and Tai were at the Hangar the next morning, out of their dress
uniforms and in their sub gear, which were comfortable as overalls,
but usable as wetsuits.
and Ben, front and centre!" Tai called as the new apprentices
came in. "I'm Tai, this is Cora. Remember that, because we're
your teachers for the next mission. You've spent time in subs, of
course; but you've never been crew before."
left him to it and went to the Moon Pool. Delphi had kept pace with
her from the outside, looking in at his human partner. She worked her
TABB and sent Delphi a message. "We'll have some new people with
us today. Did you find the cache?"
Swim now! Found box! Go fast! New friend!"
smiled and made the hand signals. ‘Stay
close. One hour.’
chattered, nodding his whole head back and forth and vanished back
under the water. Cora rose and went back to the two pre-teens. "All
right, kids. Today's mission: We've found a Cache out beyond the
Ranges, about half a mile sou-southwest of the Fish Farms. Our job is
to go out there and bring it back."
and Ben nodded, listening attentively.
can get out there by submarine, but the Caches are hard to find, and
that means we need Dolphin support. Which means Dark Water Wet-Work.
Either of you ever been outside a sub before?"
kids shook their heads.
you'll need equipment." Tai told them. "Follow me."
just hope Nix is impressive enough to knock Ben out of the race.
in the Ark-Hive used a TABB. The ones rated for underwater field work
were a little different in design, but worked the same way.
Breather masks will let you see underwater." Cora explained.
"They'll give you much better visual clarity in the deeps, and
in some of the advanced models, they'll even send messages and
information, like a HUD in front of you every second. That said, to
be cleared for Dark Water work, you’ll need Contacts as well.
They’re organic grafts, so they’ll actually become part of your
eyes. Once they take, you could actually go out without a mask and
swim around; though it’s pretty cold out there.”
Ben had his eyes squeezed shut. "No, I don't-" Tai made him
sit still, and Ben shook his head. "I don't... My eyes? Really?"
grinned. "We all go through it. Be glad. The last generation
Taqs had to be replaced every year, the generation before that every
month. Be glad that you’ve got surface corneal implants. You’ll
never need to replace them.” Tai faltered. “Well, assuming they
take before Landfall.”
the other side of the locker room, Nix was having a similar reaction,
though being a lot more stoic about it. Cora could tell she wasn't
happy by the way her fists gripped the chair she was sitting on while
the lenses were applied to her eyes. “We’ll give them another
hour to fit. If you see something drifting in front of you, don’t
worry; that’ll fade.”
turned to include Nix. “Now, tips for all of you: Keep your masks
clear. If you feel pains in your ears, in your sinuses, report
it immediately. You know how to use your fins?”
demonstrated by flexing her feet carefully, and the flippers on her
Dive boots retracted, then extended.
and Tai were in their seats, with the two potential apprentices
sitting behind them, as the Hydra
was lowered into the Hangar Moon Pool and deployed into the ocean.
take this.” Tai handed Ben and Nix a stick each. It was small and
processed to the same basic shape as other rations. “It’s a resin
from a Deep Sea plant. They say there was something similar back in
the surface days, but nobody’s seen ‘bubbagun’ in centuries.”
it for?” Ben asked, and mimicked Tai, chewing it.
Pressure.” Tai told them. “We’ll be changing depths here and
there. Don’t swallow this stuff. Keep chewing. It’ll help you
equalize to the depth we’re going to.”
trip continued another few hours, and Cora and Tai gave their two
guests a practical refresher on how to navigate, and some basic
let’s see what you’ve learned.” Cora challenged Ben. “Bearing
studied the readouts over her shoulder. “Bearing 040. Down bubble…”
He checked again. “Ten degrees?”
good.” Cora nodded. “You covered this in your classes?”
pay attention. This is the part you won't get on your school tours."
Tai told them. "For all the time we've been down here at the
bottom of the ocean, we haven't gone more than two hundred miles from
the Ark-Hive. There's light up above, but none of it reaches this
deep. The only light down here is what we make, or what the ocean
provides. That's why we call it the Dark Water."
closer to the Ark-Hive, we've spent centuries paving over the rough
spots, setting up lit travel routes, and of course laying out all the
Outposts we need to support ourselves." Cora took up the
explanation. "But the only ones who have been out past the
Trench were the expeditions to repopulate the fish species many years
ago. To say nothing of the relative pressure differences. We only
live in a narrow band of altitude. There's a lot of mystery out there
in the Dark Waters."
hit a switch on his console, and the viewport suddenly changed, the
water outside no longer pitch black. They could see fish swimming,
and a dolphin keeping pace with their sub. They could see the
outlines of the ocean floor and even the murky churn of the denser
waters in the far distance.
mask will do something similar to this when you get outside."
