Underneath (S)

Lynn struggled into the neoprene and rubber suit, tugging the material over her slim hips and torso.  She smiled in anticipation of the dive.  She could count on it to be the best part of her day.  After untying the boat and rowing a couple of hundred yards from the dock to her assigned GPS coordinates, she set her diving buoy, checked the valves on her tanks and adjusted her mask.  Leaning backwards, she flopped into the clear acidic water of Chesapeake Bay.  As the surface noise dissipated, she could feel the tension in her body subside.  How she loved these quiet times. Then she began the endlessly repetitive job of identifying potential sources of scarce metals likely to be found in communication conduits, water pipes, and city dump sites. The old brick and steel buildings below her had been submerged when the water levels rose rapidly almost fifty years ago.  Once global supplies of accessible copper, lead and zinc were depleted, underwater salvage in the under-water city became a lucrative business.

Even though the work was dangerous, Lynn would never consider giving up this job for a land-based one.  Who else could boast that they enjoyed solitude and clean air on a daily basis?  Her dive partner, Paul, said that the crush of bodies up above would suck your soul dry.   She’d enjoyed working with Paul, but declining resources meant they now had to operate alone so they could double the territory.  Today, she knew Paul would be diving a half mile north of her.

She had just tied a marker balloon to the roof of one of the buildings when a flash of light , a boom from an underwater explosion, and an instant wall of water lifted her up and flipped her over.  She righted herself in time to see a body tumbling towards her wearing Paul’s green and black dive suit and trailing a line of red blood.  She grabbed his tank and pulled him about, his eyes pale and vacant. There was a large hole in the left side of his chest where something hot had burned through and charred the edges of his dive suit along with the critical  tissues beneath.  Pushing herself off the building roof, she dumped a weight and headed up to her dingy, Paul’s lifeless body in tow.   Surfacing she realized that the location where Paul had been diving was now covered by an Atlas Salvage platform.  As she tugged his unwilling body over the gunnels of her boat, she could hear and then feel a second explosion rock the dingy.

Approaching the pier, she saw Sam, her boss, standing there with another man.  An ambulance pulled up just as she tied up her boat.

“What the hell is going on out there, Sam,” Lynn shouted. “Paul’s dead.”

“Yeah.  I can see that,” Sam said quietly, reaching down to help her up to the dock. She could smell his anger.  Lynn didn’t know the other guy, but he wore a suit and moved with authority.

“Terrible accident.  Communications broke down.” The fellow was frowning but Lynn thought he didn’t looked overly bothered by the bloody scene in front of him.

She ignored him and turned back to Sam.  “When you saw the platform, why didn’t you make a call and tell them not to blast?”

“Atlas was sold yesterday, Lynn.  I tried but I didn’t know how to get in touch with the new guys in time.” Sam turned to introduce Lynn to the other man. “This is Brent Dewdney.  He’s taken over Operations for Atlas.”

Lynn frowned at Dewdney.  “Why were you blasting?  We haven’t even finished our work or filed our surveys for this area.”

Dewdney shrugged. “We didn’t know someone was down there. Obviously.”

“They plan to do things differently,” Sam said quickly, glancing at Dewdney as if considering what he could say in front of the man that was his new boss. “They don’t hold with dive surveys.”

“Or safety procedures?”

“It’s really too bad about your friend.  It shouldn’t have happened,” Dewdney said. He pursed his lips in some effort at concentration. “Why don’t you take some time off to recover and we’ll call you when we know for certain.”

“Know what for certain?” Lynn was confused by the statement.  Paul was dead, that was certain, she thought.

“Whether we’ll need your services in future.  Like Sam said, our company does things differently.  We use remotely operated vehicles for surveys.”

Lynn glared at him. “You can’t get away with this.  Random blasting is a crime.  One of the main reasons we do the manned surveys is to avoid blasting contaminated sites.   There’s lots of radioactive materials down there and toxic waste sites that shouldn’t be disturbed.  Stuff left in hospitals for example. ”   She remembered reading what had happened as the water rose and cities were abandoned.  No one wanted toxic waste stored on land needed for agriculture.  So a lot of nasty chemicals ended up encased in plastic drums and concrete and left with the coastal cities.

“Sorry, but our risk analysts don’t see it that way.  We can get what we need for the initial surveys from ROVs without using divers.  If that had been an ROV down there instead of your friend, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”  Dewdney turned to answer a call and headed up the dock without another word.

“Look, Lynn.  There’s submerged wood recovery going on in the Great Lakes.  I can give you a strong reference.”

“Sam, even I know that subs are doing that work.”

“Yeah, but those ones are manned.  You could be an operator.”

Running a sub was something she’d dreamed about but never saw happening.  “Just where would I get the training?  I’d be last in line for a job.”

“Not necessarily.  Atlas could train you.”  He stared at her hard.

“What’s in it for them?”

“Avoid a law suit maybe?” Sam smirked.  “After all, they blasted while you were on the job, and Paul`s dead because of their error.  You could make them look real bad, might even hold up their operations for a while.”  Lynn realized that Dewdney was still talking on his phone at the foot of the pier.  “I’d work fast if I were you,” Sam advised following her gaze. “Grab that guy and make sure he realizes that you’ll talk to a lawyer if he doesn’t agree to retrain you and certify you for subs.”

Lynn took off on the run.  Dewdney saw her coming and looked less than pleased. When she explained what she wanted, he stared at her silently for a few moments, as if weighing his options. “I can’t agree to that right now.  I need to talk to headquarters.  I can let you know in a week or two.”

“No.  You’ll agree now, and I want it in writing or I’m going to a lawyer. I’m asking for training, not hush money.  You owe me that.”  By the look on Dewdney’s face, she knew he would agree.  She felt herself shaking and was amazed at her nerve.  The anger she felt at Paul’s death had driven her to this, and she had one more reason to regret losing him.

As he passed her the signed agreement, Dewdney had the nerve to leer at her. “I’m giving you a great opportunity, and I hope you appreciate it.”

Lynn almost choked in anger when she heard him.  “Paul’s death has given me this opportunity, not you or your corner-cutting company.”  It was her turn to leave without another word.