As the elevator descended deep into the water, sinking toward Sea Lab, Amelia frowned and wrapped her jacket closer around her shoulders. She didn’t like leaving the sun behind, and the fresh air. But her job was deep below those things, in the dark. She felt like a miner, returning to the depths to search for elusive gold.
Sara smiled and touched her on the shoulder as they stepped off the elevator together.
“Thank you again for coming to Guam. I do like to show off our promising new researchers. And I’m sure your presence eased the tension.”
“I learned a lot,” Amelia said. “Thank you for inviting me along, Sa- I mean, Dr. Yamamoto.”
Amelia knew still preferred to keep things professional. The lapse into first name familiarity had been an “aboveground” nicety that she wouldn’t continue in Sea Lab. Here, her mentor was back to being Dr. Yamamoto.
“I’m going to take a long shower and take a nap,” Dr. Yamamoto said, hefting her travel bag onto her shoulder. “I’m sure I’ll be seeing you in the lab later on today. I plan to do some hands-on work with Duncan. He’s had some interesting results lately.”
“I’ll see you then,” Amelia said and picked up her own bag.
She hurried toward her quarters, eager to get resettled, and nearly bumped into Alexander in the common room. He was standing by a table near the entrance chatting with a young man in work overalls who looked like he could be a member of the maintenance crew.
“Oh, Amelia,” Alexander said as she brushed his arm, hurrying past. “How was your trip to Guam?”
“Alex,” Amelia said, surprised. She set her bag down at her feet. “I’m sorry. I nearly knocked your coffee out of your hand, didn’t I?”
“No coffee for me,” Alexander laughed. “I think I’ve had twelve cups today already. This is a bit of herbal tea. Do you want some?”
“I’ll pass,” Amelia said, waving the offer away, though the tea smelled temptingly spicy. “I’ve only just arrived back at Sea Lab. I need to take my luggage back to my room. But to answer your question, I think the trip went well. Guam is beautiful.”
“It truly is,” Alexander said. “Quite an achievement. And it’s not just Guam. Cities all over the world are integrating similar designs.”
“It’s about living in harmony with nature,” the young mechanic Alexander had been talking to added. He paused to blow on his steaming cup of tea. “Building technical achievements that coincide with natural resources without interrupting the flow of nature itself.”
“Exactly. Being a part of the world around us instead of separating ourselves from it or destroying it for our own uses,” Alexander agreed.
“It’s surprisingly soothing,” Amelia said. “It feels as though you’re in both the forest and the city at once.
“You both look really tired,” Amelia added. “What’s going on?”
“That damn squid.” The maintenance worker shook his head. “We’re prepping for the shutdown to fix the turbine, but we’re having to plan it out carefully. Dr. Hawkin wants the repairs to be quick and fast. That means we have to know what we’re doing before we get in there.”
“Shutdowns are a nightmare,” Alexander agreed. “At least for us. Hours upon hours of work to make sure our shutdown doesn’t interrupt any ongoing research or ruin any experiments. It requires a lot of coordination.”
“How often do you have to do a shutdown?” Amelia asked.
“Not often,” Alexander answered. “And I’m thankful for that!”
“I think the last shutdown we did was when that kid went missing.” The maintenance worker commented. “Maybe that’s why I feel a little nervous about this one. ”
The young man shook his head, fiddling with his cup’s handle. The nervousness showed in his form. He was bent over his tea, one leg fidgeting under the table.
“This is Manfred, by the way,” Alexander said to Amelia, gesturing at the maintenance worker. “I don’t think you two have met.”
Manfred nodded at her, but Amelia’s mind was far away, thinking about Issac.
“Issac disappeared during a shutdown?”
Alexander nodded. “There were some repairs being made on a pipe near the old Sea Lab. We instituted a shutdown and Issac and Dr. Hawkin went out to work on repairs. Issac never came back. An accident with his gear, Dr. Hawkin said. He wasn’t able to bring the body back with him.”
“Then we went out searching for it,” Manfred made a grim face. “Never found him. He’d floated off somewhere, into the dark.”
“He shouldn’t have volunteered for the mission,” Alexander said. “He was too inexperienced. Too confident in his own abilities.”
“Dr. Hawkin should have been looking out for him then,” Manfred said, his face darkening. “We lost contact. There was nothing we could do.”