Cora reported. She watched them subtly. Ben was staring over the
controls, learning the switches and readouts. Nix had her eyes glued
to the water outside. She'd never been half this far out, and had
obviously never seen anything like it.
can the dolphin keep up?" Ben asked after a while. "We must
be going pretty fast."
knots." Tai confirmed. "Dolphin teams can keep up with us
in various ways. There's a cage on the side that he can ride along in
when we're at speed; at lower speeds he can ride our wake and we
actually pull him along. Observation speeds? He'll try and race us
dolphins are speed freaks." Cora put in with affection. "Now.
Into your suits. We're pressurized for this depth, so you'll be fine,
but you'll need your suits to handle the cold. Have someone check
your seals before you get wet."
kids nodded, and Cora returned her gaze to the front viewport. "Oh,
Tai? My father would be pleased to have you join us for dinner."
sub lurched as Tai reacted. The kids in the back seats giggled
heartlessly as Tai went pale.
right, tadpoles." Cora told them once they were all outside.
"Two rules of wet-work. One: Always know where the nearest help
is. We're less than a quarter mile from the Farms, but they're fairly
automated. If you can't get there yourself, nobody's going to rescue
you. So Rule Two: Someone always stays with the ship."
before that rule, we lost a few crews to drifting boats." Tai
put in over all their radios. "So, think of me as your guardian
angel, watching over the Scope."
Cache is out here somewhere." Cora reported. "The beacons
would have run down centuries ago. Now, the ship Scope can tell you
when we've got something the right size. Delphi's echolocation is
good enough to tell you when you've got something the right shape.
After that, someone's got to go out and look for the crate. It'll be
seven feet on every edge. First one to find it wins."
that point, it was a matter of slogging through the Ocean Floor.
Beyond the Ark-Hive's carefully cultivated reach, there was nothing
but ocean wilderness. The animals that humanity had reintroduced to
the oceans ran free and filled the maps with predators and wild
things. Even after so many years, there was still a lot of ocean to
stayed well out of the way. The whole point of the exercise was to
see if they were suited to field work. If Ben couldn't take it, then
as long as Cora stayed mobile in her duties, she had reason to leave
go private." Tai said over her headset.
keyed the channel closed. "This is risky." She told him.
"Even on a private channel-"
know. Listen, Don just sent me an encrypted file. It's Ben's record.
He was meant to be assigned somewhere in Gold Sector. But at the last
second, his orders were changed to send him to you. His assignment
has already been picked, regardless of the scores today. He's your
looked over at Ben, who was digging around awkwardly. "Who
changed his orders? My father?"
ready for this? Commander Morgan."
felt her heart stop.
is this?" Ben asked after a while.
question." Cora mumbled as she felt her heart speed up triple
time. But she came over to join him. "What have you got?"
held up something, warped and stained. Six interlocked rings, looking
malleable and stretchy. Cora swore under her breath and took it off
him. "This is from the surface. To this day, there's still
several hundred million pieces of ancient rubbish all over the sea
all these centuries?" Ben was surprised.
pulled her multitool and started cutting the rings apart. "At the beginning, there was more garbage than fish. A lot
of it has rotted away, but the vast majority will stick around. A sea
creature comes across something like this and gets himself strangled.
