Anatomy of a Rifter

"Take a dozen children, any children.  Beat and mix thoroughly until some lumps remain.  Simmer for two to three decades; bring to a slow, rolling boil.  Skim off the full-blown psychotics, the schizoaffectives, the multiple personalities, and discard.

"Let cool.  Serve with dopamine garnish.

"What do you get?  Something bent, not broken.  Something that fits into cracks too twisted for the rest of us."

—excerpt from personal diary of Yves Scanlon, N´'AmPac GA Industrial Psych *


Here's the problem: the same conditions that make hydrothermal vents such hotbeds of geothermal energy also  make them veritable deathtraps for anything born on the shallow side of 2000 meters.  Seaquakes, thermal eruptions, and mudslides are common.  Hydrostatic pressure is over three hundred times surface-normal.  Conditions at the Channer Vent (where Beebe Station is situated) are even more hazardous due to the presence of anomalously large and aggressive deepwater fish.  Subjecting employees to such conditions for extended periods might best be described as "suboptimal".

Nonetheless, The Grid Authority is mandated to provide safe, reliable energy to its consumer base.  To meet this mandate— and to stay ahead of increasing consumption rates—; the geothermal program was instituted with all reasonable haste.  This precluded total automation at start-up.  The GA is confident that it will be able to phase out on-site personnel within five years.  In the meantime, however, a human presence is essential at the rift.  Although this is not an ideal situation, the GA assures members of the board that there is no cause for concern.  Industrial Psych has gone to great lengths to ensure that only those especially adapted to high-stress environments end up on the rift.


Psychological Makeup

Stress, like happiness, is chemical.  Chronic stress increases the production of cortical beta-endorphins and adrenocorticotropic hormones.  While this can impair the intellectual performance of naive individuals, the body eventually adapts to chronic exposure; receptor-sites proliferate, trigger thresholds increase, and the individual grows physiologically accustomed to danger.  The best deep-sea recruits ("Rifters") are those whose bodies are normally pickled in stress hormones.

Not surprizingly, therefore, the people best suited to the abyssal environment are those with a long-term history of chronic stress.  Examples include childhood victims of sexual and physical abuse, incarcerated pedophiles, and military operatives with extensive field experience.  All such groups performed significantly better than conventionally "well-adjusted" control subjects, who almost invariably suffered some form of psychological breakdown during in situ testing.)


Surgical and Biochemical Modifications

Many cellular enzymes in the human body do not function under high pressure.  Rifters, therefore, are infected with trans-specific genes for the production of suitable substitutes (mainly dehydrogenases) from deepwater fish.  These genes are gleaned from common Rattails (Coryphaenoides armatus), and introduced into the cell using a tailored retrovirus.

Rifters do not breathe compressed gas even when free-diving on the ocean floor; oxygen is electrolysed from seawater and introduced directly into the pulmonary vein.  The electrolysis assembly is implanted into a cavity in the left side of the thorax (the left lung is removed to make room for this and other components).  A piggybacked desalinator keeps the body hydrated.  The cavity also contains an implanted reservoir of isotonic saline, which floods rigid air cavities in the head and throat (sinuses, ears, and trachea) during a dive; otherwise, ambient pressure would crush these structures instantly.  (The right lung and the GI tract are flexible, and collapse without injury.)

The ribs covering the implants are hinged laterally, latching at the costochondrals; this effectively turns the left side of the chest into an access panel which can be opened for maintenance and repair.  Enhanced phospholipid monolayers line the sternal seam, acting as a molecular sealant.  The implant cavity itself is lined with an alloplastic membrane to prevent infection of the living components, and autodisinfects whenever the sternal flap reseals.

Other implants include a semi-intelligent vocoder built into the throat and lingual muscles, allowing the Rifter to speak without breathing; dental contacts which activate the vocoder and link it to a low-frequency acoustic modem in the hood;  a "Deadman" switch which raises an alarm and homing signal upon cardiac arrest; GABA-inhibitors to prevent the seizures associated with increased synaptic firing at high pressure; and enhanced glomerular filters to compensate for the osmotic stress of long-term exposure to a hypersaline environment.  All systems are powered myoelectrically.


Removable Gear

Diveskin:  a reflex copolymer body sheath which protects the diver from temperature extremes.  A complete diveskin consists of  several sections; their edges are lined by hydrophobic macromolecules which seal reflexively on mutual contact.  (Diveskin seals are broken by a depolarising blade on the index finger of each glove.)  The diveskin is selectively-permeable, and filters distilled aliquots of seawater across the body surface to maintain optimum skin pH and to prevent the accumulation of skin oils.  The tunic is equipped with a urinary catheter and anal valve for the elimination of wastes.  A low-frequency acoustic modem (linked to the vocoder) and headlamp are incorporated into the hood; magnetic compass, ATOC processor, homing beacon, and modem controls sit on the sleeve of the right forearm.  (Note that most navigation options are of limited usefulness near an active rift.)

Eyecaps:  These photocollagen corneal overlays amplify available light to a visual optimum, based on ambient lighting conditions.  They are theoretically able to amplify a single photon past the visual threshold of the human retina.  Photocollagen does tend to filter out colors in the visible spectrum, however.  The circumorbital edges of the diveskin are treated to bind to the eyecap, ensuring that no unfiltered substances penetrate to the skin.  This means, of course, that rifters cannot close their eyes while diving.  Since the blinking reflex is not necessary underwater, this is a minor inconvenience.

Potential Complications

Rift Addiction:   Human staff were intended to serve as a stop-gap measure only, to be phased out once the geothermal system was fully automated; it was assumed they would gladly depart the rift when their tours ended.  However, it now appears that at least some recruits are growing physiologically addicted to the rift environment. Apparently the same beta-endorphins which allow the brain to deal with stress can also lead to a dependence upon stress if the stimulus is sufficiently chronic.  If this is true, some staff may prove reluctant to obey a recall order.

This possibility should be given serious consideration.  The prospect of a full-scale revolt by a group of rapists, borderline psychotics, and child-abuse victims—; who, incidentally, have it within their power to shut down a significant fraction of N'AmPac's energy grid— was not addressed in the GA's original Mission Statement.


Ganzfeld Psionics:  

According to one source (of admittedly unknown reliability), Beebe staff may be experiencing enhanced extrasensory abilities of unknown severity.  It has been suggested that the impoverished sensory environment of the deep sea (approaching the Ganzfeld of classical sensory-deprivation experiments) may reduce the signal-to-noise ratio in certain parts of the brain, permitting the detection of weak quantum-interference signals from nearby individuals.  Other sources consider this unlikely, suggesting that if such effects are real, they are more likely related to increased levels of aminobutyric acid in the cortex.  What could have caused such an increase is not known at this time.  Further investigation would be desirable, although potentially problematic given the quarantine measures now under consideration.

 *Accessed under Article 24a of the N'AmPac BioHazards Act (2040)