Silence apart from the muffled sound of his own movement. Xu twists to look up. Sunlight plays on the blue surface overhead. He floats, a gentle kick keeping his momentum with the rest of the group. He checks his watch. Lets air out from the BCD, sinks with a pressure that requires him to equalise. Links his arms back under his chest.
The pressure is lighter than he is used to. The dive tables are wrong, they are using adhoc extensions based on calculations that may be wrong. The effect of the lighter gravity, of the lower air pressure, are based on altitude tables that were little more than guesses when they were drawn up.
The leader of the group drops again. The group follows. Gentle kicks, watching the air, keeping an eye on each other. As they start to drop below the shelf they hit fifty metres. They are falling into the blue. Robots have already mapped this area, taken samples, photographed the indigenous wildlife; that means that it is safe. They are not here to explore, they are here to test the limits of their own bodies. The multiplicity of effect of diving on an alien world is completely unknown and there is only one way to find out. Suck it and see.
Xu feels a tug on his fin. The is a shot of alarm, Rado is behind him, he turns to see. Rado is grabbing at his legs. Xu’s instinct is to kick back, instead he tries to twist away. He needs to calm Rado down. They are under strict orders to follow the schedule. Rado’s eyes, distorted and wild behind the think glass of his mask, betray a panic. Bubbles spill from his mouth. Communication while diving is a matter of pre-arrangement. There is no empathy, no connection. It seems impossible to offer reassurance.
Rado starts to kick for the surface. Xu is reluctant to follow but he pushes after him, trying to draw their bodies together, to link arms, to bring their eyes together so that they can find that sense of humanity. Rado’s hand clutches hard, the coolness of the contact belies that they are touch flesh. Xu reaches for Rado’s BCD to stabilise him, to check his air supply. Their dive is over now. Once they have started an ascent the rules are clear. Rado has re-gained his composure. He looks at Xu with what he knows is apology. Xu feels himself shrug. He looks down at the others, already nearly lost in the dark, only the occasional silhouette against the glow of the cliff sponges.