“And I appreciate that,” Ishmael said. He crammed a personal marine rescue radio into his already stuffed pocket and slipped his arms into the harness that held his rebreather.
Unlike Mer’s scuba setup, his unit recycled air in a closed system and didn’t create bubbles with each exhalation. Rebreathers mixed gases, required extra training, and cost a fortune. She’d learned how to dive with one during college. Given their extended bottom time, they were great to use when collecting data.
But Ishmael’s rig was all for the cameras. Both Mer and Amber were diving with standard tanks, which meant that when they ran low on air Ishmael would have to go up with them. They’d have about thirty minutes to get down the mooring line, mark the superstructure, and affix glow sticks along a portion of the upper deck before ascending.
Amber sat on the bench, struggling to thread her arms into her pink vest.
“Let me help you with your BC.” Mer loosened the buoyancy compensator straps and guided Amber’s arm through the right side, then the left.
“Thanks. I’m so excited. This is going to be my tenth dive.”
Amber nodded, smiling. “I just got my advanced certification. This’ll be my very first deep dive without an instructor.”
“Wonderful.” Mer tightened the straps. “Advanced” was a misnomer in diving. A person could graduate from a basic course and go straight into an advanced class without any dives in between. Amber barely had the skills to keep herself out of trouble, and Ishmael wanted her to take photographs. “Have you ever used a camera underwater before?”
“I practiced in the pool. The equipment’s the same. Well, except for the housing. And the lights. Refraction’s a bit trickier. Shouldn’t be a problem, though. I mean, if Lindsey can do it, how hard can it be?”
Rabbit plucked the camera out of the rinse bucket. “Lindsey’s got a photography degree from Brooks Institute.”
“Courtesy of her trust fund. With enough money, anyone can walk away with a degree from there.” Amber snatched the camera.
Mer took it out of her hands and gave it back to Rabbit. “We’ll hand it to you once you’re in the water. If we get separated, I’ll rap my flashlight against my tank. Sound travels four times faster in water, though, so you won’t be able to tell direction like you can on land. Just look for my light.” She checked Amber’s gauges. “How about we turn on your air?”
Amber giggled. “Oops.”
Mer rolled the valve open and inspected the rest of the woman’s gear. “Don’t worry. I’ll be right next to you.”
“Oh, I’m not worried. What can go wrong?”
The dive would be deep, dark, and focused on finding the dead.
The possibilities were endless.
Mer shook off her unease and entered the ocean first. The water offered respite from the heat. For a moment, she had the sea to herself and she tipped onto her back. The sky twinkled with stars, and the waves gently rocked her.
She ran her fingers over the bump of her necklace and her trepidation fled. Her grandmother had given her the pendant when she was five years old. At the time, Mer had been terrified of the water. Nonna had promised her that the seahorse would keep her safe. And so it had. Through childhood. Through grad school. Through four of the seven seas.
Amber and Ishmael joined her with a splash. Leroy passed the camera to Amber, and Echo lowered the recording device to Ishmael. They swam to the buoy, the light from the boat casting shadows on the surface of the water. Mer let Amber set the pace. Together, the three divers descended along the thick mooring line, equalizing their ears to combat the growing pressure. Mer swung her flashlight in an arc as they went. The beam glinted off silver barracudas and reflected the particulates in the water.
Darkness added an element of danger not found during daytime dives. Buddies had to stay closer together. Flashlights lit their way and acted as signaling devices. Night hid the natural landmarks divers used for navigation and increased the risk of disorientation. Mer had taken all this into consideration when she briefed Ishmael and Amber. She wasn’t worried about Ishmael; he’d logged over three hundred dives. Amber’s ten dives made her a wildcard.
The lights from the LunaSea faded as their depth increased. Periodically, Mer tied a light stick to the line. At fifty feet, she paused and made eye contact with Amber. The younger woman had a death grip on her camera housing. To distract her, Mer waved her hand rapidly. The movement disturbed the dinoflagellates in the water, causing the plankton to glow. It wasn’t much different from shaking a light stick, but delight widened Amber’s eyes. She waved her own free hand and created more bioluminescent sparks that flew around her fingers like fireflies.
They descended deeper, and the superstructure of the wreck loomed from the darkness, its girders skeletal in the narrow beams of their three lights. When they reached the deck, Mer clustered a group of three sticks as a marker and set out along the port deck rail.
Divers encountered different creatures after dark. Many fishes seen during the day sought shelter from predators at night, hiding in the crannies of the reef, or, like tonight, in the corners of the wreck. Mer always hoped to see an octopus. Something in the way they moved—their grace, their speed—had captured her imagination from the first time she’d seen one. Add in their intelligence and playfulness and, well, she was hooked.
Officially, she was a teuthologist, but she had yet to meet anyone outside the university who understood what that meant, and usually by the time she could explain they’d lost interest. Instead, she told people she was a marine scientist with an interest in octopuses.
Amber darted behind Mer, pointing over her shoulder. A goliath grouper swam past them, its body longer than Mer’s, and outweighing her by three hundred pounds. Several of the gentle giants made their home on the Spiegel. Now they were hunting, their thick-lipped mouth agape, indifferent to the divers.
Mer attracted Amber’s attention and illuminated herself. She brought her hand slowly to her regulator in an in-and-out motion until she saw Amber’s breaths return to normal. Shining her light on her hand, she formed the okay sign with her fingers. It was a question. Amber nodded and returned the signal.
Ishmael hovered, horizontal in the slight current, occasionally kicking to maintain his position. Mer couldn’t read his expression in the dark. Was he worried about his fiancée? Seventy feet underwater was not the best place to stage a panic attack.