The Dead Zone

By MacsJeep

Episode 9.4

Part One

 

MacGyver sped across the ice, tapping the puck every few seconds to keep it moving exactly where he wanted it. The almost mummified goalkeeper in front of him seemed to dodge back and forth clumsily to keep up with his expert moves.

Mac grinned under his helmet and whacked the puck one last time with just a little more effort. It flew past the keeper, bouncing into the net behind as he crashed down onto the ice helplessly.

MacGyver bent his knees, turned his skates at a 90 degree angle against his momentum, and slammed to a halt laughing so hard he almost dropped his stick.

The keeper grumbled, pushed up onto his elbows and then pulled of his helmet. “Mac, did you really need to torture me this way?” Jack Dalton’s moustache twitched pathetically. “I get it, I really do…I should never have taken all your furniture again. Once was enough, I admit it. Please…no more hockey torture? I repent my sins!”

That, I believe when I see,” Mac teased, helping his old friend up with a gentle tug. “But you do admit you’ve had this payback coming a long time? As in a long time?” He wiggled his eyebrows with a smirk.

Jack wobbled on his skates and almost tumbled back to the ice. “I’ll confess to anything if it gets me somewhere warmer, with say a beer, and maybe a cigar? Oh, and my hat back…” He looked at the helmet distastefully.

“Maybe I should just shoot one more puck…” Mac’s eyes twinkled as Dalton’s face turned to one of horror.

“Ooh, I don’t envy you Jack…” A new voice filled the arena and MacGyver spun lithely around on his skates to see Pete Thornton standing by the nearest barrier. He was smiling, but somehow his face looked pained. “Been there, done that, felt the bruises,” he added.

Mac’s jovial expression remained, but he let go of Jack’s arm, who then promptly crashed back onto the rink, and skated over to Thornton. He’d known Pete too long to not realize the man was upset. “What’s going on, Pete?”

Pete sighed, as if it had been the inevitable question. “Remember Captain McKenna?”

Mac nodded. “Sure, the guy on the Eternal Flame? When we went out looking for that wartime U-boat?” He put down his stick, climbed off the ice and took a seat, Pete instinctively followed. “I assumed Phoenix gave him another command?” He grabbed a towel he’d left earlier and wiped at his neck, ignoring Jack as he finally clambered awkwardly off the ice.

“That’s him,” Pete confirmed. “We gave him a research vessel that was recently deployed looking into unusual weather conditions, and how they might be responsible for…” His voice trailed, as if he wasn’t sure how to broach the next part of the conversation. “…Responsible for certain phenomenon in the North Atlantic Ocean.”

MacGyver’s eyes widened. “The Foundation is actually investigating the Bermuda Triangle? Isn’t that a little too myth and legend for them?”

“Purely from a scientific point of view,” Pete hastened to add. “We’re not looking at aliens, time warps, government experiments and such nonsense, just natural possible causes, like unexpected weather patterns and so on.”

“Okay, so what does this, and McKenna have to do with me?” Mac ran a hand through his sweat-drenched hair and decided it was time for a shower once their chat was over.

Pete took a deep breath. “Because the ship McKenna was in charge of has disappeared. The Coast Guard just lost her off their scopes, and they can find no wreckage, no survivors, no radio beacons, nothing.”

Mac exhaled and took a moment to digest the information. It was pure bad look that McKenna had lost another ship, surely after the Eternal Flame? If of, course, this new ship was lost. MacGyver was a firm believer that there was a rational explanation for everything, but he could see why even Pete was spooked. “You want me to go out there and try and figure this out so it doesn’t just turn into one more Devil’s Triangle story, right?”

Pete nodded. “I’d like to say I want you to find that ship’s crew alive, but I have to be realistic, it’s been seven days with no contact. Right now, finding out what happened is even a long shot at best, but if anyone can do it, I know it’s you, Mac.”

Jack who had been patiently waiting and listening finally joined the conversation. “Well don’t look at me! No siree! No sensible, honest to God pilot would risk his neck over those waters. Not even Dangerous Dalton here…” He patted the padding on his chest. “I know when not to push my luck, just like when I knew those three Haitian girls was one girl too many…”

“Relax, Jack,” Mac soothed, “no one is expecting you to go anywhere.”

“Phew, good job, because I’m superstitious, you know.” Jack made the sign of a cross over his chest and stumbled off to the locker room.

Once his grumbling retreat was over, MacGyver focused back on Thornton. “When do I leave?”

Pete pulled an envelope from his inside breast pocket and passed it over. MacGyver opened it to find an airline ticket, a hotel room booking, and a letter to the captain of a private research vessel named The Crucible. He raised a brow when he noted it was a woman. “Captain Cynthia Dawson, huh?”

