CHAPTER 9: The Tantrums of Ned Land
I HAVE NO IDEA how long this slumber lasted; but it must have been
a good while, since we were
completely over our exhaustion. I was the first one to wake up.
My companions weren't yet stirring and still lay in their corners
like inanimate objects.
I had barely gotten up from my passably hard mattress when I felt
my mind clear, my brain go on the alert. So I began a careful
reexamination of our cell.
Nothing had changed in its interior arrangements.
The prison was still a prison and its prisoners still prisoners.
But, taking advantage of our slumber, the steward had cleared the table.
Consequently, nothing indicated any forthcoming improvement in
our situation, and I seriously wondered if we were doomed to spend
the rest of our lives in this cage.
This prospect seemed increasingly painful to me because, even though
my brain was clear of its obsessions from the night before,
I was feeling an odd short-windedness in my chest. It was becoming
hard for me to breathe. The heavy air was no longer sufficient
for the full play of my lungs. Although our cell was large,
we obviously had used up most of the oxygen it contained.
In essence, over an hour's time a single human being consumes
all the oxygen found in 100 liters of air, at which point that air
has become charged with a nearly equal amount of carbon dioxide
and is no longer fit for breathing.
So it was now urgent to renew the air in our prison, and no doubt
the air in this whole underwater boat as well.
Here a question popped into my head. How did the commander of this
aquatic residence go about it? Did he obtain air using chemical methods,
releasing the oxygen contained in potassium chlorate by heating it,
meanwhile absorbing the carbon dioxide with potassium hydroxide?
If so, he would have to keep up some kind of relationship with
the shore, to come by the materials needed for such an operation.
Did he simply limit himself to storing the air in high-pressure
tanks and then dispense it according to his crew's needs?
Perhaps. Or, proceeding in a more convenient, more economical,
and consequently more probable fashion, was he satisfied with merely
returning to breathe at the surface of the water like a cetacean,
renewing his oxygen supply every twenty-four hours? In any event,
whatever his method was, it seemed prudent to me that he use this
method without delay.