Angel Diver

by John Possidente
"Don't ever go down alone," her father had told her--several times, each after an episode of having ignored the previous warning. "You stupid, you go down alone. No matter how good, I never went down alone."

Liar.

Where did he think she had learned it from--the joy, the utter focus of diving without a partner? The warmth of the sea, the vastness of it surrounding you like a mother's embrace...he was the one who had showed it to her and described it enough times that the yearning was unstoppable. After that, he could tell her 'no' as often as he wanted, and she would do it anyway. And if she was grounded for disobeying, well, it was only until next time. When she was an adult it was disapproval, not grounding. Now that he was dead, she did it as much for him as for herself.

A big fish swam by, grinning at her, and she grinned back. She was sinking slowly, letting the bouancy control vest and the weights do their work of dragging her down while giving her time to acclimate to the pressure. She loved this--sightseeing on the way down in the biggest, grandest elevator in existence. She was alone, as usual, except for her father's ghost beside her. Since he had died, he had taken to diving alongside her with alarming frequency. His damned singsong voice would remind her of things while she drifted and explored, and once he had saved her life by reminding her to check her gauges. Sure enough, she had had a leak.

"Subconscious," her boyfriend of the time had said. "You had a subconscious knowledge that manifested itself as the voice of someone important to you. That's all."

Probably so, she thought, but it's comforting anyway. Hey, who knew? Maybe too much contact with those alien wrecks had strengthened her father's spirit somehow and he wasn't entirely dead. Maybe there was a ghost named Guiseppi Morelli out there somewhere, and it chose to visit her when she went diving.

"Wouldn't you like to know," he whispered in her ear, and she smiled.

Touchdown! Her feet blasted up milky sand, which drifted slowly but inexorably up to her head. She kicked away and rose out of the dust-storm, inflating her BC exactly enough from long experience; now she had zero buoyancy and was ready to fly.

There was an interesting formation about a hundred yards to the north, so she kicked lazily in that direction, arms gently outstretched to brush past fish-forms that floated all around her, looking like dust-motes in the bright light shining from her headlamp. The sheer number of life-forms down here always amazed her: fish, shrimp, little wiggly worms, bottom-movers...you could never dive alone, after all.

"Gauge check!" her father called cheerily, and for a moment there was ice in her gut--was something wrong again? Turned out it was just routine, and she moved with more vigor then, closing in on the strange, humping formation of rock and coral and sand. Her instincts said, "Pirate ship!" though she knew that the sea-lanes here were unlikely to have carried ships in those days. Still, drift and time being what they were...

An eel squeezed itself like jelly from a small fissure in the stone hump, and she greeted it with an exhalation of bubbles. So, the hill was hollow inside! Maybe it was a shipwreck after all! She let herself drift slowly, losing momentum as she closed in on the underwater hill, and she searched with careful shakes of her head for any large openings in the silt. She had three small limpet charges for emergency signals, rock-breaking, or such, but this might take heavier tools. Maybe, she thought, I should come back with a salvage team. Have to be sure, first, though.

"Maybe we should stay out of sight," her dad muttered, and without thinking she kicked over and back and then down behind the arch of the hill, just as the sweeping beam from the submersible passed over where she had been. If they saw anything, it was a quick glimpse of flipper-tip or maybe the torpedo blackness of the small attittude jets strapped to her ankles. They looked just like fish.

From her vantage point she watched the vehicle close in on the hill. The closer it got, the less familiar it looked. It had a smooth exterior build that spoke of sophisticated engineering, and strange mottled markings that shifted like light-shadows from the surface, though there was no light this far down. Was it some secret government vessel? Maybe it was one of the gizmos her dad had worked with so many years ago, when they were still salvaging alien wrecks.

"Nothing I ever saw," he said. "But you know what they remind me of? Whoa!"

The hill was breaking apart as she watched! There was no beam, no drill, no explosion, but the hardened silt and rock was lifting away like plaque, coming free of whatever was underneath, exposing--what?

"Haven," her dad breathed. He ought to know. He'd seen plenty of underwater sub-pens in his day, and described them to her enough times for her to know that this submersible was docking with some sort of secret base out here in the middle of the Atlantic.

"Not a healthy place to be," he observed. "Odds are good they wouldn't like you being out here."

"I'm going, Gus," she muttered, the familiarity not seeming to bother him. She danced back from the hollow she was in, trying to keep low to the ocean floor and out of sight of the vehicle now disappearing into the giant clam-shell maw of the docking facility. Spies, terrorists, government, criminals--whatever they were, she wanted no part.

The boat! As soon as she was clear, she kicked up and away, carefully adjusting the BC to give her a little positive bouyancy. Cursing, she cut off the headlamp, but there was no obvious sign that anyone had seen it. Like an ember she drifted up toward the surface, arms at her side, head tilted slightly back to facilitate breathing. Time passed in ecstatic anti-gravity, punctuated with careful pre-planned stops to depressurize that seemed to take hours.

Finally, she broke the sky and was back in the real world, swimming in a tossing sea wearing rubber and heavy plastic oxygenators. She took a bearing from her wrist, turned south, and discovered a slight problem.

No boat.

Never one for inaction, she struck out immediately in the direction the boat was supposed to be, but there was nothing there--no place for it to hide, no one on board to take it for A Quick Spin And I'll Be Right Back, Mom. There was nothing--just the ocean and Angelina Morelli, Angelfish to her dad's Moray. Diving alone, really, really alone, again.

Some surface-skimming fish hung in the wave before her, and she thought, "Shark!" as her hand reached for the small bang-stick on her wrist. Then she realized it was just a piece of driftwood bobbing in the swells. Must be getting spooked by all this, she thought, and then the ice returned to her guts.

