James Woodley’s POV
The last two weeks had been interesting, to say the least. Doc cleared me for diving again after my time in the hyperbaric chamber and a week of monitoring on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln. It took two days for my body to get over the soreness, then I was left with nothing to do. I worked out with the Marines, watched flight ops, and hit the library and computers to figure out what killed Tim.
A simple Internet search for “wings ox head” led to the Bible, which led to some interesting reading and even a long talk with the lead Chaplain. I read every reference I could find on the Cherubim. In a book on angels I found a painting that looked eerily like the glimpse I had gotten of the creature during my dive. I was glad I hadn’t talked to anyone about it, because who would believe me? Angels three hundred feet underwater? Who would believe it?
I read the Bible like never before; I had been a born-again Christian for five years, I had read the Bible cover to cover, but the Genesis story suddenly seemed more real than fable.
Genesis 3 told the end of the story and was the first mention of the angel with the flaming sword:
22 And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:
23 Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
24 So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.
If the account was true, there were two of these things down there, not just the one he saw, and they were guarding the entrance to the Garden of Eden. Could that even be right? This place was a barren desert, could it ever have been the lush garden of Genesis 2?
7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
8 And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.
9 And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
10 And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.
11 The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;
12 And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone.
13 And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia.
14 And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates.
15 And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.
16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
The information on the location of Eden helped a little; it was in the fertile crescent, around present day Iraq. The Euphrates flows east from present-day Turkey to the head of the Persian Gulf, then to the Indian Ocean. Hiddekel was the Tigris River, but the other two, Pison and Gihon, were unknown. There were lots of theories, but it wasn’t until satellites that another theory came out. The photographs showed the evidence of two ancient rivers, long since dried up. One came from the south, near Ethiopia, and met the Persian Gulf in present-day Saudi Arabia. That was Gihon. The fourth was another dried-up river, coming south through Iran and running into the northern Gulf. That would be Pison.
The four connected into one river, three hundred feet below the water and two miles inside Iranian waters of the Northern Gulf. It was a location I was intimately familiar with.
The others may have no idea, but I knew what it was. I had come up against the flaming sword and an Angel of God, protecting the entrance to the Garden of Eden. Inside the Garden was the Tree of Life, and if Man ever ate of its fruit, he would become immortal.
It was a treasure greater than anything in the world, but how do you get past angelic beings who can see in all directions?
I read and downloaded everything I could find on the Garden and on cherubim. I was able to buy a new iPad through the ship’s store, and while on medical restriction I had plenty of time to fill up the library. When Mark came out of the helicopter, I knew we were going to try again. “We getting the band back together,” I asked as he walked through the hatch off the flight deck.
“Damn right,” he said. “Come on, let’s grab your gear. We leave in thirty minutes.”
“I have almost nothing,” I said. “Lost and found items and the ship’s store was all I could get. Come on.” He followed me back to the VIP stateroom where I was staying. It took two minutes to pack everything, and the only things I cared about were my dive gear and my iPad. The guys on the John Paul Jones had managed to recover the gear I’d left in the Zodiak, including my knife and dive computer, and the doctors hadn’t cut off my wetsuit. I didn’t have my dive helmet, tanks, mask or fins, it’d all gone down with the Bountiful. “What about my missing gear?”
“Already in transit,” Mark said. “We bought everything you might need and then some. Plus we found you a new dive partner.”
I zipped up the bag and followed him back out. “I’m kind of particular about who I dive with,” I said.
“I think you’ll like working with this one. Over four hundred dives past three hundred feet, experience with tanked and suited diving, and extensive experience in underwater salvage and repair. A real professional, who also designs and operates remote piloted submarines.” Damn, that was a lot. That kind of experience took decades, so I was pretty sure the guy would be pushing fifty and be arrogant as hell.
We walked back out, meeting the XO who I thanked for his help, before Mark reminded him that we were never here. They gave us flight helmets, then we were escorted by one of the air crew to a waiting helicopter. “Where are we going,” I asked as we buckled ourselves in.
“About fifty miles north of Bahrain, off the Kuwaiti coast,” he said. “We’ve got a new vessel to operate off, but the mission is unchanged.” I just nodded, knowing we couldn’t talk much about it around the crew. It was about forty minutes flight time from the carrier in the southern Gulf until we were in a hover. We had been put in harnesses during the flight, since we would have to be lowered down to the deck of our new ship. The door opened, and the crew chief pulled the retractable hook inside and hooked it up to Mark. I looked down; this was no trawler, this was a service boat for oil platforms.It was old and rusty, with a bunch of tarps covering equipment on the open stern. The pilothouse was near the bow, and I could see Ben standing there with a grounding strap.