Alexander stared at the floor. “It was a shock, really. None of us expected…”
“I understand. I’m sorry to have brought it up.”
“No, not at all.” Alexander smiled softly. “Nothing of the like will happen again. Not under my watch.”
He winked at Amelia and it somehow settled her nerves, knowing she had someone she could count on at Sea Lab. She hadn’t known Alexander for long, but she knew he was 100% behind the mission of Sea Lab - and not just because of his career. He truly wanted to better science to help humanity move forward in harmony with the planet.
“I’m sure it will go smoothly,” Amelia said, though she had misgivings. She didn’t like the similarities between her position and Alexander’s.
“Anyway,” Alexander said. “Sorry to interrupt you. You should go get settled back in. If you want to come down and observe the shutdown process at all, feel free. Manfred and I would enjoy the company.”
Manfred nodded and laughed tiredly. “I always welcome company. I think being stuck down there with Alex all day has begun to stagnate my brain.”
“Oh, be quiet,” Alexander said. “You shouldn’t brag about your stagnating brain, you know.”
“I might just take you up on that offer. I may need a break from the lab.”
* * *
After a hot shower, Amelia unpacked her clothes, sorting clean from dirty, and put them away. Then she picked up an apple and a granola bar from the cafeteria before heading to the lab to catch up on work.
Dr. Hawkin was in a bad mood, as he had been since the squid was found. He pored over some documents in the back office, ignoring everyone else’s existence, much to Amelia’s relief.
She needed to be left alone to think. To put together the pieces of the story. What had happened to Issac out there? It couldn’t have been an accident - she felt sure of that now.
As she sat down at her station to start on a pile of data entry tasks, she went over everything she had learned in her head.
Issac had known about Dr. Hawkin’s plans. He had shared those plans with the United Nations. He had sparked an investigation. Then he had gone on a mission with Dr. Hawkin - not knowing if he knew about the investigation or Issac’s knowledge of his alleged subterfuge. And Issac hadn’t returned.
But based on what Alexander and Manfred had said, there was absolutely zero proof that Dr. Hawkin had anything to do with Issac’s disappearance.
Unless there was proof somewhere that no one had found.
After she finished her work, her mind barely on the numbers she entered into the database, she decided to do just as Alexander had suggested and go downstairs to observe the shutdown of Sea Lab.
She left the data lab unobtrusively, trying not to catch anyone’s attention, and took the elevator down to the bottom floor.
Her footsteps echoed in the empty hallway that led to Alexander’s lab and the control room that acted as his office. The door to the lab was open and Amelia walked inside, her eyes immediately drawn to the shining pool and the waiting Sea Walkers. A thrill ran up her spine just staring at the suits.
She crossed the lab slowly, making her way toward the control room. Alexander was just inside at his desk, his back to her. He seemed engrossed in whatever was on the screen in front of him.
Amelia knocked lightly on the door jam and his head snapped toward her.
“Oh, Amelia,” he said, letting out a long breath. “You scared me. I figured you’d be heading toward your dinner and bed, after traveling and all that. Didn’t think you’d show.”
Amelia shrugged. “I’ve had a lot on my mind. To be honest, I’d entirely forgotten dinner. I’m still running on an apple and a granola bar from earlier.”
“Well, Manfred just went to the cafeteria to grab us some grub. I’ll send him a message and tell him to grab enough for three.”
Amelia tried to tell him not to bother, but he picked up his tablet, typed out a quick message to Manfred, and hit send so fast she barely had time to interrupt.
“Take a seat,” Alexander tossed his tablet aside and gestured toward a couple of empty chairs against the wall. “Relax for a bit. I’ll be done processing this in a moment and I’ll take a break.”
Amelia plopped into the wooden chair and crossed her legs, staring around the control room. Lights flashed intermittently on a large panel against the far wall.
The room smelled slightly musty, like a basement that isn’t used often, and the cold air raised goosebumps on Amelia’s skin.
Alexander’s fingers made light tapping sounds on the keyboard. He tapped a foot, waiting while a bright green wheel spun on a black background on his computer scene. When the screen changed back to whatever program he was working in, he sighed and picked his tablet back up.
“Updating our task list,” he explained and then set the tablet next to his computer. “And done!”
He stood up and stretched his arms wide, smiling at Amelia.
“We’re pretty much ready to go now.” He rubbed his stomach. “I need some dinner.”
“When does the shutdown begin?”
