There were so many reasons Cornelia wanted to leave: to get away from this arrogant captain, to return to the Belle Marie, to avoid being trapped in close quarters with Cliff Cornwall. But Cornelia Harper was not at all afraid of death. Perhaps it was the sheer number of times she had nimbly dodged out of its icy grasp, or perhaps it was merely the natural confidence deeply embedded in her character, but Cornelia was not afraid of death and it was on pure principle that she stayed: She would not be called a coward.
But as Cornelia settled into a chair on the gleaming metal bridge, she wished it were her at the controls of the Belle Marie and not Cliff's navigator plotting a course for the Unchartered II.
Ikonov descended the stairs to the lower bridge, leather satchel bouncing at his side. He stopped at the bottom, rummaged through his bag, and pulled a fistful of papers out of it, which he slid onto the shiny navigation table in front of Cornelia.
"Those are the coordinates as near as I could figure," panted Ikonov.
"As near as you could figure?" said the captain brusquely. "You do realize that the fate of this vessel, and by extension all of us, depends on the accuracy of these coordinates?"
"I do," said Ikonov, "and I'll have you know that I did damn well just to get these, seeing as I had to piece them together from ancient, incomplete manuscripts written in Koine Greek hundreds of years ago."
The captain looked as though he were about to argue, but Cliff quelled him immediately.
"Captain Gallagher, you signed up for this knowing full well that there would be risks. Everyone else on this ship is prepared to take those risks. Now either do your job and accept them, or let me do it for you. Leave now if you're afraid of death."
Captain Gallagher colored and spluttered for a moment, but then pursed his lips and bent down over Ikonov's notes without a word. A small smile twitch the corner of Cornelia's mouth. She immediately regretted this as Cliff glanced over and winked at her in a horribly winsome way.
To keep her composure, Cornelia squinted across the table at the papers that Gallagher was studying. Long columns of numbers written in Ikonov's neat pencil filled the page. The entire thing was almost completely unintelligible to Cornelia; they were not like any coordinates she had ever seen. Captain Gallagher apparently had little trouble deciphering them, however, for he turned around and began twisting various knobs on the wall, pulling silver levers, and ordering his men about to work on the various triangulations necessary to determine the Earth's axial tilt, or else to check the atomic weight of seawater for him.
Cornelia watched all this with fascination, tinged perhaps with a bit of scorn, and though she would never admit it to herself, some jealousy as well. Every bit of machinery on the bridge worked flawlessly, the crewmen tended to their various stations like clockwork toys. If only Johnson and her men followed orders so precisely. . . . But the more she watched, the more Cornelia began to dislike it. There was something comforting about the relaxed chaos of the Belle Marie, and something strangely threatening about the ruthless efficiency of the Unchartered II.
Cornelia watched for some time, continuously frustrated by how little she understood of the ship's mechanisms and how little she could do to help the voyage get underway. Finally, she could stand it no more. She turned to Ikonov in the hopes of starting up a conversation with him.
"So where exactly are we going?" she inquired.
"To Theseus' tomb at the bottom of the sea," said Ikonov. "More specifically, if my hypotheses are correct, the sunken city of Atlantis."
"Atlantis?" Cornelia had heard the word before. Perhaps her father had mentioned it once.
"Yes, Atlantis," repeated Ikonov. "The ancients wrote of a city, wonderfully advanced for its time, which sank beneath the sea many centuries ago. To most people, it is only a myth. To me, a scholar of anthropology and archaic mythologies, it is more than that. You see, the Greek philosopher Plato —"
But here, much to Cornelia's relief, Ikonov's lecture was cut short by Cliff returning from the engine room and telling everyone to strap themselves into their seats. Captain Gallagher ran a final diagnostic on all the coordinates, checking carefully for errors, then took the helm, although "helm" was scarcely the right word to describe the mass of levers and buttons which were used to operate the submersible.
Cornelia fastened a clunky harness about her waist and shoulders, and much to her dismay, Cliff settled right beside her to do the same. The Nautilus' engines struck up a thrumming whine, which reverberated through the ship's brass corridors. Electric lights on the submersible's hull blinked to life, illuminating the water sloshing up against the viewing window.
And then the ship began to move. With hardly a sound, water engulfed the Unchartered II, and like a great copper teardrop, it descended into the depths. The landscape outside the window was featureless: an empty, navy blue, punctuated only by the occasional clump of weeds or school of fish. The Nautilus cruised along for some time, but the humming of the engines was the only clue that it was moving at all.
After a half hour of this, the ship slowed, then stopped. Cornelia looked around. Ikonov was staring out of the glass with wonder and some apprehension. Cliff looked tense. The rest of the crew fidgeted nervously at their positions.
Then Captain Gallagher nodded to the head navigator. The head navigator nodded back. There was a second's frozen silence, then the captain flipped four or five switches and pulled a large, golden lever on the console in front of him.