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15 September 2067
U.S. Navy Deep Submersible
AUTEC, Andros Island
1055 hours (Zulu minus 5)
"Incredible," Major Jeffrey Warhurst said, his face pressed against the forward viewing port like a kid experiencing his first visit to a seaquarium. "It's like a whole different world!"
Golden light exploded, a shower of drifting sparks. In the inky blackness, a line of blue-green lights rippled through the water beyond the port, a spectacular display of deep-sea luminescence. Close by, something like a translucent shrimp exhaled a cloud of yellow fire like a tiny rocket's exhaust, scooting off through the night, while in the distance, silver hatchet fish glowed with ghostly radiance.
"It's all of that," Mark Garroway said. The cramped DSV bridge was almost in total darkness, so that their eyes could remain sensitive to the light show outside. The two men were lying face-down on narrow, side-by-side couches so they could see forward. The sub's pilot occupied a closed-in, padded seat above and behind them. "You see some of the weirdest damned things down here. Bill Beebe called it 'plunging into new strangeness,' until 'vocabularies are pauperized and minds are drugged.' "
"He helped develop the bathysphere, back in the 1930s, with Otis Barton. The first true deep sea exploration vessel . . . if you can call a steel sphere dangling at the end of a thousand-meter cable a vessel. He was the first scientist ever to see some of these deep forms . . . alive, at any rate. He made his dives off of Bermuda."
"And he saw creatures like these?" Jeffasked. Something collided with the port, exploding in a storm of drifting sparks and leaving behind a pale, iridescently glowing smear. "Wow! Marvelous!"
The third man on the DSV control deck shifted in the pilot's seat, both hands on the attitude-control joysticks ball-mounted on the arms of the padded chair. "Time, gentlemen," he said. "We should be getting back to the surface." He was a stocky, powerful man with a bodysculptor's muscles. His square-jawed face was all but covered by the bright red VR helmet he wore, which fed him a constant 3-D and 360-degree image of the submersible's surroundings.
I thought these subs had a thirty-day endurance," Jeff said.
"They do," Mark said, "when they're fully supplied, which this one is not. Even so, we have expendables enough to stay down for three or four days, at least. But that's not what's affecting our deadline. General Altman's scheduled to arrive in another hour, and we should be topside to meet him, don't you think?"
"Damn," Jeff said, continuing to watch the soft-glowing fireworks beyond the port. I could stay down here for days!"
Mark chuckled. "Yeah, I know exactly what you mean."
Jeff Warhurst glanced sideways at the older man, at the rugged face in profile faintly illuminated by the red-hued glow of the bridge lights. Mark Garroway was seventy-one years old but showed no sign at all of slowing down, and his face was alive, now with pleasure and wonder. He looked as excited as Jeff felt, for all that he was thirty-two years older.
The man was a legend in the Marines"Sands of Mars" Garroway, the then-Marine Corps major and electronics expert who'd led a small band of Marines across 650 kilometers of the Vallis Marineris back in '41 to defeat a UN garrison at Mars Prime and go on to recapture the U.S. xenoarcheological base at Cydonia.
Jeff had been a Marine since 2050seventeen years nowand had all but worshipped Garroway as his personal hero for longer than that. It was still a little hard to realize that he was lying next to the hero of Garroway's March . . . in an environment even more alien, in most ways, than the frozen surface of Mars.
"I guess this is all pretty old to you. You probably get tired of this after awhile, huh?"
"What?" Garroway said, startled. "Tired of this? When I do, I'll be tired of life!"
From what Jeff had heard, the elder Garroway hadn't slowed down much at all in the past quarter-century. Shortly after his return from Mars, he'd worked as a consultant with the Japanese, helping to make sense out of the flood of new technology arriving from the ET finds on Mars and the Moon. After that, he'd retired here, to the Bahamas, to open his marina, but even then he continued to work as a government consultant. AUTECthe big U.S. submarine testing and research station on Andros Islandwas only a few kilometers down the coast. With the building of the Bahamas seaquarium next door at Mastic Point twelve years ago, Mark Garroway had become both moderately wealthy and something of a public figure. Garroway's marina had been offering both realworld and virtual commercial submarine tours of the reefs for tourists for years now; his undersea tour service was a part of the Oceanus Seaquarium's exhibits and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Islands.
This submarine, though, was not one of the tourist boats, not by about five thousand meters. Nicknamed Manta, the boat was a blunt, stubby, cigar shape eight meters long melded smoothly with rounded wings that gave it an elongated saucer look. Her hull was jet-black carbon-boron-Bucky fiber weave, or CB2F, a process back-engineered from ET finds on the Moon, and stronger by a factor of five than anything based on purely terrestrial materials processing. The boat was driven by a magnetohydrodynamic jet, an MHD drive that compressed water drawn through intakes forward and expelled it aft like a rocket's exhaust; the craft's flattened shape, complete with upswept stabilizer tips on the ends of the circular "wings," was that of a lifting body . . .