0. Prologue (D2)

Jensen looked down at the back of the old man’s helmet, his hand gripping the multi-tool tight enough to make his forearm burn. He could end it right now. Laser the back of the helmet and split it open enough so it wouldn’t reseal, let the water flood the old man’s suit and finish the rest. 

The old man deserved it. Playing the holy crusader ready to bring down judgement on anyone he deemed unworthy of society while he was out here doing something just as illegal. He deserved it more than Jensen did. 

Jensen hadn’t done anything that hurt anyone else or put others in danger. He had slipped up, that’s all. He had gotten carried away, let his impulsiveness get the best of him. He was not one to be unable to admit his wrongs, but in the eyes of the law that admission meant his life was over. 

Discretion. Those bastards at the parlor. They had promised him anything he could think of. Whatever his desire, they would try to provide it. No one would ever find out. They were the best for a reason, highly recommended. He had paid good money to them. 

Discretion. 

How could he have let this old fuck get the best of him? Jensen had been the one to do the blackmailing. Ruthless, willing to do what it took to reach anything he wanted. He was supposed to have enjoyed his years down here doing whatever his heart desired. There was no more worry over his company, no more worry over keeping those filthy customers happy or pleasing his suppliers. No more worry. 

He had sold it all and bought his ticket here to be among others like him. He was a free man, never married, nothing holding him back. The depths of the ocean would be his playground. 

He noticed the third man stuck with them staring at him. Richard. Jensen could see through the interior lights within the man’s visor that his eyes were drawn to thin almonds, watching intently, urging him on. Or maybe Jensen was just hopeful he was not alone in his thoughts. He knew the man was not out here out of his own desire. The old man had got one up over him as well and sucked him into this mess alongside Jensen. What Richard had done, Jensen couldn’t say, but whatever it was had been enough to agree to this, which meant they weren’t friends, but they may just be on the same side.

Worst case, he’d just have to quiet him too.

He had never let anyone get one up on him.

He took a step toward the old man and reached out to the old man’s helmet, ready to squeeze the sensor. The old man looked up toward Richard and then quickly turned back toward Jensen who shot his hand to his side and half crouched, pretending as if he had been getting up.

“What the fuck are you two doing?” said the old man through the intercom in their helmets. 

Jensen stood and pursed his lips as he jutted his jaw around defiantly. He hated having to let this old scumbag talk to him like he was some teenage kid, unable to do anything asked of him. He didn’t need the old man to be turned around, he could just do it right now, break through his visor and watch as the water gushed in and ballooned his lungs.

“Sorry doctor, we thought we saw something,” said Richard, keeping his eyes on Jensen, telling him to back down. It seems he would have to quiet the both of them. 

Shame.

“Where? Was it…” said the doctor, searching all around them as his lamp reached out far through the dark underwater abyss.

“No,” said Richard. “I think my mind was just playing tricks on me.”

Poor fuck. Depth crazies were nothing to wish on anyone. A one way trip out of heaven and straight to the surface where you’d likely end up in a bin. He had heard the stories of thousands of people in Galapagos One being sent up the moment they gave any hint of the crazies. Some had been days, others weeks or months. Wives or kids cutting their family’s lives short as they all returned to care for the one who had gone psycho. It was the risk you took to live in freedom, until you didn’t. 

Of course, Lumis had denied it all. No one had any proof that any of it had happened. Years later, and most of the original settlers had remained living there with no intention of leaving. The accusations said it was the pressure. That the brain crumbled under the immense amount of it after a while, but Lumis had guaranteed that they had pressurized the city to be the same as the surface. There were supposed to be backup precautions, just in case.

These ‘expeditions’ the old doctor had forced them on, however, didn’t seem safe. He didn’t know how many Richard had been on already. The poor fuck had been at it longer than Jensen had and Jensen was already at six. If he already felt at risk of the depth crazies, these two were probably beyond repair.

He wondered what the doctor had on Richard.

The old man laughed, sending chills down Jensen’s spine.

“We’re done after this,” said the doctor as he stood up and towered a head over Jensen. Jensen had never considered himself a short man, but in the full presence of the old man, he felt himself rethinking his approach. “If we get enough of this back, there’s no need for you two anymore.”

“You’ll get rid of it?” said Jensen, feeling his grip on the multi-tool loosen.

“Well, eventually yes,” said the old man. “I’m a man of my word.”

He doubted that. This was a man without morals. A man who did what it took to get results. A man that did not care about anything, or anyone, other than what his attention was on at the moment. He would tell them all the evidence was destroyed until he needed their help again, at which moment, the evidence would resurface, and worse.

Jensen knew, because it’s what he would have done.

“Alright then,” said Richard as he stood and pushed the small trolley toward a large pile of thick, glowing, white crystals. “Let’s get this over with then.”

The doctor nodded at Jensen and walked toward Richard, bending next to him and using his own multi-tool to laser through the root of the crystal. Jensen jutted his jaw out and ran his tongue over his teeth. He didn’t like this, but he’d play along for now. He just needed a better moment. 

He breached the short distance through the water and crouched near them at a smaller vein of the crystals. 

