Rolling in the deep, p.1
Rolling in the Deep Copyright © 2015 by Seanan McGuire. All rights reserved.
Dust jacket illustration Copyright © 2015 by Julie Dillon.
All rights reserved.
Print version interior design Copyright © 2015 by Desert Isle Design, LLC. All rights reserved.
PO Box 190106
Burton, MI 48519
For DongWon Song
Thank you so much for everything
The “documentary block” on the Imagine Network was initially regarded as a mistake. Who would turn to a channel which had built its reputation on B-grade horror movies and reruns of old science fiction classics for their nature and historical programming? Faith in the network among subscribers and advertisers was at an all-time low, with fans accusing Imagine of “losing their way” and disrespecting their core audience. Many believed that this decision would spell the end of the Imagine Network, as it had been plagued for some time with declining ratings and reduced advertising commitments from previously loyal sponsors.
It came as a shock to all save the network president, Mr. Benjamin Yant, when the network’s first foray into documentary programming, Loch Ness: A Historical Review, brought in their highest ratings in well over two years. Combining the network’s flair for low-budget sensationalism with the meticulous attention to story that had been the basis for their few successful original series, they now saw a whole new era beginning for Imagine: an era of what they would quickly come to refer to as “hyper-reality programming,” documentaries that were as much about exciting fiction as they were careful fact. It seemed as if Imagine’s future would be as bright as the one they had always predicted for the human race.
Then came the events of May 17, 2015. We may never know how much of the footage from the SS Atargatis was faked, or how much of it was real. Imagine has never been above falsifying their results in pursuit of a good story, and we, the viewing public, encouraged them. What we do know is that none of the scientists, crewmen, or actors who set sail with the Atargatis were aboard when the ship was found, adrift, some six weeks later, and none of them have resurfaced since.
If this was a hoax, it was one of the largest in living memory.
—from Modern Ghost Ships: The Atargatis, originally aired on the Imagine Network, December 2017.
Come Sail Away
Captain Seghers, permission to come aboard?”
The request was made in a tremulous voice, almost drowned out by the sound of the ship’s engine being put through its paces. All systems needed to be checked before they set sail: a six-week voyage was nothing to sneer at under any circumstances, and spending six weeks completely cut off from communications, in waters so remote as to be effectively uncharted, made the equipment checks doubly important. One mechanical failure could spell a great deal of discomfort for the crew, and for the passengers who had paid so much to set sail. Deaths were unlikely, given the number of precautions in place, but Jovanie Seghers had been working the ocean long enough to know that nothing could be ruled out.
She had also been hiring herself and her ship out for long enough to know that ignoring the men who paid her bills would never end the way she wanted it to. She waved until she got her first mate’s attention, and then signed ‘Stepping out, watch the meters.’
David—who wasn’t wearing any ear protection, despite standing directly next to the snarling engine; unlike the rest of her crew, he didn’t need it—waved enthusiastically back before signing ‘OK’ and returning to his task. Jovanie glanced one more time around the engine room, fingers itching with the need to get back to work. Then she turned, standing a little straighter, and climbed up the short flight of stairs between her and the deck.
The accountant from Imagine was waiting for her there, his eyes darting anxiously back and forth as he listened to the groans and whirs coming from below. Jovanie assessed him quickly, and just as quickly wrote him off. He wasn’t going to sail with them; no one who looked like he was about to be seasick from standing on the deck while they were anchored at the dock would willingly spend one minute on a moving ship. And if he wasn’t going to sail with them, he was just one more obstacle to overcome before she made her way back to the open sea.
“Captain Seghers, the men are ready to begin loading our equipment, and we’re expecting the rest of the team to arrive inside of the hour,” he said. “I’m still missing confidentiality forms from three members of your crew. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you how important it is that we maintain absolute secrecy for this mission—”
“Really?” She pulled her phone out of her pocket, pressing “play” on the queued video before holding it out for the gray-faced man to see. “Because this was all over the news feeds this morning.” She didn’t need to see the screen to know what he was seeing: a reporter from the Imagine Network’s daily web show, standing on the dock just far enough from the Atargatis that none of her crew had seen the little rat before it was too late. The woman on the screen would be excitedly gesturing over her shoulder toward the Atargatis, projecting the mix of aw-shucks girl next door and canny wild genius that Imagine cultivated in their young, photogenic “faces of the network.”
The accountant sputtered for a moment before saying, “Perhaps I misspoke when I claimed that the mission would be conducted under the utmost secrecy.”
“No, perhaps you misspoke when you insisted that you trusted my crew.” She stuffed the phone back into her pocket, ignoring the fact that the video was still playing. “Why are we signing confidentiality agreements?”
