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and then harry screamed, and his body twisted, and norman saw beth withdraw the syringe from his shoulder, the needle tipped with blood.

"what are you doing?" harry cried, but already his eyes were glassy and vacant. he staggered at the next impact, fell drunkenly on his knees to the floor. "no," he said softly. "no ..."

and he collapsed, falling face-down on the carpet. immediately the wrenching of metal stopped. the alarms stopped. everything became ominously silent, except for the soft gurgle of water from somewhere within the habitat.

beth moved swiftly, reading one screen after another.

"inner off. peripherals off. everything off. all right! no readings!"

norman ran to the porthole. the squid had disappeared. the sea bottom outside was deserted.

"damage report!" beth shouted. "main power out! e cylinder out! c cylinder out! b cylinder ..."

norman spun, looked at her. if b cyl was gone, their life support would be gone, they would certainly die. "b cylinder holding," she said finally. her body sagged. "we're okay, norman."

norman collapsed on the carpet, exhausted, suddenly feeling the strain and tension in every part of his body.

it was over. the crisis had passed. they were going to be all right, after all. norman felt his body relax.

it was over.

1230 hours

the blood had stopped flowing from harry's broken nose and now he seemed to be breathing more regularly, more easily. norman lifted the icepack to look at the swollen face, and adjusted the flow of the intravenous drip in harry's arm. beth had started the intravenous line in harry's hand after several unsuccessful attempts. they were dripping an anesthetic mixture into him. harry's breath smelled sour, like tin. but otherwise he was okay. out cold.

the radio crackled. "i'm at the submarine," beth said. "going aboard now."

norman glanced out the porthole at dh-7, saw beth climbing up into the dome beside the sub. she was going to press the "delay" button, the last time such a trip would be necessary. he turned back to harry.

the computer didn't have any information about the effects of keeping a person asleep for twelve hours straight, but that was what they would have to do. either harry would make it, or he wouldn't.

same as the rest of us, norman thought. he glanced at the monitor clocks. they showed 1230 hours, and counted backward. he put a blanket over harry and went over to the console.

the sphere was still there, with its changed pattern of grooves. in all the excitement he had almost forgotten his initial fascination with the sphere, where it had come from, what it meant. although they understood now what it meant. what had beth called it? a mental enzyme. an enzyme was something that made chemical reactions possible without actually participating in them. our bodies needed to perform chemical reactions, but our body temperatures were too cold for most chemical reactions to proceed smoothly. so we had enzymes to help the process along, speed it up. the enzymes made it all possible. and she had called the sphere a mental enzyme.

very clever, he thought. clever woman. her impulsiveness had turned out to be just what was needed. with harry unconscious, beth still looked beautiful, but norman was relieved to find that his own features had returned to pudgy normalcy. he saw his own familiar reflection in the screen as he stared at the sphere on the monitor.

that sphere.

with harry unconscious, he wondered if they would ever know exactly what had happened, exactly what it had been like. he remembered the lights, like fireflies. and what had harry said? something about foam. the foam. norman heard a whirring sound, and looked out the porthole.

the sub was moving.

freed of its tethers, the yellow minisub glided across the bottom, its lights shining on the ocean floor. norman pushed the intercom button: "beth? beth!"

"i'm here, norman."

"what're you doing?"

"just take it easy, norman."

"what're you doing in the sub, beth?"

"just a precaution, norman."

"are you leaving?"

she laughed over the intercom. a light, relaxed laugh. "no, norman. just take it easy."

"tell me what you're doing."

"it's a secret."

"come on, beth." this was all he needed, he thought, to have beth crack up now. he thought again of her impulsiveness, which moments before he had admired. he did not admire it any more. "beth?"

"talk to you later," she said.

the sub turned in profile, and he saw red boxes in its claw arms. he could not read the lettering on the boxes, but they looked vaguely familiar. as he watched, the sub moved past the high fin of the spacecraft, and then settled to the bottom. one of the boxes was released, plumping softly on the muddy floor. the sub started up again, churning sediment, and glided forward a hundred yards. then it stopped again, and released another box. it continued this way along the length of the spacecraft.


no answer. norman squinted at the boxes. there was lettering on them, but he could not read them at this distance. the sub had turned now, and was coming directly toward dh-8. the lights shone at him. it moved closer and the sensor alarms went off, clanging and flashing red lights. he hated these alarms, he thought, going over to the console, looking at the buttons. how the hell did you turn them off? he glanced at harry, but harry remained unconscious.

"beth? are you there? you set off the damn alarms."

"push f8."

what the hell was f8? he looked around, finally saw a row of keys on the keyboard, numbered f1 to f20. he pushed f8 and the alarms stopped. the sub was now very close, lights shining into the porthole windows. in the high bubble, beth was clearly visible, instrument lights shining up on her face. then the sub descended out of view.

he went to the porthole and looked out. deepstar iii was resting on the bottom, depositing more boxes from its claw hands. now he could read the lettering on the boxes:

caution no smoking no electronics tevac explosives

"beth? what the hell are you doing?"

"later, norman."

he listened to her voice. she sounded okay. was she cracking up? no, he thought. she's not cracking up. she sounds okay. i'm sure she's okay.

but he wasn't sure.

the sub was moving again, its lights blurred by the cloud of sediment churned up by the propellors. the cloud drifted up past the porthole, obscuring his vision.


"everything's fine, norman. back in a minute."

as the sediment drifted down to the bottom again, he saw the sub, heading back to dh-7. moments later, it docked beneath the dome. then he saw beth climb out, and tether the sub fore and aft.

1100 hours

"it's very simple," beth said.

"explosives?" he pointed to the screen. "it says here, 'tevacs are, weight for weight, the most powerful conventional explosives known.' what the hell are you doing putting them around the habitat?"

"norman, take it easy." she rested her hand on his shoulder. her touch was soft and reassuring. he relaxed a little, feeling her body so close.

"we should have discussed this together first."

"norman, i'm not taking any chances. not any more."

"but harry is unconscious."

"he might wake up."

"he won't, beth."

"i'm not taking any chances," she said. "this way, if something starts to come out of that sphere, we can blow the hell out of the whole ship. i've put explosives along the whole length of it."

"but why around the habitat?"


"how is it defense?"

"believe me, it is."

"beth, it's dangerous to have that stuff so close to us."

"it's not wired up, norman. in fact, it's not wired up around the ship, either. i have to go out and do that by hand." she glanced at the screens. "i thought i'd wait a while first, maybe take a nap. are you tired?"

"no," norman said.

"you haven't slept in a long time, norman."

"i'm not tired."

she gave him an appraising look. "i'll keep an eye on harry, if that's what you're worried about."

"i'm just not tired, beth."

"okay," she said, "suit yourself." she brushed her luxuriant hair back from her face with her fingers. "personally, i'm exhausted. i'm going to get a few hours." she started up the stairs to her lab, then looked down at him. "want to join me?"

"what?" he said.

she smiled at him directly, knowingly. "you heard me, norman."

"maybe later, beth."

"okay. sure."

she ascended the staircase, her body swinging smoothly, sensuously in the tight jumpsuit. she looked good in that jumpsuit. he had to admit it. she was a good-looking woman.

across the room, harry snored in a regular rhythm. norman checked harry's icepack, and thought about beth. he heard her moving around in the lab upstairs.

"hey, norm?"

"yes ..." he moved to the bottom of the stairs, looked up.

"is there another one of these down there? a clean one?" something blue dropped into his hands. it was her jumpsuit. "yes. i think they're in storage in b."

"bring me one, would you, norm?"

"okay," he said.

going to b cyl, he found himself inexplicably nervous. what was going on? of course, he thought, he knew exactly what was going on, but why now? beth was exerting a powerful attraction, and he mistrusted it. in her dealings with men, beth was confrontational, energetic, direct, and angry. seduction wasn't her method at all.

it is now, he thought, fishing a new jumpsuit out of the storage locker. he took it back to d cyl and climbed the ladder. from above, he saw a strange bluish light.


"i'm here, norm."

he came up and saw her lying naked on her back, beneath a bank of ultraviolet sunlamps hinged out from the wall. she wore opaque cups over her eyes. she twisted her body seductively.

"did you bring the suit?"

"yes," he said.

"thanks a lot. just put it anywhere, by the lab bench."

"okay." he draped it over her chair.

she rolled back to face the glowing lamps, sighed. "i thought i'd better get a little vitamin d, norm."

"yes ..."

"you probably should, too."

"yeah, probably." but norman was thinking that he didn't remember a bank of sunlamps in the lab. in fact, he was sure that there wasn't one. he had spent a lot of time in that room; he would have remembered. he went back down the stairs quickly.

in fact, the staircase was new, too. it was black anodized metal. it hadn't been that way before. this was a new descending staircase.


"in a minute, beth."

he went to the console and started punching buttons. he had seen a file before, on habitat parameters or something like that. he finally found it:

deephab-8 mippr design parameters

5.024a cylinder a

5.024b cylinder b

5.024c cylinder c

5.024d cylinder d

5.024e cylinder e

choose one:

he chose cyl d, and another screen appeared. he chose design plans. he got page after page of architectural drawings. he flicked through them, stabbing at the keys, until he came to the detail plans for the biological laboratory at the top of d cyl.

clearly shown in the drawings was a large sunlamp bank, hinged to fold back against the wall. it must have been there all the time; he just hadn't ever noticed it. there were lots of other details he hadn't noticed - like the emergency escape hatch in the domed ceiling of the lab. and the fact that there was a second foldout bunk near the floor entrance. and a black anodized descending staircase.

you're in a panic, he thought. and it has nothing to do with sunlamps and architectural drawings. it doesn't e even have to do with sex. you're in a panic because beth is the only one left besides you, and beth isn't acting like herself.

in the corner of the screen, he watched the small clock tick backward, the seconds clicking off with agonizing slowness. twelve more hours, he thought. i've just got to last twelve more hours, and everything will be all right.

he was hungry, but he knew there wasn't any food. he was tired, but there wasn't anyplace for him to sleep. both e and c cylinders were flooded, and he didn't want to go upstairs with beth. norman lay down on the floor of d cyl, beside harry on the couch. it was cold and damp on the floor. for a long time he couldn't sleep.

0900 hours

the pounding, that terrifying pounding, and the shaking of the floor awakened him abruptly. he rolled over and got to his feet, instantly alert. he saw beth standing by the monitors. "what is it?" he cried. "what is it?"

"what is what?" beth said.

she seemed calm. she smiled at him. norman looked around. the alarms hadn't gone off; the lights weren't flashing.

"i don't know, i thought - i don't know ..." he trailed off.

"you thought we were under attack again?" she said.

he nodded.

"why would you think that, norman?" she said.

beth was looking at him again in that odd way. an appraising way, her stare very direct and cool. there was no hint of seductiveness to her. if anything, she conveyed the suspiciousness of the old beth: you're a man, and you're a problem.

"harry's still unconscious, isn't he? so why would you think we were being attacked?"

"i don't know. i guess i was dreaming."

beth shrugged. "maybe you felt the vibration of me walking on the floor," she said. "anyway, i'm glad you decided to sleep."

that same appraising stare. as if there were something wrong with him.

"you haven't slept enough, norman."

"none of us have."

"you, particularly."

"maybe you're right." he had to admit he felt better now that he had slept for a couple of hours. he smiled. "did you eat all the coffee and danish?"

"there isn't any coffee and danish, norman."

"i know."

"then why would you say that?" she asked seriously.

"it was a joke, beth."


"just a joke. you know, a humorous reflection on our condition?"

"i see." she was working with the screens. "by the way, what did you find out about the balloon?"

"the balloon?"

"the surface balloon. remember we talked about it?" he shook his head. he didn't remember.

"before i went out to the sub, i asked about the control codes to send a balloon to the surface, and you said you'd look in the computer and see if you could find how to do it."

"i did?"

"yes, norman. you did."

he thought back. he remembered how he and beth had lifted harry's inert, surprisingly heavy body off the floor, setting him on the couch, and how they had staunched the flow of blood from his nose while beth had started an intravenous line, which she knew how to do from her work with lab animals. in fact, she had made a joke, saying she hoped harry fared better than her lab animals, since they usually ended up dead. then beth had volunteered to go to the sub, and he had said he'd stay with harry. that was what he remembered. nothing about any balloons.

"sure," beth said. "because the communication said we were supposed to acknowledge transmission, and that means a radio balloon sent to the surface. and we figured, with the storm abating, the surface conditions must be calm enough to allow the balloon to ride without snapping the wire. so it was a question of how to release the balloons. and you said you'd look for the control commands."

"i really don't remember," he said. "i'm sorry."

"norman, we have to work together in these last few hours," beth said.

"i agree, beth. absolutely."

"how are you feeling now?" she said.

"okay. pretty good, in fact."

"good," she said. "hang in there, norman. it's only a few more hours."

she hugged him warmly, but when she released him, he saw in her eyes that same detached, appraising look.

an hour later, they figured out how to release the balloon. they distantly heard a metallic sizzle as the wire unwound from the outside spool, trailing behind the inflated balloon as it shot toward the surface. then there was a long pause.

"what's happening?" norman said.

"we're a thousand feet down," beth said. "it takes a while for the balloon to get to the surface."

then the screen changed, and they got a readout of surface conditions. wind was down to fifteen knots. waves were running six feet. barometric pressure was 20.9. sunlight was recorded.

"good news," beth said. "the surface is okay."

norman was staring at the screen, thinking about the fact that sunlight was recorded. he had never longed for sunlight before. it was funny, what you took for granted. now the thought of seeing sunlight struck him as unbelievably pleasurable. he could imagine no greater joy than to see sun and clouds, and blue sky.

"what are you thinking?"

"i'm thinking i can't wait to get out of here."

"me, too," beth said. "but it won't be long now."

pong! pong! pong! pong!

norman was checking harry, and he spun at the sound. "what is it, beth?"

pong! pong! pong! pong!

"take it easy," beth said, at the console. "i'm just figuring out how to work this thing."

pong! pong! pong! pong!

"work what?"

"the side-scanning sonar. false-aperture sonar. i don't know why they call it 'false-aperture.' do you know what that refers to, 'false-aperture'?"

pong! pong! pong! pong!

"no, i don't," norman said. "turn it off, please." the sound was unnerving.

"it's marked 'fas,' which i think stands for 'false-aperture sonar,' but it also says 'side- scanning.' it's very confusing."

"beth, turn it off!"

pong! pong! pong! pong!

"sure, of course," beth said.

"why do you want to know how to work that, anyway?" norman said. he felt irritable, as if she'd intentionally annoyed him with that sound.

"just in case," beth said.

"in case what, for christ's sake? you said yourself that harry's unconscious. there aren't going to be any more attacks."

"take it easy, norman," beth said. "i want to be prepared, that's all."

0720 hours

he couldn't talk her out of it. she insisted on going outside and wiring the explosives around the ship. it was an absolutely fixed idea in her mind.

"but why, beth?" he kept saying.

"because i'll feel better after i do it," she said.

"but there isn't any reason to do it."

"i'll feel better if i do," she insisted, and in the end he couldn't stop her.

he saw her now, a small figure with a single glowing light from her helmet, moving from one crate of explosives to another. she opened each crate and removed large yellow cones which looked rather like the cones that highway repair trucks used. these cones were wired together, and when the wiring was completed a small red light glowed at the tip.

he saw small red lights all up and down the length of the ship. it made him uneasy.

when she left, he had said to her, "but you won't wire up the explosives near the habitat."

"no, norman. i won't."

"promise me."

"i told you, i won't. if it's going to upset you, i won't."

"it's going to upset me."

"okay, okay."

now the red lights were strung along the length of the ship, starting at the dimly visible tail, which rose out of the coral bottom. beth moved farther north, toward the rest of the unopened crates.

norman looked at harry, who snored loudly but who remained unconscious. he paced back and forth in d cyl, and then went to the monitors.

the screen blinked.

i am coming.

oh god, he thought. and in the next moment he thought, how can this be happening? it can't be happening. harry was still out cold. how could it be happening?

i am coming for you.


her voice sounded tinny on the intercom.

"yes, norman."

"get the hell out of there."

do not be afraid

, the screen said.

"what is it, norman?" she said.

"i'm getting something on the screen."

"check harry. he must be waking up."

"he's not. get back here, beth."

i am coming now.

"all right, norman, i'm heading back," she said.

"fast, beth."

but he didn't need to say that; already he could see her light bouncing as she ran across the bottom. she was at least a hundred yards from the habitat. he heard her breathing hard on the intercom.

"can you see anything, norman?"

"no, nothing." he was straining to look toward the horizon, where the squid had always appeared. the first thing had always been a green glow on the horizon. but he saw no glow now.

beth was panting.

"i can feel something, norman. i feel the water ... surging ... strong. ..."

the screen flashed:

i will kill you.

"don't you see anything out here?" beth said.

"no. i don't see anything at all." he saw beth, alone on the muddy bottom. her light the solitary focus of his attention.

"i can feel it, norman. it's close. jesus god. what about the alarms?"

"nothing, beth."

"jesus." her breath came in hissing gasps as she ran. beth was in good shape, but she couldn't exert herself like that in this atmosphere. not for long, he thought. already he could see she was moving more slowly, the helmet lamp bobbing more slowly.


"yes, beth. i'm here."

"norman, i don't know if i can make it."

"beth, you can make it. slow down."

"it's here, i can feel it."

"i don't see anything, beth."

he heard a rapid sharp clicking sound. at first he thought it was static on the line, and then he realized it was her teeth chattering as she shivered. with this exertion she should be getting overheated, but instead she was getting cold. he didn't understand.

" - cold, norman."

"slow down, beth."

"can't - talking - close - "

she was slowing down, despite herself. she had come into the area of the habitat lights, and she was no more than ten yards from the hatch, but he could see her limbs moving slowly, clumsily.

and now at last he could see something swirling the muddy sediment behind her, in the darkness beyond the lights. it was like a tornado, a swirling cloud of muddy sediment. he couldn't see what was inside the cloud, but he sensed the power within it.

"close - nor - "

beth stumbled, fell. the swirling cloud moved toward her.

i will kill you now.

beth got to her feet, looked back, saw the churning cloud bearing down on her. something about it filled norman with a deep horror, a horror from childhood, the stuff of nightmares.

"normannnnnn ..."

then norman was running, not really knowing what he was going to do, but propelled by the vision he had seen, thinking only that he had to do something, he had to take some action, and he went through b into a and looked at his suit but there wasn't time and the black water in the open hatch was spitting and swirling and he saw beth's gloved hand below the surface, flailing, she was right there beneath him, and she was the only other one, and without thinking he jumped into the black water and went down.

the shock of the cold made him want to scream; it tore at his lungs. his whole body was instantly numb, and he felt a second of hideous paralysis. the water churned and tossed him like a great wave; he was powerless to fight it; his head banged on the underside of the habitat. he could see nothing at all.

he reached for beth, throwing his arms blindly in all directions. his lungs burned. the water spun him in circles, upended him.

he touched her, lost her. the water continued to spin him. he grabbed her. something. an arm. he was already losing feeling, already feeling slower and stupider. he pulled. he saw a ring of light above him: the hatch. he kicked his legs but he did not seem to move. the circle came no closer.

he kicked again, dragging beth like a dead weight. perhaps she was dead. his lungs burned. it was the worst pain he had ever felt in his life. he fought the pain, and he fought the angry churning water and he kept kicking toward the light, that was his only thought, to kick to the light, to come closer to the light, to reach the light, the light, the light. ...

the light.

the images were confusing. beth's suited body clanging on the metal, inside the airlock. his own knee bleeding on the metal of the hatch, the drops of blood spattering. beth's shaking hands reaching for her helmet, twisting it, trying to get the helmet unlocked. hands shaking. water in the hatch, sucking, surging. lights in his eyes. a terrible pain somewhere. rust very close to his face, a sharp edge of metal. cold metal. cold air. lights in his eyes, dimming. fading. blackness.

the sensation of warmth was pleasant. he heard a hissing roar in his ears. he looked up and saw beth, out of her suit, looming large above him, adjusting the big space heater, turning the power up. she was still shivering, but she was turning up the heat. he closed his eyes. we made it, he thought. we're still together. we're still okay. we made it. he relaxed.

there was a crawly sensation over his body. from the cold, he thought, his body warming from the cold. the crawly sensation was not pleasant. and the hissing was not pleasant, either; it was sibilant, intermittent.

something slithered softly under his chin as he lay on the deck. he opened his eyes and saw a silvery white tube, and then he focused and saw the tiny beady eyes, and the flicking tongue. it was a snake.

a sea snake.

he froze. he looked down, moving only his eyes. his entire body was covered with white snakes.

the crawly sensation came from dozens of snakes, coiling around his ankles, sliding between his legs, over his chest. he felt a cool slithering motion across his forehead. he closed his eyes, feeling horror as the snake body moved over his face, down his nose, brushed over his lips, then moved away.