Boyd left his newly built headquarters for the Boyd Steamship Company (though "Steamship" was something of an anachronism now that the company was more concerned with commerce between planets) and walked along the pier to where a launch waited to take him out to the USS Salem, riding at anchor in the bay. On his way, he almost passed a pair of Posleen, one larger than the other, the larger one having a fair crest. The smaller, like the larger, sat on the pier's very edge. Its head lay softly against the shoulder of the other.
The crested Posleen stared intently at the water below. In its hands was grasped a fishing pole that it moved slowly up and down, causing the line and, presumably, the unseen baited hook to move likewise. A human wearing a Fleet Strike uniform with the insignia for Military Intelligence sat on the other side, away from the smaller Posleen. The human asked questions which the Posleen answered without looking up. The answers the human wrote down in a small notebook.
Boyd walked over and said from behind, "Hello, Guano. How are they biting?"
Still looking down, Guano answered, through its AS, "Not so bad, Dictator."
It was obvious that the Posleen had been through regeneration. Its crest was normal again, and it had both eyes. Well . . . an intelligence asset like that? You wouldn't just let it die of old age, now, would you?
Of course, regeneration didn't stop with eyes and crest. This tended to explain the other Posleen.
"This the new missus?" Boyd asked.
Guano still didn't take his eyes from the water. "Yes, Dictator. She's a cosslain. A fairly smart cosslain, too. Almost sentient. With that, and the new ways of telling which eggs will be Kessentai, we're hoping to start a small family soon."
"Where did you . . . ummm . . . ?"
Eyes still intent on his fishing, Guanamarioch answered, "It's amazing what you can find on eBay."
"She was a bigger star than I ever thought about being."
"Is she still alive down there?" Boyd asked of the Marlene Dietrich lookalike standing next to him.
Boyd was growing old again. Though he had twice been young, and though the process by which he had been made young the second time had also slowed down the aging process considerably, his hair was gray, his back a bit stooped, and every blasted joint in his body hurt.
His eyes were still bright though, staring at the featureless surface of the ocean between Isla Coiba and the Peninsula de Azuero.
He asked again, "Is she still alive?"
USS Salem's avatar shook her head in negation. "At first I sensed nothing. Then, for a very little while, I could sense a little something of her below. But that gradually weakened until it disappeared altogether. If I had never sensed anything after she went down I'd have wondered and thought that maybe it was interference from the ocean. But as it is . . ."
Boyd sighed. "Are we doing the right thing, Sally, pulling her up like this?"
Salem answered, simply, "I don't know."
Salem had insisted on coming out to see her sister's body raised. "It's a family thing," she had said, and Boyd had understood. Now, the recovery vessel standing close by off the port side, she and Boyd waited for word.
It had not been difficult to find the Des Moines. While she had drifted a few feet, and sunk into the muck more than a few, her location had never been lost.
The muck had actually been the greatest of the three major problems with the recovery. It had cost a fortune to have it vacuumed away so that the antigravity devices could be placed under the hull. On the other hand, the suction of the muck would have interfered with raising her anyway, and possibly caused the hull to break apart. Moreover, getting rid of the muck had allowed a close examination of the hull and repair of all but two of the holes shot in it by Posleen fire. These were left to allow water to drain out. Patches, pre-cut, were ready to slap and weld over them once that was done. Lastly, with no chance of the muck being replaced, it had made sense to vacuum out much of the interior of the ship. This too had reduced the strain on the hull.
Sally lifted her head up, obviously hearing something Boyd could not.
"They say they're ready to start," she announced.
Boyd nodded. "Tell them to go ahead."
There wasn't long to wait, fifteen minutes at most, before the water began to show disturbances from underneath, a billowing cloud of sea bottom, a slight rising on the surface and smoothing of the waves. Boyd bit his lower lip in anxious anticipation.
"Over there," Sally pointed.
Boyd looked a bit to port and was slightly surprised to see the point of the bow emerge first. He'd been expecting the stack.
"They canted the bow upward," Sally explained, "to reduce stress on the hull. They'll keep the bow about stationary now while they level off the rest of her."
"I'm a little surprised she didn't break up on the way down," Boyd said.
"I think she flooded herself carefully before the end to keep upright as long as possible," Sally answered. "Then too, the water was shallow. She would not have built up enough speed going down to really crash."
The two went silent then as the recovery crew deftly evened out Des Moines' keel. The next thing to appear after the point of the bow was a heavily damaged rangefinder, then the stack, then the superstructure. Two seaweed covered turrets began to show, followed by the rest of the superstructure and the remains of the number three turret. There was a wait while water drained off, running over the sides in a stinky, greenish deluge. Then slowly and, it might be said, majestically, the ship rose evenly under antigravity to her keel. The recovery ship moved in close.
Boyd continued to stare, fascinated, as diving teams from the recovery ship went over the side. He was equally fascinated by the process of lowering the two huge patches meant to seal the holes left in the hull. Once these were in place, and the crews welding, he turned his attention to the battle damage.
