Alain was daydreaming in his vehicle, watching the sun slowly set through clouds still heavy with tears. He had turned off the engine of his old car about five minutes ago, trying not to hear the rain that was now just a whisper, but he wasn't ready yet to cross the white gravel driveway to his house: it was his only break of the day, and he knew the moment he opened the door, he would be bombarded with a whole other range of issues to handle. He sighed, squinting at the fiery sky, promising himself he'd get moving at the appearance of the first violet hues that would reflect on the droplets on his windshield, when a shrill ring made him jump:

“Hello?” he grumbled, bringing his phone to his ear.

“Alain!” came a voice from the other end. “How's my favorite poker buddy doing?”

“Well, well, if it isn't good old Romuald. It's not often we hear you in a good mood. You must want something!”

“What are you going to concoct this time!” the other retorted, feigning outrage. “I'm just checking in on you! How are you doing?”

“Better than yesterday and worse than tomorrow,” he said sarcastically.

“Good, good! How's work going? Did you finally get that well-deserved promotion?”

“There we go,” thought Alain. “What are you going to stick me with this time, you bastard?”

“Romuald, let's cut the crap. Tell me what you want, so I can tell you to fuck off.”

His interlocutor burst into laughter, then resumed in a serious tone:

“I have a little one-day job for you, it's at the Luminous Lagoon-”

“No,” he interrupted.

“What do you mean no? I haven't even told you about the job! It's a piece of cake!”

“I know very well what it will be, and the answer is no, Romuald.”

He felt a surge of anger wash over him, realizing he was gripping the steering wheel with his free hand as if trying to strangle it.

“Just a little dive, nothing major!” the other continued. “You're the only one who can handle it, you know that! That's why they'll pay you a fortune, these idiots! It can be done this Sunday…”


“...but they require two people for the job, for some bullshit safety reasons, you'll need to find someone, a stand-in, we…”


“...will throw in a ticket. It's two months' salary in one day!”



“Are you done?”

“Uh... Yeah, I...”

“Then, fuck off.”

And he hung up.

He got out of his car, now furious: why did he have to call him? This clown had pissed him off, on top of an already particularly shitty day. He crossed his yard, passing a wheelbarrow filled with now useless water and sand: he had started building a small wall a few weeks ago, but the next day the first cloud had appeared on the horizon, and since then he had never been able to come home with dry pants. He took off his shoes before opening the door – he could already imagine the scolding that would ensue if he dirtied the house with mud tracks – and entered to leave the damned rain behind him. At least, until tomorrow.

“Dad?” immediately came a voice from the kitchen.

He didn't have time to answer, when already a small shadow jumped on him; not a goblin, no, but a little brown head.

“How's my little darling?” he exclaimed as he let himself fall to the ground under the assault of hugs from his only daughter.

“How many lives did you save today, dad?” she responded with enthusiasm.

Alain remained silent: not because he was looking for an answer, he had learned to lie in eight years of marriage, but because he was listening.

“Are you okay, Camille?” he worried.

The child was breathing heavily, more than usual he feared. He stared at her, slowly transmitting his growing fear. Was it because she had run to meet him? Kids at that age, they could jump around all day without getting tired, real nuclear batteries…

“Have you been out of breath for a long time?” he asked. Then, he raised his head towards the stairs, and yelled: “LENA!!”

Camille jumped back, and her worry threatened to turn into tears.

“Don't worry, my big girl,” Alain whispered, taking her into his arms. “Did your stomach hurt today? Any unpleasant sensations, or fatigue?”

She shook her head, buried in his shoulder, but it wasn't enough to reassure him: “Kids at this age, they're supposed to be healthy,” he thought.

They heard footsteps rushing down the stairs, and Léna appeared, a look of horror on her face.

