“These packs next to our suits…” Trace begins, breaking everyone’s thoughts down to a single track.
“…They’ve been fitted with two EMP pistols, six grenades; three EMP nades and three bang nades. There’s a lock picker and a Morse responder; it’s linked to everyone on this sub right now. If we get separated, which is highly likely, use them, maintain constant contact with each other; Malcom and I modded them to act as shortwave locators good up to fifty metres, the Assims have that ability and it works for them. Lastly, there are two blocks of explosives, they will be crucial in taking down the satellite array”
“Isn’t it bad for explosives to get wet?” Blister asks.
Trace looks to him: annoyed that he thinks she wouldn’t have thought of that.
“The explosives are in separate water tight bags Blister” She replies sternly.
“Just don’t open them while we’re under water” Davis adds.
“Won’t there be a tonne of Assimilated in the Array?” Elix asks, eagerly awaiting the reply to pose her next question
“Of course…” Trace says.
“…It’s the Encephalon, what are you getting at?”
“It’s just, these explosives. Won’t we be endangering the very lives we’re trying to free?”
“Elix…” Davis asserts.
“…I applaud your concern, but this sacrifice is for the future freedom of all humanity”
Elix looks at him with fresh disgust.
“I can’t believe you, out of all of us, are saying that Davis…”
“Why? Because of what happened in the station? I wholeheartedly blame myself for what happened there, but that like many things that happen on this fucking sphere was out of our control. This, this mission where we are right now has been the plan from the beginning, it’s what you, it’s what I, it’s what Artemis signed up for. I’ll do my best to see that no one else loses their life, I truly will, I promise you, but if there’s a chance my mercy, or pacifism will wreck our opportunity at a new life, I will cut it loose. So don’t look at me like you think I WANT to be a killer”
Davis’ breathing exasperates from his tirade. Trace takes over.
“I don’t like it either Elix, but it’s about survival now, we do this or we give up”
Elix turns to Blister.
“And what about you Blister, what if your family is in there?”
He raises his hand, pleading.
“Please Elix, I can’t think about them anymore or I’ll give up, and I fucking swore I wouldn’t. If they are there and I lose them, then I’m doing this for everyone that can’t, and I will see it through”
“I’m sorry guys…” Elix says.
But really, she wanted to react immediately and yell in all of their faces at how wrong it is that they’re thinking this way.
She draws in a long breath.
“…You’re all right, there is no other way, this is the end of it, where action comes out of words; come from thought, and I see it now. I’ll do everything I can to succeed, I won’t let us down” She says, with her voice ringing out in a vanquished tone of acceptance, that’s eventually eaten by the sub’s machinery echoing into the sombre stained room.
Only one second of silence passes when Trace decides it’s time to go.
“Open her up Amani, we’re moving out” She says over her responder.
The group put on their respiration masks in a near sync. Trace looks over each of them to make sure the seal has engaged. She then flicks a switch on the left side of her helmet; a torch lights up a cone in front of her. F Cluster mimic and reach out for the straps fixed to the walls as the mouth of the submarine creaks open fractionally. Water jets out; misting the room in what would be a salty, seaweed aroma had the group not already fitted their respiration devices.
The door slips open and the room fills up to halfway, near immediately causing the crew to float where they stand. And without any time for further thoughts or words, the docking bay is full, the group are submerged and begin swimming out of the mouth into the unknown.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck” Blister repeats his favourite word.
“What? What’s wrong” Trace asks.
“I feel like a kangaroo in a fight…”
“Ha gross…” Elix chuckles through her revulsion.
“Swim fast or they’ll freeze solid Blister” Davis jokes.
“C’mon let’s move” Trace commands; and the Cluster stroke through the opening in the sub.
The dark expanse is terrifying. But for Elix, especially so; this space, right now, is the biggest space she has ever occupied; all her memories of any other large space before make her feel claustrophobic by comparison.
Her curiosity collides with trepidation as she finally realises her dreams of exploring the oceans. She doesn’t care that they will only travel in a straight line. Perhaps for them it’s a straight line never travelled by anyone else before and anyone to come.
A feint rapid tapping noise comes over the Cluster’s communications, like bone tapping bone.
“BLISTER…” Davis calls.
“…Curb that chattering”
“Ye, ye, ye, yes sir”
His chattering is curbed effectively, for only a moment when:
“AAAAAAHHH” Trace’s scream breaks the silence.
“BLISTER” Davis calls again instinctively.
“No that was me…” Trace says
“…Look down” She urges.
Everyone shifts their gaze downwards to the whale calf below.
“Aww she thinks we’re the babies of our sub” Elix says, laughing through her words.
The group minus Malcom chuckle along at the foolish thoughts of their fellow mammal. Malcom continues his mantra instead.
The calf comes within reach; Elix, Davis and Blister stretch out to touch her. Her skin is tough and rubbery but squishes under the pressure of their fingers. The Cluster, with their new friend emerge beyond the boundaries of the mine field.
“Wow, I figured the Encephalon would have planted mines right to the shore, bit disappointing really” He rants, with no reply. Not that he wanted one.
Suddenly, the whale changes its trajectory into the Cluster, forcing them out of their original path.
“What the fuck” Davis shouts.
