The room was dark, the air humid and close. Dolores, Imelda and Electra lay completely under the covers. Dolores’ legs made short, kicking motions. Inky blackness was all around as they sank deeper and deeper. The probing beams of the bathyscaphe showed nothing at all.
Imelda sat in the pilot’s chair, her hands rested lightly on the control joysticks, her eyes scanned the camera screens, gauges and dials. She steepened the angle of descent and they sank lower.
Beside her Electra monitored her own set of instruments, her face serene with concentration and underlit by slowly phasing green and yellow lights.
Dolores’ own telemetry showed current flow, temperature, dissolved oxygen and salinity, and the state of their life support systems. She watched and waited. The familiar change in the reading came and a moment later she felt the bathyscaphe’s trim adjust as Imelda swung the craft down and down towards the warmer water.
A psychic pulse swept through them like a searchlight – Tuoni. The three women exchanged looks of nervous anticipation. Imelda pushed the throttles open all the way. Outside, interference patterns from the ship’s lights flickered green and pink along the beating cilia of comb jellies.
Electra shut down her monitoring. ‘We don’t need this.’ She touched her belly. ‘I feel him.’
‘You really are here, aren’t you?’ Dolores’ mouth was dry. ‘This isn’t just my dream.’
Imelda reached for Dolores’ hand. ‘We’re really here.’
The thought of encountering Tuoni alone awed them. Together it was something they could do.
Silent, dark and unchanging, the silty grey realm of Tuonela stretched endlessly below them, vaster than continents, ancient before life crawled onto dry land.
Buckles snapped open, restraint webbing whirred back into its housing as Imelda freed herself from the pilot’s chair. She turned a key on the overhead console and flicked a row of metal toggles. One by one systems shut down. Engines stilled, lights dimmed, air scrubbers fell silent. The bathyscaphe drifted two miles below the surface of the Atlantic ocean.
Under the dim red maintenance light Imelda’s face glowed with the same ecstatic trepidation Dolores felt thumping in her own chest.
Tuoni’s mind, his desires, swept through them again.
Electra spun the wheel of the hatch lock. She put her hand on the release lever and broke the seal.
Needle thin jets of water harder than steel carved into the decking, driven by three hundred atmospheres of pressure.
Intrigued, Dolores held her hand under the jet. Skin and flesh sloughed away down to the bone. She watched her ruined flesh re-knit, the new skin hard and pliant and filled with knives.
‘Let us join him,’ Electra said, and pushed impossibly up against the titanic pressure on the hatch.
Black, boiling concussion crushed them.
Tuoni gathered them to himself. He slid into their minds and bodies. Bring her to me. Bring me my wife, my sea-bride.
You too shall bear my children.
Afterwards they crawled exhausted from the bed and clung to each other. Sweat-drenched, unable to talk, denied speech by the utter impossibility of framing Tuoni’s awful rapture in human speech. Such desires.
Dolores fell back, her mouth open in a silent howl of ecstasy and despair. Tuoni still seeped through her mind, dregs of the ocean ebbed within her. She buried her face in the bedclothes.
And recoiled. Something on her bed had been touched by the sea. Alarmed, Dolores groped for the light.
‘What?’ Electra croaked.
Dolores held up the green jacket. ‘This. It’s hers.’
Each time Tuoni came to them a little more of his essence remained. Electra and Imelda held the green jacket and gasped. They felt it too. It was hers, she was here. Wassiter knew where she was.
In the morning light Electra found Dolores sitting on the bathroom stool, her stockings pooled forgotten on the floor. Together they looked at the webs of skin growing between her toes.
To be continued…