"Isn't that, like, your boat?" her dad asked sarcastically. "I recognize the paint job."

"Shut up," she muttered, knowing it was true. She managed to snag the piece, draw it to her, and use it for a moment's rest, but it was indeed a part of the bowsprit of her ship, the Moray II. Now what the hell had happened?

There was a bubbling light from below, like every scene from a science fiction movie where something awesome emerges from the ocean's depths. She looked down, saw a dim, shaky shape moving up toward her, and knew.

No place to hide, here! She dropped off the driftwood and cleared her BC, wishing for some more ballast, did a mermaid dive and ended up pointing down, kicking vigorously as the submersible rose up to meet her. She veered and it did not, meaning it probably couldn't see her and was just coming back to the scene of its latest triumph: the destruction of her vessel. No sense in sticking around waiting for rescue or a friendly word. If they were that ready to destroy private property to protect their secret, she didn't figure her life meant scratch.

Down some more, and then a searchlight stabbed out and nailed her like a bug on a killing-board. She tried to veer, but it stayed with her, and the whole vehicle stopped, spun, and started down after her.

"Time to vamoose!" Gus cried, and she concurred with a kick to the attitude jets, ten seconds each of compressed gas that could move her at twenty knots. Normally, she'd kick them both on at the same time, but endurance seemed more important than speed here. So she activated them singly, sticking one leg out and then the other, like Esther Williams doing water ballet. Ten seconds each, and in the first seven she pulled away from the sub, jetting ahead of the stabbing brightness of its lights and losing herself in the murky gloom. Thirteen seconds later she was somewhere else, near the ocean floor amid a pile of sand and rubble, and the menacing shape was above and searching, drawing closer but not knowing where she was.

Breathing time! Gauge check showed over an hour to go, so that was only a minor problem. Bigger one: who were they, and what should she do about it? Give herself up? Hide forever? Detonate her signal-bombs and pray for rain?

The boat stopped about thirty yards away, drifting only slightly as a small hatch slid open in its belly. Three divers popped out and sank slowly to the sea-bed. They wore bulky suits that looked very strange and inefficient, except that they seemed to have more arms than necessary...

"Holy Cydonia!" her father cried. "I knew it! It's what I was gonna say before. Lookit them bastards!"

The aliens touched the ground and fanned out, shining small but intense bluish lights in all directions. Now how in the deep blue hell did they get here? Last one of these bad boys was supposedly cut up into frozen chunks about twenty-six years ago, right when she'd been born.

"Thought we'd made the world safe for you, little one," he said. "Sorry. We screwed up, I guess."

There they were, moving away from the boat but just barely. It was like they were afraid of something, like little kids walking away from mommy for the first time, ready to run right back at the first sign of trouble. Only that, except for the bang-stick and three little bombs, she would be no trouble at all. Notaccording to any of the stories she'd heard.

So she waited. They got closer to her but never too close, then they all fell back at once like they'd just decided to give it up. They assembled under the belly of the sub, and rode on little jets like hers back into the womb. The sub hung there for what seemed like ages.

It was silent in her head, except for her own thoughts. Thoughts about the stories she'd heard, thoughts about what the aliens could do if left alone, wondering why they hadn't taken off for home in all this time. Maybe their ship had crashed and these were the survivors, who'd altered the spaceship to work underwater. Did they have long lifespans? Were these the last aliens left on Earth, and if she swam away now would they venture out again in their submersible, blowing up another boat and maybe killing someone?

Dad didn't say anything, for or against, as she suddenly pushed off from the bottom, angling up and kicking as hard as she could for speed, arrowing at the alien vessel as she looked for the glass portals, the jet holes, anything, while her hands fumbled at the pack at her belt.

She thought they saw her coming, but somebody wasn't sure what she was or why she was suddenly coming at them when before she'd moved away so fast. So they only got off one bolt, which went wide though she felt its heat in the water through the thick rubber of her suit, then she rammed into the ship with a bone-jarring thud. Her hands immediately thrust into the small attitude jets, praying they didn't fire them up right then, and then she was away and kicking back as hard as she'd come forward, feeling the heat from the next beam sizzling up the backs of her legs and through her spine to come out the top of her head--

--and she was down among the muck and the bottom-movers. The one bolt had gone wide again, not searing her at all. She was still in possession of all arms, legs, spines and so forth, but the alien vessel seemed to be having some digestion problems. The three little limpets had gone off, and though the ship didn't explode gloriously in pyrotechnics like in the movies, it was wobbling and there was smoke coming from the jet. Smoke underwater always meant bad things.

Another bolt flickered from some unseen weapons mount, but it was unaimed and sizzled up a chunk of ocean floor ten yards away. Then the sub angled for the bottom like it was diving forrefuge, and she thought about it for only a second before pumping away from there as fast as her aching legs could carry her. Even when the shock wave from the glorious pyrotechnics finally came, she kept swimming and swimming, unconscious or not.

"Ready?" Dave Possiteur held one hand to his breathing mask as he looked over at her, his mirror image. She nodded, and they went over the side together. "Check check," came in her ear.

"Check check," she muttered.

"Okay, ready to follow," he said. It had taken a long time of cajoling and persuasion, but he had agreed to come out to the site and search with her for...for the wreckage of the Moray II, to see if anything was salvagable. She'd looked before the rescue vehicle had come, and found nothing-- nothing at all--but she wanted to be sure. If she was going to keep quiet about the last aliens on Earth, she'd better be darn sure she'd done them in. No sense causing a panic and becoming a ward of the government for the rest of her life, however short that might have been. Better to keep the secret.

Gus must have agreed, because he hadn't spoken to her since the explosion. And now that she had a regular diving partner, she didn't think dad would be coming along any more.