Jessica stepped into the shuttle. The systems check did a final analysis on her suit to ensure she would be protected, then the launch sequence started. She had a tune that she would hum in time with the digital voice counting down.
The port only showed the emptiness of space. Once the descent began Atlantis would be visible, and if she was lucky she'd get a glimpse of the moon. Not that she needed it, the moon was visible from the ship anytime. She just considered it a good luck sign if she saw it.
The shuttle detached and drifted for a moment. Then the engines kicked in and it headed down to the planet. No moon this time. Jessica always remembered the first time she made this journey alone- the anxiety and terror she had felt had nearly been enough to make her pass out.
Atlantis filled the entirety of the view from the port. Planet OA-3, affectionately known as Atlantis to the Divers. Atlantis was a city at the bottom of Earth's ocean that held treasure, legends said... so for this ocean world with treasure at the bottom it was a fitting nickname.
The shuttle rattled as it entered the atmosphere. Last paycheck Jessica had been able to afford a few upgrades, and now there was no more clanking sound from the right-hand side. She never asked what that clanking was, but she was glad they had fixed it.
Once the ship was close to the water the repulsorlifts flared to life and brought the ship to a nice hover over the surface. She didn't have one of the fancier ships that could land on top and float, or one of the high-end professional ships that could go under. She was a Freelance Diver, which didn't afford her that luxury.
She gave the harness a good tug. The cord that connected her to the shuttle was so slender and frail that it would seem unimaginable that it could support her trip to the bottom, but it was just one of the marvels of technology that she didn't even try to understand.
The doors opened. The first ship she had gone Diving from had doors that opened from the bottom and dropped her directly into the sea, which she hated. She preferred being able to jump on her own.
She didn't even look down as she stepped off. The image of the surface and the shuttle slowly fading from view was one that she had grown to love, she thought it somehow romantic. The result of reading one of those Diver novels, of course.
The lights on the suit automatically switched on as the light dimmed, and she switched them off. The suit and the line emitted a signal that kept any sea life far away, but she didn't need to see if there was a Behemoth swimming nearby.
Behemoth-class lifeforms were plentiful on this planet. Apparently they had been on Earth as well, creatures known as "whales", but that was centuries ago. The first time she had gotten a glimpse of one she had passed out cold and woken up later on the bottom of the ocean. It had been bigger than her spaceship.
In the end, Divers were very similar to fishhooks. Small bits of bait at the end of very thin lines. The difference was that Divers were meant to keep fish away, not draw them closer.
The pressurization in the suit was kept up automatically, and she had needed to adjust the rate several times over the course of her Diving. She sunk much faster than most Divers, courtesy of her robotic legs.
Her legs gave her a distinct advantage over other divers. She could sink faster, swim faster, walk longer, and needed less full-body life support. This let her have more oxygen-absorption cells hooked up, so she could stay down longer. While she regretted the accident that had cost her her legs, she certainly wouldn't take it back.
A small notice on the heads-up display let her know she was getting close to the bottom. She switched on the lights on the suit and surveyed the area. It was a rocky area, which was good, and it looked like there was a ravine not too far away that could be promising.
No Anemones nearby, of course. The odds of getting one right off the bat were very unlikely. The florescent pink was unmistakable, so there was no way of missing one if it were nearby.
Jessica jogged for a little while towards the ravine. She didn't need a jet like other Divers would, again courtesy of her legs. When she reached the edge she peered over.
Small scurries of movement as various lifeforms tried to escape the light. Most aquatic lifeforms would be repelled long before this by the field her suit generated, but some bottom dwellers seemed to be immune to it.
She scanned the ravine. Payday. At least three telltale glows could be seen. The light of her suit only went so far, so she knew the ravine would be very deep. No problem. Worst case scenario would be if she fell too far and would need to be winched up a little.
Over the edge. A few rocky outcroppings were her aim on the way down, there was one very close the the pink glow. This was the only downside to her legs; sometimes a slower descent was better.
A one, a two, a three, and a jump- Jessica had no particular worries with the jump, it would just make things easier if she kept her footing on the way to the Anemones. She landed flawlessly.
There was the first one, rather small and jutting out from the side of the ravine. She edged closer and made another jump, this time the landing was a bit rougher and she stood for a moment at the edge trying to keep her balance.
The needle flipped over to the back of her wrist. She was close enough to get it without much trouble, she just needed to make sure she didn't lose balance at all- a tear in the Anemone could send thousands of credits' worth of fluid out.
The fluid in the Anemones was worth more than nearly any other substance in the galaxy. Jessica had a vague idea of some of the uses it had, but all she knew for sure was that this was the only place in the universe to get it, and it was unable to be synthesized and no Anemones would grow anywhere but here.
The needle went in, her arm was far more steady now than when she had started Diving. Barely a drop of the fluid leaked out, the rest was sucked out into her holding tank. Not a bad haul for the first one, it was far from a large Anemone but it wasn't a baby either.
She kept the needle in until the pink glow faded and the flow of fluid changed to water. Anything but the valuable fluid got automatically filtered out, but there was no point in continuing to pull it in.
