Vitals
please."
    His lips moved silently. I shifted my eyes from his face to the illuminated field beneath us, then back to his face.
    We rose twenty feet and drifted down the narrow canyon. The walls dropped off. We passed a lava column, lonely and rugged. Everything was covered with silt and floe. There was no motion, except for the fall of bacterial snow; still and empty, lost in a Milennial quiet.
    My hand twitched inside the glove. The manipulator responded with a grinding outward push.
    "Careful," Dave said.
    I wanted to tell him screw you, but he was right. Easy does it. Focus.
    Dave let rip with a long and heartfelt fart.
    "Jesus, I'm sorry," he muttered.
    His stink filled the sphere. It was lush and green, like a jungle, but gassy, like corpse-bloat. I had never really smelled a fart quite like it, to tell the truth, and I wanted to gag.
    "I don't feel very good," Dave said. "This is nothing like rice and pepper."
    My tickle of anger became a nettle like scourge. Little sparks of resentment and frustration came and went like stinging fireflies. I could not focus. I glared at Dave, and he shot me a screw-faced look from the corner of his eye that totally grounded me.
    We both turned away. We had been homing in before a fight. We couldn't get up and circle and bristle in the pressure sphere, so we had just glared--then agreed to back down.
    Sweat soaked my armpits.
    The sub crept over the sea bottom. I took control of the lower bar of lights and fanned them out.
    Something big, round, and long came into view, lying horizontal on the seafloor like a toppled ship's mast. "What in hell is that?" I asked, startled.
    Dave practically jerked control of the lights from me, then chuckled. "That is a condominium dropped from heaven. Take a look."
    Clams, boring worms, studded the mystery shape like maggots on a corpse.
    "It's a log" Dave said. "We're not that far from some big forests, the Olympic Peninsula, Vancouver Island."
    "Right."
    A few tens of meters east, we came across another log. A chain drooling rivers and ponds of orange rust tied the log to at least seven more, all thick with life, all broken loose from a raft who knows how many years or even decades ago. It takes a long time for deep scavengers to move in on such riches, but when they do, organisms gather from miles around to share the feast.
    We churned our way east a few more yards, following the rust
    rivers until they faded into the silt. I lifted the bar and spread the lights again. Dave did not object.
    Ahead, dozens of little blobs wobbled on the ooze and sediment like dust bunnies under a kid's bed. I rotated the entire light bar, flooding the seafloor with daylight glow. "There they are," I said. Xenos by the dozens cast long shadows. The DSV glided over them, lazy as a well-fed manta. Our lights picked out hundreds more, then thousands, jiggling on the silt. I could barely make out the blurred tracks of their slow, rolling movement.
    "Got 'em," Dave said. "What next?" Everything was fine again. The smell was going away or I was able to ignore it.
    I kept moving the lights. Dave gently precessed the submarine.
    "See those?" I asked. "Those fans ... and over there, gelatinous mounds--way over there." I drew back the manipulator and armed its claw tip with a revolving suck tube. "What do they look like to you?"
    "Sea daisies?" Dave asked, as if eager to confirm my hopes.
    "Some would call them that. A little yellow tinge in the lights. But they are not siphonophores. They're something else."
    I sucked my lips, afraid I might just be looking at loose debris, deluding myself. But they were not debris. They were real.
    "I've never seen anything like them," Dave admitted. "They look like little squashed balloons."
    "Swim pillows," I said. "Bubble wrap."
    Dave's eyes were perfectly normal for this situation: wide with speculative interest. "They aren't jellyfish or corals. And no algae--not this far down."
    "Rack your brain," I said, giddy. "Think back. Way back.

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