Magespace Short Story Contest - Honourable Mention

Deep, Dark Secrets

by Geoff Skellams

"What the frag are we looking for anyway?"

Perry tried to shrug his shoulders, but realised the rigger couldnít see or feel his hitchhiker. "Iím not exactly sure. My information says that weíll find something important attached to the airframe at ring 32. Iím not even sure what the frag that means. But whatever it is, it canít be very big, or someone would have found it by now."

Mako pulled the drone alongside the wreckage of the old Aztechnology zeppelin. The lights played over the twisted metal, covered in seaweed and barnacles. "You sure itís still going to be down here? I mean this wreck has been home to the fish since it got splashed in í42."

"Hey, all I know is what I have been told." Perry looked over the wreckage as the drone slid past it. Looks like some sort of ancient dinosaur fossil, he thought.

Mako slowed the drone as they approached the one of the large structural rings near the tail of the Zeppelin. "Well, this is Ring 32. What do you want to do now?"

I donít have a fragging clue. "Well, why donít we just get in close and go all the way round. We just have to look for something thatís out of place."

Mako sniggered. "Itís your money, champ."

Perry felt vaguely nauseous as the drone pitched up and moved in close to the ring. If it wasnít so eerie, the latticework of the frame could be almost beautiful. He watched as the ring moved slowly through the field of vision.

"Thereís nothing down here," said Mako. "Why donít we just bring this thing topside and have a beer?"

Perry blinked as they passed over another of the longitudinal spars. What the? "Whoa hold it! Take us back down a bit, just under that spar!"

Mako slid the drone back down through the water. "You got something? I didnít see anything!"

"Just where the long spar meets the ring. Thereís a weird bulge in the growth. Somethingís not right."

Mako zoomed in on the spot Perry was talking about. A small bump, about the size of half a paperback book, was stuck in the corner. "That thing? Itís probably just a good spot for barnacles. Come on, letís just get on with this, OK?"

"Humour me. Ping it with sonar or something. I reckon thatís what weíre looking for."

Mako snorted and sent a stream of ultrasonic pings through the water. The droneís systems overlaid the return from the sonar over the top of the visual, creating an eerie ghostlike web.

"Well, Iíll be hoop fragged!" said Mako.

Itís all just a mess of lines to me. "What are we looking at here?" asked Perry.

Mako selected a portion of the sonar return and amplified the intensity. "Sonar detects changes in the mediums it is flowing through." A small cursor appeared on the display and moved along the framework of the Zeppelin. "This is the main spar of the Zepp, underneath all the growth." The cursor stopped over the bump. "But this isnít. This lighter area here is coming back from some sort of air boundary. Weíre looking at an airtight box. Talk about the proverbial fragging needle!"

Perry shook his head in wonder. "Any way of getting it loose with this thing?"

"Maybe. Iíll have a look."

Perry felt the droneís arm extend towards the lump on the airframe. The box felt rough as the robot fingers tried to grip it, sliding off each time. The water clouded with floating debris from the site.

"Ah, frag. Weíre going to have to do this the hard way. Hope youíre ready for a swim, buddy."

Percy smiled as the drone started heading back up to the boat. He couldnít help breathing out as it broke the surface.

Mako jacked out as soon as the drone nestled into the drone rack.

"What on earth possessed you to go looking for something down there?"

Perry smiled as he swung his KSAF cap back around to the front. "A little bird told me."

"Excuse me for interrupting you at this late hour. Mister Gavrin. Señor Salvia is on line three from Tenochtitlán. He insists on speaking to you immediately, sir"

Michael Gavrin sighed. Damn it! I was supposed to be going home early tonight! "Itís OK, Denise. Put him through."

"Putting you through now, sir." His secretaryís face was immediately replaced by that of an older man, whose hair was brushed straight back from his forehead.

"Señor Salvia, to what do I owe the pleasure of a call from you at this hour?"

"It has come to our attention that a video chip is about to surface in Seattle. It is essential to the security of Aztechnology that that chip does not fall into the wrong hands."

Good fragging evening to you too, sir.

"Excuse me for saying so sir, but there are a lot of video chips in the Seattle metroplex. How are we to identify the specific chip you are referring to?"

"The chip is quite old. It contains footage of an event the Aztlan Government swore never occurred. It disappeared from an Aztechnology security installation in 2041 and has not been seen since. We presumed it had been destroyed."

"Why now, sir? What makes you think it is going to appear at all? And why in Seattle?"

Salviaís eyes narrowed. "Señor Gavrin, do not presume to tell me I do not know what I am talking about."