With the fluid drained, the Anemone quickly died. Some Divers left them with a small amount of fluid so that they could regrow and repopulate, but for Jessica that was a waste of time. Her claim of the land (the land under the sea) was large enough that she was unlikely to run into any space that she had already been in. The money she was assured of getting now was more important than the money she MIGHT get later.
She scanned the ravine. There were at least two more down here, but getting to them might be a hassle. Then she saw it. It was barely visible, and might just be a trick of her imagination, but she saw it.
Green. A green glow. A King Anemone as they were know, rarer than rare, one in a million if not one in a billion. This wasn't something a Diver even hoped for, the odds of finding one were so low.
She jumped without looking for a ledge. Her hand was ready to stop the cable when she needed, she just needed to get there now. The glow got stronger and stronger as she descended and her breath grew short as her heart beat faster.
There it was. It grew closer and closer, a gigantic green Anemone. A King Anemone. Without a second thought she released the fluid in her tank. That stuff was chump change compared to this. Releasing the fluid required about a half-dozen "ARE YOU SURE" prompts to make sure that she had meant to drop it. Getting rid of that by accident would be a killer.
The cable stopped. A dozen feet above the King Anemone. Jessica's mind froze for a moment. The thought of this being out of her reach filled her mind and she just about had a heart attack.
Then she calmed down. The ravine she was in must have been in a valley, and she had less space on the cable didn't have infinite space. She'd never run out of room before, but there was a first time for everything.
It wasn't the end. This could still be done. She still had remote control of the shuttle. It took her a moment to access it, but she got control. It was quite a few feet above the surface, it could afford to get a little closer. She moved it, inch by inch downward.
It took a while for the slack in the cable to reach her. She dropped down quickly. There it was, the King Anemone within her reach. She swung her legs forward to get access to the ledge it was on, she wanted to be absolutely still for this.
She stood next to it. She scarcely dared to breathe, even though she knew that her suit would keep her breath from altering the current. Her eyes closed for a brief moment of thankful prayer.
The needle came forward again. She braced herself against the side of the ravine and stood with the needle poised above the King Anemone. Stabbing into it ran through her mind about a thousand times.
Then she did it. The needle went down in. A drop of green fluid drifted from the hole, and she resisted the urge to grab it with all her might. That one drop was worth a whole Dive in itself.
The green fluid ran through the tube into her tank. The sight of that nearly made her lose her mind, it was beyond heavenly.
The fluid ran out and saltwater flowed through the tube. She kept it going, she moved the needle around in hopes of grabbing even one more drop. Nothing. The King Anemone sat shriveled and dead in front of her.
In retrospect, she thought that this might have been the one time to leave some fluid behind. Regrowing THIS Anemone would be more than worth it. But too late. It didn't matter too much, she'd have enough money with this to buy half of the Atlantis Orbital Station if she wanted.
Jessica gave the signal for the cable to pull her up. She turned off the lights of the suit as the ocean floor vanished into blackness below her, she turned off the lights of the suit. She closed her eyes and leaned back to relax.
The suit handled the depressurization without problem. The light of the sun (Star OA of quadrant 826) shone through her closed eyelids. She righted herself as the cable pulled her out of the water and back onto the shuttle.
The shuttle seemed so small as she thought about what kind of craft she'd be able to afford now. The door closed behind her and the ascent began. She whistled as she sat gingerly (avoiding any contact with the tank containing the green fluid and the wall) during the flight back up.
It took a little while for her ship to get back to where the shuttle was. Part of the annoyance of planetary rotation and the angle of orbit.
The shuttle connected to her ship. She walked in and let the robotic arms of the Suit Assembly and Disassembly Device pull the Diving suit off her. It took wonderful care of the tank, she knew that. It was designed to prioritize the tank over even the health of the Diver.
"Oi, Assy," she called, "call up Captain Redmond. Tell him it's urgent, and to get his butt over here."
"Assy" was the nickname she had given the ship's AI. It was Autonomous Spacecraft Supervisory Artificial Intelligence by name, A.S.S.A.I., and Jessica always assumed that someone with a good sense of humor had named it.
"Of course, Captain Jessica," Assy responded, "shall I tell him what this summons is regarding?"
"Nah, let him wonder. He'll be in for a BIG surprise. His bosses will be really pumped for this. Heh, he'll probably get a bonus."
"If there was an emergency, Captain Jessica, perhaps you should have notified me earlier?"
Jessica rolled her eyes. This AI was persistent. "I like my solitude during Dives, Assy. You know that. You bring me up if my vitals are in trouble, but we never talk until I'm back. Ever."
"It is my function to assist you in your Dives, Captain Jessica." Assy had no tone of voice, but Jessica always figured he would have a very stern one if he could.
"Whatever. I'm going to take a shower. I got way to heated over this Dive and I'm all sweaty. Don't bother me until I'm out."
Assy was silent for a moment. Jessica knew his orders were conflicting with his directives. "What if Captain Redmond hails you while you are indisposed, Captain Jessica?" he asked.
"Tell him I can't talk."
"Very well, Captain Jessica. Enjoy your shower."
Jessica left her clothes on the floor of the living quarters. It didn't matter if she made a mess, soon she'd be able to hire as many droids as she wanted to clean up. She allowed herself a good laugh as she stepped into the shower.
END PART ONE