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The capsule hit the surface of the subterranean lake several thousand feet below the laboratory and a few thousand feet after exiting the tunnel by dropping through its bottom end. The harness that Wally had snapped into place held him firm and snug when the capsule was braked by the opening of a parachute from its top and when the same capsule hit the water at a still-swift speed.
Wally gripped the two straps of the harness with blood-drained hands, and then he was freeing himself as soon as the rocking motion of the capsule had subsided. He re-opened the hatch to a pitch-black world that did not help the sickening fear in his digestive tract. In fact, the former graduate student leaned out the hatch and puked a mixture of shake and champagne down the side of the capsule and into the water below.
Wally’s stomach felt better after the vomiting, and he was able to concentrate on a search for a flashlight within the floating vessel dimly lit by a ring of overhead lights that would grow dark within a few hours, once the battery had run dry. The emergency kit was where it was supposed to be, underneath one of the seats and in a small storage cubicle.
The flashlight in the kit emitted its beam upward into the unending darkness outside the escape hatch, a darkness the eternity of which brought back the queasiness. Then he brought the beam to a plane level with the surface of the water, and illuminated a row of stalagmites twenty yards distant. He steeled himself for the water that he knew would be freezing cold before turning the flashlight off, gripping it with his left hand, and diving into the lake with his eyes shut.
Wally reached the shore quickly, his speed goaded by the temperature of the water and the thought of what might lurk in the lake with him. He climbed onto the shore that consisted solely of rocks, shined the flashlight to the fissure in the cavern wall another twenty yards distant which was his hope of escape, then swung the beam in the opposite direction to inspect the floating capsule from a distance.
The capsule was slowly spinning in the center of the lake like an inverted top, the parachute which had braked its descent into the water floating unseen on the far side. The dim glow of the interior lights shone through from the opened hatch and cast an eerie reflection across the lake surface as the hatch rotated on Wally’s side. Wally left the capsule to float for eternity in the stilling waters, or at least until someone could return to the cavern to retrieve it, and stepped lightly in the direction of the fissure that, at least in the year Two Thousand One, opened into a tunnel which led to the surface.