THE SHAPE OF TRIPS TO COME
The time: the not-too-distant future. Blenkins flipped idly through the holographic pages of Virtual Diver. His 12-week Easter holiday was almost upon him, and he still hadn't booked a trip. Truth was, none of the available alternatives really excited him.
He'd been tempted by the Maldives, but since the ice caps melted, finding them had been a bit of a lottery. A couple of friends had just returned from a frustrating expedition to the Indian Ocean, where a month-long sidescan search failed to turn up a single five-star hotel.
There was always the Caribbean. But Easter fell slap in the middle of the 10-month hurricane season. In any case, he was less than incandescent at the prospect of a guided dive through a corridor in a 4000sq mile, wire-mesh aquarium, stocked with toothless sharks and genetically modified, venom-free stonefish.
Sipadan had long been his favourite dive spot. But was it worth the claustrophobic, twilight existence in the underground bunker, hiding from the headhunters with the AK 47s, just to spend an hour a day skulking about in the world's biggest coral graveyard?
The Red Sea was out of the question, of course. The waiting list was already five years long.
However, he'd put his son's name down for the Thistlegorm and, provided the little tyke passed his entrance exam, there was no reason why he shouldn't visit Egypt some time during the next decade.
In desperation, Blenkins span the globe like a roulette wheel and waited for it to stop. Ah! Indonesia! Now there was an idea.
Moments later, he was scanning the pages of Divernet for holiday details. The fish dynamiting course looked interesting, as did a week's mollusc-dredging for the international trinket market.
For the more adventurous, there was a fortnight off East Timor on a die-aboard. Hmm.
Talking of dying, he had always been fascinated by the Barents Sea - that desolate and gloomy stretch of water between the Arctic snows and the fastnesses of Siberia. And now it seemed, according to the holiday pages of Diver, that one could spend a diverting fortnight there, recovering the abandoned reactors of Soviet subs.
They were even offering a bounty of 50 roubles per fuel rod, which would at least offset the cost of the chemotherapy.
Blenkins sighed. Perhaps he should be a little less ambitious. What was wrong with dear old Blighty, after all? Nowadays, it was quite possible to dive all year round in British waters without a wetsuit.
The downside to the radical hike in sea temperature was the month-long bloom of plankton the size of water melons, which reduced the visibility to around 3in. Still, this would be more of a problem if there were anything to see. Since the migration of the crown-of-thorns starfish up from the Great Barrier Reef, most of the indigenous species had been wiped almost to extinction.
Blenkins, mindful of the fragility of our marine ecology, was always careful not to frighten the fish. (The fish had last been spotted off Brighton in 2003).
He shut down the computer and tossed the print-outs across the room. Damn it! It would just have to be Stoney Cove again. Frankly, he found the bewildering variety of life exhausting. Each dive in the Cove was a life-changing experience - a coruscating kaleidoscope of natural beauty that left him strangely diminished.
It was as if to glance at this, the pinnacle of creation, were to steal a premature glimpse of heaven. The weed, the shrimp, the Britannia...
With weary resignation, he lifted the phone.