Mark was hooked up and lowered first; luckily the air was smooth, and he was unhooked in a minute and the hook brought back up. I hadn’t done this method of transfer much, usually SEALs fast-roped down from the helicopter. I was hooked up, swung out and lowered slowly to the deck. As soon as I was down, the hook returned, and our gear was attached and lowered. When we had it all we waved, and they were off. “Great to see you again, Ben,” I said as I embraced the old CIA man.
“Good to see you too,” he told me. “You look good, all recovered?”
“Yeah, clean bill of health.” I looked around, the boat was maybe forty feet long and smelled of oil and grease. “Nice boat you got here.”
“Thanks,” a woman’s voice came from the pilothouse. “It grows on you.”
I looked over to see the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. Our eyes met, her brown eyes burning a hole in my soul with a single glance. I froze, staring at her like she was a wild animal who might get spooked and bolt on me. She must have felt it too, because she shook her head after a few seconds and started to walk back towards me. “Charlotte Courtois, lead diver and owner of Deepwater Repair Solutions.”
She reached her hand out, and I took it in mine, but instead of shaking it, I brought it to my lips and kissed the back of it. “James Woodley, at your service.”
“Thank you, James. Now, let’s get to work.” She turned to Ben. “Can you take the helm? We should get going, that helicopter might attract attention.” Then she looked at Mark and asked him to make sure the gear we’d brought was unpacked.
“On it,” he said as he walked towards the hatch.
“What’s your background, James? Ben said you used to be a SEAL.”
I nodded as she walked over to one of the tarps and started to loosen the ropes holding one side down. “That’s true, I spent ten years in the Teams. I focused on diving after I got out and joined the CIA. I’ve mostly been involved in salvage operations since then.”
“On tanks, up to three hundred and forty feet. I’ve used diving suits and supplied air down to four hundred feet. I’ve done eighty-seven dives over two hundred feet.” She nodded, I hoped she was impressed. “You’re the deepwater diver Mark told me about then.”
“Not what you expected?”
She had no idea, or maybe she did. Offshore oil rig repair and deepwater diving was a male-dominated club of very few members, deepwater divers a community of only a few hundred more. Women like her were fantasy material, talked about in hushed tones after someone said, “you’re not going to believe this, but….” She was good enough at her job to be picked for this mission, and beautiful enough that I couldn’t believe she was in the middle of the Persian Gulf with me. “I would have expected to have met a unicorn before you,” I said honestly. “Mark gave me your background, it impressed the hell out of me. I’m glad you’re working with us.”
“You won’t have a problem with me being the lead for diving and salvage operations? Not everyone can handle me.” Her Cajun accent was driving me crazy, I loved the sound but I had to focus when I listened. I kept looking at the hand to see if there was a ring, or evidence of one. She caught me looking. “I’m single, James. Divorced for ten years now. The asshole cheated on me with my best friend while I was working from a rig in the Gulf. I’m not making the mistake of getting involved again, not unless I find a man who loves me and I can trust.” I looked at her a little hopefully, only to get glared at. “I vowed that if any man ever did that to me again, I’d cut his junk off and feed it to the reef sharks while he watched and bled to death. I don’t fuck around on company time, I don’t have time for drama, so don’t even start. We keep this professional and we get the job done and we’ll get along just fine. I won’t have it any other way.”
“I can do that. Why don’t you show me the gear you designed and tell me how we’re going to get that thing back without me losing another partner.”
“You lost a partner?”
I grimaced, they hadn’t told her. “Yes, something cut his legs off at just over three hundred feet. He had no chance, and I barely escaped. We managed to give the Iranian patrol boats the slip or the three of us would be dead right now.”
She pulled back the tarp, then started going through the features of the remote submarine she’d designed. After it was covered back up, I followed her into the dining area below decks where she had set up the control system. By the time she had given me a rundown on everything, it was time for dinner.
She made a dish with shrimp and rice that was better than I’d eaten anywhere, and I’ve been all over the world.
Damn, she was so fucking perfect. Beauty, talent, spirit and passion. I was in love.