Pete chuckled. “Don’t let that fool you, Phoenix hired her and The Crucible for a reason, and not just because we don’t have any of our own cruisers in the area. She’s a tough cookie, has way more experience in those waters than most men, and…”

“And?”

“And she won’t waste time falling for your wily charms.” Pete chuckled again.

“Pete! I gave up that occupation years ago!” MacGyver feigned a hurt expression before remembering his friend couldn’t see it.

“Seriously,” Pete continued. “She’s the best, if McKenna’s ship can be found, I know you’re the best team to make it happen.”

“Any details on the ship’s last location, size, specification, crew, what exactly she was doing out there?” Mac slid the envelope into his helmet for later retrieval.

Pete nodded. “Dawson has everything you need already set up in a cabin ready for you to start brainstorming.” He put a hand on Mac’s shoulder. “Good luck, and Mac? Don’t you get lost out there too…”

Thornton’s expression said he wasn’t joking, and MacGyver hoped that wasn’t a bad omen, even if he wasn’t superstitious like Jack.

* * * *

St. George’s Harbor
Bermuda
Three days later…

MacGyver took off his sunglasses and paused before moving up the walkway to The Crucible. She wasn’t a huge research ship, but what she lacked in size, she made up for with her imposing lines and impressive tech. He had originally wondered why Phoenix had chosen research over search and rescue, but maybe insight from one could lead to the other.

Mac slid his glasses back, shifted his pack on his shoulder and moved on until he reached the deck. A short brunette in a white officer’s uniform awaited him, although he hadn’t seen her moments earlier. He guessed it was Dawson right off the bat – she was just as imposing as her vessel, despite her stature.

“Mr. MacGyver, I presume?” She offered curtly with a nod of her head. “I’m Captain Dawson, welcome aboard.”

Mac paused, guessed her brusqueness meant she thought he wasn’t needed, and then answered. “Please, call me Mac.” He tried to soften the mood, but Dawson ran a hand through the front of her hair, turned and pointed to a nearby open cabin door. “I have everything Mr. Thornton sent over ready for you.”

Mac followed her inside, and was again impressed by what he saw. Pete had been right, Dawson might be curt, but she was good. A white board had been set up with a map plotting McKenna’s course, along with any radio communications marked when and where they’d been received. Nothing in McKenna’s messages had given any cause for concern, and the route he’d taken had been precisely by the book to what Phoenix had asked for.

“Exactly what kind of weather research were they doing?” MacGyver asked, setting down his bag on a nearby chair to examine the map more closely.

Dawson picked up a clipboard and rifled through several sets of paperwork on it. “Tropical cyclones,” she replied with a sigh as if she thought it was nonsense. “Apparently, they were looking into whether downdraughts of cold air hitting the waters surface can cause an unusual kind of squall. Some scientist onboard named Richard Tapping though “hexagonal” clouds might be to blame, and they were using experimental weather balloons to investigate.”

Mac sighed. It wasn’t exactly exciting stuff, or anything that could have gotten the ship into difficulties. He tapped his bottom lip in thought as he took everything in, evaluating and calculating. “The Coast Guard searched here, The Eurybia’s last known position and a hundred mile radius around it. Did they look anywhere else?”

Dawson shook her head without even thinking. “No, there was no evidence to suggest McKenna had deviated, and that’s a lot of ocean to check out without intel. And…they had another big call in two days later. A U.S. Navy frigate got into trouble and needed assistance. McKenna’s people took the back seat to that.”

Mac nodded. “So, despite what the information suggests, I’m thinking McKenna did go of course, but why, and where?”

“There’s no reason he would,” Dawson concluded. “He must have had technical problems, there was bad weather.”

Mac shook his head. “If the ship had been in trouble, why didn’t he radio for help? And if it happened too quickly, they’d have found wreckage on the sea bed. What if McKenna didn’t want to deviate? What if there was something on The Eurybia worth stealing?”

Dawson checked more paperwork on her clipboard and shrugged. “Not according to the manifest Phoenix supplied. Nobody steals weather balloons.”

“But what if there was something we don’t know about? Ships don’t just vanish despite what the local legends say. And the whole crew too? This isn’t the Marie Celeste or The Cylclops.” MacGyver touched the map with his fingertip, his mind thinking of every scenario. “Where there any other ships on a course that would have intercepted McKenna’s?”

“Only one,” Dawson confirmed. “The Katarina, out of a Cuba. She’s a large private yacht. The Coast Guard already contacted her captain, but he says McKenna never even appeared on his radar.”

“Unless he’s lying,” Mac pointed out, turning away from the board to face the captain. “Where would you hide a ship the size of The Eurybia if you had to get rid of it fast?”