Gavrin felt a cold shiver run straight up his spine. Oh drek. Bad choice of words. "Forgive me, Señor. I did not mean to cause offence. I was merely wondering what events had led to this call?"

The older manís eyes relaxed slightly. "An informant, shall we say, has recently told us about this chip. He explained it had been smuggled out of Aztlan in í42 and had been bound for Seattle. Who it was sent to, we do not know. This man had just discovered this information and passed it on when he spoke to us. Unfortunately, he died before he could tell us how the chip had been smuggled out of Aztlan or who he had passed the information to."

Give me a drekload to work with, why donít you? How the frag am I supposed to find a 20 year old chip in a city with millions of the damn things? "I understand completely, sir. You may leave this matter with me. I will conduct this matter personally."

Salvia smiled. "I am gladdened to hear it, Señor. I would be very disappointed with the head of Aztechnology Seattleís Special Security division if I heard otherwise. The Corporation will look favourably upon a successful completion of this assignment. Good evening to you, Señor."

"And I can look forward to a 10mm lead injection if I donít come up with the goods," Gavrin said to the now blank screen.

The telecom alarm started beeping again insistently. Gavrin punched at the answer key.

"What?" Tonight was not going according to plan.

A junior watch officerís face appeared on the screen. "My apologies for the lateness of this call, sir. A sonobuoy hidden in the wreckage of the Aztechnology Zeppelin at the bottom of the Sound has just picked up sonar signals close by. The signal is from a unit favoured by smugglers."

Gavrin shuddered as another chill raced up his spine. "When exactly was the Zeppelin shot down?"

The watch officer tapped on a couple of keys. "2042, sir. The UCAS government shot it down after a dispute over taxes allegedly owed to it by Aztechnology. An Aztechnology recovery team subsequently removed all cargo on board. The airframe was deemed to be damaged beyond repair, so it was left on the bottom."

I donít fragging believe this. This canít be a coincidence.

"Good work, son. Have a boat readied immediately. I want an armed dive team aboard. I will be arriving at the docks in 10 minutes and I expect to leave as soon as I am there."

"Yes, sir. The boat is already standing by. The dive team will be ready in five minutes."

"Excellent." Gavrin thumbed the disconnect switch. As he opened his desk drawer and pulled his automatic pistol from it, he hit the intercom switch to his secretary.

"Denise, have my car pick me up downstairs in two minutes. I have a boat to catch."

"You ever been diving before?" said Mako, as he helped Perry settle the tanks onto his back.

Perry pulled the belt tight around his middle. "Yep, but never in the Sound. Most of my diving has been either in CalFree or down in the Caribbean League. Too damn cold around here."

"Nah, thereís some good stuff around here worth seeing. Iíve dived this wreck before too, but never at night. Here, you had better take this."

Perry took the speargun and the extra spears Mako offered him. "Am I going to need these?"

"Probably not. But better safe than sorry. Who knows what we might run into down there? OK, letís have a look at your stuff. Buckles are all tight, weights are right for your body mass, regulators are OK, air is flowing freely and the rest looks pretty good."

Perry quickly checked Makoís gear the make sure everything was OK. "Looks good to me. Youíre not taking a speargun?"

Mako smiled as he pulled a large blocky handgun from his gear bag and slid it into a holster on this right thigh. "Nope, Iíve got this little baby. Gyrojet pistol. Friend of mine in the English SBS got it for me. Better than a speargun. I just donít have two. Alright, letís get this show on the road." He handed Perry a small black box. "Clip that to your vest."

Perry looked at it, but didnít recognise it. "Whatís this?"

"Encrypted position indicator. If we get split up, Iíll be able to find you with this little baby. OK, letís test comms."

Perry pulled his facemask on, making sure his earphones were settled in snugly. This full-face mask is more comfortable than the sports masks. Being able to talk will be a good thing as well. "Howís this?"

Mako gave a thumbs up. "Got you five by five. You?"

Perry gave the OK signal. "Working like a charm. OK, ready when you are, Shaky!"

Mako smiled behind his mask and locked the cabin of the boat. "Right, letís get on with it." He headed to the gate on the side of the boat and stepped into the water.

Perry stepped in right after him, inhaling sharply as the coldness of the water hit him, despite the heavy wetsuit he was wearing. He turned on his torch and let some of the air out of his buoyancy vest, sliding quietly below the surface.

Oh well, here goes nothing, he thought as he followed Mako to the bottom.

"Weíre picking up a boat anchored right over the Zeppelin, sir," said Petty Officer Gomez.

Michael Gavrin turned and looked out the cabin windows of the Tiburón patrol boat. I canít see the damn thing. "Where is it?" he asked the rigger.

"Three kilometres, about 10 degrees off the port side."

