“Aliens! I knew it!”
“Shut up Mike, there aren’t any aliens.” It didn’t matter what went wrong, if there wasn’t an immediate explanation Mike started screaming about aliens. Last year he didn’t check his oxygen tank before a dive and we had to switch to buddy breathing. The next day all you heard about was the aliens and how they had taken his oxygen so they could explore the ocean floor. I asked him why they would take the oxygen without the tank. I never got a straight answer.
“This time it really is aliens, we can see their ship!” He gestured excitedly toward the grainy images on our outdated computer screens.
“That’s a manta ray.”
“Fuck you, Pete! That’s too big to be a damn manta ray and you know it!”
Maybe he was right; the scale showed the dark spot on the ocean floor was easily a hundred foot wide. Damn it, that was the last thing I needed- something to help Mike prove to himself that he wasn’t crazy.
“Come on, let’s take the AD suits down!”
I didn’t want to spend thirty minutes getting into a thousand pound beast of a pressure suit just to see a peculiarly shaped rock formation up close, but I did want to see the smug look wiped off Mike’s face.
“Alright Mike, get the suits and let’s get changed.”
The dark envelope of water rushing across my facemask carried me to a different world. Time was slower there and the hatred I felt above the surface broke with the waves overhead. The waters changed from near white to baby blue and soon to a deep black as dark as midnight; it almost made me forget about Mike and his absurd fantasies.
Ten minutes passed in welcome silence before I gained footing on the ocean floor. My chest felt heavy with the pressure of the sea, even through my armor of discolored metal.
“You alright there Pete?” Mikes voice over the radio was loud and distorted.
“Just excited buddy.”
I could barely move. I was over-encumbered with ‘life saving devices’ and ‘integral pieces of equipment.’ The anomaly was only a few hundred feet away, but it seemed so much further in the overwhelming darkness. The lights affixed to my suit seeped clarity into the blackness and I could see the back of Mike’s suit, but not much else.
There is a moment when you are on the bottom of the ocean that you forget you aren’t supposed to be there; it is a hallucination of such belonging that you almost want to unlatch your oxygen hood and just let the cold seawater fill your lungs. I listened for the steady breathing on the radio and waited for the euphoria to overcome me. But there was no breathing, only a garbled humming that made my spine ache with fear.
“I think — get — close buddy,” Mike’s voice rang, broken up, through the humming.
The sound rang through the ocean like an angry howl; it was unintelligible but it shook my body with certainty. The sound of panicked breathing filled my ironclad suit, as Mike seemed to evaporate into the waters. I needed to see him. The first rule is to never lose contact with your fellow divers, but I couldn’t find him. My heart pumped hard as another shout rattled the ocean floor.
“Mike! Where are you Mike?”
“Pete I-” his words were cut short by a guttural scream that overshadowed the mysterious shouts of the dark waters.
I triggered for base to bring me back to the surface, I wasn’t going to spend another moment alone in the nothingness. My return line tightened and the waters rushed around me, but it no longer calmed me. I counted the minutes to the surface.
Ten minutes: I heard nothing, not even my own breathing.
Nine minutes: My tears stung my face and I desperately called for Mike, but he never answered.
Eight minutes: I stopped; the water was still around me as I dangled three hundred feet from the ground. I flipped on my canvasing light and exposed a familiar dark shape sinking at an alarming rate. The ship passed me and with a hard jerk I began to descend in its wake.
I was back on the ocean floor. The fall was surprisingly violent, even with the water slowing my descent; the shock of the sudden impact left me breathless. A salty mix of tears and blood trickled into my mouth as I watched the dust settling above me in my beam of light. The weight of the suit held me to the ground and all I could do was watch as a spider web line etched its way into the mask that kept my lungs free of the cold, salty water, but that isn’t what had me in a haze of fear.
There were no procedures for what I was facing; there was no training session in the world that could have prepared me for what I was seeing descend upon me. If there were one, Mike would have taught it. This is what he spent his life preparing for. I could just imagine the satisfied look on his face.