“Because there will be real scientific work conducted during your voyage, and the results will be confidential and wholly owned by the Imagine Network until such time as we choose to release them,” said the accountant. “Some of the people sailing with you will be spending time on private projects as well; this has been approved, providing it does not in any way interfere with their duties to the mission, which will take first priority from the time you launch until you turn around and come back home. There will also be unavoidable storyline elements played out by some members of our team—they have already received their scripts—and while our viewers are aware that we fals—er, fictionalize certain elements in our documentaries for the sake of a better narrative, we depend on them not knowing which elements have been enhanced.”
Jovanie frowned, puzzling through that statement. “You mean no one knows for sure which parts are lies, so they’re welcome to believe whatever they like.”
“I don’t believe I would put it in those terms,” said the accountant.
“That means ‘yes,’” said Jovanie. “I’ll get my crew to sign within the hour. Your people know that we’re setting off at six, correct?” That wasn’t the time she would have chosen to set sail, but everything about this voyage was being dictated by Imagine, even down to the time they left port. A sunset departure would allow the camera crews to get some dramatic shots of the Atargatis sailing away, and her crew had dealt with night sailing before. There wasn’t a woman or man in her employ that she wouldn’t trust with her life. That was a damn good thing, too. Six weeks was a long time to spend with a bunch of coddled Hollywood types and absent-minded professors. She’d need her crew if she wanted to sail out the other side of this work-for-hire and into the clement harbor of fiscal solvency.
The accountant looked like he wanted to say something else. Jovanie fixed him with a stern eye and waited until he muttered, “Please be sure to deliver those forms to the assistant before you leave.” Then he turned and fled, leaving her alone on the deck.
“How’s my light?”
“Your light’s good.”
“I don’t think my light’s good.”
“Your light’s amazing. Fantastic. The best light that has ever been seen by anyone in the world. It’s a crime that I’m going to be filming you, instead of focusing on the light. The light should be my sole focus.” Kevin kept his eye on the monitor, seeing his subject only through the filter of a lens and a screen. It was easier that way.
The subject in question pouted, pushing her lips out in a clearly calculated manner. She must have practiced that expression a thousand times in her mirror, figuring out exactly how far she could take it without either smearing her lipstick or distorting her attractively nerdy features into something that would have the geek boys changing the channel. If there was one thing Anne Stewart knew, it was how to catch and hold an audience. That was what had gotten her the job as one of the Imagine Network web correspondents, and that was what had allowed her to parlay her admittedly specialized experience into a position on the documentary team.
The Imagine audience was already accustomed to taking her as an authority, and having her following a team of scientists as they looked for lake monsters, or Bigfoots, or—best of all—mermaids just added an air of legitimacy to the proceedings. Anne said it was so, and so it was. Being a professional tautologist paid well enough that she was planning to stick with it as long as she could. Knowing just what shade of Felicia Day red to dye her hair, and what glasses to wear to give herself the exact right combination of cute, approachable, and “I know something you don’t know” was all part of the game.
“My light?” she prompted.
Kevin sighed deeply. He liked Anne. Out of all the documentary “faces,” she was the most consistently professional, and was remarkably low-bullshit when she wasn’t standing in front of a camera. Too bad it was her job to stand in front of cameras, and his job to stand behind them. “Is swell, okay? We’re live in five, four, three…”
As soon as he finished the countdown, Anne smiled. It was an expression as carefully practiced as her pout, and like the pout, it worked. “We’re here at an undisclosed dock in Washington state, where the majestic ocean vessel Atargatis is getting ready to set sail on what promises to be a historic journey of discovery and danger. Because this isn’t just any voyage, and we’re not sailing with just any crew. Some of the world’s best minds have been assembled—scientists, scholars, researchers from all over the globe—to answer, once and for all, the question that has plagued mankind since we first took to the seas. Are mermaids the hallucinations of lonely sailors? Or are they real?”
She walked over to the rail keeping passengers and bystanders from toppling into the water, shooting a meaningful look at the horizon before she turned back to the camera. “Cultures around the world have reported sightings of sirens, selkies, and other sea-dwelling peoples for millennia. But we’ve never been able to find any hard scientific evidence that could prove things one way or the other. Could so many historical accounts be wrong? If they’re not, why can’t we find these elusive creatures? Are they smarter than us? Faster than us? Or are they just that determined not to be found? Whatever the answer, the Atargatis will return with conclusive proof. Whether mermaids are myth or misunderstood reality, we’ll be bringing you all the facts, all the details, and all the excitement of an answer that humanity has been seeking for ages. Join us. Learn the truth.”
Anne stopped speaking as she turned and looked back toward the horizon, extending her neck and tilting her chin so that her profile was presented at its best possible angle while the sea breeze whipped her hair around her cheekbones. After she had held that position for roughly eight seconds—long enough to give them as much footage as they were going to need in editorial—Kevin hit a button on the camera and called, “We’re clear.”
