SEAN'S STORY
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AUTHORSHIP INFORMATION
A scuba diver known as "HD" wrote the first 6 paragraphs, up to and including the paragraph starting "Having read about it a hundred times ..., and Anthony Appleyard modified it to fit later events.
Anthony Appleyard wrote the rest, starting at "As Sean in his home-made ...".
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Sean latched the last fastener and looked at himself in the mirror. He was one steroid-syringed bad ass! His muscles flexed under the diver's drysuit which he had made by adapting a suitably strong pair of pyjamas and adding to it feet, and painting on it and letting dry several layers of an industrial rubber solution that he had managed to get hold of. Lacking proper wrist and neck seals, he sealed its cuffs and neck-hole to his skin with duct tape; he had managed to get hold of a suitable waterproof front entry zip intended for a sailor's sea-survival suit. He wore a wetsuit-type hood. His body was girded by a lattice of straining black plastic harness belts that strapped diving weights and a variety of gear to his body. Like the rest of his homebrew nitrox rebreather scuba system, it had been made from a variety of materials cobbled together from legitimate sources to facilitate his illegitimate scuba diving obsession.

Diving was exciting enough by itself. But encased in his shiny black drysuit with a good layer of warm dry cloth under it, partaking of the now highly illegal and dangerous activity made the whole experience intoxicating! He cocked his hips and tightened his toned quads and flexed his weightlifter's arms. He admired his 26 inch waist and broad shoulders capped by two magnificent deltoids. It was exciting right here in front of the mirror, let alone when 30 feet underwater finning one's legs through the cold murk of the English Channel.

Alone, secluded in his apartment, Sean had excitedly looked innumerable times at the internet stories and paraphernalia he had collected over the years. It was time to take it to the next level! After he had tried in vain to join a NADU (Naval Auxiliary Diving Unit) part-time unit, or to get a legal job that needed diving, he found just what he needed in the infamous "group 169", the 13-squared group whose lucrative drug trafficking racket organized its own clandestine dive team. He had found about them via his source of anabolic steroid. He would have an assignment and be paid to dive! If he performed well, they may assign to him a properly-made set of frogman's kit. He would like one of the rounded fullface masks with short back-up-swept breathing tubes (sometimes nicknamed a 'Nort mask', from a similar breathing mask appearing often in the 'Rogue Trooper' comic strip series), or with the breathing tubes coming from a clip-on front-lower hemisphere, that he had recently seen pictures of; he knew that a big fullface window might reflect a searchlight or any light, and that the ordinary eyes-and-nose sport diving mask is easily knocked off in a fight or a collision. He was eager to prove himself to the other divers who told him stories of their scuba exploits which they had done, either illegally or before the law changed and the Sea Patrol came to enforce it. He blew himself a kiss in the mirror.

Crouched in the last structure at the edge of the beach, Sean felt at his cylinders and absorbent canister, handily agilely small and much longer duration than air scuba, and not blowing off columns of revealing bubbles, turned his oxygen and diluent on, and found his fullface mask with round eye windows homemade from a gasmask and the two tubes going from it round to his breathing set's working parts.

As he emptied and flushed and refilled his bag and lungs and took a few tentative breaths from his rebreather, the same excitement came on again, but now more, as it was the start of a real dive. In the middle of the bay lay the yacht whose captain awaited the delivery of the evening's goods. Sea Patrol boats cruised the surface and he harrumphed. He would dive with impunity beneath their watch, with his silent long-dive bubbleless breathing set. With his scuba on he would dive right beneath them, impervious to the smothering water that he now waded into. The Sea Patrol (often called "the seeps", but not when they could hear it) and the law empowering them had come when he was 10, putting a sudden end to legal public pleasure breathing set diving and pleasure motor boat use in Britain.

Having read about it a hundred times but never experienced it, Sean's heart raced as he felt his breath going up his left tube into his rebreather's absorbent canister and breathing bag and being cleaned and reoxygenated and sent back to him down the right tube, a completely enclosed system. The cold channel water swirled around him in the gathering darkness as he wished to put as much water between him and the surface as he could. He looked through his eye windows at the reconnoitering readout on his wrist. It would guide him to a spot directly beneath the yacht, where he would swim up to a concealed hatch he was told would be at the bottom of the yacht. A chill of excitement shot through him. The visibility was zero in the night water, but he swam confidently relying on his rebreather feeding him air and the guidance of his aquatic positioning system. His legs chafed together generating a squeaking noise, until he finned with his legs a bit apart. Each breath, the noise of breath through tubes and the guttural exertion of his throat seemed alarmingly loud. Currents and eddies buffeted his body while his air hoses tumbled and twisted somewhat in the water current. Sean was completely unaware of the Mk 9 submersible suction dredger bearing down on him.

Sea Patrol was well aware of the limitations of surface craft. It was a submerged moored automatic buoy with an intelligent neurocomputer system that detected the stealthy intruder, by sonar and his heartbeat, and his lack of a licenced diver's sonar transponder. It easily distinguished the sonar echo of his air-filled chest from a dolphin's or a porpoise's or a seal's, and the sonar echoes of his cylinder and weights,and the sonar echo rhythms from his breathing bag swelling and shrinking with his breathing rhythm, and his steroid-pumped legs swimming. Sean's coordinates were relayed from there to ship to satellite, to central control that dispatched the nearest dredger-sub to intercept him; the dredger-sub was already coming because the buoy had reported the yacht coming by night. Too late he saw the dredger-sub's headlight come on and felt the body-controlling suction sweep him into the gaping nozzle. By a freak chance he splayed out his arms and legs arresting his ingestion into the machine. But try as he might, he could not dislodge himself. Once, his head got far enough out to see the dredger-sub's starboard bow with a big Sea Patrol badge and serial number and the words "Warning Onboard Destructor" faintly in light scattered back from the sub's headlight. His struggling undulations did no good. His bladder let go and its contents escaped from his suit's urination vent and were swept into the current flowing into the machine. His screams, and bubbles squashed out of his breathing bag through its excess-pressure valve, also were sucked into the machine. His steroid-pumped muscles put up a valiant resistance. It stopped sucking and pulled its tube back and with it pushed one of his feet towards the other, and sucked his legs inside. He clung onto the edge of the dirty scratched suction-dredging tube, but slowly and surely his grip slackened and suddenly he disappeared shrieking down the gullet of the massive machine...

