Pitch black. Perfectly black. Darkness that nothing can penetrate. Sinking lower down, feeling the pressure increase, going from swimming pool to hug to football tackle.
Don’t ever turn on a light. Don’t ever try to see what may lay beyond your own skin.
Against his better judgment, he turns on the light anyway. His flashlight sweeps an arc, not nearly wide enough or bright enough. With it comes all the crashing fears about what lives here; before it was comforting darkness where as long as he could see nothing, nothing could see him. Now, the blackness stretches above and behind and all around him, still unceasing, but enveloping him in a bubble. Vulnerability.
Moving his arm takes more effort. Not just the stiff suit, but the water, and the knowledge that this is an unknown world. The very thing he walked over, the very thing he sat above and looked down upon in boats and airplanes was what now surrounded him, capable of snuffing out his life at any moment. The suit could fail, or he could have a medical emergency, or some marine creature could attack.
The surfacers might not even known what it was, whatever attacked him. The grainy film could only be so accurate, so discernible. Speed could blur any images beyond recognition. Even if it didn’t, the creature could very well be a newly discovered species.
Now what would that be like? he wondered. The first human killed by an animal. Not really a new animal–that wasn’t a good way of putting it–but a newly discovered one. An animal that would never have seen anything like a human before, because it was adapted to the opposite of everything humans were supposed to live in.
Originally, contact had been made by a shaking guard shoving an envelope at him through the grates. A letter soaked through with body sweat and crumpled in shaking fists and against the curves of some stranger’s body. Funny how the things we store everything about ourselves on are so unlike us. It was on some official letterhead, with a signature, a real signature. It hadn’t really said much. Just that somebody like him might be a real good fit for the program, some kind of ocean research. Just in fancier words. He figured that was a nice way of asking him to clean out the shitter on some kind of research vessel. Saddest thing was, he would have taken that over any comfort the prison could have provided. Being back on the ocean–that was something to die for.
Funny how floating on top was a spiritual experience.
It felt like it was getting colder, but he’s not sure what might be causing it. He refuses to believe that there’s a problem with the suit. They promised him. The suit wouldn’t fail. He could survive as long as his body and the things living there would let him.
It was a week or two–time in the concrete and beige was so hard to tell–later that the man in the suit arrived. The guy across from him was hooting and hollering and causing a scene, the second the rich man came into sight. Probably a good thing, since he had been passed out awkwardly on the cot. After all, he didn’t know anybody would be coming, and there wasn’t a whole lot else to do. He still scowled at Brian. Putting on a show. That’s what his advisor called it.
That was before the walls had closed in over him: still bright-eyed and hopeful, in the thick of academia. Studying under the top in his field. Halfway done with his thesis. Living in a shitty apartment with an even shittier roommate, not making quite enough money, but still overjoyed with the prospects of what could be, what was to come. That potential–that was what kept people in schools. The proof that they could do anything, until they finally get out, and there’s only one thing they could do. Everything was decisions, and then nothing was.
Still sinking slowly down, ever so slowly. They had warned him: nothing they put on the suit could be guaranteed to get him all the way down. He could try to swim, too; get down lower that way. Or he could just sit there, suspended in the water, wondering and watching and waiting.
It was definitely colder. Maybe they didn’t correctly calculate the amount of insulation he’d need.
And there: he was still moving. Shining the light towards the ground proved that there was, in fact, ground. Something to put his feet on. Something to help him feel human again. Maybe that explained why kings got so power-hungry. Their feet didn’t touch the ground, feel the weight of their flesh and joints enough.
It was four days before his twenty-eighth birthday that he was woken up to crazed scrambling and was pulled out of his bed before he could begin to think. Explanations from then on out remained hazy and vague. He doesn’t remember agreeing, much less admitting, to anything, and yet here he was. In prison.
A flash of iridescent color. Panic sets in. Dying sounded okay in the brochure, when it was still a distant future. Not right now. Not for a little while longer. He doesn’t dare to flip the light back on, even though it’s the first thing he does. In the distance, he sees a giant squid, eyes as big as dinner plates, receding into the distance. Come to investigate, maybe, or just going where ever it is that squid go.
Slowly, breathtakingly slowly, he flexed his toes, waiting to make contact with the ground. Waiting to–
The tips of the suit, metal where his toes would otherwise be, brushes the sand ever so lightly and the ground erupts–a gaping hole swallowing the sand for nearly twenty feet around, gulping upwards to swallow him completely and there’s nothing he can do, even though this is his worst nightmare. The flashlight flips off and the hard-compressed flesh begins pressing against his suit. Nothing they said, nothing they could have said, could have prepared him for this moment.
The pressure gets a little lighter. The inside of the thing, maybe gets a little lighter, a different shade of pitch black. Sounds other than his pounding heart return.
A new life. Eyes blinking open. Nothing understood–everything to be understood.