“Great.” Anne spun around on her heel, beaming. She looked less calculated now, and more like a real person. Maybe that was why she wasn’t allowed to smile that way on camera. If she looked too real, she’d become less of an idealized fantasy, and half their viewers would run. “How’d I do?”
“Well, you were nothing compared to the light, but…” Anne made a face. Kevin laughed. “You did great. You’ll have everyone believing in mermaids in no time.”
“That’s the idea,” said Anne. That was the idea that would secure her a new contract with the network and keep her on the air for another year—long enough for her agent to convince them to take a chance on her genre-oriented talk show. She wouldn’t be young and cute and beloved of the camera forever. Better to get ahead of the game. If it took mermaids to do it, well. She’d convinced people of more for less.
“How do you feel about getting some more atmospherics before we set sail?” asked Kevin. “We don’t need much. Just enough to give the crew back at the network something to play with.”
Anne’s TV-smile snapped back into place, as vivid as if it had never left. “I’m game.”
“This is ridiculous,” announced Jonny, putting down the crate he had been instructed to carry aboard the ship. It joined a pile of similar crates, all of them empty, all of them with Atargatis stenciled across the side in large block letters, on the floor of the cabin. “We’re not porters.”
“Which is good, since you didn’t port anything,” replied his boyfriend Anton, earning himself a brief but vicious glare. Anton ignored it in favor of continuing to read his book. It wasn’t that enthralling—he could only read about the life cycles of jellyfish of the Mariana Trench so many times before he stopped really caring—but it would keep him from starting off this tour with one of their historic fights. Dr. Jonny Chen and Dr. Anton Matthews came as a package deal: the best marine phycologist in the world and one of the three best marine biomolecular biologists in the world. Expeditions could get two for the price of one if they didn’t mind the way the pair would attack each other at random, a highly unprofessional behavior that somehow bound them closer together than anything else could possibly have done.
It helped that deep water phycologists were incredibly rare, and marine biomolecular biologists working outside of pharmacological research even more so. If the Atargatis hadn’t been willing to take the two, they might have been forced to sail without an algae expert, and without anyone who could accurately explain the results of the water protein sampling that was planned by the network.
“We’re performing,” said Alexandra MacMillan. She was the head of their chemical analysis team, a young, enthusiastic doctor from Colorado who had gone into marine chemistry almost to spite her landlocked home state. “They’re filming us carrying these boxes aboard so that they can spin it like we loaded all our scientific equipment.”
“I’ll never understand why Imagine doesn’t want anyone to know we have a crew,” said Jill Hale, their deep-sea cartographer. Her sounding machines had been among the first loaded on board. While the terms of their expedition didn’t actually allow for deep dives, she was incredibly excited by the thought of taking measurements of the sea floor. Some of the spots they were supposed to be sailing through had never been properly mapped, and with the equipment Imagine had provided, she’d be able to get full sonar readings. Maybe even some photos, depending on the depths involved and how quickly she burned through her pressure-rated cameras. “They can’t think anyone will believe we’re running this boat by ourselves.”
“She’s a ship, Dr. Hale, and since Imagine expects people to believe that we’ve found proof of mermaids, I suppose we shouldn’t question them insisting that a group of scientists can run the Atargatis without help,” said the short, dark-haired woman who had appeared in the cabin door. The scientists turned toward the unfamiliar voice. Most of them stood, or at least sat up a little straighter, as they recognized their captain.
Jovanie Seghers was a small woman, but made up
Finally, she spoke again, asking, “Who are we missing?”
“Drs. Harris and Weinstein,” said Alexandra. “They’re supposed to be here inside of the hour. They’re bringing the interns with them.” Thirty fresh-faced young things recruited straight out of college by Imagine, lured in with promises of publication and television exposure.
“Good; if they’re not, we sail without them.” The captain folded her hands behind her back, giving the assembled scientists a slow look. “I know that you are all in the employ of the Imagine Network. For the duration of our trip, so am I. My crew, however, remains in my employ. They do not run errands for you. They do not check readings for you. They do not interact with you in any way unless it is either vital to the operation of this ship, or has been approved by me. In return, I will not throw any of you overboard. Do I make myself perfectly clear?”
“You’re a little snippy,” said Jonny, narrowing his eyes. “Aren’t you getting paid enough?”
“Believe me, I’m getting paid just as well as you are,” replied Captain Seghers. “And yet I somehow don’t feel that constitutes sufficient justification to allow you to damage my ship in the name of science.”
“We understand completely, Captain,” said Alexandra hurriedly. She had been on privately owned vessels rented for scientific purposes before, and knew both what kind of damage careless civilians could do to the vessel and what kind of damage an angry captain could do to those same civilians. “We won’t be touching anything but our own equipment without your full permission.”