Christian’s habit of over-weighting the belt made Samir nervous. Negative buoyancy in shallow water free-diving was known to be dangerous, lessening the odds of an unconscious diver floating to the surface. Samir had read somewhere that the vast majority of blackouts occurred at thirty feet or less; when the diver was kicking for the surface and both water and oxygen pressure were dropping.
Heavier weights meant using up more oxygen whilst fighting to stay off the ocean floor, increasing the likelihood of running into trouble on the ascent. The stories suggested that the blackout came on with little or no warning, those rare survivors telling tales of being shaken awake from vivid dreams to find themselves vomiting seawater onto the deck, their terrified rescuers heaving sighs of relief, smacking the bewildered victim on the back. The majority of such incidents left no survivor to offer insight. More often, the poor souls were found drowned, the assumption being that they had fainted in the water. Many bodies were never recovered. The attraction of the over-weighting was that it allowed for much a faster descent, yielding more of the precious hunting time on the bottom. For Christian, this advantage alone outweighed any risk; he was in peak physical condition and had trained hard to hold his breath for almost six minutes.
The four boys entered the water together, pinching their nose-plugs and tipping themselves backwards smoothly into bubble-shrouded somersaults, oblivious to the cheers of encouragement from the deck. The cool water soaked the neoprene of Christian’s wetsuit, triggering a shiver that ran from the nape of his neck to the small of his back. The long flippers became weightless in the element, and he kicked gently to the surface, starting to suck the salty air slowly and deliberately into his lungs as he trod the water. Feeling himself acclimatising, he formed a circle with his lips and forcefully expelled every last particle of air, tensing his abdominal muscles to empty his diaphragm. Ballooning his belly as he inhaled, he drew until his rib cage hurt and he could take no more in. He repeated the process several times, faster each time, like a steam train chugging to build speed. A light tingling in his fingers spread into his hands and up his forearms. Mild wooziness told him he was ready; the carbon dioxide in his blood very low. He began to gulp air like a fish out of water, swallowing hard to pack the reserve tank of the stomach. If he felt the urge to breathe, he could belch into his lungs to buy time. He winked at Samir and made the thumbs down signal; his friend nodded tensely and reciprocated the signal. Christian tucked his knees up to his chest and leaned forward, upending himself gracefully and aiming his spear at the ocean floor. An elegant motion rippled through his body as he slipped beneath the surface, and with a hard kick he was powering down at speed. Samir followed closely at first, but Christian scissored away in a watery blur and was quickly swallowed by the vastness of the inky blue void.
For the first few metres the visibility was crystalline, every molecule of water glowing with the fierce white light of the Arabian sun. Christian felt the temperature dropping as he propelled himself deeper, the colours around him transitioning from turquoise through cobalt. The crisp coolness felt invigorating on his skin; a welcome contrast to the stifling humidity at the surface. At ten metres the detail of the reef came into view, a veritable sub-marine hunting ground. He eyed an overgrown coral outcrop, a natural parapet behind which he could crouch and watch his prey. Already he could see a large brown Hamour nuzzling at a sea-sponge, while a couple of the distinctively striped Cobia cruised over a sandy clearing to his left. The fish were oblivious to his presence as he descended to his shady vantage point and crossed his legs beneath him like a yogi, resting the butt of the spear gun on the rocky ledge in front of him. All that remained now was for a curious fish to come within the killing radius of four metres, and he would take his one and only shot. He glanced at his watch and saw that he had been down for a full minute already. He would have another minute or so on the bottom before he would need to ascend the twenty or so metres to the surface. He remained perfectly still, finger poised on the trigger, muscles relaxed to conserve energy.
A Cobia turned in the distance, briefly heading directly for him before peeling off and disappearing behind a large sea urchin. Christian began make a low gargling noise in his throat, alternating it with a nasal humming sound. This luring technique had paid dividends with similar fish in the past; the minute vibrations in the water would pique the interest of the likes of the bolder Cobia species, prompting them to make the mistake of investigating its source. His quarry failed to reappear, but a flash of silver in his peripheral vision signalled the arrival of a sizeable Kingfish instead. Christian felt his pulse accelerate with the thrill of the hunt, knowing now that he had a viable target. At over a metre long and weighing in the region of twenty five kilos, such a creature would not come quietly. He would look to take it side on, behind the gills and close to the spine, aiming to sever the spinal column. A successful shot would be textbook perfect, though such accuracy in the underwater environment was close to impossible. He stopped making the luring noises and remained stock still, willing his prey to come closer. At a distance of two metres, as the fish made a sudden turn with an oily black eye glinting defiantly, Christian pulled the trigger.
Continued in Part 2
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