As Sean in his home-made frogman's kit rode the Sea Patrol SDS Mk9 suction dredgersub's "one-way road" to being routinely tracelessly disposed of, memory of the words "Warning Onboard Destructor" which he had seen briefly on the sub's bows, got a last burst of effort out of him, and he wedged himself across the inside of the third section of the untelescopable suction tube a bit before it ended and the wider second section started. He still slid down, but slower, despite his steroid-syringe-enlarged muscles, but for how long? The sub had ways to clear blockages. The reconnoitering readout on his wrist had told him that he had been nearly at his goal, the 169 pickup yacht. He felt that the debris and unauthorized scubadiver consuming tube was tilting more upwards and his ears told him that that the water pressure was getting less; but down in the sub's works a heavy-duty fragmenter and traceless destruction awaited him. Long ago a naval electronics man had got rid of the inhibition against acting antipersonnel that that sort of sub's civilian manufacturer had programmed into it. "And within five minutes I'll be a statistic." he thought, remembering, from shortly before the Sea Patrol became public, newspaper headlines and cause-guessings, and an edition of a popular list of records (extreme values, not recordings) that included an entry "Traceless group scuba diver disappearances".

Something rattled down the tube - a large weight with a light on it, on the end of a long thick rope. Outside in the cold water the sub's bigger-than-a-man side hydroplanes were turning on their long thick axles, the front pair clockwise and the rear pair anticlockwise as seen from a-port, and the suction tube, retracting after securing the unidentified frogman, was extending again as the sub's sentient computer-brain turned the sub upwards to attack the yacht, and it had sucked up the yacht's shot-line. He desperately shifted his grip to hold the shot-line. He was thankful for his converted gasmask facepiece: a standard oval eyes-and-nose sport mask would have been sucked off quickly. A grip on rough hemp rope held better than on smooth steel as the shot-line started to pull him outwards as the yacht's crew realized that something was wrong and wound in the shotline and the yacht's diesel exhaust pipe blasted hot smelly gas into the cold night air as the yacht pulled away. How long before the sub realized what was wrong and fired a blast of lethal ultrasound up its suction tube from its inner end? He held on with all his steroid-enlarged power. The suction got less and stopped as he came out of the sub's tube nozzle. The sub saw him by sonar and ultrasound-blasted up and out of its tube, but missed him by a few inches and stunned six fish. The yacht crew were under orders "or else" not to lose kit, so they did not jettison the shot-line. He had to hold on harder as the yacht built up speed. He felt that he was getting shallower. Luckily the yacht had its own diver-detector gear, with fewer abilities than the detector buoy had, but the yacht's crew found that he was there. Another intake hole loomed ahead - thankfully, at last, the goal of his dreams, the yacht's belly hatch. He transferred from the shot-line to a line that trailed out of the hatch, and it pulled him inside, and the hatch shut. He was onboard. The yacht sped away, much faster than the dredgersub could, and reached international waters safely.

Sean climbed up a short ladder out of the swaying water in the yacht's diving hole into the lower deck and thankfully and wearily sat on an equipment chest. Crew men approached him, an unpleasant-looking bunch of boilersuited heavy-booted waterfront-bred thugs whose faces had been battered in fights, and they held 18-inch steel coshes; their badges were not Sea Patrol. "I've got the package, it's inside my drysuit, front belly, please! Some big suction-sub got me, I'd read about them, but it also got your shot-line, and that pulled me back out." Sean said frantically, his heartbeat rate still way up.

"You'd better.", one of them said, with a special badge on his shoulders, "To you I'm Staz. And to us you're Trag. I'm in charge of this lot. Get that kit off and stow it in this chest.". But all he could do was to hold wearily onto a support member as the yacht swayed and bounced on waves. "No sea-legs. Un-kit 'im." Staz ordered, "That's what we get, now nobody's going to sea for fun any more. No food for 'im till we know 'e won't seasick it back up. 'Is set's well made." he said as they unstrapped and stowed his home-made rebreather. They removed his drysuit, with some cutting of layers of duct tape round his wrists and neck. "Suit'll need proper wrist and neck seals and blowoff valves 'fore it's used again, and both'll need an inflater connection fitting. No, that 'ome-made botch-up suit goes in the destructor and get a proper suit for 'im out of store soon 's we get to base. Put a 'Nort mask' on that set instead of that old gasmask, and fit an auto gas flow controller. Crumbs, 'e's a real right steroidy. We got our muscle from hard outdoors waterfront work in all weathers. Get 'im some clothes. 'Ow much have ya scuba dived, and where, and what kit with?".

Sean had to admit that his experience was much reading and fantasizing, and swimming-pool and shallow-water snorkelling, and this one real breathing-set dive. Staz was not pleased, but had accept what men he got, ever since the Sea Patrol and similar had stopped bulk mass public sport diving training in many countries and likely in more to come. Sean dressed; the clothes were crew issue, and it was his first time ever in a thick tough boilersuit and heavy hobnailed leather work boots with steel toecaps, and his boilersuit had 169's badge on and his newly-assigned personal number. He sat and quickly went to sleep.