The ancients sucked the surface dry, and they're still killing things
in the oceans."
we head for Land, how much of our stuff do we leave behind?" Nix
asked from the other side of the ridge.
don't know, but speaking for myself, I reckon we owe it to the oceans
to leave with some class." Cora said lightly. "Anyway,
we're not picking up the trash, we're looking for the Cache."
nodded and went back to work. Nix called back. "Delphi is
pointing me at something over this side of the ridge. It might be the
Cache. I won't be gone long."
beacon is on." Tai told her from the sub. "I won't be able
to keep all three of you in line of sight; but I'll still have your
beacons. Anything happens you don't recognize, report it."
the team split up, Cora looked up up for a moment. Far above their
heads, out of reach, there would be light. The light didn't reach
shivered, suddenly gripped with fear. She'd never spared much thought
for the surface. She imagined that people who lived on the surface
centuries before had never spared a thought for the Ocean Floor.
got something here!" Ben called.
came over to meet him. Ben had found the corner of a large box, half
buried in the silt. "That's it." Cora agreed. "Let's
get to work, dig it up."
settled down next to the crate and let out a squawk. “Ack! I’m
sighed. “Centuries of dirt and mud all over the thing, and you
didn’t think to check how much mud was under your feet?” She
pulled him free, and felt bad for needling him about sinking. It was
an easy mistake, but she was annoyed. Cora had wanted Nix to find the
target first. A win in her training that would have made her a
desirable catch for any department, or any sub crew. But Ben had
already been planted in her team, by the man who hunted everyone like
her and the people she loved.
was shaken out of her thoughts as Delphi came swooping up to her,
squeaking and squealing. An instant later, the message was translated
for her. "Need help! Nix help! Go to Nix! Great one! Trapped!"
one?" Cora breathed. She made the hand signals for 'Take
and gripped Delphi's harness with one hand. "Tai, Nix has gotten
herself trapped by a whale. Delphi is taking me to her! Get the Hydra
moving and come follow as soon as you can!"
the way!" Tai called.
gripped Delphi's harness and let her Dolphin partner yank her
straight off her feet; both of them hurtling through the water. Tai
called out instructions behind her, giving Ben orders on what to do.
made it over the ridge and took in the whole situation in a glance.
She had misunderstood Delphi. Nix hadn't been the one trapped. The
trapped one was the whale.
was at least sixty feet long, and hundreds of tonnes. Cora had seen
pictures of Humpback Whales back before their resurrection, and there
was no visible difference in the gene-synth version. At least not on
whale was pinned, trying not to thrash in place. She could see the
netting wrapped around the flukes of his tail... And she could see
the rest of the net tangled in the rocks of the ocean floor.
was at the creature's tale with a multitool, trying to cut it free.
"Don't worry about the part hooked on the rock!" Cora
called ahead. "If he gets his tail free, he might just slap you
into next week and not notice. Free the tail while it's immobile."
moved up closer to the whale, awed by the size of him. Its tail alone
was twice her size. Cora came over. "I'll take this. You go up
to his eyes. Let him see you."
Nix asked. "Because-"
gotta convince him that we're on his side. Whales are intuitive, but
if his echolocation says we're sharks or scavengers... Trust me:
Stick with Delphi."
did so, swimming up the length of the whale. Delphi was floating near
the huge creature's eyes, chattering at him gently. Nix kept one eye
on the translation rolling across her Tabb, and realized that the
Dolphin was addressing the whale. "Humans. Friends. Free soon!
Swim soon! Be calm. Still waters gentle!"
came up, resting her hands on the whale to hold position. She could
see the large eye, not so different from her own except bigger. The
eye focused slowly, trying to get a good look at her face. "I
don't know if you can understand me, but we'll have you loose soon."
series of clicks and squeals came from Delphi, and Nix suddenly
realized that the Dolphin was trying to translate for her.
talking, Nix. Let him know we're helping." Cora told her. "He
knows that humans help trapped whales."
how could he possibly know that?" Ben said over their radios.
His signal was clear enough that Cora knew they must have been
getting closer. The Sub was on the way. "I mean, it's not like
they have a bulletin board, right?"
song is a lot more complex than you think." Tai countered.
"Once, we thought Humpback Whale song was seasonal; but it turns
out we just didn't understand it. The Life Sciences team has put
together an index, of sorts."
communication, sure..." Ben didn't seem convinced. "Meanwhile,
mission accomplished. We've got the Cache, and it's secure. What
you get down here and help us out." Cora ordered. "He's been dragging this net along for a while, and finally hooked. Other
whales have been caught in snare nets that we use for food. The
sharks get to them before we can free them. This big guy has already
drawn blood where this net is biting into him. The sharks have
probably already scented him. We need to get him free before he
clear, and you won't have to worry about it panicking." Ben
groused a little, but he came closer and drew his multi-tool. "Where
do I cut?"
