by K. Alan Leitch
My smile was the first one she saw. I didn't want it to be her last.
“Gary, have you got a sonar fix?”
My question ricocheted inside my ADS helmet, and I kicked to escape it, deeper into the green. Green should have been the color of life, but the darker this green, the faster it could kill a diver. My mind knew that my Atmospheric Diving Suit was holding out pressure, but minds and blood aren’t always in synch. My blood pounded with fear.
I was about to repeat when the comm crackled. Reluctant static arrived ahead of Gary’s bad news. “The DDS detected diver movement at twenty-five meters.” His voice popped like more static when he added, “But it’s stopped.”
“A whole hour at two-five…” I responded. Every ricochet sounded hollow.
“I know. Resurface, Jenny. We’re too late.”
Selfish as it seems, that wasn’t what I needed. I needed to know that a mother would see her child’s eyes open. This SCUBA diver was only twenty—too vital to waste to an accident—and this was exactly the reason I’d trained. If our fire department’s only certified rescue diver couldn’t salvage one life from this tragedy, then the program would be pointless.
Her life would be worthless.
I told Gary this in two words. “Transmit co-ordinates.”
“Jenny,” he gargled, his voice barely outdoing the static. “Don’t do this. Wait for the submersible.” After pausing for my reply, he tried to use reason. “You know she’s gone.”
“Not all gone. Her transmitter’s on; that means her tank is intact.”
My answer stumped him, and he stopped. In the silence of his voice and green water, I pictured a face so young that it could still wrap its smiles around life’s ecstasies. A face that should still smile for years: years of friendships and love and parenthood. Those eyes deserved a chance to open.
From Gary, I begged that chance. “There’s always a life at stake.”
He didn’t speak, but the co-ordinates came through, aiming the guidance needle beneath my face-plate deeper toward north-north-east. That was all I needed. That, my 600-lumen light, and a life to save led my kicking legs to the diver.
There, I stopped kicking. Another color sickened my light as blossoms of red poisoned the green around her. “Gary,” I called.
From farther away now, his voice arrived. “What do you see?”
I considered details, and filtered a few. Her tank and chest were intact, but I didn’t mention her legs. Firefighters are trained to fear red, so Gary would order me back…but part of this girl was still OK. I wouldn’t lose her.
“Her legs are…trapped,” I answered vaguely, “and I can’t budge the rock.” Spearing green light in every direction revealed no solutions. There was only one choice. “I’m going to evacuate my pressure for a boost.”
“Return to surface, Jenkins!” Gary burst out. Walls of static couldn’t hold him back now. “You will not sacrifice yourself for this!”
But I would. I would, and Gary of all people knew it.
“C’mon, Gary. Let’s rescue someone,” I said, knowing the comm would fail soon. No electronics, no matter how sturdy, could withstand the pressure down here. No human could, either, so I braced my shoulder against stone and clipped onto the girl’s belt, before using one heel to unlatch my other boot’s buckle.
It worked, as much as it could. The escaping air gave me the push I needed to dislodge the rock, and launched me higher with the diver in tow. I knew water would claim me soon unless I reached a safer height, so I kicked. I kicked against the depth while Gary retracted my cable.
Shades of green grew lighter around me, like a child’s eyes opening. That was the green—the color of life—that went dark again when Gary hauled me aboard.
Fitful sleep consumed the hours with my fears of a place beyond color.
“Her heart!” I blurted into a lit hospital.
“It’s OK. The cold water kept it viable.” Gary eased me back, cradling my head. “They found a match, and they’re prepping a teenage girl. I’ve got you, Jenny.”
And he did: my blood had the bends, but Gary had my head. He was keeping the two in synch.
“I’ve got you.”
That diver’s eyes would never open, I knew, so I let mine close. I’d known the moment I saw the red clouds of her blooming underwater. My daughter’s eyes would never open, either—not since the day her heart failed. But there was always another child needing a transplant, and today one would see her mother smile again—the first smile she’d seen.
And that mother’s smile wouldn’t be the last her little girl saw.
K. Alan Leitch writes stories for an emotional world from his riverfront home in Australia. His novel, Crimes of Convenience, was top ten in the 3-Day Novel Contest (Canada), as was his YA mystery, Too Much Information, in the Eyelands Book Awards (Greece) and Book Pipeline Contest (USA), surpassing 1,974 published and unpublished novels. “In Deep” was originally published in KYSO Flash, Issue 11, Spring 2019.