Raise The Titanic
When Dirk Pitt salvaged the Titanic from the pages of a typewriter set in a damp corner of an unfinished basement, the legendary ocean liner was still ten years away from actual discovery. The year was 1975 and Raise the Titanic became the fourth book in Pitt's underwater adventures. Then, no one was inspired to spend the immense effort in time and money for a search operation. But after the book was published and the movie produced, a renewed tidal wave of interest swept America and Europe. At least five expeditions were launched to look for the wreck.
My original inspiration was based on fantasy and a desire to see the world's most famous ship brought up from the seabed and towed into New York Harbor, completing her maiden voyage begun three quarters of a century before. Fortunately, it was a fantasy shared by millions of her devoted fans.
Now, 73 years after she slipped into the silence of the black abyss, cameras have finally revealed her open grave.
Fiction has become fact.
Pitt's description of her in the story pretty well matches what the robot cameras recorded shortly after she was found through the miracle of sidescan sonar. Aside from her structural damage, sustained during her 13,000-foot plunge to the bottom, she suffers little from sea growth and corrosion. Even the wine bottles and silver service that spilled out on the silt appear pristine.
Will the Titanic ever be raised?
It is unlikely. A total salvage operation would nearly equal the cost of the Apollo man-on-the-moon project. Soon, however, we can expect to see manned submersibles circling her hulk in search of her treasure in artifacts, while teams of American and British attorneys roll up their sleeves for long courtroom battles over her possession.
Pitt has always looked in the future and found it full of excitement and adventure. In the nineteen seventies he was a man of the eighties. Now he is a man of the nineties. Like a scout out for a wagon train. Pitt looks over the next hill and tells us what's there. He sees what we'd all like to see in our imaginations.
That's why no one could have been more delighted than I when it was announced that the Titanic had been found.
I knew that Pitt had seen her first.
The man on Deck A, Stateroom 33, tossed and turned in his narrow berth, the mind behind his sweating face lost in the depths of a nightmare. He was small, no more than two inches over five feet, with thinning white hair and a bland face, whose only imposing feature was a pair of dark, bushy eyebrows. His hands lay entwined on his chest, his fingers twitching in a nervous rhythm. He looked to be in his fifties. His skin had the color and texture of a concrete sidewalk, and the lines under his eyes were deeply etched. Yet he was only ten days shy of his thirty-fourth birthday.
The physical grind and the mental torment of the last five months had exhausted him to the ragged edge of madness. During his waking hours, he found his mind wandering down vacant channels, losing all track of time and reality. He had to remind himself continually where he was and what day it was. He was going mad, slowly but irrevocably mad, and the worst part of it was that he knew he was going mad.
His eyes fluttered open and he focused them on the silent fan that hung from the ceiling of his stateroom. His hands traveled over his face and felt the two-week growth of beard. He didn't have to look at his clothes; he knew they were soiled and rumpled and stained with nervous sweat. He should have bathed and changed after he'd boarded the ship, but, instead, he'd taken to his berth and slept a fearful, obsessed sleep off and on for nearly three days.
It was late into Sunday evening, and the ship wasn't due to dock in New York until early Wednesday morning, slightly more than fifty hours hence.
He tried to tell himself he was safe now, but his mind refused to accept it, in spite of the fact that the prize that had cost so many lives was absolutely secure. For the hundredth time he felt the lump in his vest pocket. Satisfied that the key was still there, he rubbed a hand over his glistening forehead and closed his eyes once more.
He wasn't sure how long he'd dozed. Something had jolted him awake. Not a loud sound or a violent movement, it was more like a trembling motion from his mattress and a strange grinding noise somewhere far below his starboard stateroom. He rose stiffly to a sitting position and swung his feet to the floor. A few minutes passed and he sensed an unusual, vibrationless quiet. Then his befogged mind grasped the reason. The engines had stopped. He sat there listening, but the only sounds came from the soft joking of the stewards in the passageway, and the muffled talk from the adjoining cabins.
An icy tentacle of uneasiness wrapped around him. Another passenger might have simply ignored the interruption and quickly gone back to sleep, but he was within an inch of a mental breakdown, and his five senses were working overtime at magnifying every impression. Three days locked in his cabin, neither eating nor drinking, reliving the horrors of the past five months, served only to stoke the fires of insanity behind his rapidly degenerating mind.
He unlocked the door and walked unsteadily down the passageway to the grand staircase. People were laughing and chattering on their way from the lounge to their staterooms. He looked at the ornate bronze clock which was flanked by two figures in bas-relief above the middle landing of the stairs. The gilded hands read 1151.
A steward, standing alongside an opulent lamp standard at the bottom of the staircase, stared disdainfully up at him, obviously annoyed at seeing so shabby a passenger wandering the first-class accommodations, while all the others strolled the rich Oriental carpets in elegant evening dress.
"The engines . . . they've stopped," he said thickly.
"Probably for a minor adjustment, sir," the steward replied. "A new ship on her maiden voyage and all. There's bound to be a few bugs to iron out. Nothing to worry about. She's unsinkable, you know."
"If she's made out of steel, she can sink." He massaged his bloodshot eyes. "I think I'll take a look outside."
The steward shook his head. "I don't recommend it, sir. It's frightfully cold out there."
The passenger in the wrinkled suit shrugged. He was used to the cold. He turned, climbed one flight of stairs and stepped through a door that led to the starboard side of the boat deck. He gasped as though he'd been stabbed by a thousand needles. After lying for three days in the warm womb of his stateroom, he was rudely shocked by the thirty-one-degree temperature. There was not the slightest hint of a breeze, only a biting, motionless cold that hung from the cloudless sky like a shroud.
He walked to the rail and turned up the collar of his coat. He leaned over but saw only the black sea, calm as a garden pond. Then he looked fore and aft. The Boat Deck from the raised roof over the first-class smoking room to the wheelhouse forward of the officers' quarters was totally deserted. Only the smoke drifting lazily from the forward three of the four huge yellow and black funnels, and the lights shining through the windows of the lounge and reading room revealed any involvement with human life.
The white froth along the hull diminished and turned black as the massive vessel slowly lost her headway and drifted silently beneath the endless blanket of stars. The ship's purser came out of the officers' mess and peered over the side.
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