“Sure do,” Stardust said, glad he had not said his last thoughts out loud.
“How is visibility?”
Stardust turned his body so the light shining from on top of his helmet would pierce more of the gloom. “A little murky…I can see a few hundred feet, though.”
“Good, well, you have 5,000 feet to go down to the oil leak, but you should see the oil plume much sooner than that. Just follow it down, but take it slow and easy. As soon as the pressure starts to hurt, come back up.”
Okay, I can do this… Sean thought. Indeed, he had already broken the record for withstanding pressure in tests, but now was going to have to more than double the record.
Murky shapes floating in the water came into focus as Stardust moved deeper and further from the boat. “Oh geez…” he blurted out as he identified the nearest objects as dead turtles.
“Everything okay?” Barbara asked.
“Just fine…” You can handle this, Sean thought to reassure himself, at the same time he reassured Barbara. All around him, further than the eye could see, the gulf had become a floating graveyard. Dozens of mackerals and sea bass hovered around him in unnatural stillness as he slowly descended past them. Wishing to pass them faster, he tried swimming downwards as much as his suit allowed. I am never eating fish again.... Oh, I think I had one of those before. Ew.
After the initial shock, the hardest part of the dive was the sheer monotony of it. The feeling of isolation inside the confines of the diving suit, the sameness of everything around him in every direction – what if I've stopped sinking entirely? Gah, I never thought I'd trade above-average strength and limited hypnotism for Aquaman's powers before! Or Sub-Mariner. At least I've read more Sub-Mariner.... Sean had read neither in a long time, but his mind drifted back to comic books he had read in his youth, comic books from his older brother's collection. That time Daredevil, Spider-Man, and Namor all crossed over in each other's titles. Michael was so mad when those issues were missing and turned up in Sean’s room. Heh, good times…
The descent was becoming uncomfortable and Stardust realized he had been deep and reminiscing longer than he realized. That don’t feel good… wonder how deep I am? Sean pushed away thoughts about the discomfort, choosing instead to think about those cardboard boxes of comic books in Michael’s closet and how tempting they were to a younger brother. He should have known better. Oh no… he thought, as that direction of thought led him to think about how those boxes came into his possession, though for years they never left that closet, as if it were a shrine to Michael’s love for those comic books. Pangs of sadness struck him as he recalled being 11 and digging into those boxes again. The loneliness was still there, as fresh a hurt as it was that day when he realized there was no longer reason to be afraid of being caught and yelled at and wishing there were. And that sadness seemed to intensify the feeling of pressure in the suit he had been ignoring until then. It was becoming unbearable. He should give up and signal the ship, he knew. No, remember… Sean reminded himself. Remember what Michael said…
Sean was only seven when he asked Michael the question that changed his life, but he still remembered it so clearly. It was summer. They were outside at a park. Michael had to watch Sean play until their mother came home from work back in those days. Michael would sit on his bicycle for the last half-hour, ready to take off the moment he saw Mom’s car. Sean was pretending to be Spider-Man before he asked, “Is there such a thing as Spider-Man?”
“No,” Michael said, dismissively at first, but then he added, “but anyone can be like Spider-Man.”
Sean never forgot that. At first he thought Michael meant anyone could get powers like Spider-Man’s, but when he was 15, Sean was reading one of Michael’s Marvel Tales issues reprinting the Lee-Ditko classics. It was Amazing Spider-Man #33. Spider-Man trapped under that heavy machinery with water flooding in all around him; Spider-Man pushing himself and looking deeper for the strength to go on. It was then that Sean understood that anyone could be like Spider-Man as an example. Sean went through every comic book in Michael’s boxes that night, until past midnight, and inventoried them. Every story had a hero in it, each striving to overcome adversity and make a difference. It was like Michael had collected a blueprint for what kind of person Sean should try to be.
Stardust pushed harder, dug deeper, and descended deeper, just like Spider-Man would do, he thought with a smile. A smile that faded as shapes emerged in the murky darkness below him and he had his first look at the oil plume at its source...
NEXT: What does Stardust see at the source of the spill? What will he do about it? And how far will he go to bring justice? It all comes to a head in "Stardust vs. BP!"