Tom cocked an eyebrow. “Warren, you’re a former Navy Seal. Isn’t there some sort of limit on the amount of time you can spend under the sea before it starts to seriously impair your health?”
Warren frowned. “Usually two weeks. After that, the lack of exposure to the sun and the constant high pressure oxygenated environment would begin to take a toll. There’s also a psychological impact. Think sensory deprivation. Your senses are out of whack because you’ve been dumped into a soundproof sponge. There is no normal sensory stimulation. No sunlight, no sound… Even taste and smell become compromised. Coming back to the real world would be an adjustment.
“In addition, those underwater stations are small. People are right on top of each other. Things we take for granted, like privacy, hot showers, home cooked meals, are in short supply. That can create anxiety, depression, and stress. No way he served that sentence consecutively. He had to take a break in between.”
Warren gazed at Tom. “That environment is more hostile than a prison. You may not be in danger from other inmates, but you are putting your life at risk. Three months sounds like way too much time to be stuck underwater though, especially if you’re not leaving the station for deep sea diving on a regular basis. They must be breaking up the time somehow, otherwise they’d have a pretty tough situation on their hands. A lot of contract workers would be headed to a rubber room. It would be extremely difficult to survive a month, much less three, down there.”
“Could they be treating the inmates like guinea pigs?” Hope asked. “Testing their limits? Tracking actual survival rates?”
Warren sighed. “Possibly. It’s not like they have to answer to anyone. They are located in international waters. No country in particular has legal oversight. I imagine they could be doing anything they want without recourse. Unfortunately, when the prospect of a reduced sentence is dangled in front of some people, they grab it, damn the consequences. If one or two inmates suffer some sort of harm or die along the way, they chalk it up to collateral damage.”
“And who’s going to know?” Cate shook her head. “Someone dies, they probably flush them down a chute into the deep sea and they become shark chum. No evidence left behind.”
Hope cringed. “God, that’s kind of evil. But that still doesn’t answer our original question. Where the hell is Fuzzy? Has he already served out his sentence? Has he been released, and if he has, where the hell is he? He’s the one we need to find. He could have a lot of the answers.”
“That lack of governmental oversight is troubling,” Tom said. “If Cassie McIntyre is down there, I can’t believe the CIA isn’t all over it. At least, our government should be doing a welfare check through the Red Cross or something.”
Warren grimaced. “Unless no one knows she is down there. Think about it. They are on the bottom of the ocean, more than two miles under the sea. It’s not like you can just go down there and knock on the door. Any regular monitoring would be impossible.”
Cate nodded. “And we haven’t been able to confirm that she embarked on the same path as Fuzzy. All we’ve got are suspicions. Right now, she’s missing. We need to sit down with her family and get more information. And we need to find other prisoners who contracted with Martimus.
“Otherwise, we’ve got nothing.”