They plummet head-first, dragged down by a hundred kilograms of improvised ballast. Asante chokes, jams his mouthpiece into place; coughs seawater through the exhaust and sucks in a hot lungful of fresh-sparked hydrox. Pressure builds against his eardrums. He swallows, swallows again, manages to keep a few millibars ahead of outright rupture. He has just enough freedom of movement to claw at his face and slide the defractors over his eyes. The ocean clicks into focus, clear as acid, empty as green glass.
Green turns white.
Seen in that flash-blinded instant: four thin streams of bubbles, rising to a surface gone suddenly incandescent. Four dark bodies, falling away from the light. A thunderclap rolls through the water, deep, downshifted, as much felt as heard. It comes from nowhere and everywhere.
The roof of the ocean is on fire. Some invisible force shreds their contrails from the top down, tears those bubbles into swirling silver confetti. The wave-front races implacably after them. The ocean bulges, recoils. It squeezes Asante like a fist, stretches him like rubber; Tiwana and Acosta tumble away in the backwash. He flails, stabilizes himself as the first jagged shapes resolve overhead: dismembered chunks of the booby-trapped gyland, tumbling with slow majesty into the depths. A broken wedge of deck and stairwell passes by a few meters away, tangled in monofilament. A thousand glassy eyes stare back from the netting as the wreckage fades to black.
Asante scans the ocean for that fifth bubble trail, that last dark figure to balance Those Who Left against Those Who Returned. No one overhead. Below, a dim shape that has to be Garin shares its mouthpiece with the small limp thing in its arms. Beyond that, the hint of a deeper dark against the abyss: a shark-like silhouette keeping station amid a slow rain of debris. Waiting to take its prodigal children home again.
They’re too close to shore. There might be witnesses. So much for stealth ops. So much for low profiles and no-questions-asked. Metzinger’s going to be pissed.
Then again, they are in the Gulf of Mexico.
Any witnesses will probably just think it caught fire again.