Excerpt: 'Frozen Fire' by Bill Evans and Marianna Jameson

The dive master issued a command and Micki felt a low vibration begin as the ship's winch was brought to life. Seconds later, the pod encasing her was lifted from the tender ship's dive platform. The deck disappeared from her view as the dive tube was swung slowly away from the ship to hang in mid-air above the surface of the calm early-dawn sea. She felt a brief shudder as the winch's gear shifted and then the sensation of falling in slow motion took over.

The splash-down was easy and controlled, and the dive tube's motors started flawlessly when she initiated the ignition sequence. Less than ten minutes after she'd been given the captain's begrudging clearance to dive, she heard the loud metallic clunk as the tether released her and retracted, leaving her free to maneuver the sleek unit to her destination two thousand feet below the surface, and two thousand feet above the most daring mining operation ever undertaken.

Pointing the nose down, Micki left the surface world. The first thing she did was switch off the communications link to the Wangari . With the faint radio static gone, the only noises she could hear were the muted hum of the pod's motor and the sparkling rush of bubbles past the porthole. The sounds soothed her as she aimed the vessel away from the well-lit surface and toward the dark, dramatic cliff created by a tectonic shift thousands of years ago. Time seemed suspended as she moved quickly and effortlessly through the water.

As she neared the shallow, twilit floor of the continental shelf, she cut her speed so she could enjoy what would be her last trip to this pristine undersea paradise. She felt no regret about what she was intending to do. She'd been granted an opportunity to right some of humanity's wrongs, and the vista before her was her reward. Coral and anemones and brightly colored fish, doing what they'd done for millennia, displayed no curiosity toward the noisy monster that moved past them in the watery dusk. Micki slowed further, gliding just above the smooth sea floor.

Octopi slithered away. Eels and their clueless prey watched her from their crevices among the rocks and maddening human debris that littered the bottom. Curiosity got the best of a pair of shy hammerhead sharks and they swam toward her, arcing up and away seconds before they would have made impact. Moving at a speed that barely registered, Micki steered the submersible to the stark, jagged line where the sea floor gave way to the abyss and hovered there, pointing downward, for a few seconds.

Then, with an abrupt burst of acceleration, she sent the dive tube surging over the edge. The deepest dark appeared beneath her, replacing the half-light reflected by the pale, sandy bottom now behind her. Her body braced itself against the sensation of falling that her intuition insisted was taking place, though the tube was stable in the water.

Embraced by the primordial darkness of the abyss, Micki closed her eyes as something close to an orgasmic rush tightened every muscle, electrified every nerve, in her body. Her gasp echoed in the tight space and it took more than a moment for her to catch her breath, to bring her mind to the task at hand.

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