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What lies Beneath

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Down the dark depths I descend dreamily, the water lulling me with its inescapable blackness into uncharted territory, a hypnotic spell that woos me with its darkly majesty. It’s gorgeous, yet ghastly. Masterful, yet monstrous. What lies beneath in the unknown space of our world’s most indescribable landscape tickles my desire to achieve a discovery of unprecedented proportions. There is so much to be found, but time seems to flow against me in my line of work.

I’m a deep-diver (more precisely, an ocean explorer), responsible for surveying the deepest parts of the ocean realm and relaying my findings to NOAA. Often, I’m left discouraged and empty-handed, either stumbling upon a known ecosystem, or swimming through the sea in my lonely machine. But sometimes a new, rare discovery drifts within my direction--a deep sea dweller with genetically absurd characteristics, for example--that allows me to simultaneously bask in the beauty of the unknown and the frightful idea that we still have so much to find. Chills trickle through me during those moments.

My submersible is called Albert I, named after my father, an incredible visionary in marine biology that pushed the envelope, breaking barriers that seemed insurmountable before he passed. It was my honorary gift to him, naming the vehicle after him, only a minor repayment for the life he provided me and his inspiration that captured my wonder to pursue a career in his footsteps.

Albert I approaches one-thousand meters, a quarter of our expected distance. Blackness consumes the submersible, the headlights barely managing to penetrate the thickness of the Atlantic Ocean as we continue diving. Not a single organism--that can be seen--swims by. Bubbles ascend gracefully in a linear path.

Normally, I’m responsible for the ROVs (remotely operated underwater vehicles), but Albert I was designed for a three man crew: a pilot, and two observers. It generates a far more personal experience, and is far more gratifying to witness a discovery first-hand.

The submersible is yellow, welded similarly to the shape of a standard submarine with a large rotary fan on the back, and two miniature ones attached to the left and right to power the submersible’s movement like shark fins, though not nearly as quickly as the king of the sea. Inside, an almost claustrophobic personal sphere shelters Kyren, Daniel, and I. It spares enough maneuverability to complete the necessary tasks (piloting for me), but I won’t deny that several cramps are in order.

“Approaching four-thousand meters,” I say.

The lights cast an eerie glow over the ocean floor. I adjust Albert’s buoyancy to hover above the floor, just enough to maintain contact with the bottom without eliminating movement. Albert I cruises forward, cautiously surveying the near pitch-black depths.

“Think we’ll catch anything today, Paul?” says Daniel with a smirk.

I turn and mimic his expression. “Damn right we will.” We laugh together.

Rocks and debris litter the ground like an overpopulated species. Despite the lack of sunlight at this enormous depth, the sounds of the deep, mysterious and mystifying, reverberate with a bizarre consistency at the bottom. It’s a mix of echoes, anything from the crackling hum of an overhead steamboat to the loud cry of a humpback whale. Nothing is truly discernible, only speculation.

Through the viewing port, I spot what looks like a dumbo octopus and point to it. “Check it out,” I say. They’re fairly common sightings, cute little creatures. The little blob is a pinkish tint with tiny tentacles and huge fins that protrude near the eyes, giving it a peculiar look to that of Dumbo the elephant.

“I wonder if that’s Little Bobby,” says Kyren.

“No, that’s definitely Sir Charles,” says Daniel. “Just look at him.”

“I’m surprised to find him here,” I say. “A little shallower than normal. And sorry Ky, but that’s definitely Sir Charles. No debate.” Kyren shakes his head.

Albert I scurries along. A few fish swim within our periphery for the next hour, but nothing groundbreaking or breathtaking; all well-documented species in the catalog. I stretch my arms and legs, already feeling the confinement of the sphere press against my muscles.

Daniel sighs and slouches in his chair. “There’s nothing here,” he says.

“Take a breath,” I say. “It’s only been an hour. We’ll find something.” The words didn’t quite reassure my same suspicions, but giving up was far too simple.

Several minutes later, a perplexing force of unknown origin brushes against Albert I, sending the submersible inches to the right. The strange force, like an underwater wave, was neither damaging nor alarming, just unusual enough to catch the three of us off guard. I halt and swivel around to look at my partners. Their eyebrows are raised as mine are.

“You felt that right?” I say.

“Weird,” says Kyren.

“Video catch anything?” Albert I possesses high-quality cameras specifically designed to withstand the pressure and extreme temperatures of the deep. Our cameras are highly reliable and necessary, even if skeptics still exist in the scientific community. I squeeze my way through the crevices onboard towards Kyren. Daniel follows along.

Kyren rewinds the recorded footage and thumps the play button when it reaches an appropriate time. The screen is tiny, no larger than your average laptop. For the first minute, the footage is blank: Deserted darkness and the stable beam of light shining at a limited range. The video is relatively noiseless until we hear it. Something inexplicable.

I cock my ear to the screen as if this position will suddenly amplify the sound. I hear it again, the low growl, almost like an exhale of a human with phlegm-like qualities, giving it a throaty sort of sound, scratchy and sickly. My mind irrationally wanders to the thought of a zombie, and I shake it off.

“What in the world is that?” I ask.

“Beats me,” says Kyren. “Any ideas, Daniel?”