He had been surprised when he had found it. The doctor had told them to keep an eye out for a rubbery substance, something off white, like large clumps of fat. Jensen had just been trying to make some distance between them so he wouldn’t strangle the old man’s constant demands down his throat. He knew he should have called the doctor before hopping into the cave on his own but he had never been one to shy from danger. As he had stumbled around inside, the doctor and Richard calling out to him through the intercom, he had come across the mine of glowing crystals.

He didn’t know how they had shone in the darkness like that, creating light from nothing, but he also hadn’t thought it was what they had been looking for. He had been ready to take one back, a souvenir to remind him to never allow himself to get caught. As his hand had touched the crystal, it had become soft and jiggly like clusters of fat and ripped off just like it. No struggle.

But when he had called the old man and told him he had found it, of course it hadn’t been as easy as ripping off as much as they could. No. The doctor had wanted it untouched, uncontaminated. Two hours later and here they were, still at it.

“Why do you want this stuff anyway?” said Jensen, severing the crystal at the root and letting it fall into the basket he held.

“It’s better we not talk about that,” said the doctor.

“Come on. After everything, you have to give us something.”

The doctor laughed again. Jensen hated the sound of it. The man seemed to not know when it was appropriate, he seemed to laugh whenever he deemed it fitting. 

“You’re in no position to make demands,” said the doctor, the residue of his laughter still in his throat.

There it was again, the holy crusader.

“At least an idea?” said Richard. “I know we have no place, but he’s right. We’ve been at it a while. Just curious is all.”

“Let’s just say, you may be helping me find a cure for something huge.”

Jensen had to give it to Richard. At least he was tactful. He knew his way around the doctor well. If Jensen hadn’t sold his business off to Lumis, he was positive he would have offered this man a position. Not that he would have needed it, considering he had made his way down here, but it never hurt to be on the lookout for good personnel. It was rare to find someone able to maneuver his way around people in this day and age. 

“How big are we talking?” said Jensen.

The doctor seemed to hesitate. Jensen could tell that, of the two men the doctor had milked, he was the least favorite. The old man finally said, “humanwide.”

“Humanwide,” chuckled Jensen.

“I hope you do,” said Richard. “Something decent should come of all this.”

The doctor seared through the crystal he was working on and, without a word, stood and made his way to another smaller vein of crystals. He hadn’t needed to move, there were plenty of crystals at the vein the two had been working on together. It was obvious that Richard’s words had reminded the old man of who we both were. 

Prisoners, not partners.

Jensen chuckled to himself, not letting the sound carry over to their comms. Holy fucking crusader, using the evil doers for a greater good. 

Jensen didn’t know who the man really was. A scientist who insisted on being called doctor, that much he knew, but other than that, the man was a mystery. He either had to have a large amount of money to have bought his ticket down here, or he worked directly for the company and had been stationed here temporarily until his ticket was up. Jensen had guessed a mixture of both, but he also guessed that he was not important enough to be risking his job to go on expeditions like this. 

If he were to go missing, he doubted anyone would ask questions. 

But if they did…

He looked up at Richard. He knew the man had been to the doctor’s home. Had helped the old man gather equipment on numerous occasions. He would need Richard to find the old man’s home. To wipe the evidence so even if they did come asking questions, nothing would ever point back to them. After it was all done, he would gauge how much he could trust Richard.

Richard glanced up at him and Jensen smiled with a nod. 

“We almost done doctor?” said Jensen.

The old man glanced toward the trolley and without looking at either of them said, “This should be enough, just fill up another round to be safe,” before returning to his work.

To be safe. 

Maybe the doctor was right. Wipe the slate clean. Better to be safe.

Jensen looked back at Richard and shrugged. He returned to his own work but felt the man’s eyes on him. Same side of the coin, maybe, but you can’t trust a man that can be milked. Richard would have to blame the doctor. Nothing personal.

Jensen worked as fast as he could, filling up his basket twice over to make up for the slow speed of the old man. He helped Richard push the trolley out of the cave and climbed out after the other two. Neither had waited for him.

Richard was already on his way through the dark ocean floor, pushing the trolley along in front while the doctor tagged along behind him, hypnotized by whatever was on the small screen at his wrist. At least it wouldn’t be hard.

He caught a glimpse of faint light off to his right. There was no one supposed to be out here with them. He let his headlamp illuminate the area and found a lone, white anemone that danced in the water and reflected back off in the distance. He furrowed his brows as he checked around it, finding nothing but the anemone. It seemed strange, all alone out here like that, so white with only the black of the expanse to surround it. It reminded him of the crystals within the cave.

“Jensen,” said the doctor through the comms. “Let’s go.”

Jensen checked one last time and trotted through the water after the two. He had become somewhat of an expert at handling these suits out in the ocean. It hadn’t been easy at first, but after the first couple of times your body got used to the flow of the water and it began to feel like you were under normal circumstances, just slower. He caught up with them and walked behind, once again watching the back of the doctor’s helmet.

“I bet you consider yourself a very important man,” said Jensen, turning off his exterior lamps.

The doctor turned his head towards him. Through the interior lamps Jensen could see a snarl over his face before the old man turned back to the screen at his wrist.

