DEEP by A.L. Bates
Release Date: 29 January, 2016
Fleeing from a troubled past that left him feeling tarnished and used, Sean finds work as a medic aboard the deep sea mining ship Ariel, on a distant planet.
Under the leader ship of the infuriating, yet charismatic, Captain Joel Riley, Sean settles into his simple, but dangerous, new life. It’s a life he soon comes to love; albeit one in which he conceals his sexuality and avoids intimacy.
But Sean’s new world is turned on its head when an old face threatens to expose him for the man he used to be.
With Joel’s help, will Sean learn to come to terms with his past and become a man he can be proud of?
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THE HARDEST THING about working on Ariel was the absence of day and night. That deep in the ocean the hours passed in meaningless numbers as the ship floated in the endless depths of Titan, a rich oceanic moon orbiting Jupiter. Sean’s body clock had never adjusted. Three seasons underwater and he still found himself falling asleep during his shift in the infirmary or staring up at his bedroom ceiling, wide awake.
His head dropped sharply, the suddenness of it waking him up. He looked about, checking that no one had been in and caught him napping. Any of the five other crew members onboard were capable of tormenting him when his guard was down. During his first season the pranks were unbearable, but Sean had been a different man back then. He didn’t understand how to fit in and be part the crew. He took their games to heart for a long time.
It was better now. He was better. They still played their pranks, and sometimes he still got annoyed, but he appreciated them. The crew were family, and he cared for them all deeply. He never thought a man from his walk of life, with all his wealth and all his privilege, would happily settle on a rusty old mining ship with a group of feral deep-sea laborers. He expected the rest of the crew thought the same.
Sean stretched and yawned. His body had changed dramatically since he’d taken his first dive, too. You had to be strong and maintain good physical health working this deep. His body was toned and lithe and bigger than it had been when he first showed up on Titan looking for a job.
“You’re a bit young and scrawny to be a doctor, aren’t you?” the captain had said to him that day in the docking station, seeing a man barely scraping twenty-three and not fit for more than standing around and looking pretty.
Sean had given him some pompous reply that still made him cringe when he thought back to it. Sometimes he suspected the captain only took him on to try to break him. Captain Riley could be a sadistic bastard when he wanted to be.
Sean wiped his sleepy eyes and took in his meticulous infirmary. When he arrived the infirmary should have been condemned. He could remember seeing the stained walls, the dirty equipment, and a cabinet filled with outdated, dubiously sourced medicine and realizing he had no idea what trouble he’d gotten himself into. It took him a whole season just to get the room sterile. And now it was home.
He yawned again. It looked as though he wouldn’t be needed for the night, so he decided to tempt fate and close the infirmary. The crew had days when they were lining up to get treatment and then days when he did nothing but sit and stare at an empty bed, thankful nobody was hurt. It was a big change from working in the trauma unit back on Earth, but he liked it. He liked being on the front line when one of them was in real trouble; he liked being the one they relied on. How many times had he kept them alive or brought them back? He’d lost track, but they hadn’t.
Sean went to the mess to fill a canister of water. Sometimes there’d be a card game going on, or a movie playing, but today the room was empty. They were due to start diving to the deeper oceanic beds in the morning. That meant an early start for most of them, followed by several weeks’ intense labor. A tired crew was a dangerous crew, and the captain wouldn’t tolerate risks. Sean switched off the lights and was about to make his way to his quarters when he noticed there was someone still up in the cockpit.
There was a time when he shied away from the other crew members to avoid the snarky remarks and teasing. But now he felt it was his obligation to make sure they were okay. He was part of the team, but he was separate from the miners and engineers onboard and somehow that made him more approachable. He climbed into the cockpit, eager to help if he was needed.
Only it wasn’t a regular crew member, it was the captain. Joel Riley was a difficult captain to work under, and for his first season in the Deep, Sean was pretty sure he despised the man. But another season in he’d grown accustomed to the captain’s volatile temper and inability to compromise. Joel had been a miner all his life, born on Titan to a family of miners. He had the sea in his veins and Ariel was his heart. There was a confidence to Joel that drew the crew to him and an arrogance that kept him slightly out of reach. Rugged, strong, and built for hard labor, he was the exact opposite of Sean—and yet of all the crew, Sean felt closest to Joel. Sean understood the captain’s approach, his passions, and he trusted the older man with his life.
“Captain, is everything all right?” Sean said from the entrance.
