"Starfish "lit the fuse. "Maelstrom "was the explosion. But five years into the aftermath, things aren't quite so simple as they once seemed...
Lenie Clarke-rifter, avenger, amphibious deep-sea cyborg-has destroyed the world. Once exploited for her psychological addiction to dangerous environments, she emerged in the wake of a nuclear blast to serve up vendetta from the ocean floor. The horror she unleashed-an ancient, apocalyptic microbe called ssehemoth- has been free in the world for half a decade now, devouring the biosphere from the bottom up. North America lies in ruins beneath the thumb of an omnipotent psychopath. Digital monsters have taken Clarke's name, wreaking havoc throughout the decimated remnants of something that was once called Internet ...
First there is only the sound, in darkness. Drifting on the slope of an undersea mountain, Lenie Clarke resigns herself to the imminent loss of solitude.
She's far enough out for total blindness. Atlantis, with its gantries and beacons and portholes bleeding washed-out light into the abyss, is hundreds of meters behind her. No winking telltales, no conduits or parts caches pollute the darkness this far out. The caps on her eyes can coax light enough to see from the merest sparkle, but they can't create light where none exists. Here, none does. Three thousand meters, three hundred atmospheres, three million kilograms per square meter have squeezed every last photon out of creation. Lenie Clarke is as blind as any dryback.
After five years on the Mid Atlantic Ridge, she still likes it this way.
But now the soft mosquito whine of hydraulics and electricity rises around her. Sonar patters softly against her implants. The whine shifts subtly in pitch, then fades. Faint surge as something coasts to a stop overhead.
"Shit." The machinery in her throat turns the epithet into a soft buzz. "Already?"
"I gave you an extra half-hour." Lubin's voice. His words are fuzzed by the same technology that affects hers; by now the distortion is more familiar than the baseline.
She'd sigh, if breath were possible out here.
Clarke trips her headlamp. Lubin is caught in the ignited beam, a black silhouette studded with subtle implementation. The intake on his chest is a slotted disk, chrome on black. Corneal caps turn his eyes into featureless translucent ovals. He looks like a creature built exclusively from shadow and hardware; Clarke knows of the humanity behind the façade, although she doesn't spread it around.
A pair of squids hover at his side. A nylon bag hangs from one of the meter-long vehicles, lumpy with electronics. Clarke fins over to the other, flips a toggle from slave to manual. The little machine twitches and unfolds its towbar.
On impulse, she kills her headlight. Darkness swallows everything again. Nothing stirs. Nothing twinkles. Nothing attacks.
It's just not the same.
"Something wrong?" Lubin buzzes.
She remembers a whole different ocean, on the other side of the world. Back on Channer Vent you'd turn your lights off and the stars would come out, a thousand bioluminescent constellations: fish lit up like runways at night; glowing arthropods; little grape-sized ctenophores flashing with complex iridescence. Channer sang like a siren, lured all those extravagant midwater exotics down deeper than they swam anywhere else, fed them strange chemicals and turned them monstrously beautiful. Back at Beebe Station, it was only dark when your lights were on.
But Atlantis is no Beebe Station, and this place is no Channer Vent. Here, the only light shines from indelicate, ham-fisted machinery. Headlamps carve arid tunnels through the blackness, stark and ugly as burning sodium. Turn them off, and…nothing.
Which is, of course, the whole point.
"It was so beautiful," she says.
He doesn’t have to ask. "It was. Just don't forget why."
Book Three in the Rifters Trilogy.
Book One: Starfish
Book Two: Maelstrom