Training was not particularly easy, especially when you had to master everything in a week's time. It was all the time the University was willing to give me and I don't blame them. I was young and had no experience with this kind of a study, and they were not confident about putting all their bets on me. Still, after my physical fitness test, they seemed fairly more confident (still not very confident) than they were before. They were impressed with my swimming, but they reminded me again, swimming in a lab-designed ocean was a lot different and far easier than swimming in the real ocean.
I was told that Mr. Skagen would be controlling the pod we would be going underwater in, but it was essential that both of us knew how to operate it - just in case. It was not very complex to operate, but it was mandatory to read the instruction manual and protocol booklet. I wish I could have just skimmed through but they were going to test me on it.
After a week's time, I was tested. Physically, again, and academically - on marine biology, as well as on operations, and policies and procedures of our travel underwater. I passed everything, and I won't lie, a part of me was hoping to have failed. I was second-guessing myself and had started to wonder if I was doing the right thing by accepting this project. But I suppose my usual pursuit of this opportunity had overpowered my doubts, and I was soon in the second phase of the project - the briefing.
Lab results showed that the newly found flora was a type of sea flower that had edible value and essentially was a new spice. They had not figured out a name yet and were not willing to share the discovery with the world just yet. Using trial and error, the sample of the plant was put in various containers with varying lab-induced pressures to find the depth of where we would find the plant in the ocean. We already had coordinates of where the fishermen found the plant and built a radius of around 5 kilometres around the coordinates.
And then came the scary part. The lab results showed that the sample we had came from around 4 kilometres below the ocean. A few hundred metres below would be the farthest our pod could go. Below that, the pressure would be unpleasant - deadly.
I had an uneasy feeling about this all. It was scary, but it was my dream and my subconscious kept fighting my urges to quit. I had dedicated all my life so far to get here, and now that I was here, I just wasn't about to quit. Everything was ready, and now I just waited. I morbidly thought to myself if this waiting was going to foreshadow the same kind of waiting the student who had died years ago had waited. But I was still above the ocean, on solid ground and I was waiting for Mr. Skagen to reach Svalbard.
The next couple of days went by in a flash. Mr. Skagen reached Svalbard, and being an expert oceanographer and frequent underwater traveller, he did not require any training. He simply had to sign some papers and before we knew it, we were on a ferry to the coordinates. Mr. Skagen did not speak much at the beginning but as we got closer to the destination, he approached me and said that since we were going to spend quite a few hours together, we should start talking as the journey down below was long and lonely. He told me to call him Alvar and not Mr. Skagen, and said he was also a graduate from my University - although, he joked, that was many many years ago and now he just worked as a freelance oceanographer.
Smalltalk was nice, but unfortunately, did not last forever. We had reached our coordinates and started gearing up. I wasn't sure if it was time that was going slowly or if it was me who was being slow because I remember Alvar getting in his diving suit, collecting his bag and getting into the pod before I even wore my suit.
But soon enough I got ready and took my stuff and entered the pod. And as we were released from the ferry, our long descent began - the beginning of my nightmare, my longest journey.