caught his hand. "Smaller blade! Don't get the whale too! Gentle
switched to a more appropriate tool and went to work. "This
thing isn't going to decide we're dangerous? I mean, if a whale is
supposedly smart enough to know we're only cutting the net, then it
would be smart enough to know where the net came from, right?"
looked along the large form. "Nix? How's it going?"
didn't answer, locked in an odd staring contest with the whale. If
she was aware of anything else, it didn't show. It was like she was
communing with him. Delphi was behind her, doing slow rotations in
place, blowing air rings out of his beak. Nix stroked the warm skin
around the eye, crooning a bit, speaking soothingly.
it!" Ben called, and the nets fell away. He scrambled back
quickly, almost churning the water. "Let's get back before it
won't do that." Nix promised calmly, as the whale gave a kick so
powerful that everyone felt the ripples roll over them grandly.
Delphi turned into the wake with an excited trill, floating into a
watched the whale power away for a few seconds, stretching out in the water... and then turn gracefully around, heading back toward
for it!" Ben shouted. "Get to the sub! It's coming back!"
Nix was unconcerned. "Will you please stop calling him 'it'?"
Whale stopped kicking his tail, sliding gracefully to a stop nearby.
Somehow, with incredible precision, the whale came closer, and
nuzzled his head up against each of the humans in turn, brushing
gently. They were tiny little nothings before a giant, and the giant
was giving them each the closest thing to a handshake or a hug that
he could offer.
could hear Ben whimpering as the whale came over to him, but Delphi
swept around behind the boy and held him still, nosing him upright
with his beak. Ben was frozen, terrified. But the whale was gentle
with him, before he turned and powered away.
kept pace with him for a while, until they were out of sight in the
was amazing!" Nix almost screamed, loud enough to max out their
it was." Ben said, voice still shaky. "I'm going back to
the submarine now." He turned to go, hunched over like he was
expecting to be attacked.
finally noticed that the sub had come a lot closer while she'd been
with the Whale... and she noticed the large crate lashed to it. "Ben
found the Cache?"
sighed. "I lost the challenge, didn't I?"
was about to answer, when Tai called her. "Cora, we've got a
message coming for you. It's coded 'confidential', so it must be
dad?" Nix guessed.
orders." Cora agreed.
listen up." Cora told the crew of the Hydra
"I've been dispatched to Cameron Outpost to have words with the
Commander there. You guys can either come along, but you won't be
able to sit in on the meeting... or I can take you all home first."
your copilot. I go where you go." Tai said simply.
if I'm auditioning for apprentice, I go where he goes." Ben put
if this is my last mission outside the Ark-Hive, I'm going as far as
I can." Nix nodded.
then." Tai said lightly. "We've got a five hour cruise
ahead of us. Kids, one of you is going to be coming with us for the
next four months or so. It's vital that you learn the secret arts of
killing time." He pulled a deck of cards out of his jumpsuit.
"Did you two bring your ration books?"
and Ben dutifully drew their ration cards, looking uncertain. Cora
and Tai traded a dark grin, and started to deal the cards.
Outpost was like most of the other Outposts on the Western Perimeter.
It was a series of spherical chambers, each the size of a small
building, linked together by airlocks.
main reason for the Outpost is logistics." Cora told the kids.
"A sub goes down anywhere within a hundred miles, they're the
ones that tells Base where to go to rescue it. A shark comes too
close to our fish, they turn it back or hunt it."
also grow and harvest coral." Tai put in. "You've seen it
here and there in the Ark-Hive, this is where a lot of it comes from.
It's light, strong, porous; and if it's still alive and growing, you
can even shape it a bit."
coral grows slowly." Ben asked.
does, but it takes a lot less equipment than mining and tempering
steel." Cora told him as she keyed the radio. "Cameron
Outpost, this is the HydraHawk,
please come in."
is Vlad." The answer came. "That you, Cora?"
