NORTHERN TRENCH OF THE CORAL SEA
Something was out there. The sonar pinged, showing a large object creeping towards the small submarine. Alice spoke into her mic, “Guys, are you getting this?” Nothing. She checked her input and her output then tried again, “Hello?” Static crackled in her headset. Something must have happened to the optic cable that connected her with the research vessel above.
“Strange,” she muttered, taking off her headset and rubbing her warm ear. On the way down she had been listening for anything out of the ordinary, but realized that out here in the Coral sea, she was unlikely to find anything too interesting until deeper depths.
Just below the coral reefs, not much lived at 1000 yards down and yet- “Ping!” There it was.
That is, both of them.
Alice put her headset back on. Another smaller object appeared from the opposite direction closer to her submarine than the first and was coming out of the trench. Its speed – 50 knots.
Nothing moved that fast down here.
Alice had stopped breathing. She forcefully exhaled then leaned forward to look out the domed window. Chilled air from it cooled her warm face. Her now steady breathing echoed in the small chamber. She’d see them any minute now.
Outside, sediment was settling from her landing earlier so that there was still a light milky glow in the beams of the external LED lights. Just beyond her landing point was the edge of the Coral Sea’s northern trench, and there the darkness swallowed all light.
She could handle whatever was coming from the trench; this submersible was near indestructible, and Professor Leland had sent her, the undergraduate, saying that she was ready for her first trip down alone. Mom would have been so proud of her. However, the postgraduates thought otherwise and voiced their opposition about letting an undergrad operate the expensive experimental solo submarine. Alice could care less. She didn’t even want to be here.
But whatever Leland required, she would do. Failing was not an option with her scholarship on the line.
Last year, when they had stopped searching for mom, Alice had fallen into a deep depression. Her homework started to fail and friends lingered around, not knowing what to do. Eventually, they all left. Everyone did.
Except Professor Leland. She remembered that day clearly.
“I’m failing you.”
Alice stared down at the paper in front of her. The letter D was inked in red across it. She reached out to pull it towards her, saw her hands trembling and quickly hid them back in her lap. Standing in front of her desk, Professor Leland sighed and sat down next to her.
“Alice, I’ve tried to be understanding, but it’s just not fair to the other-“
“Is it fair that my mom’s dead?” The paper in front of her blurred. “If we’re talking of fairness, I think we should define what that means.” She’d been holding it in too long again. Alice choked it down. She could wait until she made it to the bathroom. She’d be fine.
Right now though, “Listen, what can I do to fix this?” her breath shuddered out.
Mom would want her to fix this, so she would fix this.
Professor Leland must have been holding his breath. He let it all out at once and gave a small smile. “Well, I have learned about your history with sea expeditions, and I happen to need one more undergrad for this summer’s expedition.”
Alice’s heart dropped. Of course she had experience. Growing up mom had taken her on all her trips.
Alice felt a wave of grief and longing pour over her as she remembered. Sticky fingers, marshmallows and laughter on their bonfire nights using the lab’s Bunsen burner. Mysterious tales of the cities that lay below. Mom’s love of the sea was infectious. It was why Alice was in this major, maritime archaeology, that had become torture for her now.
Alice rubbed at her chest at the dull ache that had been there the last nine months. She needed to let it out soon. The sobs.
Alice managed to whisper, “You want an undergrad? Isn’t there a line of postgraduates waiting to sign up?”
He smiled wryly, “Usually but due to extraneous circumstances I have an opening, and no one to fill it, and it would be the perfect thing to help you pass the class. I want to help, Alice, and I know you have a grade expectation to meet for your grant.”
The guilt. The expectations. As her father liked to point out, no one was going to do the work for her. She was on her own. No mom here anymore to confide in, to share crazy things like the fact that she didn’t like the sea anymore. Alice wanted nothing to do with the thing that had taken her mom. And yet…she heard herself say, “I’ll do it, and then I’ll pass, right?”
She had to get passing grades. For mom if nothing else.
“Yes, Alice. You’ll pass.”
Later, after agreeing, she realized that this internship was going to be at the Great Barrier Reef near her mom’s research site. Then Professor Leland surprised the team by announcing they were starting at the Coral Sea before making their way back to the Great Barrier Reef if there was time. Surprised, Alice realized that they were going to the exact spot her mom had been. Being so close to where mom had disappeared whispered ideas of looking for her, looking into what archaeological dig site she had set up and into what she had found.
A small fish dashing past her window brought Alice’s mind back to the moment. She was still in the dark with something out there. Where was it?
Thinking ahead, Alice turned off the exterior lights. Darkness enveloped the submersible. Since she had only the passive sonar on, they shouldn’t know she was here. Better in these depths to be passed over, whatever it was. She switched off her radio, and just as she went to switch off her lights, everything blacked out.
Her mind blanked as well.
She leaned forward and put a hand up to the acrylic window wiping away the condensation of her breath and stared out.
What was going on out there? What could knock out a submarine’s engine? The fact that she didn’t know meant current technology didn’t have an answer, at least the technology that she knew of…
A faint blue glow in the distance appeared along with a faint hum in the metal surrounding her, and her fear grew with it. She leaned back her cold fingers slipping from the window to the now useless systems surrounding her. Logic and rationalization were her only consolation.
Deep sea divers. Had to be with the size she’d seen on sonar and their speed. Her momentary blackout was a coincidence. But…what were the odds of them free diving this close to a protected reef?
And then what about the other, larger object?
Oddly the murky depths in front of her grew dimmer. She could hear whatever it was coming closer though. Raising a hand, Alice rubbed her eyes and leaned back into her chair. She was losing consciousness.
And that humming… “Unbearable!” she tugged the headset off and let it fall. Wisps of golden hair haloed her face. Her blue eyes struggled to focus. She gripped the armrests.
This wasn’t right. There shouldn’t be a lack of oxygen since the life support system had just been knocked out. Alice reached for the oxygen tank on her far right. It was like she was dragging her hand through the ocean. Everything was so heavy. Just as her hand rested on it, she was blinded by light from outside.
Alice shielded her gaze as the light lowered. What she saw next was something so far outside of the imagination, she couldn’t comprehend it. The world is never what anyone assumes, and she was being confronted with a reality that the seas contained more than she thought. In fact, more than all the world thought. This encounter became the last thing she remembered.
Disclaimer: I will be modifying this as I write. So nothing is cannon. Thank you for reading!