Gavrin swung his low light binoculars in the direction of the boat. It sat low in the water, its hull painted dark to match that of the Sound.

"Seen," he said. "Is there any movement?"

"Canít see any, sir. As far as I can tell, the boat is locked down and quiet. Thereís be no thermographic signatures on the vessel. It looks like who ever owns it has gone down."

Excellent, thought Gavrin. At least this much has gone to plan. Letís hope these are wannabes. He turned to the chief diver. "Very well, Mr. Halaro. Prepare your men. Whoever is diving on the wreck can be assumed to be trespassing on Aztechnology property and should be treating accordingly. Do I make myself clear?"

Captain Halaro smiled and strapped a diving knife to the inside of his right calf. "Perfectly, sir, perfectly."

Mako pointed to the wreckage of the Zeppelin. "Thereís Ring 32. The box was up near the top wasnít it?"

Perry nodded. "You lead on, I follow."

"Copy that." Mako headed in amongst the twisted metal framework of the old Zeppelin. The barnacle encrusted shell rose from the mud like the ribs of a dinosaur. The small portion of the frame illuminated by their torches only made it more eerie.

Perry craned his head back and followed the curve of the Zeppelin as it vanished into the darkness. Fragging hell. It sure as hell didnít look this big from the drone.

Mako headed for the spot they had seen the box as they rose into the upper portions of the frame. "Ah, thereís the little fragger. You want to come and do the honours? Youíre the one who wants it."

Perry reached down and pulled his diving knife from its sheath. "Here, hold this," he said as he passed his torch to Mako. The box was set in the join of two beams and was scarred by the droneís attempts to free it. Oh well, here goes nothing, he thought as he set to work. Seventeen years of accumulated silt suddenly remembered what it was like to be free.

I canít see a damn thing. I just pray that thereís nothing lurking out there in the water. Perry caught a glimpse of shining metal, and fanned at the silt, trying in vain to clear it. Looks like itís clipped to the frame.

He slid his knife back into its sheath and felt around the edge of the box. Two metal bands were holding it tight. Metal clips holding the bands tight had long ago corroded shut. Perry pulled his knife out again and wedged the tip of the blade under one of the straps. "Come on, you son-of-a Ė"

The weakened band gave way with a twang. The murk in the water got worse.

"You got that thing free yet?" said Mako.

"Got one side. Iím just Ė trying to get the other Ė" There was a second twang as the other side snapped. Perry blinked and nearly missed the box as it slipped from its resting-place and headed for the bottom.

"Come back, you motherfragger!" muttered Perry as he dropped down to intercept the box. He caught it before it fell more than a metre. "OK, letís get back up top and get the hell out of here."

Mako breathed a sigh of relief. "After you."

As Perry turned and started for the surface, Mako suddenly grabbed him by the ankle. "What theÖ" said Perry, as he whipped around.

"Shut the frag up!" snapped Mako. "I thought I heard something."

Perry paused momentarily and listened. "I canít hear anything. Were you imagining it?"

Mako closed his eyes. "Oh frag, there it is again. Weíve got company!"

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"Divers. At least three have already entered the water. No, make that four."

"How the hell can you tell that?"

"Cyberears. I had them installed ages ago to help me get better spatial awareness underwater and to let me hear sonar signals."

"Shouldnít you have heard the boat coming in?" asked Perry.

"I did. I thought it was going straight over and besides, I was paying more attention to what you were doing."

Mako paused momentarily to listen again. "Drek, these bastards are on rebreathers, so theyíre obviously pros. This could get ugly."

He pulled the gyrojet pistol from the holster on his thigh and held it out for Perry.

"Youíd better hand me your speargun and take this," he said.

"But," said Perry, "I thought you were going to need that!"

"Just shut up and listen. Iím going to hang around down here and make sure that you get away. Donít worry, Iíve done this sort of thing more than once before. You, on the other hand, would not stand a chance. So, youíre going to take this pistol and then swim for 150 kicks north of here. Then youíre going to go straight to the surface and have a look at who else is up there."

Perry took the pistol gingerly. "What the hell am I supposed to do then?"

"If you shut up and let me finish, youíd find out," said Mako. "Get a bearing of the boat and then drop back down to 10 feet and head for it. Once you get underneath it, youíll need to figure out some way of securing it."

"Are you sure about this?"

"Well, unless you would prefer to die down here, yes. Iím presuming the box we just found has something important in it, and I figure youíd rather get it to safety. Now, we donít any more time to argue. Just get going and let me worry about slowing down the dive team."

This would have to be one of the stupidest things Iíve ever heard, thought Perry. But I donít have any better ideas, so Iíd better just go along with it.