Dawson shrugged. “On the bottom of the Atlantic, but the Coast Guard already looked.”

“No,” Mac corrected, “they looked at the bottom of the ocean where McKenna would be if he were on course!” He spun back around. “Show me The Katarina’s course on the map…”

Dawson pulled a sheet from her board and walked over, drawing on the map with a red marker. “This is their voyage over the week that The Eurybia vanished.”

Mac nodded to himself. “They would have been exiting the Coast Guard’s one hundred mile search zone just after someone noticed McKenna was missing. I think we should start a search of the ocean floor right about here.” He tapped the map.

“You think they knew where the Coast Guard would look, and scuttled the ship as soon as they got outside the search area? But why? Why steal her in the first place?”

“Because like I said, there was something onboard they wanted badly.” MacGyver frowned. “I guess we won’t get any more answers until we find the ship.” He turned away, the possibility that McKenna and his crew had been killed becoming all too real in his mind.

“And if you’re right?” Dawson seemed to read his mind. “What about Captain McKenna?

Mac didn’t have an answer he wanted to repeat and simply shook his head.

Dawson headed for the door, and then stopped. “I’ll plot a course for those co ordinates right away, but this is one time I wish we did find an empty ghost ship, even empty is better than the other possible alternative.”

* * * *

The Crucible Research Vessel
North Atlantic Ocean
1500 hours
Two Days Later

Captain Dawson watched as the ship’s sonar slowly scanned the ocean below them, every now and again picking up some anonymous echo that turned out to be a shoal of fish. Her expression said she was frustrated, and she looked up and scowled at MacGyver to show her annoyance. She obviously didn’t believe his theory that McKenna’s ship had been hijacked and taken elsewhere to dump.

MacGyver found her annoyance amusing, and couldn’t resist a small smile, which earned him yet another frown from the brunette at his side. He opened his mouth to comment, but a new ping from the speakers made him stop.

They were right over the top of something large, and this time, it wasn’t any kind of fish.

“Captain, we’re picking up something big.” The crewman pulled off his headset, aware that the noise was now on speaker. “I’d say this thing is definitely the size of The Eurybia.

Dawson looked at Mac. “I was hoping you were wrong.”

“If it’s any comfort, so was I,” he admitted. “I still might be. There are a lot of wartime wrecks out here.” He put his attention on the crewman. “How deep is she? Can we dive on her?”

“Yes sir, whatever we’re picking up is in pretty shallow water, there’s a coral reef and an ocean shelf down there and she’s sitting on it.”

MacGyver looked to Dawson. “I’m going down there, care to join me?”

The captain smiled wryly. “Don’t you know captains aren’t supposed to go on away missions?” When Mac’s brow furrowed, she chuckled for the first time since they’d met. “Just a little Star Trek humor,” she explained. “And for the record, wild horses couldn’t keep me away. I need to know what happened – because I sure as hell don’t believe in the Bermuda Triangle.”


* * * *

MacGyver and Dawson hadn’t taken long to suit up. Both wore special face masks with microphones so they could communicate with one another under the water more easily, as well as with the ship topside.

MacGyver went in first, flipping backwards into the ocean and creating a wash of water back over the deck. Dawson followed just as lithely, and they sank into the depths together.

The water was warm, yet somehow not comforting as they swam past a coral reef alive with marine activity. Beyond the reef, something darker colored the water, and it was soon apparent that there was indeed a ship sitting crookedly on the underwater shelf.

Fish swam in and out of ports that had been somehow smashed, and a sea horse hovered as if it was watching their approach.

Dawson slowed, pointing to the bridge. “I think we should check out there first?” Bubbles danced from her mask, ebbing away to the surface of the ocean like underwater fairies.

Mac nodded and gave her the thumbs up, kicking hard to take point as he flicked on a special waterproof flashlight. The beam cut through the darkness as they pushed through an open hatch into the bridge area.

It was empty.

Mac’s heart leapt, could McKenna still be alive, or was his body, and the rest of the crews’ elsewhere on the sunken vessel? He floated across the bridge, looking for clues as to why the ship had gone down, but there was nothing.

He whirled around to face Dawson, who had picked up an officer’s cap from the floor. A crab drifted out from it, fell back to the deck plates and scurried away.

Dawson raised a brow beneath her mask. “They left in a hurry…”

Mac nodded. He’d also spotted an empty coffee mug on its side on the decking. But that didn’t give any answers. “We should split up and search the rest of the ship,” he suggested. I’ll go aft, you go forwards?”

Dawson gave him the thumbs up and kicked off out of the hatchway, more bubbles trailing her.

