Chapter 3: The Deep Discovery
The coral curved and dipped and bubbled in every colour imaginable, swaying in long crimson strands and standing straight in creamy-greenish banks.
Sea cucumbers and hundreds of exotic, technicolour fish swarmed around them, seemingly curious; they'd never needed to fear any outsiders, and these odd creatures didn't look like predators to them.
A green moray eel gaped at Alt, who inched away a little in case it bit her, and Sherbie proudly showed her a tiny seahorse curled around his organic forefinger.
It's almost unreal down here. ...Huh?
Something among the reefs caught Alt's attention. She swam down and grabbed it; it was a translucent octahedron with what looked like electronics inside. It felt like it was made of thick glass, and it was definitely not natural.
She couldn't help but have flashbacks to when she'd found the time capsule underwater just a few days after she'd met Sherbie.
She fiddled a little more, before turning to show Sherbie; who wasn't there.
Alt looked around.
Now where did he...?
Then there was a garbled slur of bubbles underwater, and she turned to see Sherbie waving frantically several metres behind her, under a bank of perfectly beautiful coral; and he was pulling out the bottom of it.
At first she stared in outrage, before realizing it was a properly constructed door, of sorts. It slid out and to the side, not damaging the coral in any way at all; revealing a metal passageway beyond, entirely flooded.
Alt kept the octahedron in her hands.
I get the feeling there's a connection between that and this.
She descended and made for the passageway, not sure what to expect.
She flailed briefly before releasing more air from her BCD to become heavier, and slipped inside. Sherbie followed, and the passage door abruptly closed.
There was total darkness, before Sherbie fumbled for a very bright LED activated by touch installed in the top of his fin, causing it to glow brightly and illuminate their immediate surroundings.
Just when Alt thought the underwater journey couldn't get more interesting, there was this.
Where ARE we? How old is this passage? What's down here that needs to be locked up like this?
No idea, Sherbie replied through their electrical link, generated through Alt's tiara.
Maybe a research facility?
Maybe. But what would something like that be doing here? And considering that the entrance was this close to Technuloji but we never knew of it... I don't know what to think.
Sherbie paddled to get ahead, breathing deeply, glancing at his gauge before looking over at her.
Air supply good?
Yeah, I think so.
Alt couldn't stop glancing around at the walls and trying to interpret what she could about whoever constructed them. To build their entrance so close to Technuloji without bothering to disturb it... why?
They must have been uninterested in Technuloji for some reason. Maybe... maybe it was built by aliens?
...Aliens that had no trouble finding their way around underwater and in the dark, no doubt.
Sherbie sniggered through his regulator.
I doubt it, or they'd have contacted you by n-
With a big, wet whoosh, the water drained from the passage and the light came on, dumping the two on their bellies.
Alt began to stand up.
What the heck? Maybe this is an airlock of some sort?
Sherbie took out his regulator, clipping it, and pulled his mask off, running a hand through his hair as he stood, rubbing seawater-salty eyes.
Alt did the same. She then began to pace further through the tunnel. She was still holding the octahedron.
"There has to be something at the end of this tunnel."
Her voice echoed slightly.
"Sure," he said, scratching a water-logged ear, "Let's go s-"
Apparently, that was the wrong answer.
The light turned red and an alarm blared.
'INTRUDER ALERT! INTRUDER ALERT! INTRUDER ALERT!'
Alt stood firm. She had no plans of running.
We must have triggered some kind of security system. Sherbie, can you find it? I think I might be able to hack it.
Several machine guns opened up along the ceiling, on either side of the ceiling in rapid succession, loaded and ready to fire.
Sherbie and Alt instantly backed up so they were back to back, Sherbie's cannon extending and aiming, but ultimately uselessly.
Alt gritted her teeth and eyed the machine gun nearest her. Her mind raced furiously.
She aimed one hand upwards at the gun in question, closed her eyes... and vanished.
Suddenly, the gun re-aimed itself at its companions and opened fire on them, putting them all out of commission one by one.
What had Alt done?
Sherbie whistled, but then several armed guards came rushing out, aiming their weapons and yelling at him to get down.
The machine gun Alt had hacked, now the only one remaining, swiveled over and opened fire on one guard... but held its fire once that one was down, apparently to give the others a chance to rethink their assault.
"Alt, stop!" yelled Sherbie, "They're here to take prisoner, not k-"
It was a female voice, sharp and intelligent, and a female osprey clad in a science overall, loose-fit, with wings folded behind her over her tail, strode out of the door she flung open.
"Stand down!" she napped at the guards, who withdrew their weapons, and she crouched by the downed one.
"His body armour has held, but he is out cold. Take him to the Medical Ward."
As the guards scrambled to obey, the osprey stood, and headed towards Sherbie. "I'm sorry about that, Sherbie- may I call you Sherbie? And can you ask your girlfriend to extract herself from our electricals?"
A second later, Alt rematerialized in mid-air directly beneath the machine gun, landing perfectly on the floor. She whirled around to face the osprey.
"Who are you?" she inquired. "What is all this? And how do you know Sherbie's name?"
The osprey's beautiful stark white, black and electric blue plumage ruffled a little.
"I'm Dr. Pandion, Queen Altair; Dr. Hannah Pandion, I'm a scientist here. I'm sorry for the rude welcoming. Let's get you two dried off, you must be getting cold."
With a smile in her vivid turquoise eyes, Dr. Pandion turned, and Sherbie uncertainly followed.
"I know your names because intel from Technuloji inevitably filters through, it being so close. We have never interfered, so please don't mistake us for being hostile."
Alt followed as well. She made no attempt to show anyone the octahedron just yet.
"So what exactly is the purpose behind this whole construction you've got here, Dr. Pandion?"
"It's part research facility, part underwater living arrangements for almost one hundred individuals."
Sherbie paused briefly.
The osprey nodded, "Families, scientists, other workers...transported here to start a new life."
Alt wasn't sure how to interpret any of that.
"What are you researching? And why here?"
"I'm sure the guy in charge will tell you everything you want to know," Dr. Pandion smiled, a wing flicking briefly as she left them briefly in a room to get rid of their gear and heat-dry, providing Alt with her dress retrieved from the boat to change into.
Then she took them to a lounge of sorts, classy, high-end furniture, with a large clear glass wall showing off the reef around it.
"He'll be here in a moment; can I get you anything to drink?"
"Just a glass of lemonade will do, thank you."
Alt glanced around the lounge, getting more and more interested in this place by the minute.
She also wondered how and when they'd gotten her dress back, but pushed the issue aside.