Copyright (C) 1993 - 2004
It was dark when the annunciator went off again. The "fish"
had already bumped the paddle at the end of the cage as I turned my
damp head from some idle reveries about cool dry offices.
The mini-crane was beginning to lift it out of the
water and into the boat.
as the boom had the cage on the table, I slapped on the datacomm
link on the fish's head and popped it's latches. In a moment I had
tugged the heavy battery out, and was already wrestling it's 80 lb.
replacement into position. Beyond the head of the slick wet table,
the computer beeped twice, indicating approval from within its
protective plastic bag. Three minutes and forty seconds later, the
fish was back in the water, resuming its computerized search
pattern as I clamped the charger cables onto the old battery, wiped
more sweat from my brow, and with a grumble about my sore back and
sunburnt shoulders, went back to my dreams.
The scene repeated an hour later with another fish. Three
minutes and fifty six seconds this time. I'd have to take sixteen
seconds more on the other one to keep the two balanced. I moved the
boat another hundred and twenty feet south south east before I going
back to sleep.
Morning came as it had every other day that week. A short
picture of colors, then all too soon, endless blue above blue. The
satellites said I'd moved the boat four hundred eighty feet, mostly
in my sleep. The fish had searched another half square mile, had
found and surveyed the wreaks of two small motor boats, and found
nothing of interest. The computer showed my bank balance down
another three hundred forty dollars, and the stock market still
sluggish. Four miles away, I saw boat number three. It looked like
it was lowering another of our fish back into the water.
I didn't know if I could take another day of this, the broiling
the 100% humidity, the absolute brain deadening boredom of -Beep- Ah...
tending another one of that friggin genius's fish! I got up,
slapped on the datacomm link, changed the battery... and heard the
computer beep the maintenance alert tone. Routine motor change.
I'd gotten that procedure down to twelve minutes, but now the fish
would be running unevenly again, wreaking the cycle of my brain dead
daydreams. I looked at the sky and shuddered; then reached for the
power screwdriver, wishing it were something else.
How different it had seemed three short years ago, we'd be
hunting sunken treasure! Billions of dollars worth! For nights,
Months, I dreamt myself scuba diving, swimming around huge cannon,
pulling up pieces of eight, bars of gold, emeralds, rubies... The
dream always ended when I saw the smiling skull of the captain by
the wheel, that master pirate, whoever he had been. As often as
not, he laughed, I think, at me.
Three weeks on this tiny rowboat of a ship, a prison fifteen
paces up, fifteen paces back, two paces across, and -Beep!- another
blasted fish to feed!
This one had some data. I heard the computer dial the cellular
phone, the high speed modem link up with San Francisco a third of a
world away; and once again, I learned nothing of what was down here
beneath my feet.
Then it was Sunday morning. Near midnight in San Francisco,
when their computers faxed us another diving schedule, complete with
the amount of time worth spending at each location. The three of us
teamed up, Saul and I went into the water. Fred, not qualified as
a diver, stood the watch.
Ten minutes later I emerged with a native anchor, a lump of
concreta, cemented sand and shells carved with a crude notch
to hold a rope around
it. A whack
with the back of the ax... As the encrusted sand shattered, as the
black scale scratched off a bit, we saw the gleam of silver shining
in the noonday sun. We looked at each other... then shook our heads
in frustrated dismay. There was a lot more down there somewhere,
but it wasn't here.
Several other "finds" had also been at the heart of concreta rocks
once used to
weigh down lost fishing nets. Three had once been part of
Where all this sand and shell encrusted silver had originally
we still hadn't
Soon, our third month long "vacation" was over. For me, this
insanity was at an end. We tossed out four more $10,000 drift cans
at sites two miles apart along the shore, and started to make our
way back to civilization. We were told the third one went off,
spewing data to San Francisco just as we were checking in our rental
boats; but quite frankly, none of us could afford the cash to go
back and take a look. Or wanted to. By then, all we wanted was
that huge treasure we called civilization, and the sanity we called
our own jobs.
I saw that pirate again last night, striding into dreams all
dressed up, the sheen of his blue silken blouse, the flash of his
jeweled scabbard, the color of his ruddy sunburnt flesh. He was
admiring my car, grew whistfull at the sight of my home all lit up
at night. "What has value, is who we are, and what we do," he said,
straitening up tall as he began a flourish, casting dubloons from
his silk sleaved hand. "Not this... Damned Junk METAL!" I heard him
scream as my eyes, riveted on his swinging hand, watched flesh
shrivel to bone. Nor, echoed my own startled thoughts, some "high
yield" junk bonds I had once coveted. I looked up, shocked, to see
his hollow eye sockets glaring at me. He began to turn away,
shaking his porcelain white skull as he swayed, then staggered away
into the darkness.
Now covered in sweat, I understood at last. We
are who needs us, a part of the organic web of our genteel
civilization, the very web I sought to cut away. The real fun I'd
had in life, was in doing my diverse jobs well, using a little
imagination now and then to add sparkle to my work, and my life; not
the endless back breaking drudgery of my treasure hunting. Nor for
him, had it been the swashbuckling terror of the piratery he'd come
to regret all those years beneath the sea.
For now, I knew I was whom I really wanted to be, and had far
more treasure than lay under the sea, for I knew I had me.