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Dark Sea Rising
by Barry Broad and Drew Mendelson
Copyright © 2018 by Barry Broad and Drew Mendelson
The Above: Honolulu International Airport, Hawaii
Gusman felt like hell. No, it was worse than that: he felt like death. It had started out as a cold but had gotten nastier the farther west he flew. By the time he completed the first leg of his flight from O’Hare to LAX, his head felt stuffed enough to explode. Just before he took off from LAX, he dry-swallowed four ibuprofen and a couple of Sudafeds. He didn’t think he had ever experienced such sinus pressure. The pain spread from his temples and across his forehead, settling like a dead weight behind his eyes. He kept massaging his temples and pressing gently on his eyes to ease the pain. It barely helped. He downed more ibuprofen.
He made his way over to the private terminal to wait for the arrival of the company plane that would take him to Midway.
The next thing he knew, he was being shaken.
"Wake up, sunshine," said a disembodied voice.
He groaned and put a hand to his neck, which had a huge kink in it.
"You look like shit, Gusman."
Gusman looked up at the co-pilot and attempted a half-assed smile. "Hey, Butch. As a matter of fact, I feel like shit."
"Too bad. You ready?" Butch looked at his watch. Not much sympathy.
"Time to go," he said.
Gusman didn’t argue. He got up, shouldered his duffel, stumbled out of the shabby waiting room, and followed Butch onto the tarmac.
The company plane was an old surplus C-130 Hercules. It was great for carrying cargo and could land just about anywhere, but it was slow. Although Midway was technically at the beginning — or end, depending on your point of view — of the Hawaiian Islands chain, it was still 3,000 miles and a nine-hour flight from Honolulu on the C-130. His final destination — Platform Faith — was another 500 miles west of Midway.
When Gusman got on board, there were two other passengers already waiting: a pair of roughnecks on their way back to Faith to relieve some guys who had finished their six-month tour. They nodded at him, but didn’t try to make conversation, which was fine. Gusman just wanted to sleep.
Butch handed Gusman a couple of little white pills. "Take these. They’ll knock you on your ass. You’ll sleep the whole way, I guarantee it."
"What are they?"
"Dunno, exactly. Gorazapam… Dorazaman… something like that."
"I’ll take it on faith," Gusman replied, swallowing the pills.
The co-pilot snorted.
Gusman didn’t even remember the plane taking off. He woke up briefly a couple of times during the night, both times grasping fleetingly at the fragment of a watery dream that promptly dissolved as he lost consciousness again.
He woke once more when the plane bounced hard on the runway at Midway before braking to a stop.
No dreams this time as Gusman groaned and tried to clear the cobwebs from his brain.
One of the roughnecks was looking at him.
"Hey, dude, you snore."
"Sorry," Gusman replied. "I have a cold."
"No biggie," the roughneck said with a toothy smile.
As usual, the mid-Pacific sun was blazing. The Midway atoll, famous for the naval battle that took place in 1942, was no longer the home of the US Navy. It had been turned over to the National Park Service to manage as a wildlife reserve because about a million seabirds nested there. It was also the staging area for the company’s drilling operation on Platform Faith. The company had expended considerable political influence to obtain permission to use the airport.
The three men headed over to the helipad on the far end of the island, where the company’s Sikorsky Jolly Green Giant, a reconditioned but still creaky Vietnam-era war bird they all called "The Beast," was waiting for them. The Beast was painted orange. The words "Clearsea Energy" were emblazoned across the length of its long, sausage-like fuselage in huge white letters, except for the first letter in Clearsea, which was bright green and spiral-shaped. The company’s original name, West Texas Offshore Drilling Corporation, had been unceremoniously dumped some years earlier in the wake of a huge disaster at one of the company’s platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. The spiral-shaped logo was green for a reason and — along with the company’s new slogan, "For Our Planet" — was intended to convey Clearsea’s commitment to environmentally sustainable oil production.
This corporate "rebranding" — in the terminology of the Madison Avenue experts who dreamed it up — was total. It got a jump start when the old CEO, a craggy, plain-talking Oklahoma oil man right out of central casting, was fired after he infamously joked that the fish die-off resulting from the oil disaster was "a shame… hell, some of those fish would have made damned good eating." In a move that surprised Wall Street and delighted the press and public, he was replaced by the company’s charismatic young General Counsel, Enrique Gonzales. Gonzales was a Harvard-educated former-Republican Attorney General of Texas, whose calm competence was matched by his amazing rags-to-riches story. Gonzales had risen from being the impoverished son of Mexican farm workers to a leading light of the American legal profession and a potent symbol of the increasing power and influence of Latinos.
"From this day forward," Gonzales said at his first press conference, "Clearsea will be a new company, dedicated to the stewardship of our planet’s resources and measuring success not simply by profit, but by our contribution to repairing our world. I apologize for the disaster that has occurred and pledge that we will spare no expense to restore the Gulf. As a company, from now on, Clearsea will — and must — be forthright, transparent, and humble. We will do everything in our power to regain the confidence of our shareholders, our government, and, most importantly, the American people. Ultimately, we recognize that our world must end its dependence on fossil fuels and, while that may be an unpopular thing to say in our industry, it is the truth. Until that day comes, Clearsea is committed to producing energy safely and sustainably."
The remake worked, leavened by Clearsea’s massive financial commitment to environmental restoration and alternative energy projects around the globe. Clearsea returned quickly to profitability. Its stock, which had lost a third of its value in the wake of the Gulf oil crisis, rebounded — and then some. Gonzales was awarded the Malcolm Baldridge Award for corporate excellence and named Time’s "Man of the Year." The disaster soon faded from public attention, except for some hard-core environmentalists, like Gusman’s marine biologist sister, who could never bring themselves to trust an oil company, regardless of its sincerity.
As Gusman plopped himself down on one of the webbed seats of The Beast, he felt the full impact of his depleted physical condition. His throat was raw, his sinuses throbbed, and his back was stiff. Even his teeth hurt. He still felt woozy from the pills Butch had given him, although at this point he wouldn’t have minded swallowing a few more. It was 500 miles to Platform Faith… a long way in the slow-moving, fearsomely noisy, vibrating Sikorsky. At least the weather was calm and they’d be flying at low altitude, sparing his wounded skull further punishment.