The beating-up which Sean woke to was thorough and hard and administered by experts, but stopped short of causing long-term injury or damage. It softened him up ready for the following hard electric shock and truth drug aided interrogation, in which he saw no point in hiding anything that he knew. They logged their findings and realized that he was likely to stay loyal and not be a danger to their security, and let him recover and the bruises fade as the yacht continued to places unknown. Sean gradually realized thankfully that that experience was a once-off and a necessary "purgatory before paradise", and he felt a long-term longing now ended and satisfied at the knowledge of much diving ahead, even if it was to be hard work and combat diving. He proved not to get seasick.

The training course, on an island in southeast Asia where politics kept nations' Sea Patrols and suchlike out, along with eleven other men (they were assigned into six buddy-pairs), was also thorough and hard, and more than once he wondered if the dredgersub's fragmenter and separator / recycler would have been a better destination, but he got through it, as his steroid-muscle got work-hardened, and his thin waist thickened as abdomen and back muscles enlarged. They were all trained to scuba dive, all in identical drysuits, and with various long-duration rebreathers. There and later in colder waters he got used to rough conditions, and was made into a trained workman and thug and work and combat diver as hard and efficient as the others, and able to shoot straight with various sorts of guns, and taught the right place to shoot a big shark in the brain to kill it in one shot, and suchlike, and his fantasies were made real, and he could do docker-type work and suchlike all day, as well as diving.

At the start of training, Staz came up to the twelve trainees with a multishot pistol-shaped syringe whose needle could retract. "Now for a little present for you." he said, "Same as the seeps get. 'Andy genetic addition package. A sort of tame virus that they made that goes round adding extra genes. Seep trainees during this should be kept in, but one was sent out to collect something. Someone saw 'oo 'e was, by 'is badges and 'e looked ill while the virus was acting, walked past 'im, bumped 'im, 'oops sorry sorry' while 'e sneaked a blood sample off 'im, 'e went about 'is business. The sample was got to us. And 'ere it is, after our lab multiplied it up: Make your own Vitamin C like most mammals can, so can't get scurvy. Dissolve uric acid, so can't get gout. Stops alcohol and meths and nicotine from 'aving any effect. Theta-defensin, so much 'arder to catch Aids. Immune to cyanide and carbon monoxide. Immune to several "knockout drops" that people use to commit crime. And a few others. And one we didn't know about till a few months ago: pure oxygen safe limit bumped up from 2 at[mosphere]s to 10 ats, that's about 300 feet depth: first we knew was in a publicity video from the seeps [= the Sea Patrol], showed a bunch of their frogmen with plain oxygen rebreathers examining a wreck, didn't say where it was, said it was shallow, but some people who'd sport dived before the new law came knew that wreck and could tell that the men were at 300 feet on pure oxygen without diluent. But oxygen can cause bends, so still watch your decompression when you come up. And pure oxygen limit's still only 2 ats for people without this genetic add-on! That's 33 feet: remember to subtract 33 feet or add an at for the pressure at the surface. OK, line up for your shots.".

Sean's first action came soon after his formal first-stage training there was finished. Radar detected a craft about 120 feet long coming, but it was white and not like a craft that 169 was expecting, and it stopped, and sonar and hydrophones detected that it put divers down. While on a stay-fresh training dive with his buddy Tammo and the five other pairs, all with guns, their ultrasound receivers picked up a signal that they knew. They formed into single line-ahead. The ominous front end with hydroplanes around of a dredgersub appeared from the (in coral reef tropical water, very distant) visibility limit haze - a GDS.Mk11.30, 30 feet long, with not a suction tube but a folded underslung arm ending in a clamshell grab that docked against and fed into a front intake hatch 2 feet 5 inches wide by 2 feet 3 inches wide, and on each side of its bow and stern the same text including "Warning Onboard Destructor". Sean saw with a shiver the visible reality of its kin now well known and feared as a patroller of many nations' waters against unauthorized breathing set divers, as well as recovering metals lost in the seabed and making hydrocarbon fuel from dredged organic matter, looking much the same whether or not eight shellfish-poaching weekend Cousteaus and their collapsed broken-up inflatable boat were packed in its dredgings tank awaiting a traceless end; nothing came out except water, carbon dioxide, nitrogen gas, simple mineral salts, stones and sand that there was no point in using up available energy in processing, and metals and their oxides separated into each element apart from the others even from very dilute concentrations. He remembered newspaper and television news items about "another group scubadiver disappearance", until a diver found the "Hiddleston video" in a lost underwater camera in a wreck and it went on the television news, and soon after, the Sea Patrol came to power. But this one had no Sea Patrol badge, and it knew them and they knew it, and they had ridden in it before. "You're lucky.", it said to them as it scooped them up, "About two months ago off Shiva Temple Head I tanked [= stowed in its dredgings tank] 6 French 'seep' frogmen that were spying, or they said they were seeps. They'd sneaked in dressed as natives and dived from shore. They didn't expect me. They and their transponders likely thought I was a seep 'sub and safe to them. Never mind 'ow 169 got 'old of me. Inside me they said nothing, whatever I did to them. No trace left.". But in that same dredgings tank Sean and those with him were safe, and in it a light came on. They found and fitted a breathing connection each, to save their breathing sets' dive time. It travelled at cruising speed for 5 hours and stopped, and blew them out forwards. "Only for you is my 'one-way road' two-way." it said, "Fancy big yacht named 'East Explorer' above me, has a diving belly hatch and a stern diving ladder. Trag [= Sean], Tammo, Fozz, and Tack go after six air scuba divers and surface them, they're from that yacht, they're in that wreck where I can't get at them, surface boat'll come for you." the sub ordered, "The rest stay in me. I'm called Raksika [Sanskrit for "guard"; the island's people are mostly Hindu.].". Sean was not much surprised to hear the sub talk, as he had heard about recent computer developments leading to sentient computers.

