Cavern of the Gods.

I forgo taking a tour there—this is a family affair, no vacationing bonds traders or rockstars need apply. We will, however, take salvage requests, and a nice lady in a pink and brown wet suit is seeking a gold watch somewhere in the inner chambers of the temple.  This mission is pure exploration, but while we’re exploring, we can turn the multisensor on from time to time and help her find it.

Together with GG, we dive off the Super Dropoff and head west. The water’s murkier than I remember; it takes a while to find the box-shaped slot called the Echoing Terrace that leads into the temple porch. There we find the Stone Cavern Entrance on the left side, magically thrown open. Tingling with excitement, I turn on first-person view and plunge forward.

What do I remember about this place? The last time we were here, all hell was in the process of breaking loose. A white whale, the Singing Dragon of our long quest, was going berserk, slamming its head against the columns holding up the roof of the temple. Rocks were tumbling around our ears and we were almost out of oxygen, trying open escape doors by solving complicated riddles as the clock was running down on our lives. Beyond that, there was a confusing maze of passageways, with a dead end or a sudden current or a goblin shark waiting around the corner. I was simply too panicked to pay attention to my surroundings. When we finally escaped and the entrance filled in with rubble and silt, it was like a curtain going down on my memory. I will barely know what to expect once we get back in.

Inside the entrance, we turn to the right to head north, beginning a counter-clockwise survey of the temple. What immediately greets us is an opah, an immense round fish with silver flanks and red fins. Shaped like sunfish but more closely related to oarfish, pictures can’t convey how large, splendid and doofy-looking these are.

Opah!

 After rounding a corner, on our left is a vast doorway. We descend a wide stone staircase into the first of the large chambers, the Altar of Osiris. At the far end, there’s a huge statue of the god, gazing benevolently on a roomful of worshipful ribbonfish.

Osiris

Turning around to exit, we find a pale Japanese horseshoe crab, lying there on the stairs like Cinderella’s cast-off slipper (if, y’know, Cinderella had really weird feet).

Next we come to the Altar of Horus, which looks identical to the other altar, except that here there’s a trapdoor hidden behind the statue leading into the Subterranean Reception Room. Guarding the passageway is one of the creatures I’d always hoped to see—the ancient chambered nautilus! Common in gift shops but rarely found alive in the sea, I’d been fascinated by this evolutionary throwback ever since I saw a Cousteau special about them. (Now I sound like my tour clients!) Although I’m anxious to see what’s beyond the door, there’s no way I’m going to pass up this moment without swimming around the nautilus, taking pictures of this living fossil from multiple angles.

Chambered nautilus

Through the door and down, our subterranean reception committee consists of two ghostly Japanese spider crabs, waving their claws (invitingly?) at us.

There’s another trap door at the far end of this chamber. Passing up through it, we enter the floor of the Altar of Isis. According to the map, it’s roughly here that we should find the gold watch. But before I can search for it, I see a shadow pass over us. This is Kraken Jr., the son of the giant squid that lives at the bottom of the Zahhab Region depths. I guess he couldn’t handle living by dad’s rules, so he got his own place.

Kraken, Jr.

Finding the gold watch proves to be a bit difficult, but we eventually find it just on the threshold of the trapdoor that lead us into the altar. Leaving the chamber and turning right, there’s another staircase that leads up to a loft area called the Pillar of Shadow. Here are the coelacanths I remember from before. According to the map, this should lead into the Celestial Mausoleum, but I can’t find an entrance. I’d explore further, but I’m out of pictures and nearly out of air.

I promised myself that we were going to swim out of the cavern—no beaming back to the Enterprise this time. There’s a shortcut to the southern gallery that leads us straight out of the temple, but it’s blocked by rubble, apparently in the whale-quake that brought the temple crashing down many months ago. Other attempts to find a quick way out are met with obstacles. There’s nothing left to do but retrace our path through the trapdoors to the northern gallery. As notch after notch of precious air evaporates, I begin to get that closed-in, panicky feeling in my gut that I last felt when we all dashed out of this ancient Egyptian death trap.

Eventually, we gain the exit and power swim out of the temple, out of the cavern to the open sea. My head breaks the surface just as the alarm starts to clang. Again we’ve cheated death and escaped the Cavern of the Gods, but we still have another half to explore.

7/2

I made it! Monaymonaymonay! One million pelagos, baby!!! For a few seconds there, I was a millionaire. And the best thing was, it was those cheapskates at the aquarium that put me over!

First things first—I returned fr0m a long vacation in the Southwest and needed a few days to get settled back home. The first thing I wanted to do when I got back to Nineball Island was paddle around Gatama Atoll awhile saying hello to some old friends. Then I had to finish recruiting Violet, the Pacific white-sided dolphin. I really wish there was another way to get to the Deep Hole, because I’m sick of crawling through the Kelp Tunnel—three weeks off did nothing to change that. It took two more dives for Jean-Eric to break his silence and announce that Violet was a companion. We had a very nice play date together, then I brought her back to her new home in Nineball Lagoon.

Next I took a nattily-dressed fellow named Matthew down to the Zahhab Region Depths so he could see popeyed grenadiers. These are especially good tour fish, because they glow, and as you know, when it comes to client payoffs, glow means dough. We toured the depths, did some salvaging, spotted the oarfish and the giant squid, swam all the way back to the surface and topped it off with a grey whale ride for dessert. Matthew paid out 3956  P for the tour. The salvage yield was poor, but it still brought me within a few thousand pelagos of the million.

That was enough for me to call it a night, but over the vacation, the fam and I visited a nice little aquarium at the Albuquerque Zoo, and I wanted to compare it briefly to EO’s. Really, the biggest drawback of the Tokyo Aquarium is that the main tank is far too big. There’s so much room, even with a couple of fully grown whales in it, that it seems stark and uninteresting. And there isn’t enough junk on the bottom—fake coral, rocks, pirate skeletons, to liven it up or make it look natural. The fish seem lost and depressed, and I can’t blame them. Honestly, when I have  ‘real’ oceans to swim in, why would I want to waste my time in what amounts to a city-block-sized holding tank?

Well, the word from the visitors wasn’t very positive either, as Hayako wearily informed me. On the other hand, receipts were steady if not spectacular, and so far no one had taken to relieving themselves in the tanks or dropping fishhooks over the sides, so so what? I was about to breeze out the door again when Hayako reminded me that I got paid for this gig, whether I put in any work or not. She presented me with a grudge-check for 2,400 P and with a tip of the hat and a smirk I was gone.

Back on Nineball Island, Jean-Eric immediately comes up to compliment me on my money management skillls. He wishes Oceana could be so frugal, spending all her dough on sea pig purses and fancy fins and whatnot. While I’m expecting this to lead to a not-so-subtle hint that she needs a man to help keep her in line, he suprises me by saying that we’ve got a big salvage job waiting for us…in the Cavern of the Gods!

I guess the paycheck from the aquarium put me just over the 1 million pelago mark—the irony! Oh, and we get a 50% discount from somebody for some reason, so that 1 million pelagos? Didn’t need it—we can keep 500,000 of it. The Cavern of the Gods is open whenever we want to return to it.

And that was that. No fireworks. No streamers. No cakes or balloons. Just another job waiting.

Time to get back to work.

7/1

I’ve been on furlough for the past couple of weeks and only got back to Nineball Island last night. It’s good to be back! I’ll have more to tell in the next few days.