Ghosts of the Titanic

Ghosts of the Titanic

by Charles R. Pellegrino

Paperback(Mass Market Paperback - 1ST)


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780380724727
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/28/2001
Edition description: 1ST
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 4.25(w) x 1.00(h) x 6.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
Thoughts for a Countdown

If you haven't found something strange during the day, it hasn't been much of a day.— John Archibald Wheeler

And You May ask me, why do I not believe in psychic events?

How can I not believe? you may ask, given what I have seen, what I have learned.

And it occurs to me that I cannot provide an adequate answer, because I do not believe the proper words exist for me to explain my agnosticism. You cannot know, therefore, and neither, it seems, can I.

What I do know is that odd coincidence, or synchronicity — call it what you will — has always surrounded the Titanic. And it has surrounded me, too, ever since the Titanic.

In the summer of 1985, I was a space scientist and paleontologist (or, as paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould once put it, "an astronomer who occasionally looks down"). At that time, no one in the world could have seemed farther from the Titanic. In fact, most of my work was out of this world — way out of it, way past Mars. I had, with my childhood friend and fellow astrobiologist Jesse Stoff, proposed models for ice world interiors that were leading to the discovery of new oceans beneath the crusts of Jupiter's moons Ganymede and Europa, and Saturn's moons Titan and Enceladus. The Voyager II spacecraft was supporting our models, and was flying on past Titan and Enceladus toward an encounter with the cryovolcanoes of Triton, but it saddened me that Jesse could not be with me at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. About three years earlier, he hadabandoned our ice world studies, literally in midstride, so that he could fly away to London and try to figure out how the human immune system evolved. Along the way, he focused attention on a rare genetic disorder. By coincidence, I was tracing this same genetic marker back through the origins of all the modern human races, following a trail of aberrant DNA as if it were a trail of footprints (and all the genetic roads were leading back to Africa, about 120,000 years ago). By coincidence, this same genetic trail — the entire gene complex — had turned up in my own blood, and was waiting to hatch out. And by sheer coincidence, Jesse had discovered treatments for this same genetic condition, even as I bemoaned his departure from the space program and into medicine, and said as much in the preface to a report titled, "Extraterrestrial Life: New Hope in our Own Solar System."

The words ankylosing spondylitis describe a condition in which the immune system becomes overly active, attacking cells that belong to "self" with as much vigor as those that belong to "non-self " It is similar in its effects to the graft-versus-host disease commonly seen as a result of bone marrow transplants, and when kept under control (or even when deliberately induced, and controlled via the emerging technology of immunogenetics), the disease becomes a powerful ally against other diseases, particularly cancer. When out of control, however, it can trigger a biological chain reaction that maims, and occasionally kills.

In July 1985, the disease aimed to kill me. My doctor in New York told me I should put my affairs in order. To judge from the rate of deterioration he was witnessing, he predicted that I would have "a short autumn."

Then Jesse showed up at my door — the only person I know of who, at that time, just happened to have a magic bullet sitting in his lab.

I got better.

My doctor died.

And then I received a call from Bob Ballard. By coincidence, he had been reading a book by Jesse and me in which we discussed the possibility of oceans inside ice worlds, and described the sorts of robots that might one day be sent to probe them. By yet another emerging coincidence, Bob had been building deep-ocean robots directly ancestral to the ones Jesse and I had described. One of them had just found the Titanic, and Bob had his next expedition already in mind. He wanted to know if I would be interested in joining him."

Oooh, this can't be happening," my father said, when I told him of the call. It was just as I had said it would be, two months earlier, when I was so sick and dog tired that I lived what I was coming tocall "koala bear days" — twenty-hour naps, almost comatose. And during those koala days I did a very strange thing, when Dad and I look back upon it now and come to consider that in July 1985 I had never even read the Walter Lord classic, A Night to Remember. During my few waking hours I somehow managed to construct a little white model of the Titanic, properly ballasted with some of its watertight compartments built in. I shut off the filter and pumps in my parents' swimming pool and sprinkled the water with the same red dust I had used in the laboratory to reveal patterns of circulation around the siphons of clams and octopi.

Each time I sank the ship, I watched very carefully the slipstream of dust that trailed behind it. After the model came to a sudden stop on the bottom, the dust spread out over a radius at least as large as the ship's length, in great cauliflower billows.

"Downblast," I had called it.

"Why are you doing this?" my father had asked. Of the very few hours I could remain awake, I spent an inordinate number sinking a toy boat in a swimming pool, and the water at one end was beginning to resemble blood. It was inexplicable to Dad and I was scaring the neighbors."Why this?" he demanded.

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James Cameron

Like Godfather II, better than the original.
— (James Cameron, Oscar-winning director of Titanic)

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Ghosts of the Titanic 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Excellent....Titanic Buffs will enjoy this, as well as just the curious.