The four swam silently to the columns of noisily blown off obvious air scuba bubbles that rose from the old wreck, and down in among old corroded coral-grown steel. Sean's home-made rebreather silently gave him oxygen when he needed it and cleaned his exhaled breath. The six were photographing fish and making notes on underwater whiteboards. Sean pulled his attention away from his diving-caused excitement and went for the nearest of the six. The scooby aimed his camera at Sean's face - not a completely futile weapon, and, as trained, Sean shut his eyes just in time to avoid his sight being blanked by the near photo flash while he went for and knocked off the man's sport-type mask, by feel until half a second later he opened his eyes again. The scooby's long thin regulator-mouthpiece hose was hopelessly vulnerable, while Sean's 'Nort mask''s much shorter breathing tubes looped close over beside his head to the top of his rebreather. Sean ordered "Under arrest" and pointed upwards while with his other arm he pulled another man by a leg out of a dark corner while trying to see through a cloud of air scuba bubbles rising around him. The first scooby made gagged noises trying to talk through his mouthpiece and made no more trouble and surfaced, but the second man, burdened with bulky air scuba, turned as fast as he could with much arm fanning and pushing on things and fought back, but his punch skidded off Sean's Nort mask's smooth rounded front. The hand, pulling back, opened and grabbed at Sean's left breathing tube and tried to squeeze, but the tube had reinforcing rings, and Sean's punch was much harder, and pulling back removed the man's mouthpiece-regulator by catching on one of its projecting blowoff tubes. The man tried to get away. Sean felt a strong diving-related thrill, made more by winning in a fight, but he fought it down: the middle of a fight is not the place to get distracted, and meanwhile the man got his other hand to his sheathed knife and drew it. Sean's 'Nort mask' made him feel more confident, because of its short close-in upswept breathing tubes and face-protecting design. In the urgent action of arresting resisting intruders he had to ignore distractions; his overfull bladder let go again into his drysuit's urine catcher while he grabbed the wrist of the man's knife hand. Sean got his other hand to his knife and drew it and stabbed it at the hand holding his breathing tube; the hand let go. Sean proved stronger in the resulting wrestling, and for his first time achieved the "double pluck", an air-scooby's mask and mouthpiece pulled off together with the same hand. The scooby's left fingers slipped in vain off Sean's 'Nort mask', and he gave up and surfaced; Sean let him recover his mouthpiece but kept hold of him and his mask, and caught the falling knife and went to stow it, but saw and with it stabbed and holed an air balloon that inflated out of something that the scooby released. Meanwhile Tammo and Fozz and Tack had sorted out the other four intruders, and the four escorted the six prisoners to the surface. (In warm water, the diving squad wore a tough issue drysuit without an undersuit, to protect in fights and against coral scratches and sea-urchin spines and suchlike.)

Meanwhile the dredgersub surfaced, upside down so its grab-arm was upwards. All its frogmen had guns; the 8 had put their folding fins into on-land mode. It blew them out forwards and took two in its grab, back down and feet forward, lifted its grab out of the water and up and over the yacht's rail, pushed the starboard bridge door open, and put the two inside. The first in fired shots and quickly switched off and secured the yacht's radio. They showed guns and ordered the steersman to lie down. Then two by two the dredgersub put the rest onboard, two at the stern diving ladder, and rolled over to belly-downwards, and submerged to guard the yacht's belly hatch against escapes and scan for cargo jettisoned or ready for loading. Staz arrived in a 169 surface boat, which picked up the surrendering 6 air scuba divers; the boat's crew quickly roughly stripped the kit off them and gagged and handcuffed them; fist and cosh quickly stopped all struggling and 'lip'. Staz went to the man found steering the yacht and asked him irrelevant-sounding questions, got random answers and annoyed objections, showing clearly that the man did not know certain prearranged codewords; this proved, as expected, that he was not someone that they had been arranging to meet. The arrested divers were stripped of remaining diving gear (thin tropical wetsuits and a mask with attached snorkel and two weight belts and three Y-shaped fin-fasteners). The twelve searched the yacht, secured all ten who were onboard and searched them for communication devices and locked them in a room, and searched the yacht and found only marine biology expedition stuff and ship's supplies. Staz put the boat in tow of the yacht, transferred the 6 arrested divers to the yacht, making 16 prisoners, and he steered the yacht to 169's harbour on the island. The prisoners were landed and taken to holding cells. "Strip off your outside clothes and put these on. Hard luck if you's got no underclothes on." their guards ordered, handing them bright orange jumpsuits marked 'Prisoner' front and back. Some of the 16 still demanded to be released and demanded to see the British Consul and protested that they were a marine biology expedition from a university and that they had permission to dive there. The yacht's diving gear and air compressor would be useful additions: air scuba has its uses. Search for identification found who the 16 were. The island's government supported Staz's order arresting the yacht's crew for spying. The sea-biology expedition found in a wrong place was on the way to where a terrapin swallowed by a crocodile goes.