MacGyver checked his tank gauge, and then turned for another hatch behind him. The hatch led to stairs down into the holds. This was where the research equipment and weather balloons where kept, and if The Eurybia had been carrying something not on the manifest, it would probably have been in the hold too. But what? What could a Phoenix research ship be carrying that was worth this elaborate plan? If there even had been a plan, Mac reminded himself. So far, they’d seen no reason for the ship to sink.

He floated down over the stairs into darkness, keeping his lamp directed centrally into the gloom. Hold number one had two hatches, and both were open. MacGyver slipped inside and wafted his light across the length of the room. Equipment lay toppled and smashed where it had broken from its securing straps as the ship sank.

Behind several large metal crates, Mac spotted what he was looking for. There was a long gash in the hull that twisted outwards. The Eurybia hadn’t hit another vessel; the explosive force that had taken her to her grave had come from within.

Mac kicked towards the hole, examining it further as his beam played across the torn metal plates. His experience with bombs instantly told him the tale. The Eurybia had definitely been brought here and scuttled on purpose. But why and by who?

And where is McKenna and the rest of his people?

“MacGyver, you got anything?” It was Dawson, and she sounded frustrated again. “There’s no sign of any of the crew up here, and no evidence of any foul play.”

“I found the reason she went down,” Mac confirmed. “But not one body. I just need to check out the second hold for the full sweep…” He moved away from the hole as a myriad of luminous tiny fish pushed through it and almost hit his faceplate.

Mac took down a breath, enjoying their beauty for just a second before heading for yet another hatch. He stopped short when he realized there was a problem. The very last place McKenna and his people could be was in hold number two, and the only way in was blocked by yet another piece of damaged equipment that had fallen across the doorway. He exhaled sharply, sending bubbles after the shoal of minute fish.

The large shaft was definitely going to be too heavy to move with just brute force, and MacGyver had no intention of going back topside without all the answers. He spun around, his eyes searching for something amongst the gloomy waters that he could work with.

Everything around him was electronic, and in this situation, quite useless. He remembered hold number one, and swam back through the hatch to more interesting bounty. Several of the weather balloons had burst from their cases and were floating around like giant bright red jelly fish. Now this was more interesting.

Mac wafted towards the smallest and caught it in his gloved hands. An idea was forming, and he’d done similar in the past using water, but this time he was going to reverse the process.

Gathering the balloon up like an expended parachute, he towed it back to the shaft blocking his way. The metal arm was from some kind of portable crane, and it had kinked in the middle as it had impacted with the hatch.

MacGyver fed the small balloon under the arm carefully so as not to tear it, and then checked his tank gauge again. He wasn’t going to have much time left after his little “trick” to check out the hold, but it would save them coming back down again.

He sucked down two or three long breaths, then unhooked the oxygen supply to his mask, letting it flow into the opening at the base of the weather balloon. After a few moments, the captured air began to slowly fill the balloon, inflating it. As it moved upwards, trying to get to the Atlantic’s surface, it gradually took the shaft with it.

The metal screeched under the water as it grated on the hatch, leaving huge scratch marks in its wake.

When the hatch was finally clear, MacGyver re-attached his airline, took several grateful breaths, and then swung open the doorway with a couple of yanks on the handle.

Inside hold number two seemed even darker and more eerie than its predecessor. If Mac had been superstitious at all, he would have balked as he entered. It was always silent beneath the waves, and yet here, somehow the silence seemed interminable.

MacGyver played his flashlight around, picking out more equipment. Mostly here it had remained secured to the deck plates with huge straps, and there was no room for anything to be “missing.”

It didn’t make sense. If The Eurybia had been hijacked for her cargo, then how come nothing appeared to be absent?

Mac paused in mid-thought. Actually, there was something missing – a very big something. This hold, just like the others was completely empty. There wasn’t one single crewman’s body.

He remembered his early conversation with Dawson. “This isn’t the Marie Celeste or The Cylclops…” Except, maybe it was.

MacGyver suddenly felt cold – not beneath the ocean cold, but cold to the bone. It was like some ghostly presence had wrapped a blanket of pure ice around him, and he couldn’t shake it off. His faceplate began to lightly mist over, and he felt an uncontrollable urge to flee back to the surface. You’re running low on oxygen anyway, just go…

Mac turned to head back to the hatch he’d just freed off, but something caught on the light in his hand and it was tugged from his grasp, landing in some hidden depth where no radiance showed. He was plunged into instant darkness.

Don’t let it get to you…its just coincidence…your mind’s playing tricks!

MacGyver closed his eyes and took a couple of long, calming breaths. He was about to try to feel for the light, when something touched him – something like long spindly fingers wrapping themselves around his arm until it hurt.

 

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