Joel jumped, knocking his knees on the control board. “Jesus, boy! What you doing creeping around in the middle of the night?”
“I wasn’t creeping,” Sean said.
“Skulking around, spying on people, and you reckon that’s not creeping,” Joel grumbled.
Sean thought better of continuing into an argument. If Joel’s mood was testy they were going to go around in circles annoying each other.
“I was about to turn in,” Sean said, deciding it was best to be passive.
“You looking for permission?” Joel’s tone was still curt, but it wasn’t really directed at Sean. Something else was bothering him.
“No, I just thought I’d come in and say good night.”
Joel sighed, apparently appeased by the lack of confrontation. He gave Sean a weak, tired smile. “Better get some rest, Doc. Couple of hours and Harvey will need you to stitch something, no doubt.”
Wasn’t that the truth. Harvey, their engineer, was pretty good when it came to mineral mining and keeping the ship moving, but he could injure himself getting into his dive suit.
“What about you, Sir?”
“I’m not planning on cutting anything,” Joel said, his smile strengthening.
“I meant are you turning in?”
Joel hesitated. Usually the captain was impossible to read, but every so often Sean got hints of the man behind the muscle. There was a softness to him, hidden behind the square jaw and piercing eyes. Sean had always been drawn to his vulnerable side. It crept in from time to time, reminding Sean that the captain, despite liking to pretend he was a demigod, was just a man. A good man.
“Not yet.” A shadow seemed to be hanging over him.
“Would you mind some company?” Sean offered, sensing the captain had something he needed to get off his chest.
“Suit yourself.” It was as close to an invitation as Joel ever gave anyone.
Sean put himself in the second pilot seat. The ship hummed as the water danced against the cockpit window. It was impossible to see more than a few meters in front of the ship—anything could be out there. Sean found the emptiness unsettling, almost as much as he did Joel’s silence.
“You regretting staying with us a third season?” Joel eventually asked.
Sean smiled to himself. He had lots of regrets in his life. Ariel had never been one of them. “Not yet, Sir.”
“They say after your third you’re on for life.”
That was okay by Sean. There were far worse places to be in the universe. “I’ll bear that in mind.”
A more comfortable silence fell between the two men. Sean knew this was the moment Joel would open up. He waited, careful not to push and scare him off.
“Minerals we’ve been pulling in have been low grade. We didn’t make anything like we should have last season. Surface grit isn’t selling like it should. If we want to keep diving we’re gonna need a bigger drill and go deeper. But that costs. Costs a goddamn lot. And Ariel needs things done too, if we want to keep her floated.”
“Things have always been difficult; we’ve come through before,” Sean said, trying to calm his captain’s mood. Since he’d arrived on the ship every season had been a struggle; he didn’t expect this one to be any different. They always managed to get through in the end, ready to dive again when the time came.
“Not this time.” Joel stared out at the abyss, watching odd lights twist in the distance. Sean could see the passion in the captain’s eyes; it was obvious to everyone how much he loved the ship and the sea. Sean couldn’t imagine him anywhere else.
“Captain, have you thought about maybe doing something other than mining?”
Joel’s eyes narrowed, his familiar stubborn streak creasing his brow. “This is a mining ship.”
“I know, but there are lots of science expeditions looking to move deeper into the water. I hear they pay pretty well, and the risk is low.”
“You don’t think I’ve got enough troublesome doctors on my boat already?”
Sean sighed. Sometimes it was so frustrating trying to get through to the older man. “I was only saying that there are other things—”
“I thought you were turning in for the night.” Joel folded his arms, his biceps bulging, and Sean was reminded of some kind of cockerel, plumping himself up to look bigger and more threatening.
“Captain, if you’d listen for a second,” he pleaded.
“Doc, it sure sounds to me like you’re bossing me around on my own ship.”
Sean glared at him. Unless they were in the infirmary, it was Joel’s way or nothing… and even when they were in the infirmary, the captain usually got what he wanted. That didn’t stop Sean from being angry about it, though.
“You’re insufferable,” Sean hissed as he headed out the door.
“Sticks and stones,” Joel grumbled.
Sean’s problem was that he wanted to help. He wanted to make sure the crew were healthy and happy, that the ship was running and profitable, that Joel was doing what he loved. Unfortunately, Sean was a rich boy surrounded by a crew of born-and-bred miners. They looked at things differently, and Sean never seemed to be able to say anything right when he needed to.
To view the Book Trailer, click HERE