Afterwards in his bunk onboard in port after unloading the 16, the feeling of having for the first time won a serious fight, and furthermore while scuba diving, got Sean on a hard heat, and he made good use of the night's privacy and time, that at last he had escaped from a restricted strict uninteresting childhood and city life. When he was 10 his eventual hope of joining a scuba club when big and strong enough to defy his parents, had vanished when the Sea Patrol suddenly appeared, 50,000 strong, and plus those men added to itself the coastguards and fisheries patrols and harbour police and suchlike to make one force with more powers, and suppressed sport diving and pleasure motor boat use "to save resources", so he had turned to fantasy for relief; meanwhile via news he saw "the lights go out" progressively across the world for sport diving as successive nations passed similar laws and brought in similar hard patrol forces. The USA resisted for a long time, as sport scuba was big business there, but its federal government fell into line in the end. That sent matters back to as before and during WWII and for several years after, when the public had no conception of underwater diving for sport. His parents had got him earning as soon as they could. Their order for him to hand over his pay packet unopened each week had failed because he was paid into a bank account, thus making it easier for him to lie about how much he was earning, until he had saved enough to run away from home to a small bachelor flat. He had then written a letter home explaining; the postmark on it showed that either he now lived in the Houses of Parliament or that he had posted the letter evasively far from his new address. He had started buying anabolic steroid to build up plenty of muscle on his skinny body, and accumulating scuba diving items as he could, and he found that he was "turned on" by scuba stuff and some mechanical devices, and such things are not fickle like women are.

His fantasy was now real, and his diving gear waited in the boat's diving room. In the morning, news: an awaited consignment had been lost because the "go-fast boat" that met a ship by arrangement to pick it up, was loaded not with its normal load but with Sea Patrol men; the ship's radio man got part of a message out before he was shot.

He remembered again his narrow escape from the Sea Patrol 60-foot dredger-sub; a bit of arithmetic showed that it could stow away a hundred scuba divers, if its dredgings tank was empty before (and rumour said that it had done so at least once, when cleaning up a big demonstratory "dive-in" soon after the Sea Patrol came); and around 28 for a 40-footer, and around 55 for a 50-footer. Dredger-subs and similar of various sizes and designs patrolled coasts, carrying very sophisticated underwater navigation and diver-detecting gear, and earning their keep by bringing in much metals and other useful or valuable stuff lost in the sea down the centuries; energy of oxidation became electricity to power the sub via an advanced form of the "fuel cell", and to make water and released carbon dioxide into hydrocarbon fuel and lubricating oil.

Staz came to Sean later that morning and said: "That was a risky knife fight you were in yesterday with that man Thurleigh. And you stopped him from releasing a GPS alarm buoy, it might have brought all sorts on us that we couldn't have fought off. He was that expedition's leader. The tests show that your genetic adaptation fix has worked: among what it does, it's bumped up your safe pure oxygen depth from 33 feet to about 300 feet, that's from 2 ats to 10 ats. So, as something more useful than a medal, here's his fancy and fancy-named Buddy Commando stabjacket for you, made into a rebreather, like some of the modern seep-type harbour patrols use. Nort mask on it. 8-hour dive duration in pure oxygen mode, which it's in right now. 2-bag design: lungs to left bag to canister to right bag to lungs; that big stab bag easily divided into left and right bags by sewing off the part behind the head and some of the lower end. And here's your own gun, we ain't saying where we have them made, a pneumatic rifle, and there's 'is stab's inflation cylinder mounted on top of it to propel the bullets, out on top so it can be bigger, and never mind if it makes the gun look industrial. Bullets cast from his belt weights. Far more powerful than a common spring-loaded air rifle. You can set the power. Its magazine's smaller than an ordinary rifle's, because it holds only bullets, not the explosive parts of gun cartridges, it's inside front wrapped round the barrel. No cartridge cases to chuck out making litter and showing you've been there. We copied a seep design. Put that new set on over your clothes and sling the rifle over your shoulder, come with me and show Thurleigh what 'appened to 'is kit.".

They went to the end of the boat's gangplank, and Thurleigh had been brought there. He looked somewhat battered, a retaliation for resisting arrest. Staz told him: "If you wanted to come 'ere scuba diving, you should 'ave asked first and said what you were diving for, and paid the amount, not just merrily swanning in, and we'll check up on what you're up to underwater.". Sean had overheard onboard about rich men in seagoing private craft buying fuel there and for a payment being allowed to pleasure dive there.

Sean said to Thurleigh: "If you want to know what they did with your kit: here's your stabjacket.", pointing to his new rebreather, and turned around to show its back view, "And its inflation cylinder.", pointing to his pneumatic rifle's propellant cylinder, "And some of your diving weights.", pointing to the part of his pneumatic rifle where its magazine was.

"Oh, did you or someone hack my good stab into that contraption!?" Thurleigh said angrily, "I know the $~%^ seeps do it in Britain, and some of those new harbour patrol squads for when they dive, and it now seems that you do it, but the BSAC forbad it, and I had to bow and scrape to the seeps to get permission to run my expedition. The BSAC has re-formed, but it can't dive any more, except by snorkelling, where safe and allowed, not from boats because of new laws about motorboat use, it just remembers old times and shows and circulates old videos that people shot underwater and suchlike, and pressures as it can for some freedom to sport dive to be brought back. Some ex-divers in it number the years as ASP, "year of the Sea Patrol", and BSP, "years before the Sea Patrol came". In the early years of sport diving in Britain people died with rebreathers badly made from divers' lifejackets, old cocoa tin as an absorbent canister, and suchlike. The sport diving clubs forbad rebreathers as soon as aqualungs became available and affordable, back then rebreathers meant war-surplus Siebe Gorman Salvuses and wartime-type frogman's sets and suchlike, too risky, and I don't really hold with the new makes such as that Inspiration that AP Diving makes. Those new RNUR's (Royal Navy Underwater Reserve branches), go some way to replace the diving clubs, but they have uniforms, and marching and saluting and drill, and diving only as ordered on the schedule, and no non-diving members allowed, and much tighter conditions, and much harder and longer training, and they don't take as many people as the old BSAC branches did. And I'll thank you lot of hard patrol-and-arrest thug types to let my expedition go, and intact. I cleared it with this area's central government, and they didn't warn me about the local setup around here. All I'm here for is marine biology, and marine biology's sure needed, with the mess that the world's seas and oceans and coral reefs are getting into. And you lot and the natives here catch and eat plenty of sea fish.".

