Knight & Deigh started life as a retelling of The Orphans, from the point of view of the second lead character, Hannice Knight. It, too, is partly set in the rural Tanzania I remember from the early 1980s, but some of the technologies used are much more recent. To that extent, it is anachronistic. Don’t forget, though; it is fictional, made up, lies. All of it.
Hannice Knight had run the African operation of his father’s global business for many years, when a freak accident at home left him unable to walk. Together with physiotherapist Sophie Deigh, he tries to bring into his life the excitement and adventure he missed in his formative years, due to the need to be tied to the business.
A number of adventures and activities follow including scuba-diving, sky-diving, power-boating and camping, and a half-brother he never knew about; but even these can’t lift Hannice’s spirits.
What, or who can? Will the developing closeness between Hannice and Sophie come to anything, and what of the rumoured advances in medical technology?
Beginning on 12 February 2017, I am publishing Knight & Deigh here as a serial; one scene each Sunday.
The full list of scenes so far published is here
Knight & Deigh. Chapter seven, scene one: Learning to dive.
“What excitement do you have planned, Hannice?” Sophie asked on the way home.
“Well,” I said, “there are a few things I’ve always had a hankering after doing. Scuba diving off the Hawaiian coast, skydiving over Nevada and paragliding in the Cévennes are just a few of them.”
“Let me see what I can find out. I think you’ll be surprised at the number of things that you imagine are only for able-bodied people, but that you can do with some modification or assistance. Which one do you fancy trying first?” she asked.
“I’ve done some digging. There are a specialist IAHD/PADI instructors that can help us. I have arranged for a couple, who do this full-time, to come to Knight Towers and train us in our pool. I want you to qualify as my dive buddy – see, I’m learning all the jargon.”
“Okay, clever clogs. IAHD? PADI?”
“Keep up, Sophie. IAHD is the International Association for Handicapped Divers, and PADI is the Professional Association of Diving Instructors. I also sent a challenge to the Dean of Engineering at the old uni, to see if he can come up with a device that would let me dive without having to hold on to a machine. He jumped at the chance to invent something that useful, and will let me know when his students have something.”
For three weeks, our days were split between physio and dive training. The instructors, Ade and Manda, were exceptionally good at their job, and such nice people. At the end of the three weeks, Sophie and I were in possession of the official pieces of paper that said we were safe to be let loose underwater.
The real excitement came when a team of student engineers arrived at Knight Towers, bearing the first prototype of my dive suit. At first sight, it looked like a normal wetsuit, albeit heavily padded, especially around the lower back, buttocks and upper legs. I put it on, and their leader, a young woman called Sindy, explained how it worked.
“On the chest is a rotary dial with a small pointer on it,” she said. “That controls the inflation of the whole system. Turn the pointer towards your left shoulder to inflate; 45° will give you best normal control, 90° will inflate it fully, turning the suit into a flotation device. Turn the pointer towards your right shoulder to deflate the suit for taking it off again.
“When it’s inflated, flicking your left shoulder forward will bend your right leg at the hip; flicking your right shoulder will bend your left leg. From that, you can see that flicking your shoulders alternately will kind of mimic the kicking that a fully mobile diver would use for propulsion. For more body control, flicking both shoulders forward together will bend your body forward at the waist, flicking both shoulders back together will bend your body backwards at the waist. Okay?”
“What’s the technology behind it?” I asked.
“Pretty straightforward, really,” Sindy replied, “it uses compressed air contained in holding compartments within the suit’s lining. When inflated, the air floods the eight operational compartments; four on the legs, two ventral and two dorsal. Each of these compartments is discrete, so in the event of one being compromised—”
“English?” Sophie asked.
“Sorry; damaged.” Sophie nodded and Sindy continued. “For example, one of them could be snagged on a rock and torn open. If that happens, its air will escape and it will become ineffective, but the other compartments will continue to operate normally.”
“So it’s all down to movement of air?” I surmised.
“Not quite. In the presence of air, membranes in the inner surfaces of the compartments become sensitised. A minute electrical signal will cause them to compress, like regular muscles. It is that compression, mimicking your own muscles, that gives the movement.”
“So the suit is, in effect, an external set of muscles,” I suggested.
“Exactly,” Sindy confirmed.
“Any reason I can’t use it to get me walking?”
“That would be a breakthrough, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, the system relies on your weight being supported by the water, and only gives limited movement. It doesn’t have the rigidity or the strength to support your weight, or the power even to raise a leg against normal gravity.”
“Understood. Can I try it?” I asked.
“Please do,” she said, “leave it deflated until you’re in the water, please.”
I tried it on; it was a good fit. With the dial turned to the halfway point, and flicking my shoulders as instructed, I was diving and controlling my movements as proficiently as Sophie was. I thought so, anyway. Sindy also gave us a pair of full-face masks, fitted with an underwater communication system. Once we had learned to use these properly, we were able to converse underwater. That meant I didn’t need to try giving the accepted gestures whilst simultaneously flicking my shoulders.
Back on land, I gave Sindy my detailed verdict.
“You’ve done a good job,” I concluded, “it seems to work well. Is this the only one?”
“This is the prototype,” she said. “We have a second, identical suit back at the lab. Now we know it performs as it was designed to, we can work on a few improvements, based on what you have just told me. We’ll get the next iteration to you within ten days.”
“Make it seven days, and let me have three suits. If I should damage one, I shall need a spare straight away.”
“So why three?”
“If I use the spare, I shall still need a spare. Three should be enough.”
“Fair enough. Three Mk II suits in seven days. Can we do that, guys?” she asked, turning to the rest of her team.
A mix of murmurs and nods suggested they could.
I felt we were ready to go exploring as soon as the new suits arrived, and asked Sophie to make some bookings. Sophie wisely suggested we call Ade and Manda back and get their approval of the new kit. When I called them, they suggested we should be doing this exercise in open water, not in my pool. We arranged to meet them in Plymouth, and drove to the coast of southern Cornwall, where we put out and dived a few hundred metres off the shore. Ade and Manda observed our dive, and were happy with our arrangements. We were delighted.
The Mk II suits would be even better, and already, just being in the water and being able to move around almost normally gave me such a good feeling. It was almost like a drug; once in the water, I never wanted to come out again.