Author : Isaac Archer
Be careful. Those were the last words Gully had spoken to him. And as he drifted beyond the point where the shallows ended and the real ocean began, Sam’s greatest regret was that the old man would know he hadn’t listened. Again.
Greed is the pathway to the Depths, Gully often admonished him. Looks like he was right. In the seven years since Gully found him, naked and nameless in the sand, the old man had rarely been wrong. But Sam was a metal diver now. He knew he could find his fortune on the ocean floor, and he knew he could go deeper, and search better, than any man on the island. So when Gully told him that the Eastern divers had abandoned their territory, scared off by a fishplague, Sam got on his raft.
Now he slumped against its mast, too far from home to make it back. He could barely see the wound through which the tiny creature had conveyed its paralytic response to his hubris. He guessed that most victims drowned in minutes. Not him. He made it back to the surface in time to watch eternity coming.
The tide carried him toward the horizon as fear gradually overwhelmed his frustration. In time he heard the maelstrom. He recognized its mythic roar instantly, even as he wondered if any other man had made it here alive.
Sam’s next thought was: I am dead. Pure chemical terror had taken his mind through the insane rush of the whirlpool and the inexorable, helpless drowning that followed. When at last the water invaded his lungs, he passed out, and on awakening he found that not breathing came as naturally as breathing had. Relief engulfed him then, but not for long. Judgement was waiting.
The light receded into nothing as he descended. He could move a little now – not enough to stop falling, but enough to face the Depths. As the sky vanished, his surroundings began to glow. Wherever he was, it had stone walls, smooth and curved and somehow lighted. Finally, he came to a spherical chamber with two rectangular gaps in the walls. The larger of the two held jagged rocks and a bloated, decomposing arm, and it spilled orange-red light into the chamber. The other was shimmering, black, and opaque.
Too quickly, there was a blinding flash, and Sam was thrust through the black gate. He collapsed onto – a floor? – and vomited water. His vision returned by the time he summoned the courage to look up.
“Welcome back, Commander.” The speaker was roughly Sam’s size and form, but thinner, with strange, translucent plates for eyes. Stranger still, its body was made of metal, the richest, brightest metal Sam had ever seen, more than he had imagined the world held. Greed and power personified. This must be a demon.
Sam stared at it, slackjawed, and it noticed.
“Memory loss? Curious, as your skinsuit appears undamaged. Hold, I have your chemical backup somewhere…” The demon opened a large locker and began searching through its contents.
“That was a hell of a storm you went into – I mean, got caught in. Of course, we activated the virus because we thought your communicator was down. We are lucky it found you so soon, you could have been out there decades instead of years. It has to evolve if you do not know to dive.”
The demon seized a long, shining tube with a thin spike at one end – a bringer of pain if Sam had ever seen one. It turned toward him.
“Now, hold still.”
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