Sean helped in the boat's work, and during the next meal break, he thought. Many of the divers who in childhood and later he had admired and collected pictures of and wanted to copy were underwater expedition leaders: Cousteau, Hans Hass, etc. And Thurleigh was similar. And Sean realised that he had helped in a hard arrest of such a man and his expedition. Sean ventured to point out to Staz that "Those British and French Sea Patrol permits and other papers found on Thurleigh and in his boat agree that the 16 are only marine biologists and not seeps or spies or trade-competitors or after our fish, and that Britain's authorities trust them. Marine biology is needed to keep track of the harm being done to the sea, and to find ways to put it right, and the island people including us 169's eat much food that comes from the sea. And, if we're too fond of detaining passers-by, some time someone's navy's going to say we're a pirate den and come in with a big landing force here to arrest us and free them.". Staz later that day called the 16 prisoners together and addressed them:

"Now for the good news: you get your diving gear back now, but not the two Inspirations [a common make of sport nitrox rebreather]. Now for the bad news: You bunch are now all work divers for our port authority. Air scuba makes plenty bubbles and noise, so you can't sneak away easily. There's work needs doing in our harbour, and after that, elsewhere.". This was all that they could hope for, and at least better than a firing squad; those pneumatic rifles make less noise than explosive-powered rifles. He and his men tidied the disordered rummaged inside of their yacht, listed what was missing or damaged, and did the work diving as ordered by three 169 men put onboard with them; those 169 men were the only crew allowed on the bridge, and none of the rest of the crew were allowed to have long-range communication gear. Eventually Staz told them to dress for land travel and pack personal oddments, ordered them off the yacht, drove them to the area's airport, gave them air tickets, and let them go home, and told them: "I may not be so nice to the next bunch, unless they ask - us - first, write to the island's local government's marine protection department, tell them what you'll be coming for, and how many and who, and pay the amount.", and he thought: "And you're lucky that we know that the seeps already know that we're based here. Else ≠ what what the newspapers called "another traceless group scubadiver disappearance", same as the seeps have disposed tracelessly of plenty of unauthorized underwater bunches. So have we, if they get in our way or risk secrecy.". When they got home, Special Branch men questioned them at length about their scrape with the 169, and in answer in their shocked and alarmed state got many words and few to the point, for 169 knows how to hide its main business from casual intruders and passers-through.

It was different three weeks later when a pa-aling sea-fishing group, chased away from the Philippines by new laws and fisheries patrols, invaded the area. In pa-aling fishing, divers supplied with air by hoses from pneumatic drill [USA: jackhammer] compressors handle and set big nets on a coral reef area to round up and catch all the fish that they can; the hoses also make curtains of bubbles to herd fish. This is over-efficient and quickly cleans an area out. Their boat was a big raft with outboard motors. Raksika the 30-foot dredger-sub heard the raft's motors and wake noise, scooped up some of his men including Sean, came in time before the nets could be set, ran his pump in reverse ejecting his passengers forward, and caught and tanked the raft's divers as they descended, and that was the end of them; his men cut any nets that got caught on him. Sean's new converted stabjacket set handled well as he and his buddy Tammo had a fight with two of the pa-aling divers who fought back hard and tried to wrap net round Raksika's grab. The raft's surface crew realized that something was wrong, tried to recover their divers but pulled back merely loose hoses, and started to leave, but two 169 surface boats came and their crews boarded and hard-arrested the raft's crew and pulled all its nets and hoses onboard; interrogation got from them merely gabble in a Philippines language called Tagalog and "me no speak" and similar. Soon after, Raksika's dredgings tank was full, and he returned to base digesting its contents, remarking in his usual electronic-synthesized rough waterfront accent that a 60-foot suction dredger-sub could have done that job easier, standing off and extending its smooth unadorned suction tube to suck up the nets without getting entangled, and inside its fragmenter would quickly slice the nets into small harmless bits. Sean and those with him manned the raft and drove it with the rest back to port. From the raft they got useful kit including its air compressors.

Destructive fishing methods such as muroami (smashing the reef with heavy blocks of concrete on lines, to drive fish out of hiding), and dynamite fishing, made so much underwater noise that each incident was soon detected and the culprits were caught. Big foreign fishing boats learned the hard way to keep away; men with backpack helicopter motor-and-rotor sets can board high-sided boats and ships. The 169 instructed their area's native divers about safe diving and sustainable fishing, and kept track of who dived with what kit. The 12 started to pick up the native language; Staz was fluent in it. Someone remarked that 169's on-site force "seems to be gradually going seep", i.e. getting like a small version of the Sea Patrol.

Ten days later, his "tropical paradise" warm-water diving was over for a while, and he and the other 9 were sent to get experience in cold weather and low-visibility water. Politics and chance had given 169 its safe base in southeast Asia, and ideas of it setting up other training bases in colder sea elsewhere were impractical, so it had set up a nearby enclosed water whose temperature and underwater visibility and wave-roughness and underwater currents could be controlled, and there the 12 got accustomed to cold water and low visibility, and slept in there to get accustomed to cold climates. Until then, Sean's only real cold-water dive had been at night, and only from older ex-divers and their self-shot videos did he know of conditions such as 20 feet being excellent visibility, and such as not calling the visibility bad unless he could not see his own fins. Time may bring a big cleanout raid from outside, or a political overturn; and not all possible enemies were human or man-made: tropical cyclones, earthquakes and tsunamis, and the smoking crater and cone of Tvashtarsh‚l‚ lurks among mountains and jungle-choked valleys inland.

