Just as Amelia was about to splash into the ocean, she heard footsteps on the catwalk.
“What on earth are you doing?”
She spun in the cockpit and hit the button that opened the visor. It made a loud hiss as it opened and Amelia rose out of the chair.
She hadn’t been fast enough.
Should she tell him the truth? There was no reason not to at this point.
“What are you doing?” he repeated, his mouth opening and closing like a guppy out of water. “Are you crazy?”
“I may be,” Amelia said, taking a deep breath. “It’s very possible.”
She laughed and climbed down the arm of the Sea Walker, using the metal rungs welded to its frame.
“Alexander, I have to go out to the abandoned Sea Lab. I have to find out what Issac or Dr. Hawkin were doing out there.”
“I should never have told you about seeing someone out there.”
He shook his head.
“You’re too wrapped up in this, Amelia. You’ve got to let it go.”
“You have to. You’ll get fired if anyone finds out you’ve taken the Sea Walker out without permission. Especially during a shutdown. It’s too dangerous.”
“I can do it, Alexander,” she said. “I know how dangerous it is, but you have to let me go. You know I’ll never get a chance to go out to the abandoned Sea Lab again. Every excursion is closely tracked. But because of the shutdown, no one will know. This is my only chance.”
He sighed and rubbed his chin, staring into the water.
“I’ll go with you,” he said.
“No,” she replied quickly. “You need to be here. I’ve got the radio. I can use it if I need your help.
He stared hard at her.
“I shouldn’t let you do this.”
“You want to know what happened to Issac, too. I know you do.”
He hung his head.
“Okay. But make it quick. Check it out and come right back. We have about 2 and half hours left of shutdown.”
“I’ll be waiting to hear from you. Let me know if anything goes wrong or if you find anything.”
“I don’t know what you’re expecting to find out there. Even if one of them was there that day… what could be left out there now?”
“I just have a feeling,” Amelia said.
“I don’t place much faith in feelings, Amelia. I’m a data person. We’re scientists.”
Amelia turned back to the water.
“I’ll be safe, Alexander. And I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
She couldn’t wait another minute.
Butterflies erupted in her stomach as she climbed back into the Sea Walker. The visor dropped and clicked shut, and Amelia quickly engaged the Walker’s start routine.
I’ve never done anything this crazy before.
Water enveloped the Walker. Its claw-like feet hit the bottom of the ocean with a thud that reverberated through Amelia’s body.
The dark ocean pressed close around her, seeming to hold her in its grasp. She took a step, then another, her stomach settling as she edged out into the open water, away from Sea Lab. As she walked, she carefully eyed the battery gauge on the dashboard. She also watched her speed, moving at a steady 10 knots. She’d reach the abandoned lab quickly at this rate.
She felt more confident with each passing minute underwater. Until she saw movement out of the corner of her eye. A writhing, swirling movement.
Terror shot through her. She knew she shouldn’t turn her light on its brightest setting. If she did, the others who were outperformin repairs might notice her. She was attempting a covert mission.
She didn’t really want to look closely at the swirling motion. But she forced herself too, inching closer.
“Oh!” she exclaimed aloud to herself, staring at the eels. Their sleek bodies writhed in the light she glared on them.
She took a robotic step back and then made her course around the animals. The Sea Lab really was attracting creatures. Amelia hadn’t even known eels could live at this depth, in the abyss.
Amelia shivered. There really was something otherworldly about the deep ocean. Disconnected from the world above. She imagined her sister Emma, walking through the park with the sun glinting off her hair, and the vision seemed light years away, not a few thousand miles.
“Almost there,” she said aloud. The Walker’s footsteps stirred up silt and it wafted around her in the water.
The abandoned lab came into view. It was dark. She could see the entrance, though.
When she reached the building, she used the Walker’s hydraulic arm to press a button next to the door and the airlock entrance activated, sliding open to allow her inside. Even during shutdowns, the basic functions still worked throughout the Sea Lab complex. Thank God for that.
She navigated the Sea Walker inside the airlock and waited. The door slid shut behind her and the water slowly drained out of the small enclosure. When the last of it had seeped through tiny holes in the floor, the door in front of her opened, revealing the first room of the old Sea Lab facility.
She took the Sea Walker inside and stopped it. She climbed out, looking around.
A row of elevators directly in front of her seemed to be the main path forward. She pressed the down button, praying it would work, and it lit up immediately.
The elevator door slid open and she stepped inside slowly, inspecting the elevator to see if it seemed in good repair. It did, for the most part. After the door sealed, it churned to life, dropping down toward the main lab, which she knew was probably located in the building’s core.
When the door opened, she exited, finding herself in what seemed to be a storage room. It had probably been a working laboratory at some point, a smaller version of the one back in the main Sea Lab facility. Now, however, it was filled with boxes and pallets stacked with equipment.
Everything seemed musty and some of the boxes were growing fuzzy gray and green coatings.
She shone her light around, looking for… She wasn’t really sure. Some sign that Issac had been here.
An opening to her right seemed to be a main corridor. A sign still attached to the wall showed an arrow pointing that way next to the words ENERGY RESEARCH..
Amelia was drawn in that direction.
She weaved through the boxes in the dark, knocking her knee hard at one point, and reached the hallway to find a set of stairs that led down into pitch-black water.
The hall had flooded. Obviously, a hold had broken, allowing water into the facility.
If she wanted to go forward, she would have to swim.
“You’ve come this far, Amelia,” she said to herself, her hand on the cool, slightly damp lab wall. “You’ve got to do this.”
She took a deep breath, vowing not to think too much about what she was doing, and she leapt in.
Without her Sea Walker, the water felt incredibly cold. She almost let out the air she had gasped in at the shock of it. But she had always been a good athlete and a decent swimmer. She traversed the underwater corridor clumsily, coming up for a breath wherever she could. The water didn’t quite reach the ceiling and some spots allowed just enough room for her to put her mouth and nose above the water.
She used her Supra Spotlight - an underwater flashlight that unclipped off the Sea Walker - to see a few feet in front of her. Thankfully, all her electronics were waterproof, including her phone.
Despite taking brief breaths at intervals, her lungs were near to bursting when she reached a set of stairs leading up on the far side of the corridor. She staggered up them, her legs heavy and her clothes dripping.
Collapsing on the top stair, just out of reach of the water, she breathed deeply, sucking in the air until she had caught her breath.
Then she lifted herself up and kept going. The stairs led up to a thin catwalk and into a lab room, which held a handful of long sealing tubes for collections of specimens. Nothing else was in the room.
Amelia shone her light around.
Maybe Alexander had been right… she had been stupid to look for evidence in the Sea Lab. There was nothing out here to find. Just old equipment and seawater. But then, why was someone out here the day Issac disappeared?
She browsed the room slowly, poking into the corner, but she found nothing. She ran a finger along one of the sealing tubes and turned the latch that opened it, which was only a little rusty. It opened easily, revealing an empty cavern where specimens had once been.
That’s when she noticed the padlock on the sealing tube next to the one she had opened. A padlock that had begun to rust.
She inspected the padlock, trying to open it to no avail. She hadn’t seen a padlock in ages. It looked so old-fashioned. She thought she could break it with the right force. If she could just find something to use…
She snooped around the room until she found a length of old pipe.
The padlock popped off on her second strike and she laughed aloud at her accomplishment, kicking the lock aside.
She lifted the lid on the sealing tube and nearly fainted at what she saw.
Co-written by Harold J. Petty