The waves frothed and crashed in the storm above. Deep under the water, all was calm. Captain Wilks closed his eyes as he felt his submersible gently rock from side to side with the currents. All around, there was darkness. A quiet sigh escaped his chest, and he rested his hands on his stomach as he dozed off.
“Captain Wilks?” The young man in the eyepatch squinted up at the captain. “I heard you’re looking for a crew for deep diving missions. You’re going to need a cryptozoologist, you know.” He grinned, like a cat about to get the prized tuna. “I’ll accept this job opening for the low hiring cost of…”
Wilks woke with a start and scowled. This wasn’t the time for dreams. With slow, deliberate movements, he lifted himself from his seat and walked to the back. Already, he felt dizzy. The darkness of his submersible seemed almost like velvet that beaconed him to become joined with it. His resistance slowly ebbed, until he jarred awake as the brief sensation of a fall passed through him. He tripped and couldn’t catch himself.
For a long time, he thought about standing back up, but his eyes and his body betrayed him, and his eyes slipped shut.
“He’s not waking up!” The sweet voice of Candy, the medical technician, was full of fear. She looked up at Wilks. “Captain, get me the small needle with the white and the drawing of an urchin from the drawer, and then wheel over the IV stand. I also need the fluid bag with the sharpie label that says ‘energy,’ Get to it!” She bustled about, using knife and needle to clean and seal the wounds on our crazy cat’s arm.
The captain hurried to help. “What else can I do?” He looked down at the injured cryptozoologist. “What can I do?”
She looked at him. “Just talk to him, Captain. Talk Benji out of walking into the light.”
Light! It stabbed at Wilks’ closed eyes, and he slowly opened them. It was the low oxygen alert. For several long moments, he simply stared at it, uncomprehending. Finally, like a small hammer chipping slowly on stone, realization slowly appeared, and he rose to his feet. Not much farther to the engine room.
“Now, ya see, ya got ‘er all banged up dead. You don’t regularly replace the hydraulic shock belts, you’ll break your boat something fierce. See, they’re all frayed and if it snaps-” Anthony rapped his wrench against an important-looking set of switches. “You’ll fuck one of these up, and it takes an expert to know they work from most important to least. On the outside are things like temperature and deodorizing. To the inside is the switch for seals, the switch for life support, then the middle? The middle one starts letting out all the…”
Wilks inwardly thanked the genius called Anthony. He was up on the surface of the water with the rest of the crew, in rescue boats with all of the food and most of the medical supplies.
The captain decided he would beat Anthony within an inch of his life for using psychology to trick him into learning something, and then give the man a raise for ensuring he wasn’t helpless when he was alone in the deeps of a foreign planet.
He could see the switch plate now, and the empty holster for the belt was present. He had to replace the belt first, then he could turn off the air-ejection and blast life support to full.
The idea of radioing his crew back was like the lure of heaven itself, and he pulled himself into the engine room.
“Always keep important things in the same place, near where they’re needed!” Candy scolded him angrily. “Check that place every day, and make sure everything is there, and if it isn’t, replace it immediately! That is how my medical pod is always so stocked and ready for whatever hell you put the crew through, Captain.” Her tone was cold, with a hint of fear. She was always like this when there were no gauges left.
Captain Wilks stumbled numbly to a box right under the belts and fumbled about until it opened. They had one. It was worn, but it was something. It was last month’s, and it had still looked good despite being three months past needing replacement.
With care, he pried the casing free. Red liquid dripped down the wall panel behind. His eyes travelled along until they landed on his own hand. He was bleeding. With a shrug, he began to use his remaining strength to pull the belt open. He slowly fitted it in place. It would have to do, he decided as he used his sleeve to wipe the blood from the worn rubber.
The captain was stunned. His wife was pregnant? But he’d worn a condom! The woman screamed at him. She swore, and she lashed out at all of his sensitive spots, and she cried. “You bastard! How dare you do this to me? You’re fucking leaving in two days, and I’m pregnant! You won’t be back for a year!” She slapped him repeatedly, until he felt like his tingling cheeks would melt off.
His cheek hurt. He didn’t remember falling again. A clumsy hand reached up and activated the engines. A roar followed by a purr was music. He took a deep breath of stale, dizzying air, and rose to his feet so he could reach the switch plate. He was going to be a father when he returned. Retirement never sounded so good.
The switch flicked, and the blinking lights began to slow as the plants’ work began to overtake the loss. He turned the dial for the life support, and the ground once more greeted his head. He closed his eyes and felt the slow rocking of the sea around him.
His mind drifted away, and for a few hours, he was home, meeting his daughter for the first time, then watching her grow, but always staring up at the stars when she was not near.