Time passed. Trade consignments came and went. Often they went by sea, and sometimes frogmen or other guards from 169 with them. Countries such as Britain with a fullscale Sea Patrol now had such a strong close-in underwater defence that outside attackers and their own country's unauthorized divers had declared them impenetrable, after several of 169's underwater attack or smuggling forces had ended up as dredgersub fuel or had been shot or ultrasound-stunned and none had got through and back; now, they had to stick to countries that had less or no such defences. The Sea Patrol arose in Britain and "cut its teeth" on hard-arresting unlicenced sport divers, who resisted sometimes, but soon after found that they had arisen just in time, because soon after, 169 had appeared and proved to be a much tougher harder better-equipped enemy, and both sides lost men, but in the end the Sea Patrol won command of British waters. 169's insignia was armbands with green edges, and inside them red edges, and a grey middle with a personal number on; thus the Sea Patrol called them GRG for "green, red, grey", until they found that they called themselves 169 (= 13 squared), as "unlucky in two ways for those who oppose us".

Staz called for Sean and Tammo, and two older men, Bez and Jack, who had been on several missions. He told them where they were going and what to do there; it was a small native-run port in a nearish nation. In a roofed dock was a 60-foot submarine with no conning tower, designed to enter shallow water. It was dry inside and not a dredger-sub, but it had a small grab-arm each side. It had been used for cargo carrying, but was not loaded this time. Staz gave orders. The four got in the sub, sealed themselves in, and set off, and reached the destination in two days time after dark, and Bez (who had been there before) piloted them into the port. Their eyes by now were well dark-adapted so they could see well enough by starlight, but the planet Jupiter nearly overhead helped a bit; but they had an infrared eyepiece each. A diver-detector buoy lay dry and useless in a corner on a quay, dirty and dented and plastered with seagull droppings. Bez by periscope identified a particular small cabin motorboat. He stopped the sub on the seabed under it. The four men had kitted up, and now put their breathing masks on and left through a water surface that showed in a belly hatchway.

They swam up and boarded the boat. An uncluttered abdomen matters much here; the SDBA frogman's rebreather design with its big cylindrical absorbent canister across the low abdomen front would have failed badly in climbing over a boat's gunwale (plus not being good streamlining), and that is likely why it stopped being made. In the boat were a particular official and his assistant, comfortably away from end-of-dry-season land heat and for privacy. The cabin doors were wide open to let in what night cool there was. And complications: a guard dog was asleep in a corner. A young ?servant? was asleep on a rug. And the official was awake and going through papers with a desk light on. Two drink bottles showed what had delayed him from finishing his paperwork before. His assistant slept in a chair. Jack, seeing the drink, felt an urge and suppressed it; 169 was not as choosy as the Sea Patrol about who they recruit, and Jack had been an alcoholic before, but the anti-alcohol component of his genetic adaptation, if not curing his addiction, had left him unable to ever satisfy it and permanently stone-cold sober. But the frogmen were hard trained and knew what to do and to act quick. With their folding fins folded in land mode, two rushed in through each door. The guard dog had no time for more than one puzzled "Ainnhh?" before a spear from Tammo's spring-powered speargun in its brain made a quick silent end of it. Bez went for the lad and Jack for the sleeping assistant, both with chloroform then a sleep injection. Sean went for the official, the same way, but the official fought back, trying to reach a desk drawer for a gun, but much of his weight was fat, until Tammo coshed him. But enough noise had been made for them to be worried about attracting attention. Jack recovered the spear and threw the dog overside, while Bez threw something into the water on a line, and an ultrasound signal told the sub to surface alongside the boat and then open its top hatches. The four threw themselves into the sub, dragging the official and his assistant in with them, and throwing in armfuls of the paperwork. They sealed the hatches and submerged and left. Nothing followed them. When daylight came the ?servant? swam to land and walked to the village that his mother had come from, and decided that no good would come from telling the police about what had happened.

In the sub, the official was allowed to wake. He knew why he was there and was frightened by the sight of frogman-equipped men and Sean and Tammo's Nort masks and Bez and Jack's efficient-looking clip-on-hemisphere masks instead of the ordinary sport scuba diver look with much of the face visible. In the clip-on type, the hemisphere is 4.26 inches outside diameter and has clips left and right and top, and fits against a flat surface 40 degrees from vertical on the front of the rest of the mask. Long looping breathing tubes loop around much less if the design of the fullface mask lets the middles of the breathing tubes be strapped down to the shoulders, as in the Russian IDA71 rebreather. Bez and Jack unclipped their masks' hemispherical parts and let them hang on their chests from their breathing tubes, without having to remove the whole fullface mask. With the "gasmaskymess" voice distortion now much less, and their mouths visible, the official knew them as two men who he had been uncooperative and difficult with they visited him before; the two had given other names and arrived by land in ordinary clothes. Then began the job of making him and his assistant cooperative, and it continued on the island. The two were returned the same way eight days later, unconscious all the way, and they woke in their boat with their captors gone. His objections ceased, and trade there, with 169 and with ordinary people, flowed smoothly with much less extra money and last-minute conditions demanded on excuses, and many people around were thankful, not only those involved with 169's cargoes.

A little later, Raksika the 169's 30-foot dredgersub came into port upside down and floating very high with his dangerous-looking grab-arm folded on his underbelly above the water, as if his dredgings tank was blown full of air. He docked, and rotated his grab-arm aside a few degrees to expose his intake hatch, which he opened. Men on the quay threw a long weighted line in, and it went down inside. One by one, ten shipwrecked sailors pulled themselves up the rope and out of the intake chute into the tropical sunlight onto Raksika's underbelly, thankful for rescue, and walked over a plank to shore. Raksika said that they were taken off a lifeboat which was breaking up and its motor was not working. The rescued men's captain said that their ship had hit floating debris while all hands were on deck, and been badly holed and sunk quickly. Again Sean felt somewhat disconcerted at a vehicle having a mind of its own, but such was the result of recent computer advances.