Everyone grunts in distress. The whale pushes them downwards. The next thing each of them sees is flashes of a shadowy figure dart through the already gloomy ocean depths. They flick their heads around, frantically trying to keep up with its movements, and in an instant, the unknown being appears from the dark beneath; forcing its open jagged jaw upon the infant whale.
“SHAAARK” Blister yells, clenching his sphincter as the shark clenches down on the calf.
Blood marries ocean within a gasp, and the youthful whale plummets as fast as water will allow gravity to move it.
If the group thought it was murky before, they are now flailing frantically in a truer definition of the word. They scatter in different directions, each of them with the thought that their comrades had been right behind them the whole time.
This wasn’t the case.
Elix is the first to stop and turn to see the carnage, a feint light beams on a distant edge of the circumference of gore. She dashes as fast as she can to it.
“Hey, stop…” She urges.
The body she soon finds to be Trace spins around to see Elix’s light; they swim to meet each other. Trace grabs her wrist.
“Where’s Davis? Where are the others?” She asks, hoping Elix had seen them somewhere.
With worry laced across her vowels:
“I don’t know” She replies.
Blister and Davis manage to find themselves together. Davis; amidst the confusion checks his shortwave locator for his Cluster’s positions.
“Blister there’s two blips over there…” He points North and down.
“…And a single one way out to the South”
“You take North I’ll go South” Blister replies.
“We’ll come to you after, Blister”
The two split up to help their friends.
Malcom finds himself alone; devotedly swimming South towards the Encephalon.
“You’re not going to die, you’ll outlive them all. You’re not going to die, you’ll outli…”
His focused stare at the blue ahead is corrupted all of a sudden by a rogue mine in his path. Malcom’s breathing grows panicked. He paddles backwards very slowly. And then something beneath him catches his eye.
“My leg” He says, witnessing the blood float away from his shins.
But through the blood cloud he sees something far worse.
Malcom reaches into his pack, feels around for the familiar contours of the bang nade and holds it close to his chest.
The shark opens his mouth to swallow.
Malcom pulls the pin.
The nade sinks to meet hunger incarnate.
“You’re not going to die, you’ll outlive them al-”
Elix and Trace are immediately alerted to the blast.
Another blast ripples the water in all directions.
Davis stops his pursuit of the two blips when he notices them coming his way.
“Trace? Is that you?”
“Davis, I’m with Elix, what the hell was that?”
“Fuck, I think it was Malcom, I was just with Blister, and he’s heading over that way”
“We have to catch up” Elix adds, racing past Davis.
The coms come within range and squeak in Elix’s ears.
“Blister” She calls.
His light turns around to scout for whoever called him.
“Blister we’re coming” Davis ensures.
Blister resumes his pursuit and despairingly Blister calls out:
“Malcom! Davis his blip went away. He was right fucking here man”
Elix reaches to Blister, but misses as he dives down; calling again:
“Malcom! Don’t fuck around; tell me you’re out here”
Elix chases Blister to a point where he can’t go any further.
“Blister? My ears, we have to go back up” Elix urges, the pressure has become too much.
Blister ignores the pain but is swiftly overwhelmed. He floats back up to Elix.
“Look…” He says calmly.
“…Down there. He did it; he got that fucking shark…”
Blister laughs through his surprised grin.
“…I can’t fuck believe it” He says.
Elix holds Blister’s hand.
“Malcom did a very brave thing, he’d be glad to know you think that”
“You know, when we first met, we hated each other…”
“I could tell”
“…No Elix, I mean real bad, the kind of hate you show a baby killer, and I couldn’t figure out why. I think later on I chalked it up to me having to look out for him all the time …”
Blister chuckles again.
“…In the beginning, he would squeal at any mosquito that got too close, and now he just took out a shark bigger than our fucking submarine”
“Blister, I think you’re the reason he had that courage”
“Then I’m the reason he’s dead…” Blister’s voice wains as he chokes up and rants through his sadness.
“…I thought I was teaching him to be tough and brave, but I weakened him, I made him reckless, I made him more like me and now he’s dead Elix, and I miss him, and every time I hear a fucking mosquito I’ll hear his little squeak in my head and fucking hate myself”
Blister sobs and instinctively tries to wipe his tears through his helmet with no success.
“RAARRGH” He roars in frustration, thrashing his body furiously against the pressure of the water.
Elix waits a moment for his fit to subside before swimming closer.
“Blister…” She starts, positioning herself in front of him.
She grabs his helmet with both hands and aims it up from its slung low spot to meet her eyes. Blister tries to hide his tear drenched cheeks and sniffily nose.
He looks to her.
“…You’ve been a brother to all of us, no matter how much you’ve annoyed us we know your heart, we know you’d die for us, and I think Malcom knew that too. Whenever you were picking on him I could see it in his eyes; his mind sifting the insult through his filters, searching for the lesson you were trying to teach. He was always trying to better himself, add something new every day, and he chose you to be his mentor, and I think after we succeeded he would call you brother too”
Blister springs a swift hug on Elix; she accepts him.
Moments go by; Elix squeezes Blister tighter and tighter and the dead silent ocean is broken by Blisters pain ridden wail.
“Aaah, what are you doing?” He squawks.
“Enough hugging, let’s get the fuck out of here, we got a war to win, you ready?”
“Race you to the top?” They spring into action.