The first day at Kwajalein for Calista and Harmony was spent mostly on orientation, and that for Calista’s sake, as Harmony had already undergone training here. They spent nearly the entire day at Omelek Island learning what they were going to do and how to do each job. Because of everything Calista needed to cover, they didn’t return to their bungalow until nearly 22:30, taxied across the lagoon in a speed boat so they wouldn’t need to swim the thirty clicks themselves.
Day One was spent on underwater navigation, and Calista found herself traversing what Harmony call the “Infamous Kwaj One Sixty”, a one hundred mile course across, through, and around the atoll. Since mermaid could maintain a speed of twenty kilometers an hour, it was possible for Calista to cover the one hundred and sixty-one kilometer course in eight hours. And she did, setting off at 09:00, getting lunch off a floating platform in the middle of the lagoon at the half-way point, and returning, exhausted, to Omelek Island at 18:38. After a quick dinner Harmony and she were given massages before being sent back to their bungalow, once more by speed boat.
Day Two was quite different in that they didn’t have to swim everywhere; instead, they were taken to several locations around the atoll by boat. As they’d had it explained during their first trip to the center on Omelek, the second day was spent diving on wrecks and learning how to work on and recover salvage.
The first wreck they visited was the most well known at Kwaj: the Akibasan Maru, a Japanese freighter sunk during World War II. Not only was the wreck in good shape, but it lay in an area where the lagoon slopped downward from sixty feet to almost one hundred and thirty. Divers have placed items aboard the wreck the day before and it was up to Calista to recover the items based upon descriptions.
She found the wreck both exhilarating and spooky at the same time. There was just enough light outside the ship not to need lighting, but once inside it was impossible to see without the help of the head and wrist lamps she wore. Though it took her about thirty minutes more to find the items than anticipated by Harmony, she found all eight.
Once the items were deposited aboard the support boat, Harmony and Calista swam four hundred feet northwest to the next wreck, the Ikuta Maru, a Japanese freighter sunk in 1943. This ship lay on its port side, with the bow one hundred and thirty feet below water, but since she ship lay along a depression, the stern was almost forty feet deeper.
With visibility no more than thirty to fifty feet, Calista’s job was—with Harmony’s help—to take photos of the interior to assist in determining what, if anything, would appear worthy of salvage. Calista knew her job was to take as many good photos as possible, as there was nothing AFI would salvage from the vessel, but she discovered items inside the ship that made her believe divers had come to this ship, as they had the Akibasan Maru, and put things inside so they could be certain Calista had actually performed a “Bow to Stern” investigation. Three hours later she could assure her handlers she had done as asked.
After their dive on the Ikuta Maru they returned to Omelek for lunch, but rather than being transported to the pier, they were brought to the heliport where a Sikorsky S-76A waited for them. They were set upon a bench seat and strapped in: seconds later they were airborne and heading west for a couple of miles before turning and heading northwest.
Calista leaned as close as she could to her mentor. “What’s going on?”
Harmony grinned. “Remember the High Dive?”
“Well, we’re gonna do something similar to that. Sometimes we have to get on site quickly, so the company flies us out in helos. Only a lot of time we can’t land, so…” She pointed to a trapeze bar next to the sliding side door closest to Calista. “When the time comes the helo goes into hover, these doors open, we unstrap, and—”
Calista figured out the rest. “We grab the trapeze and dive out of the copter.”
“You got it.”
“Great.” Calista checked the tight sports bra she was wearing. “It take it these will stay on?”
“Don’t worry: they won’t come off.” A red light on the wall opposite them began flashing. “Get ready: when that goes green, we jump.”
About five seconds later the doors began sliding open as the helicopter went into a hover: a few seconds after that the flashing red light went dark while a green light lit up. Calista hid the quick-release in the middle of her four-point harness, grabbed the trapeze bar near her head, and with a quick hip flick she launched herself out of the copter and dived towards the ocean before, getting her hands in front of her head moments before striking the water.
Underwater she swam towards the commotion of bubbles that she knew was Harmony. She only spoke once she was about a meter away. “How far did we dive?”
“Probably fifteen meters. I jumped from twenty before, but if you don’t hit the water just right you’ll mess yourself up.” She tapped Calista on the arm. “Follow me.”
The dive area was as deep as where they’d been before, as well as being flatter. Calista’s dive meter read 35 m/120 ft and she guessed the visibility as excellent, maybe out to a hundred feet. They followed the floor for maybe two hundred feet before coming upon a wreck. But this wasn’t a ship: Calista didn’t know what to make of this craft. “What is this?”
“It’s an old North American B-52 bomber.” Harmony turned to her mentee. “They used these during World War II, both in the Pacific and in Europe. This one was sunk at some point in 1944.” They moved over the tail as they slowly swam towards the nose. “It didn’t crash: that’s why it’s in one piece.”
Calista looked over the barnacle and coral-covered hull, watching fish swim in and out of the wreckage of something that had once flown. She hovered over the cockpit, where some of the glass was missing from the frame. “This is just incredible. What are we doing here?”
“Nothing, really.” Harmony swam up next to Calista and gazed upon the wreck. “Every time I come to Kwaj I like to dive on this because—well, I just like it. This is history.” She smiled as she turned her head. “And I wanted you to see this.”
Calista hovered in place with a few lazy swishes of her tail. “Why?”
“Because it’s beautiful. And it’s part of our world: we’re the only ones who can ever enjoy this sight this way.”
That’s when it struck Calista: This is our world. We’re not human: we’re Homo Aquatica. And we are only truly at home in the ocean. She bowed her head slightly. “Thank you.”
“You are quite welcome.” Harmony motioned for her mentee to follow. “Now on to the real work.”
“The Fuji Maru, about four klicks west of here on the other side of Sand Island. We’re gonna practice using some more salvage equipment.” She chuckled as she picked up the pace. “Never a dull moment under the waves, is there?”