“Your guess is as good as mine,” says Daniel. “That is some freaky s--”

“Hold on!” I interrupt rather abruptly. Something snags my attention, so I ask Ky to rewind. I wasn’t sure what I saw, a curious sliver of footage that felt worthy of reviewing. My eyes are nailed to the screen, anticipation tingling in my fingers. I want to believe it was real, that I wasn’t pressuring my mind to force something that isn’t there.

“There!” I point to the screen at its exact location. Ky rewinds ever so slightly, and the image becomes clearer, more refined--at least, as clear as it can be in the darkness of the sea. The outline is faint, a silhouette lurking in the shadows, but my jaw still manages to gape open at its sheer size, a baffling gargantuan I cannot fathom. “Jesus Christ,” I say. “Tell me I’m not going crazy. You guys see it too, right?”

“Whatever it is,” says Daniel, “we gotta find it.”

I nod and dash to the pilot seat (more of a slow crawl, really) without thinking. I clutch the controls, preparing to engage in a full expedition when Ky chimes in.

“Guys, we have no idea what we’re looking for,” says Kyren. “And we have no idea what that thing is. It’s dangerous to go in blindly. We should think about this.”

I snigger, feeling a twinge of disappointment. “Our entire job is based on flying blindly. If we don’t go out of our way to explore what’s out there, who will? We can’t turn our backs on this, not now.” I turn away and ignite the rotary fans, propelling Albert I forward towards the void of the hidden entity. The sound of my heart pounds louder in my ears.

The submersible treks on for what feels like an eternity without sufficient results. I begin to wonder if my eyes were playing tricks on me, on all of us. Perhaps my eagerness to discover has corroded my better judgement. Though he’s not alive, a part of me still wants to make my father proud, to make the discovery of the decade that he’d smile about.

A sudden rush of force punches Albert’s right side, an exponential increase to the previous one, and I almost lose control as the vehicle slides to the left. I curse under my breath. We must be close, I think. I regain sturdy control and continue. A sense of trepidation washes over me. Whatever managed to move our eighteen ton submersible, it’s bigger than I can imagine.

“This isn’t a good idea,” I hear Kyren say, but I don’t respond.

My eyes peer through the viewing port like a lighthouse, scanning the water intensely.

“Oh my god,” I say, barely a whisper. On cue, a shiver dances down my spine, and I break out into goosebumps. The colossal monstrosity of prehistoric proportions wriggles through the darkness ahead of us, though no longer camouflaged by the shadows. Its snout is an arrowhead, long and sharp, with jagged teeth peeking out from the bottom jaw. Its eyes are wide and bulge grotesquely from its skull; blackness fills them as if they were unoccupied sockets. Its length is immeasurable, seemingly endless until its razor-edged fin emerges within our vision.

With a flick of its fin, the staggering force of the wave generated sends Albert I stumbling backwards, nearly toppling over. The immediate damage occurs in the back as the rotary fan sputters and dies. The submersible still runs thankfully, but movement has been temporarily disabled, leaving us immobile and exposed on the ocean floor. The creature vanishes, but suddenly, I no longer feel the same confidence bursting inside, only fear and regret.

I work painstakingly to fire up Albert’s rotary fan, but my luck is thinning. It coughs and wheezes, but never achieves ignition. The headlights begin to flicker, and the deep dark seems to converge on the submersible, inches away from swallowing the machine with one gulp.

Kyren glares at me. “You couldn’t just let this go, could you?” he says. “You always have to prove something. Now look where the hell we are.”

I bite my lip, chewing on his words that strike a pang in my chest. I caused this. I have to fix this, get us out of here.

I continue to fidget with the startup to surge the rotary fan back to life. Failure repeats in a poisonous cycle, draining hope like the oxygen stored in our submersible. Giving up begins to feel satisfactory until new life is injected into the rotary fan, and Albert I takes off.

“Daniel,” I say, “contact headquarters. Let them know we’re ascending early.”

My hands shake on the controls during the ascent. Albert I is excruciatingly slow, swimming at about thirty-five meters per minute. A minute ticks by, but it’s too late.

The beast nears, slithering with a sinister swiftness through the water, its empty eyes locked on target. Its approach is angular from the northeast of the submersible, exploding with pace. Before we could react, the beast barrels into Albert I without hesitation, and, immediately, the submersible blacks-out as it spins violently and crashes against the sea floor. The lights are dead. The rotary fans are shot. It’s impossible to determine the damage, but my thoughts drift only to death. My head throbs uneasily, and I feel myself unraveling.

Ky and Daniel groan in their seats as the emergency lights click on.

“Daniel,” I say frantically, “did you get in contact with headquarters?”

“Communications died before I had the chance,” he says, massaging his head.

“Ky, anything?” I say.

He just shakes his head.

My heart leaps into my throat. The world around me seems to collapse like a tumbling tower, brick by brick, until a flicker of hope forces my breathing to steady. NOAA will find us. We have enough emergency supplies to last several days. They’ll locate us and take us home.

I drill this newfound hope--perhaps false hope--into my head, impatiently waiting as I listen to the low growl of the beast skulking by with an uncomfortable nearness, heart racing.

Please hurry.

 

 

Bio: I'm a college student with one semester left in my bachelor's degree of History with a teacher certification in Social Studies. I've moved around all my life as a military kid. I have many hobbies: soccer player/coach, musician, artist. I've recently discovered my passion to read and write not because I'm necessarily great at it, but I enjoy it quite a lot, and am always looking to improve.

 

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