“Jill-” Sean said, but he was saying it to her back as she turned and ran for the front door.
Lauren stood up too. “They're right. That's just... weird, Sean.” She crossed her arms to hold herself and turned to look at the door, as if seriously thinking of running too.
Only Roger stood up and moved closer to Sean. “You wouldn't use that trick to make people do anything else, would you?” Roger asked.
Sean sighed. “It doesn’t work like that, Rog,” he said quietly, sheepishly, embarrassed by everyone's reactions. “You’re a chicken. Cluck. There, do you feel more like a chicken or clucking?”
“No, I guess not…” Roger said. He gave Sean a half-hearted smile.
Sean smiled back, but he could see that from that moment Roger was looking at him differently. He saw the same look, only worse on Jill and Lauren. Sean finally had their acceptance that he had honest-to-God superpowers, but now when Roger, or Jill, or Lauren, looked at him, they looked at him as if he was Stardust, even when he reminded them he was still Sean Causer. And he didn't like that like he thought he would. “C'mon, guys...” he started to say.
“Stardust,” another man called out as he approached from a side hallway. “We just got a call from the Slidell staging area. The pressure tank is ready for the next trial run. As soon as you're ready...?”
Sean took one last look at his sister and his friends. “Yeah. I'm ready. Let's go.”
May 27, 2010
Gulf of Mexico
There were approximately 1,300 ships in the Gulf of Mexico dealing with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but only one tugboat was making its way straight to the oil rig itself. The gulf was quiet around them save for the roar of the engine and the rush of the water being cut by the prow of the boat. Their progress churned the red-orange emulsions on top of the gulf’s waters.
The shore was already lost over the horizon and the crew could just begin to make out the top of the destroyed oil rig. Its skeletal remains seemed to rise out of the waters ahead like a revenant of concrete and steel. For those on deck who had not seen it before, the sight made them shiver.
On board, other crewmen were helping Stardust suit up. He was wearing a yellow and black aluminum Newt suit, an Atmospheric Diving Suit, or ADS. He was moving his arms and legs, testing the articulation points of the suit, while a man behind him double-checked the oxygen tank on his back. The bubble-like helmet was open. In front of him was Barbara Preston, now clad in a windbreaker and jeans instead of a business suit and skirt, trying to get him to focus on her.
“Now, Stardust,” Barbara Preston said, “bear in mind that we’re really out on a limb here. We don’t have Unified Command clearance for any of this. Only NOAA and Fish & Wildlife have even agreed we should consider letting you do this. That ADS is just a loaner, so don’t do anything to get it damaged. It’s not the state-of-the-art ADS 2000, but it’s still expensive. You dive, go as deep as you can, come back up, report on what you could see, and we’ll go from there.”
“Go down, look around, come back, don’t screw up. Check.”
Sean lowered his helmet and, as the last seal on his suit closed, he felt completely closed off from the world. It was like shutting himself off in his bedroom, only if his bedroom was no bigger than the space immediately around his body. He tried to give Barbara a ‘thumbs up’, but remembered that the suit ended in aluminum mittens without separate thumbs holes. He flashed her a smile instead and headed out onto the deck. The crewhands who had been waiting for him out on deck secured a line to the suit, attached on the other end to an emergency winch, and helped him climb over the side of the boat.
This is it! Sean thought to himself. Oh… maybe I should have peed again before I got in here…
The ocean closed in around his helmet as he found himself completely submerged.
“Stardust, do you read me?” Barbara’s voice asked over the radio in the collar of the helmet.
Groovy Christmases Past: 1973
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