Holy fucking crusader.

“You probably think you’re the white knight in tainted armor, out here doing something for the greater good, don’t you?” continued Jensen. “That no one will care about how you did it as long as you do it.”

“Quiet,” hissed the doctor.

Jensen smiled. He sped up his steps and looked down at the multi-tool, tapping the trigger to make sure the right setting was on. He watched the thin laser split through the water. 

“They always care. They know that it’s always a mess behind the scenes but they want to imagine that it was all tidy and well organized. They don’t want to find out otherwise. They’ll shut you down if they get a whiff of it and everyone around you will throw you to the wolves if it means keeping them blind. It’s why you should always beat them to-”

“Shut it,” snapped the doctor, turning back to face him. The doctor either didn’t realize, or didn’t care how close Jensen was to him. “Your inability to keep your perversions to yourself got you into this mess. I don’t care if they care what I do, I’ll still do it.”

The old man turned again and kept walking behind the trolley. Never. Never in Jensen’s life had he let anyone talk to him like that. He had been in fights all his life, threatened old bosses and been fired for it, opened up his own business, fired employees for giving any sign of insubordination, slapped around a few that he did not want to lose, even dealt with mouthy customers in ways that most in this day and age considered bad business, all to make them learn that he was not someone who would take their shit. 

He had fought tooth and nail to get to his freedom and this old man believed himself better, just because he hadn’t been caught. Jensen’s fist twitched over the multi-tool. There was no need to worry about getting caught for the old man. No, Jensen would make sure of that.

Jensen had done everything it took, except kill. It was only appropriate that a new chapter in his life would lead to new events. He wasn’t about to allow someone to start shitting over his final chapters, not when he had guarded his previous ones so carefully.

He doubled his step and caught up to the old man. His heart began to pound as his mind repeated over and over, dead holy crusader. He reached out with his free hand and cocked the multi-tool. Dead holy crusader.

As his hand came down, ready to grip the man’s neck and shove the laser through the man’s skull, he felt all the wind get blown out of him, forcing his eyes shut. He felt himself being pushed against the water with ease until his body slammed against something hard. It took a second for him to regain himself, all the pain rushing him at once. His hip and ribs had been crushed, he was sure of it, the waves of blinding agony pulsing at the rate of his beating heart. 

He opened his eyes and tried to get up but saw nothing, only white. His body felt like it was being held down by cement. He began to cough. 

What had the old man done to him?

He blinked a few times, watching the white blanket over his eyes disappear and off in the distance the two figures with the trolley come into view. He looked down and saw the edge of the building. The beautiful structure that had been erected in the deepest depths of the ocean, hundreds of times deeper than the Challenger Deep where man had once thought the ocean ended. One of the greatest achievements of modern man where he would be spending the rest of his life. But…

…How?

He struggled to get up again but felt his ribs burning through his mind and cried out. He breathed a few times and tried again, this time trying to use his elbow to help him. 

An immense amount of force shoved his head down, causing his mind to go black before making it spin. He groaned, ready to try once more but felt his head held in place. He could see the doctor and Richard off in the distance, continuing on without notice. He began to panic, desperate to move, unable to make sense of it all.

A long, curved, sharp dagger appeared over his visor, the interior lights causing it to reflect back in a sickly green color. It tapped over his visor as if getting his attention before three more joined it. Jensen’s body trembled and he felt his interior suit desperately trying to regulate the temperature of the urine that soaked through it. The daggers clamped down over the visor and he heard a whimper escape him.

Four cracks appeared over his helmet, growing slowly as the daggers applied more pressure. He tried to fight, jerk his body about, do anything that would tear him from this nightmare. He was stuck, part of him unable to move from the agonizing fractures at his hips, the other part forced in place by an invisible force. He had endured sleep paralysis throughout his life, never able to rid himself of it, but this was worse. All he could do was whimper and watch behind the daggers as Richard and the doctor kept on toward the airlock.

How had they not noticed? How had they not felt him be blown through the water such a distance? Anything that moved with that much force would have caused a massive rift in the flow of water. They would have felt something, wouldn’t they?

The visor cracked further, the branches nearly reaching the corners. He screamed, tried to tap the sensor at his glove so his companions could hear him but his hands did not respond. This was worse than paralysis, knowing they were there and could help him and all he had to do was connect his communications signal. He screamed again, hoping that somehow his suit would pick it up automatically and relay the signal to them.

He watched as Richard, now a tiny speck off in the distance, turned around. “Jensen?” he said as he began shining his lamp around. Jensen shrieked louder. The doctor turned and began searching with him.

“Where the fuck did he run off to?” said the doctor.

“Help!” shrieked Jensen, desperately trying to get his thumb to obey. “I’m here! Please, heeeeelll-”

His visor shattered, a flow of freezing water, transparent metal shards, and immense amounts of pressure rushed in, filling his mouth mid scream. He felt his head throbbing, eyes wanting to explode. Only a sick gargle escaped as the daggers dug through his skin. His lungs filled with the ice water, burning his insides as his screams gave way for replacement.

No one would ever hear it. Not down here.

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