Two days had passed since the Tortoise Shells were opened. Dmitri was the first to awake from deep sleep. He didn’t feel particularly strange; it was entirely different from the last time, when he had experienced severe vomiting. He calmly closed his eyes and pushed the button, and could hear the heavy footsteps of scientists approaching. “Open your eyes.” A faint voice whispered the command through earphones connected to the immersion fluid. His eyes gradually began to sense the light. It was Madam Yan who checked his pupils. The tedious examination went on for about forty minutes. “Prepare to dive. If everything is OK, sign.” As he listened to Yan’s instructions, Dmitri checked himself—his body, the feeling. Will it be all right? Yes, probably, he thought. He pressed the button. As the equipment began to detach from his body piece by piece, he slowly steadied his mind. The most dangerous moment was at hand. Accidents were frequent, even after flawless checkups, and an accident meant death. That was why they all feared diving. Roughly speaking, the process involved pulling the submerged body out from the immersion fluid, but they all referred to it as diving because, contrary to the physical action, the conscious sensation was like falling from a great height. The [End Page 281] countdown began. Though he had already completed five dives, he always dreaded this moment. He closed his eyes. His submerged body, maintaining its gentle angle, was slowly raised. Feeling the lap of the fluid’s surface against his skin, Dmitri took a deep breath.
The five Deepers were gathered inside the room. It had been a week since the Tortoise Shells were opened. On the table and connected spiral-shaped sofa sat Chris, Sophie, and Saemk’e; about four meters away, Kong and Dmitri lay sprawled on discarded cushions. The dull Asia Create News had been running for thirty minutes. Saemk’e and Chris hated the news, but neither of them reached for the remote sitting on the table. In fact, the other three Deepers wore vacant expressions as well. Sophie kept her eyes closed and Dmitri repeatedly buried his face in the cushion. No one asked where Juan and Pablo were. It felt as if Asia Create’s monotonous programming had been designed for precisely this moment. Madam Yan, who entered wearing a pressurized suit, was also aware of this fact. Without any mention of Juan or Pablo, she rattled off updates in a tone as monotonous as the news. Having spent the past five years with this group of Deepers, she knew it was what the present moment demanded.
“Five years today,” Chris said immediately after Madam Yan exited the room. “Five years—.” As if programmed, the five Deepers recalled that day five years ago. Sophie had been the first to set foot in this place, the Cube. Of the first class of Deeper volunteers, only she remained. Among the second group there were three survivors: Chris, Saemk’e, and Dmitri. Kong had been specially appointed for his unique genes. After completing the sixth injection, the group’s R-71 balance had miraculously reached nearly identical levels. The manometer installed at the room’s entrance had even measured a two-level rise. “Are we now—have we fully become Deepers?” Saemk’e murmured with a dazed [End Page 282] expression. “There’s still one injection left,” Dmitri whispered. “If we can survive another one.” Saemk’e became quiet. Glimpsing in her expression the shadow of Pablo, the four others once again fell silent. Without a word, Chris wrapped his thick hands around Saemk’e’s shoulders. Tears began to flow from her eyes. They were the 2.7 trillion gallon1-invested, most expensive tears on earth.
It all began with the earthquake one hundred years ago. The year was 2387 CE. Although damage to the earth’s surface was mild, it was the largest oceanic earthquake in history. Marine geologists christened it “The year the earth revealed its crevice,” after the 19,251 meter-deep oceanic trench the quake left in its wake between the Cocos...