Raksika re-flooded his dredgings tank with much bubbling and rolled over to float awash deck-up with his snorkel out, and extended a radio aerial. Staz and a squad came out of a building and stood threateningly in rank in riotsquad gear, and Staz drew a pistol-shaped multishot hypodermic syringe. "That sub can tell wood rot from smash damage, same as I can!" he shouted. That was enough for the rescued men's captain, who pleaded: "OK, OK, save your interrogator's time, you'll only find out somehow, my boss ordered me to scuttle the ship for the insurance. It was old and full of rust. Just don't do anything to my men, please, they weren't in this with me, I'm not made of money.". Staz radioed to the port town's ordinary on-land police to come and arrest the twelve and to start an insurance fraud prosecution and to tell Lloyds of London. Some of the crew turned threateningly on the captain and demanded compensation for lost property, and the 169 men had to push between them to stop a fight.

Thme passed, and more missions, in warm water and in cold water, interspersed with ordinary rescues of local people in difficulties, and suchlike, and plenty of satisfying action and work diving, and ignoring of what trade all this effort was ultimately in aid of, continued, until a time when over two months the escort missions gradually got far fewer. Sean and others ventured to ask Staz what was wrong.

"Bad trouble." Staz answered, looking as scared as that sort of hard trained waterfront-bred thug-leader is likely to, "Plagues among the stuff everywhere it grows, eating all the leaves off, including in the new area in Mexico. Far worse than last time, and not only the 'noisy moth'.". Sean knew by now that that meant Eloria noyesi, the coca tussock moth. Its caterpillars devour coca leaves. "This time the moth plague's not dying off after a while. And a mould and a canker and two viruses and a stem borer insect and a leaf-miner insect that have never been seen before, killing the bushes including their roots. Same with the opium poppy, in Afghanistan, Burma, and everywhere. They simply started out of thin air. And storage pests that attack stores of the stuff.".

"Someone or some government may have genetic-engineered them in secret, I've read and heard about such things, in the newspapers and on the telly, real and in stories.".

"Quite likely. Biologists have been finding these new creatures and reporting them in ordinary biology scientific periodicals, and giving them new names.".

"Titanosaur-sized shit's hitting several fans about this across the world. I wouldn't like to be the culprits, if anyone catches them. As well as taking out the two biggest illegal drug trades, it's also taken out the source of legal medical opiates for hospitals. And, there's always been the drugstore beetle, that's Stegobium paniceum, it attacks dry food, and dried medicinal plants, and it also eats concentrated strychnine safely. OK so far. But someone's reported a new variety of it that he called Stegobium paniceum heroinivorum, and you don't need to know Latin to know what that eats safely and spoils and consumes. He said that someone sent a ton of the stuff off by sea hidden in a cargo ship, and all that arrived was a load of those beetles alive and dead and their grubs and pupae and shit and old pupa cases. When Customs opened it, the live beetles flew out and all over the docks looking for any more of the stuff to lay their &^%^$ eggs on. The trade's had it. It's going where the passenger pigeon went.".

Far more than 169 was affected. Across the world the price of those sorts of illegal drugs rose to unprecedented levels as remaining supplies came through the system, if the storage pests did not destroy them first, and then the supply trickled out and stopped. Street-corner small-scale dealers left their pitches. Addicts no longer stole to pay for drugs, for there were no more of those drugs on the streets to buy, and the public thanked whatever god or gods each worshipped, that that endless incurable cause of crime was over, rid of, dead, at last ended. Addicts pestered doctors and pharmacists for something to give relief, but each had to face the "cold turkey" unaided sudden withdrawal period. Those who had profited or got power from the trade had to accept that it was over. Gangsters deprived of an income pushed into other types of racketeering, and violent gang wars developed, and innocent people were caught in the crossfire. The public through the newspapers and television news watched the slump and great collapse, and the end of a big social evil.

169 lived on, its income now far less. As its best option to survive, its top staff decided to keep within the law from then on, trading about in ordinary legal commodities as it could to get extra income for its role as merely the area's underwater security and patrol and rescue and sea-law-enforcement force, often now known as "Force 169" or "Inshore Security Force". It had to live on what the island's government could or wanted to pay, and had to leave its origin and the more expensive parts of its technology and missions to distant lands, and let its shady past gradually slip back into old history, and be a "poacher becoming gamekeeper". Some of their small submarines were adapted for underwater marine biology or underwater work. In this new legal role, Force 169 set up a few branches in nearby nations that wanted such an inshore patrol force within the limits of the law and of what those nations could afford. Local fishermen, as before, complained about having to pay fishing licences and not being allowed to pa-aling fish, or to fish with explosive or cyanide, or by pounding the reef (called muroami), or to catch undersized, but restrictictions had to be enforced. This gamble worked, too well, because 169's command was approached by other nations' sea-patrolling forces around to make contact links and to coordinate activities and information; this was done. Sean realized, and had to accept it: "169 is now this island's seep force. The Sea Patrol have caught me, but not in the way that I expected. I am now a seep. And my mates are seeps. But I better stop using the word now, now I am one.". Sea Patrol trainers came from Britain and ran the 169's through an exacting series of action exercises; they all passed. Staz and some with him including Sean at last penetrated the original Sea Patrol's main base at Fort Bovisand in Devon in England - with permission, as guests of its commander. But Sean still has plenty needs to dive with his converted stabjacker rebreather with the Nort mask on, trophy of his first underwater arrest, or from time to time with his homemade set, and he sometimes raids and arrests in that role, and diving still sometimes gives thrills of excitement.