We're coming in, turn on the lights for us. Also, we've been driving
a while; so if you could put out a spread for four, we'd be
affirm." Cora told him. The message was unspoken, but clear to
Vlad. They had company with them. By the time they docked with the
Outpost, the Aquans there would have made preparations.
wrinkled his nose when they cracked the airlock. The air scrubbers
didn't work as well in an Outpost, compared to the Ark-Hive he'd
lived his whole life in. The Hangar was the same in every outpost,
with a Moon Pool and sealed entrances, but the air was thick with the
smell of salt and cleaning solutions.
and there, the bare metal was peeking out from the insulation and
rusting over from the salt. But there was a lot more coral included
in the construction.
first one they saw was the Stingray Lieutenant. As the Ark-Hive
police and armed force, they had a presence on every station, even
noted the kids' reaction. This man was older, somewhat rounded, and
his eyes were relaxed. Nothing like the fearsome living weapons they
had known back at the Ark-Hive. Cora put up a big smile. "Lieutenant
Carter! Always good to see you."
Cora!" Carter said brightly. "Vlad mentioned you were
bringing some friends."
stepped down from the hull of her sub and gestured for them to
follow. As Nix and Ben lined up, she introduced them. "Ben. Nix.
This is Lieutenant Carter, Stingray Squad. Lieutenant, these are two
of our most recent graduates." She smiled winningly at him. "I
have business with your lord and master. I was wondering if you and
Tai could show them around. It's their first time off the Ark-Hive."
kids looked scared out of their minds at the prospect of being sent
off with a Stingray. But Carter smiled at them. "I was actually
about to have dinner. I think we've got time for a quick tour first!"
traded a quick look with Tai. He would keep them out of the way. A
small outpost would be toured in about fifteen minutes.
Lapthorne." Cora found the head of the outpost in the Hangar's
Locker Room. He was suiting up. "You're going outside?"
a matter of maintenance that I wanted to discuss with your father.
Having you here, I assumed he was sending someone to take a look."
wondered if that was true, or if it was just a good way to get
outside the Outpost and its cameras. "Well, what are we waiting
up, the two of them dropped feet first into the water. It was twenty
feet between the Moon Pool and the ocean floor. Enough room to allow
submarines to pass in and out. They held hands in the slow motion
freefall, until they hit bottom.
The Commander said, and Cora obediently connected the line between
also wanted to show you these new tethers." He said smugly.
"We've been working on them for the last few months. You know
when you were a kid, and they taught you acoustic vibration
two cans on a string, right?" Cora nodded, checking to make sure
that the communications were keyed to be private.
that's the idea behind these. Nobody can hack the encryption, because
there's nothing to encrypt. No radio, no transmission. The tether is
threaded between us, and the sound carries only between our suits."
that's perfect. We played around with something like that once, but
it never worked."
now it does; but you have to be within eight feet. So for private
conversations, we've got a new trick; but for communications between
understand." Cora nodded. "The Chief sent me. He says to
tell you that the Landfall announcement took us all by surprise, but
there's plenty of time to regroup. In fact, the message is that our
plans are unchanged, just accelerated."
we lie low." Lapthorne said. "The Chief, whoever he is, is
aware that we can't wait forever, right?"
is. But remember what's happening here: All those resources are being
moved about, all those people are being pulled in, and everyone's
planning to leave the Ocean behind. If ever there was a moment for us
to pull off an Exodus..."
it's finally happening; isn't it?" Lapthorne breathed. "What
does your father know about your business here?"
it not, my father sent me with a message of his own." Cora
reported. "He sent me out to tell you that you have to pack it
swore. "We're being recalled?"
yet. But it’s on the all-powerful schedule that The Board has drawn
up, and they don’t want you to waste time packing. Just between us,
I think everyone's getting the same message." Cora confided.
"The date for Landfall has been set."
the hell do we all have to go at once? Why not a staged return to the
rolled her eyes. “I asked that question once. So did everyone in
the Board Meeting. We don’t ask any more, because the answer is
always ‘don’t ask’.”
the Chief is, he better do something soon." Lapthorne warned
her. "Here, look at this."
looked up. He had brought her to the support struts of the Outpost.
Each of the four legs was larger around than she could reach. She saw
at once what he meant. There was fatigue in the metal. It was running
deep. Every inch of the Ark-Hive was ancient, but they'd mastered the
art of fixing things. The factories ran day and night, harvesting
minerals and digging up metals from the ocean floor.
could fix this, you know?" Lapthorne sighed. "Coral struts
would do the job. We can carve a nice big piece to the exact
dimensions of the rot, secure it in there, like putting a sliver of
something under a wobbly table leg. It would be easy."
know." Cora sighed back.
we're going to be told to abandon the Outpost completely."