Boyd shook his head in wonder. "To think she was still fighting back even as she slipped under with all the damage done to her."
The face of Sally's avatar glowed with pride. "She was a good ship, a brave ship, from a good class. I was proud to have her for a sister. Then too," and the actress-avatar smiled, "she sure knew how to make an exit."
It was curiously light in the interior of the ship. While all of the human-produced light bulbs had collapsed, or the wiring rotted, the Indowy-installed emergency light plates still cast a glow strong enough to see by, if barely. Moreover, Sally's hologram, projected from the warship herself, sitting forty yards off to port, and resonating from Des Moines' mostly intact "nervous system," added still more.
In a way, it was a bit too much light. The remains of several hundred of Des Moines' crew—uniforms and shoes for the most part, sometimes bones if those had been cooked before sinking—littered the decks. Blood and flesh were gone, however, a small mercy for which Boyd gave great thanks.
Deep below decks he could hear the odd sound of underwater welding resonating through the bulkheads. The pumps he could not hear, though he knew they were working. The Galactics built well, and to fine tolerances. Their pumps were noiseless.
"This way," Sally's avatar suggested, pointing downward to a ladder leading deep below decks.
"What's down this far?" Boyd asked.
"I'm not sure. Something. There's a power source down there, and not a small one."
"The pebble bed reactors?"
"No . . . they're dead. And there's no radiation to speak of. It's something else."
Boyd shrugged his shoulders and, reluctantly, descended towards the bowels of the ship.
"Are you sure there's enough air down here?" Boyd asked.
"Does it stink?" Sally queried in response. "I suppose it must. But, yes, as the water drained, fresh air was drawn down. It would last a single man for years. Don't worry."
"I'm not worried," the human snapped. "And, yes, it stinks."
"Turn towards the stern," Sally directed. "The power source is back there."
Boyd and the avatar emerged from a long corridor into a large, mostly open space surrounding a solid looking, circular mass. Boyd looked around the open space, saw numerous tables and stools.
"Ship's mess?" he asked.
"The main mess, yes. Those were the galley, butcher shop and garbage grinder we just passed. Just ahead, to the stern, is a ladder. The power source is near the base of that."
Still reluctant, Boyd continued on and then down.
"I'm getting to be a little old for this, you know," he complained.
"Mr. Boyd," Sally answered, formally. "You know damned well you do not have to be old. A simple form to be signed, off-world passage to be paid, and you could be seventeen again."
"Bah. And spend another lifetime going through that shit? No, thank you."
"Up to you."
"Well, at least there are no rats aboard."
"No," Sally agreed. "They all drowned. Which makes me wonder if I shouldn't have myself sunk for a bit and re-raised. They itch, you know? The rats, I mean. Nasty little feet and claws always traipsing along the decks whenever there isn't a human about.
"Turn to your right," she added, "back toward the stern."
Boyd asked, "What was back here?"
"It was supposed to be storage, bunkerage." Sally answered. "But here also is that power source. Behind that door."
In the dim light Boyd made out several Posleen skeletons. He counted the number of skulls. Five of them. Unlike the humans, something in the makeup of the aliens' bones had prevented them from dissolving into the ocean's water. The skeletons made the old man shudder but he pressed on nonetheless.
Boyd looked through the small view port in the watertight door. It was light enough inside to see that there was no leakage. He put both hands on the wheel and began to twist. The door's locking mechanism resisted at first, than gave way only slowly and reluctantly, and with an agonized whining. Boyd stepped back and allowed the door to swing open.
Inside was a bare room, oddly shaped and with one wall sloping. The room was bare except for a conical glowing object—the power source, he guessed—and a pearlescent coffinlike box about four feet by four feet by maybe ten. The box had an almost square projection on one side, with a glassy plate on its sloping top.
"What is that thing?" he asked Sally's avatar.
Sally didn't answer directly. Instead she instructed, "Place your hand on that plate."
Boyd did and was rewarded by a whooshing sound as the center of the coffin split and the two sides lifted up and peeled back. He jumped back in surprise, heart pounding.
When he had recovered and stepped forward again to look into the coffin he saw something very like a fog, though it was a fog that would have put to shame London's foggiest night. Boyd heard a distinctive click, as of a power switch being pressed. He sensed a stirring in there, hidden by the fog. Awful feelings, a sort of essence of well-done vampire movie feelings, assailed him. He reached over to place his hand over the plate in the hope that it would close the coffin again.
"Wait," Sally said, this time making it an order and not a request. "There is no danger."
The stirring inside the coffin grew as the fog began, ever so slightly, to dissipate, running down slowly over the sides of the box and gathering on the deck. Something was plainly moving down there.
Boyd nearly jumped out of his skin as a clawed foot appeared out of the fog, and stretched. The claws were followed by a head. The head was furry and tiny, with outsized, pointed ears.