Just as Dantes
glove closed over the cartridge, the grotesque head of a moray eel exploded
out of the hole, revealing an improbably gaping mouth of inch-long needles.
Shocked, he snapped back his arm, and the jaws bit down on the metal of
the marker buoy, sending broken teeth in all directions.
In a panic, Dante
dropped the cartridge and reached for the valve of his B.C. Star grabbed
him before he could inflate the vest and shoot upward.
She pushed her mask
right up against his, communicating her message with dark eyes: Calm
down. It didnt happen. Youre okay.
Dante nodded, gasping
into his regulator. He was a pretty crummy diver, Star reflected, but
sometimes luck was more important than skill. The big eel could have taken
a substantial chunk of flesh out of his hand.
Not far away, Kaz
and Adriana were tagging a cave entrance with another one of the marker
buoys. There was a pop followed by a hiss, and the float rocketed to the
One down and five
hundred to go, Star thought to herself. She still couldnt figure
out why Tad Cutter needed this. To map every grotto and nook in a reef
system the size of Hidden Shoals would take years, not a couple of months.
It didnt make sense.
She was enjoying the
chance to dive without the bulky scuba tank. It was a feeling of freedom,
although she was tethered to the Brownie by her air hose and safety line.
Soaring and swooping with the fish, pretending to be one of them
it was a childish game, but Star never got tired of it.
She swam with a school
of mackerel until they were scattered by a big loggerhead turtle. The
loggerheads stony shell felt ancient against her gloved hand
a piece of prehistory here in the twenty-first century.
She spotted Kaz hovering
over another cave, unclipping a fresh marker buoy from his belt. He wasnt
much of a diver either, she reflected. But there was an ease, almost a
grace to his movements something only natural athletes had.
As Star watched him
work, a large barracuda loomed up behind the boy.
Should I signal
She remembered the
incident with the shark. Kaz was easily spooked, and might do something
stupid. Besides, barracudas never attack humans on purpose.
But the seven-footer
was nosy. Star bit her tongue as the protruding lower jaw probed right
up behind Kaz, the gleaming teeth mere inches from the back of his neck.
All at once, Kaz turned
around, coming face to jaws with the notorious predator. Shocked, he triggered
the marker buoy. The pop startled the barracuda, and it turned tail and
darted away. Star laughed, sending clouds of bubbles rushing for the surface.
Adriana was nearby,
paralleling the bottom, trying to shoo away an aggressive lobster. She
was a little more comfortable in the water than Kaz a tourist,
rather than a beginner. The girl was obviously rich and had done some
diving on high-priced vacations in the past.
It bugged her. Not
that Adriana was loaded, but that Poseidon had matched Star with such
Then again, how
could they be sure I was any good? They knew about my cerebral palsy
It was almost as if
Poseidon had gone after weak divers on purpose.
came a cry.
Dante again. If the
boy didnt stop yelling underwater, he was going to drink enough
salt to give himself high blood pressure.
He was pointing and
waving probably at another rabbit hole he considered a cave. But
when she swam to his side, he was gazing off into the distance, where
the reef fell off into deeper water.
She squinted, trying
to zoom in on the object of his interest. Light, and therefore visibility,
diminished with depth. She shot him an expansive shrug. Because of the
need to communicate without words, divers often used exaggerated gestures
like stage actors playing to the back row.
Dante deflated his
B.C., descending into the twilight. Star followed. A tug at her belt told
her that the safety line had become taut, and that they were now pulling
the Brownie along with them. She glanced over her shoulder and saw that
the others had noticed it too. Kaz and Adriana finned after them.
What does Dante
think he sees? There was such a thing as an underwater mirage. His
magnified eyes behind his mask gave him a deranged appearance. It was
easy to believe he was hallucinating.
And then she spotted
In the middle of this
most natural of settings, it was jarring to see something so artificial,
so manmade. The sunken airplane sat in the sand, its fuselage partially
encrusted with coral and sea life. One wing had broken off on impact with
the water. It lay a short distance away, hidden by seaweed.
began to pound so hard she was afraid it might burst her wetsuit. This
was the ultimate divers prize. A wreck! She had read about this
experience in scuba magazines. But the excitement of the real thing went
far beyond anything she could have imagined.
She approached slowly,
reverently, half expecting the plane to vanish just as she reached out
to touch it. Never had she imagined this could happen to her and
certainly not when she was teamed up with a bunch of landlubbers like
this bunch! The others hung back, watching her uncertainly.
When she spotted the
insignia on the side, a gasp escaped her a larger bubble among
the many smaller ones. The marking was obscured by anemone growth, but
it was unmistakable. A swastika! This was a German warplane from World
She swam over to peer
into the cockpit, half expecting to see a skeleton at the controls. But,
no. The big bomber was deserted.
The windshield was
shattered, providing a narrow entryway to the downed plane.
Star hesitated. Wreck
diving could be dangerous.
But this is the
chance of a lifetime!
She entered the cockpit
and squeezed between the pilots and co-pilots chairs into
the body of the plane. The space was tiny it was hard to believe
that an entire crew of grown men flew in this cigar box. Just a few feet
into the fuselage and she was in near total darkness. The only light was
from two turrets of bulletproof glass. Out of each pointed a swiveling
machine gun, harmless now, encased in a layer of coral. It was a grim
reminder that this silent metal husk was once an instrument of war, a
delivery system for death.
She snaked back toward
the bombers tail. Here, there was absolute blackness, and the walls
closed in until she was in the narrowest of tunnels.
As she reversed course,
her flipper caught on the low ceiling and came off. Alertly, she was able
to trap it between her legs. Putting it on again in the cramped space
was a major operation, and she was surprised at how exhausted it left
her. Her bubbles, trapped below the ceiling of the craft, converged to
form a small pocket of air.
get out of here.
But not without a
souvenir some kind of proof that shed been there. Artifacts,
the wreck divers called them. Plates and silverware from sunken ships
were especially prized. But what to take from a plane? She couldnt
exactly snap off a three-hundred-pound propeller.
Once again, her eyes
fell on the machine gun. A full strap of ammunition dangled from the carbine,
waving lightly in the current.
She crawled rather
than swam up to it, grasping holds on the floor of the cabin. Popping
the shells out was easier than she expected the old strapping fell
apart on contact, and the bullets dropped into her glove. The thrill of
their touch was almost tangible.
World War Two in
the palm of your hand, she reflected. Hey
Fiddling with the
gun had disturbed the layer of silt that covered the plane. A storm of
swirling brown particles filled the turret. The bullets slipped through
her fingers and disappeared.
Going after her prize
was instinct. Any diver would have done the same thing. She ducked into
the cloud as if bobbing for apples. That was when she felt it no
flow of compressed gas from the demand regulator between her teeth.
She was out of air.