Lapthorne growled. "Cora, you should know... Not all my people
will want to come back to the Ark-Hive." The two of them looked
silently up at the rotting metal before he spoke again. "The
Outposts saved us, getting as much of the team out into the water as
we could. But he's talking about abandoning the Ocean entirely, and
his first step is to call everyone back to within his reach. Some of
the Outposts aren't going to take that."
can wrangle my people. We've got a pretty good setup here, but there
are only a few of us this far out. The ones you've got to worry about
are Praxis Outpost and Delta Outpost. They're so much bigger and more
central to the Ark-Hive than we think... Aquan or not, they won't
want to leave what they've got. I'm betting that's what The Chief is
rebellion?" Cora hadn't considered it. "Maybe." She
changed the subject. "Your Stingray detail seems very... well
chuckled. "Never feed the hand that bites you. Carter gets that
get away from there." Ben warned.
Tour had included a meal, and the two apprentices met up with Tai
afterward. Cameron Outpost was a working community, but like
everywhere people lived; the workforce was made up of families. None
of them had ever seen a Cache Crate before, and the one they had
collected was easily visible, lashed to the hull of the docked HydraHawk,
so the kids were gathered around.
was there, and he actually seemed amused. "Let them alone. None
of them have ever seen a private Yacht before, let alone what's in
the Crate. Can't help but indulge them, now and then."
and Nix just stared at Carter. The Stingray guards they knew would
have drawn their Shock-Sticks by now, and this one was smiling?
he's an Aqua?" Nix whispered to Ben, not taking her eyes off
Carter. "He sure don't act like a Stinger."
and Nix were so focused, that neither of them noticed Tai suddenly
appearing right between them. "This isn't the Ark-Hive." He
said kindly, and both kids yelped. "Stingers are death incarnate
to us, but out here in Dark Water, it's a small community. You make a
family, or a prison camp. Which do you suppose is better for the
people that live here?"
shivered, looking at the kids that surrounded their submarine. "They
shouldn't be... relaxed. He's still Stingray."
Tai agreed. "So. You guys remember everything Cora and I taught
you about cards? Because you're going to need it." He led the
way into the common areas. "See, Drivers have a hundred
different ways to fill in the time. Here in the Outposts? Whenever
there's someone new docked, they get invited to a nice, friendly
had delivered her message to Lapthorne, and then reconnected her
radio to give him the official line, ready for anyone who might be
listening. “The Recall Order is part of the Landfall plan, so
you’ll want to take advantage of these few months.”
am so informed.” Lapthorne said formally.
they walked back toward the Moon Pool, Delphi came zooming up,
swooping to a dead halt as he reached Cora. "Cora! Found you!"
chuckled and held out her hand as Delphi nuzzled her happily. "How
far did you follow the whale?"
Went fast! Great One say thank you! Great One likes Nix! Great Ones
sing!" The Dolphin clicked back. He rotated in place and fired a
pulse toward the structure of the Outpost. "Metal thin. Bad!
Metal break soon!"
know, Delphi. We were just talking about that." Cora said
soothingly. The echolocation of a dolphin was accurate enough to work
as medical diagnosis, let alone for engineering. "We'll be going
back to the Ark-Hive soon. You want to stay here and wait for us?"
was about to answer, when he suddenly halted in the water, and spun
back to look back the way he came. "Great Ones! Song changing!
Song is sad!"
had reached the ladder that would lead back up to the Outpost. "Sad?
looked back at her. A Dolphin was always smiling, but Delphi had
nearly bent double, looking down his beak at her accusingly. "Great
Ones say that Friends are leaving. Cora leaving? Cora friend! Cora
Cora looked at her friend, tortured. She couldn't tell him the truth,
or the secrets. She couldn't transmit anything without it being
exposed. Instead, she made the hand signals for 'No.
swooped up to match her height on the ladder, and pushed his beak
into the small of her back. Cora felt herself leave the ladder, and
Delphi pushed her swiftly up to the surface.
crew was assembled at the edge of the Moon Pool. Ben looked bright
red with embarrassment as Cora took her faceplate off, and tucked the
cowl down around her collar again. "Well, my job's done. You got
the full tour, Tadpoles?"
smothered a smirk. "Ben? Where are your shoes?"
nines! I had trip nines, and the guys gets dealt a fourth ace!"
Ben nearly exploded.