"OK, how will I find you again when all this is over?"

Mako rolled his eyes. "Let me worry about that! Now get going! Make sure you keep an eye on your compass to make sure youíre not swimming in circles. Oh, and turn off your torch, itís a real give away."

Guess I had better do what the man says. "Iím going. Mako, in case I donít see you again, thanks for everything, chummer."

Mako grinned underneath his facemask. "Oh, youíll see me again, he said as he faded away into the darkness.

Perry took one last look at his compass and switched off his torch. Darkness flooded in and swallowed him. Fragging hell! That Christ Iím not claustrophobic. I really hope this is worth itÖ

Gavrin paced up and down the cabin of the patrol boat. "Is there any news from the dive team?"

Gomez jacked out of the control rig briefly. "No sir, there is not. You can relax, theyíre professionals, and theyíre going in quiet. No oneís going to know theyíre coming. Iíll let you know when I have something to tell you." He slotted the cables back into his datajack, becoming part of the ship again.

Nice for some people, thought Gavrin. Meanwhile, Iím sitting here feeling like a hooker at a christening.

He turned his binoculars out over the dark waters of the Sound again.

One forty-nine, One fifty. I guess this is where I head up. Perry looked up but could only see darkness. At least I think thatís up. He pressed the inflate button on his vest and started heading in the direction he had looked only seconds before. The rate of ascent on the depth gauge was slightly above what it should be, so Perry released some air from his vest.Gotta remember to stop for a few minutes at ten feet to decompress, he thought. At least the dive training in the Carrib League has been worth it.

Gomez jacked out of the VCR again. "Sir, Captain Halaro just reported in. Theyíve reached the wreck of the airship and found the site where something has been removed. There are no signs of any divers."

Gavrin spun to face him. "WHAT? Thereís got to be something! I thought you said these guys were professionals! Have them scout around and start searching. Theyíve got to be somewhere down there!"

Gomez sighed. "Theyíre already doing that. They canít have gone very far. Donít worry about it, sir. Weíll find them."

Gavrin scowled. "You had better find them Mr. Gomez."

"Yes, sir," said Gomez, as he jacked back in again.

Perryís head broke free of the surface. Where the hell am I? He spun slowly on the spot until he caught sight of the pair of boats nestled together. He could see two figures inside the cabin. There you are. I just hope thereís no more of you hiding in there.

After getting a bearing with his compass, he sank back beneath the surface. Here goes nothing.

"Sir, Iím getting a reading on the sonar," said Gomez.

Gavrin sighed with relief. "Itís about fragging time. What sort of reading?"

"Iím not sure, although I think it could be a swimmer."

Gavrin stared out over the black water. "One of ours coming back in?"

"I donít think so. Iím not getting a very clear signal on it at the moment," said Gomez.

"Canít you do anything about it?"

Gomez sighed. "No sir, the contact is too far underwater for accurate fire. I suggest you wait aft. Iíll alert the dive team."

"Very well. Tell me when that contact gets close enough to take a shot at." Gavrin took the Colt Manhunter from his holster and walked to the deck at the rear. Where are you, you fragger?

Right about here, thought Perry. Iíd better take this quietly. Thereís no telling how well they can hear me. He took one last breath from the tank and started up. Slowly exhaling, he ascended the last ten feet until his hand touched the fiberglass of the hull.

Gotcha. Well, from here, Iíve just run out of Makoís plan. Time to think of something and quickly.

Gomez called out from the cabin. "Ah sir, I think we may have a problem. I canít raise any of the dive team."

What the hell is going on here? Gavrin walked to the open door. "What the frag are you talking about?" he said.

"The team donít respond to my signals, sir. Itís like theyíve just vanished."

This is not going at all well. "Where the hell is that other contact?"

"I donít know, sir. I lost it when I was trying to raise the team. I can only do one thing at a time, sir!"

"Oh thatís just fragging great!" Give me one good reason why I shouldnít just shoot you through the back of the fragging head right now.

Perry risked a look over the transom of the boat. One in the doorway, and judging by the sounds of things, one inside as well. He pulled off the face mask and risked another look. Looks like the one in the door is a suit. That makes life a bit more interesting. Oh well, no time like the present. He took off his fins one at a time and placed them silently on the back of the boat.

He pulled Makoís pistol from his pocket and grabbed a hold of the boatís ladder with the other hand. Silently easing himself over the transom of the boat, he pointed the gun at the man in the doorway to the cabin.

"Drop the pistol, put your hands on your head and turn around," said Perry. "Slowly!"

The figure in the doorway jumped and glanced quickly over his shoulder.