His wife, who would be celebrating her forty-nine years for the second time in a few months, was the elder of the couple; yet, she had the physique of a woman in her forties. She hadn't gained a size since they had met, a little over fifteen years ago, and she had started dyeing her hair at the first appearance of white: sometimes, he wondered if it wasn't stress and worry eating her up. He, on the other hand, had let the worries whiten his scalp without flinching for the past six years, since they had adopted Camille.

“Drew the short straw, sucker..” a voice in his head said, and he bit the inside of his cheek to punish himself.

“What's happening?” Léna inquired.

“Did you notice anything special today? Disorientation, fatigue, confusion?”

She froze for a few moments, eyes blank, probably trying to recall each of her interactions with her daughter.

“No…” she finally answered hesitantly. “Well, I don't think so...”

Alain sighed and turned his attention back to his daughter: apart from her moist eyes, she seemed in good shape. Her breathing seemed normal. He placed his fingers on her wrist: her pulse was regular.

“She's fine,” he finally said, “I probably worried for nothing.”

He kissed Camille on the forehead and hugged his wife: he noticed her barely concealed dark circles under her makeup, and suddenly the fear he had built up about his daughter faded, giving way again to anger, which must be his default emotion.

“Hard day?” he thought bitterly. “Too many folders to sort at the mayor's office, while I risk my fucking skin to provide for us?”

He felt he was about to say something stupid if he stayed near her any longer, so he mumbled an excuse that he had to feed Tom.

He crossed the kitchen to the garage, grabbing a can of cat food on the way. He circled his wife's slightly newer city car than his old clunker on wheels but so slow that it had to gather momentum to climb the hill separating them from the downtown and the city hall: they had a superb convertible at the time, which he had paid for with his bonuses as a diver, but that was history: sold at half price to pay for hospital bills.

“It's not the kid's fault...” he said out loud, startling himself.

So why was he angry?

He bent over the old iron bowl and opened the can, instantly attracting the animal still soaked to the bone.

“Yes, I know exactly why I'm angry.” he thought. “Fucking Romuald...” he added aloud.

He had known this guy forever, he was the one who had introduced him to scuba diving: he found the jobs, supplied the gear, and all he had to do was jump into the water and work. At the time, he loved it: alone in the darkness of the ocean, time, the universe stopped. It was like being reborn with each descent into the darkness. He didn't feel the crushing weight of thousands of tons of water above him, on the contrary: he felt like floating, in his bubble. He left his worries at the surface and felt like a new person, a pure being – not the one he had become since he had hung up and was bumping off retirees to secure his own retirement. It was his world.

If he had quit, it wasn't because of Camille, it was before that. It was because of what had happened. Or rather, what hadn't happened to him. It was Romuald who had called him that night: he had his head in the toilet, the day after his bachelor party. He knew he was going to overdo it with the mix of pastis and Get 27, so he had refused the job – didn't give a damn, because he was getting married, and he already had enough cash aside to impress his in-laws. At the time, he often worked with the same team, but they had to do without him this time to perform welds on oil platform legs. In the morning, they had descended three hundred meters deep – “It's three hundred fucking tons trying to flatten you,” Alain often explained, “and you're blind as a bat in a shitstorm!” – and while the future groom was still vomiting green early in the evening, the team had returned to their lodging for the night: a ten-ton steel tank with three rooms, no bigger than his old student accommodation, located on the oil platform. The installation allowed divers to work several days in a row under the same pressure conditions – thirty-one times the Earth's atmosphere – without suffering from decompression sickness: indeed, since the human body is mostly made of water, it is very difficult to compress. Only air bubbles, like the nitrogen we breathe in the oxygen tanks, are compressed and dissolve in the bloodstream. If the diver rises too quickly to the surface, the small bubbles return to their original size and can kill him on the spot. Thanks to a diving bell under pressure, they could ascend from the deep work site to the oil platform and their living chambers, also under pressure, to rest and resume work without going through “decompression stops”, which consist of ascending very, very slowly to the surface so that the gases naturally evacuate through the lungs.