“Within the hour, I’d imagine,” Alexander replied. “Dr. Hawkin is chomping at the bit to get this done and over with. Now that I’ve updated the task list, they’ll know our side of things is complete. It’ll be on them to make final checks, prepare the repair team, and initiate the actual shutdown.”
“How did Issac get on the repair team for that last shutdown?” Amelia asked. “It sounds like this is all very top brass. Why did they let someone relatively new and in a low position perform such an important task?”
“Issac volunteered to go, is what I heard, and Dr. Hawkin picked him for the task,” Alexander shrugged. “Not too surprising, considering Issac and Dr. Hawkin worked closely together. I mean, he was new and young, but Dr. Hawkin was with him.”
“And Issac just… disappeared out there?”
“You ask a lot of questions about Issac,” Alexander said, furrowing his brows. “Are you concerned about Sea Lab’s safety procedures?”
“Not really. More about what happened out there to Issac. Did you notice anything strange that day?”
“Strange? A Sea Lab worker died out there, Amelia. It was horrifying.”
“There must have been searches for his body. You must have gone out to check.”
“Of course. I told you. He was gone. Just gone.”
“And Dr. Hawkin? How was he about the whole thing?”
Alexander shook his head.
“Dr. Hawkin seemed in a state of shock. He said it was his fault, for not checking Issac’s gear before he went out. But Issac knew the rules. He knew to check his gear.”
“Then why didn’t he?”
“People ascribe it to arrogance, mostly. Overeagerness. He jumped in and went.”
“Did Issac do that often in his work? I’ve heard his work was usually impeccable.”
Alexander frowned, his dark eyes distant.
“I don’t know. I didn’t work that closely with the kid.”
He rubbed the back of his head and sighed.
“There was one thing…”
Amelia sat up straight in the chair, immediately at attention.
“What?” she asked, a bit breathless.
“The old Sea Lab. The one that’s abandoned.” He gestured out toward the dark water. “Someone was out there. Either before or after Issac died.”
“What do you mean?”
“Either Issac or Dr. Hawkin - or maybe both of them - went out to the Sea Lab that day. I saw them.”
“I went out for a look myself.” Alexander held a hand up. “Don’t tell anyone, Amelia. I wasn’t supposed to go out that day. But I was testing a new feature on the Sea Walkers. I’d added in a new interface that needed adjusting, but it had to be tested in the environment first.”
“They didn’t want you to work on that part of it,” Amelia said. “So you tested it during the shutdown when no one would know.”
She nodded, thinking through the course of events.
“Amelia! You have to promise me you won’t say anything. I could get kicked off the team.”
“I would never do that,” Amelia assured him. “But you’re sure you saw one or both of them in the old Sea Lab?”
“Positive. There were lights inside. No one else was out there. That I’m sure of.”
“Thanks for telling me, Alexander,” Amelia’s thanks was heartfelt. “I really appreciate it.”
“No problem,” he smiled, but his eyes looked sad. Amelia was reminded of the time she’d noticed him crying, but he had brushed it off.
“Alexander, can I ask you sort of a personal question?”
He paused then nodded. “Go for it.”
“Are you happy down here?”
Alexander didn’t say anything for a full minute, then he sighed and stared at the ground.
“I was happy down here. I mean, I am happy at Sea Lab. I just got some bad news from home. That’s all. It hit me pretty hard.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”
“It’ll pass,” Alexander said, smiling again.
Manfred’s footsteps echoed in the hall outside. He came in, carrying three boxes of food. He handed one to Amelia with a smile.
“Glad you decided to join us,” he said. He didn’t seem to notice the tension in the room. “I brought something simple since I wasn’t sure what you’d like.”
Amelia opened her box. The smell of rice, lab-grown chicken, and steamed vegetables wafted out. Her stomach growled in response.
“This looks delicious,” she said. “Thank you, Manfred.”
Alexander took his box gratefully and collapsed back into his office chair.
“I updated our task list,” he told Manfred as he chewed. “Our part is pretty much finished.”
“I’m glad. I’m just about ready to fall over.”
“I think they’ll commence with the rest of the procedures and initiate the full shutdown within the hour,” Alexander replied. “Then we’ll switch out with the next shift.”
They ate quietly for a few minutes, all of them ruminating on the upcoming project.
“Does anyone ever go out to the old Sea Lab?” Amelia asked suddenly, swallowing a bite of steamed green beans and carrots.
Alexander gave her a warning look and she reassured him with a smile. She wasn’t aiming to expose him, but she had a feeling she was missing something important. A vital piece of information.
Manfred shook his head, wiping his mouth with a napkin.
“Not anymore.” He looked to Alexander, who shrugged. “There’s no reason to.”
“What’s over there?” she asked, trying to sound casual.
“As far as I know, just old equipment at this point,” Alexander said. “Nothing of interest.”
So who did Alexander see in there the day Issac disappeared? And why were they in there at all?
An idea began to form in Amelia’s mind. A theory.
She finished her meal with Alexander and Manfred and returned to her room for a good night’s sleep. The repercussions for the actions she was thinking of taking were serious, and she needed some time to think about it.
She set her alarm for 5 a.m. Close to time for the next shift switch. Just in case.
* * *
When she woke, Amelia felt refreshed. As soon as she opened her eyes, she knew what she had to do. She glanced at the time. The shutdown had commenced just before she left Alexander and Manfred in the control room.
She had slept for a solid nine hours and a little over 3 hours of shutdown remained.
That was enough time. And her pre-planning for the shift switch could give her the opportunity she needed.
She didn’t even bother with changing clothes. She just threw on a jacket and rushed out, ready to jump into a Sea Walker and go exploring.
A thrill shivered up her spine as she made her way down to Alexander’s control room. Two tired-looking women sat inside, monitoring the computers.
“Are you here for the next shift?” one of them asked when she walked into the lab.
Amelia didn’t hesitate. She nodded.
“Alexander will be down shortly,” she said. “He said you could go ahead and go.”
The women seemed exhausted after their night shift and they weren’t eager to argue. They were stand-ins because of the shutdown. These were extra duties on top of their usual tasks. They gathered their things and trooped out, yawning, leaving Amelia alone.
She had to hurry, though. If they were expecting the next shift - which would be Alexander and Manfred again - they could arrive at any moment.
She rushed to the Sea Walker she had used previously and began to prepare it for a drop in the ocean, doing her best to mimic Alexander’s actions when he readied the Sea Walker’s for a mission.
She would find out what was so important in the old Sea Lab. She had to know the truth.
And Issac needed her to know. She felt that in her bones.
Before climbing into the Sea Walker, Amelia hesitated. She considered sending a message to Dr. Yamamoto, letting her know what she was up to. In the end, she decided to reach out to Mei instead.
She waited nervously for the call to connect, her heart racing. She was nervous to say the words. If she said them out loud, she might lose her nerve.
Her friend answered the call in a professional voice.
“Hi, Mei. How are things at the UN?”
“Oh, Amelia,” Mei smiled at her on the phone’s screen. “How are you?”
“I’m okay…” Amelia paused. Did she really want to do it?
“Is everything good at Sea Lab? Have you… come across anything?” Mei tilted her head to the side. She wore a shaggy green sweater and held a coffee cup in one hand.
“I think I might be onto something, Mei. And I have to look into it. That’s why I’m calling you.”
“What do you mean?” Mei sounded concerned. She set the cup aside and leaned toward the screen.
“There’s an old, abandoned building not far from the current Sea Lab. I’m pretty sure either Dr. Hawkin or Issac was out there the day Issac died. But I’ll have to take one of our Sea Walkers and walk over to it to find out. It could be dangerous.”
She stopped, breathless.
“Don’t do that, Amelia. Don’t put yourself in danger,” Mei warned. Her eyes grew large. “You could get fired from Sea Lab. Or you could get hurt. Or…”
“I know, Mei. I have to do it, though. I can’t explain. I just have to. Anyway, now you know where to look if something happens to me.”
“Am-” Mei started to say something but Amelia didn’t want to hear it.
Amelia disconnected the call and stuffed the phone in her pocket.
She stood in front of one of the Sea Walkers, staring at her reflection in its bowl-like face. She ran a hand over the helmet, thinking about Issac’s “accident”, checking it carefully for breaches, then she pulled it open and slithered inside.
There were other Sea Walkers already out there. Dr. Hawkin could even be out there, working on removing the squid.
What if she ran into someone?
Before entering the ocean, she stared into its dark depths for a moment, contemplating the risk. Then she held her breath, closed the Sea Walker’s helmet, and prepared to be swallowed by the water.
Co-written by Harold J. Petty