"Oh, for fragís sake," he said. "I do not fragging believe this!" He dropped the gun and turned around.

Perry crossed the back deck and picked up the other pistol. "Whatís your name?" he asked.

The other man sighed. "Gavrin, Michael Gavrin."

Perry raised an eyebrow. "Chief of Special Security for Aztech Seattle? Wow, this thing must be pretty hot to bring you all the way out here in the middle of the night."

Gavrin shot Perry a look of pure malice. "Do you even know what youíve found?"

Perry grinned. "Not yet, but Iím sure weíll find out soon enough." He motioned for Gavrin to enter the cabin.

Gomez jacked out of the VCR as Gavrin entered. "Sir, Iíve lost complete contact with the dive-." He stopped as he caught sight of Perry pointing a pair of pistols at him.

Perry motioned with the pistol. "I think you had better unplug yourself from that system and come join your friend over here on the bench, donít you?"

Gomez looked at Gavrin, who just shook his head. The rigger pulled the leads from his datajack and stood up.

"Very good," said Perry, as he tucked the gyrojet pistol into his weight belt. "Now, the three of us are going to wait for my friend to come back, and then weíre going to leave you here and take what Iíve just found back to the people who are looking for it."

"What the frag makes you think that youíre going to get away?" snarled Gavrin.

Perry turned and fired three rounds into the control rig. Smoke poured out as the fire extinguishers inside the control panel struggled to bring the fire under control.

"Kinda makes it hard to follow us if your control panel is broken, doesnít it?"

Gomezís face went white and his hands balled into fists. "I oughta kill you for that! That rig was worth more than your fragging life!"

Perry pointed the pistol at Gomez. "Well, seeing though Iím holding the gun, I suggest you shut up, OK?"

"Frag you!" shouted Gomez, as he lunged at Perry. Reflexively, Perryís finger yanked on the trigger. Gomez was thrown back into the seat as the bullet struck him in the chest. Blood blossomed onto the grey of his shirt.

Oh drek! I never wanted this to happen! thought Perry as he stared at the Gomezís body. You stupid bastard! Why couldnít you just stay put and none of this would have happened!

Perryís vision swirled as he felt the breath kicked out of him. He collapsed the floor, gasping for air. The pistol clattered to the floor as his head hit the deck.

Gavrin kicked him in the ribs again for good measure.

"You idiots are all alike," he said. "You think that just because youíre holding a gun means that everyone should be afraid of you. Iím surprised you had the guts to kill him."

Gavrin bent and picked up the pistol from the floor. He ejected the magazine and glanced at it before sliding it back into the handle.

"Well, another good nightís work, really. Thereíll be one less runner to see the dawn tomorrow."

Perry closed his eyes as he finally recovered his breath. I donít think I can watch it coming.

There was a dull thump and something hot and wet hit Perry in the face. He opened his eyes and looked up. Gavrin was standing above him, looking down at a spear protruding from his chest. Blood spurted weakly from the wound as he crashed to the ground.

Mako strode over and kicked the corpse. "Damn, waste of a really nice suit. My size and all." He reached down and helped Perry to his feet.

"When I said ísecure the boatí, I meant that you should take control and stay in charge. You werenít supposed to end up lying on the ground with a bullet through the skull."

Perry wiped the blood from his face and looked at Mako. The arm of his wetsuit was slashed open and the internals of his cyberarm were clearly visible.

"Are you OK?" Perry asked.

Mako looked down at his arm. "Yeah. It took a bit of damage, but the docs should be able to fix it up in a couple of days. Four dead divers though."

Perry glanced at the carnage around him. "I, I donít know how to thank you," he stammered.

Mako wandered over to the control panel of the boat and surveyed the damage. "Then donít. Iíll just take this boat instead. It will more than make up for the pain. Itíll need some work, sure, but itís not completely fragged."

He turned and headed for the door. "Come on, letís get you back to your station so you can find out what the hell we just dredged up."

"Now, a follow up to last weekís breaking story on the execution of Aztlan freedom fighter, Manuel Recrobar, in 2042. Despite numerous protestations of no knowledge of Recrobarís disappearance, the recovered security footage aired on KSAF for the first time last week clearly implicated Aztechnology. The man shown performing the execution, Alfonse Salvia, now a senior vice president of Aztechnology, has apparently disappeared and has not been seen in the past 72 hours. The official spokesman for Aztechnology have stated that Mr. Salvia is out of the country on important business. Unofficial sources with the megacorporation report that Mr. Salvia has been "replaced" in his official capacity. More news as it comes to hand.

"This is Sally Michaels for KSAF Late News. Good Night."

©1998, Geoff Skellams - used with permission