Except, no one would resume work the next day: no one knew exactly what had happened, and no one will ever know. A routine they knew by heart, endless safety measures, and yet. The team had ascended with the bell, docked to the chamber, and then, poof.

The chamber was not pressurized.

The air from the bell, compressed into a capsule thirty-one times too small, was put in contact with a tank and air thirty-one times less tight. All the contents of the bell were transferred to the chamber through a fifty-centimeter diameter hatch in less than a tenth of a second.

Including the divers.

Alain thought about it every time he poured the cat's food into the bowl.

Tom rushed on the mushy mess, and the sound of lapping made Alain nauseous.

He thought back to the Luminous Lagoon: it was a spa resort for the rich, located by the sea. It offered services more ridiculous than the others, like seawater baths. Those idiot tourists paid their entrance to the spa to relax in a seawater pool.

By the sea.

The town also pumped water to desalinate it and send it to the drinking water tower. But these boneheads, to save a few bucks, had requisitioned a pipeline system that, once, was used to transport oil inland. He had himself cut the pipe, a hundred meters off the coast, and the seawater treatment system shared it with the spa. But these financiers didn't see beyond their noses: even if they had saved the installation of a pipeline, the pipe was ten times too big for their use, and the pumps were too specialized: seeing Romuald's first maintenance bill, they had decided to do without maintenance and pray they never broke down. Except, if that asshole was calling, it's because a part had probably finally given out.

“Two months' salary in one day,” he had said.

Even if he needed money, the mere idea of putting on a diving suit made his balls shrink: he'd rather continue his lucrative activity in the ambulance.

“Fucking life...” he said to Tom, who was now grooming himself. “I too would like to be able to lick my own ass, sometimes.”

Outside, the rain intensified, as if the sky itself was tearing apart. Alain paused for a moment, watching the deluge through the grimy little window of the garage: for as long as he had lived here, he had never seen a storm last like this, pulsing from fine drizzle to furious downpour. The drops hammered against the roof with a fury that seemed almost personal, as if the heavens were mirroring his anger. A shiver ran through him, not from cold, but from a diffuse sensation, a premonition that something was brewing.

He wanted to go back inside, to drown himself in pastis until he could only hear the blood pounding against his temples, when his gaze was caught by a dark stain spreading at the corner of the wall. He wanted to take a closer look, but that corner of the garage was just a mountain of trash and useless tools threatening to collapse. He didn't know why, but his heart began to beat faster. He wanted to step over the half-finished bowl, he kicked the bowl away with a clumsy heel: he received a splash of mush on his leg, and he couldn't suppress a gag at the thought of the ground-up mix of flesh and brain stuck to the pressurized chamber's walls, on the oil platform.

“Fucking cat,” he growled.

He moved a pile of tires grumbling and crouched down – his knees cracked like two rifle shots – to inspect. His heart was now racing: something was wrong. An alarm was ringing somewhere in his head, even more shrill than the BEEPS of the heart monitor in his ambulance. Something with the cat...

He ran his finger along the wall, and he immediately recognized the texture: mold. His anger surged again, and he miraculously managed to suppress a curse.

“Don't do this to me, damn it,” he panicked in his head, “I can't afford to buy another house...”

He opened his mouth, as if he was going to say something, and he realized it was drier than a Sunday morning hangover.

“I should have said something there, right?” a voice in his head said.

He realized he was shaking, yet he couldn't look away from the disgusting stain right before his eyes: his house, which he had paid for with the sweat of his brow, working tirelessly in depths forbidden to man, was rotting. Dying.

“Yes, that's it,” he thought, “I should have said 'leave that poor cat alone, it's just come in.'

Because his little girl never missed the cat's return. She would pounce on it the moment the poor creature entered the garage, to take it in her arms and cuddle it.

He finally stood up and tried to shout, but his words were swallowed by a blood-curdling scream: