TO BELIEVE OR NOT TO BELIEVE
Gone? What did that even mean, gone?
She’d misunderstood. That had to be it. She hadn’t meant gone, gone. Alice waved away the dark thought and lengthened her stride to catch up with Merna. Authority in every step, Merna led her down a wood paneled corridor which widened and arched high above her, shadows encased the ceiling. For being underwater, they sure wasted a lot of space down here.
Alice saw a sparkle in the distance, shimmering ahead of them was a golden leafed archway. Closer to it, a warm, fresh breeze brushed her cheek. Walking under the golden arch, all the brilliance of the light inside blinded her forcing her to raise a hand to shade her eyes. The domed balmy area flowed with plants, flowers and fauna twisting and hanging in every place imaginable. An indoor greenhouse?
Water gurgled to her left where a stone wall stood twenty feet high and twisted off along a path leading into an indoor maze. Alice walked over touching it, cool water running over her hand. Was this really a government vessel? Were these people really some new division of the defense program?
Off toward the middle of the area Merna waited on a small bridge over a stream. Waving her to come, Merna led her to a far door matching the golden arch behind them. Down a few more hallways they ended up at the Captain’s office.
Inside was a luxurious carpeted area with a post modern flare. The dark depths of the sea loomed through a concave window enveloping most of the far side of the room and around the edges there was an ever so faint glimmer of the vessel’s blue outer casing.
Merna indicated for Alice to sit as she herself sat on the matching blue sofa.
Alice settled uncomfortably into her seat. She still wore her white, roll neck sweater with blood spotting and her navy duffle coat, she was beginning to over heat. She shrugged out of the jacket.
Merna leaned forward on her elbows then steepled her fingers waiting as Alice put her jacket aside before saying, “So being Clara’s child, I’m sure you have questions.”
Alice gave a short laugh. She sure did. Alice relaxed and sat back, “So, Captain, you aren’t really connected to a government, are you?”
Merna raised a brow and a hint of a smile appeared, “Now Alice, what brought you to that conclusion?”
Alice looked down at her expensive cushioned seat and the vast window out into the sea then back at Merna, “These furnishings are not allowed in a government budget typically. Even a child,” pause for dramatic effect, “would notice.”
Merna considered her for a moment, “Let’s just say that we are a company with government support while here. And our most important question is how did you find us?”
Alice leaned forward watching Merna, “I didn’t find you. You led me here.” Merna blinked, no other outside expression made it to the surface.
Merna replied after a small silence, “We did not lead you here. Tell me why you think that.”
Now that Alice thought about it, the man who led her to them was garbed differently from Merna’s men. Actually, she had only really been able to see his general outline. A lighter black against a darker background. The man had vanished once the mammoth vessel had appeared.
Alice hesitated, unsure of the situation she was in. She spoke after a pause, “Well, in my affected mental state after the Kraken attack, I imagined I saw someone and then followed them down to your ship. The mental beating from the Kraken really shook me.” Not really a lie.
Merna mulled over Alice’s statement for a moment, “Did this person appear to be wearing a diving suit?”
A strange question. “Captain Merna, how could anyone be this deep not be wearing one?”
Merna cleared her throat then changed the topic, “I’m guessing that you are hoping to find out what happened to your mother.”
Alice’s heart stuttered.
Merna sighed and turned to look out the window as if the truth was too hard to say, too hard to face. “We have recently found something to indicate what happened to her.” She turned back to Alice with a shimmer in her eye. The Captain did have emotions she thought just before the captain shot out, “A kraken got her.”
Alice’s heart hardened, refusing the words. Merna might have known her mom, but Alice wouldn’t believe it, because she KNEW her mom. Mom was smart and resourceful and extremely cautious. There had to be a different explanation.
The Captain leaned forward. Her eyebrows drawn together. “Alice I wished I had a different answer. I wish it wasn’t these beasts. I wish they would go back to where they are from. They shouldn’t even be here, the bloody beasties.” The sudden savageness in her expression brought a coldness to Alice.
Then a thought came to her and she had to know, “You’ve been hunting the beasts haven’t you? Because of mom, or for another reason?”
Merna sat back, her gaze empty and cold. “Your mom had been on the team because of me. I would never have invited her if I had known about what we were going to encounter.” Alice’s last question she ignored.
Alice, remembering the beast, whispered, “They aren’t from here, are they?”
A spark came to Merna’s un-patched eye. “The beastie talked to you, did it?”
Alice never mentioned that.
Merna lowered her voice, “Those creatures certainly want us to believe that. The Krakens use images and twist their experiences to scare us away. Those beasties want us to believe a whole other world is down there in those depths.”
She stood and walked up to the window peering into the water world beyond it, “What I know Alice is that we’ve woken the monsters and now we bear the consequences of dealing with them. The technology of these ancient people seems to give us a good idea of how to defend against and even hunt them.”
Merna turned around, “I will kill everything down here. We will get all the resources we need from them, and we will dominate as man always has. What matters is what our people need. Their city and world and way of being is dead if it ever existed.” Her patchless eye showed her whole being was set on her cause.
How could animals have a city? She spoke like the animals were a people group. And what did she mean about ancient people? She had mentioned ancient technology before. What had mom found down here? Alice gripped her hands together and buried her questions. But the questions kept bubbling to the surface. She was her mother’s daughter after all.
Merna continued passion ebbing in her voice into a reassuring tone, “Alice, these creatures will die for what happened to your mom, even if I have to lose another eye to them.”
Alice’s heart-felt hopes began to waver. The captain truly believed mom had been killed. “Captain Merna, a body has not been found, right? You know mom is resourceful. Maybe she-”
“No,” Merna was quick to interrupt, “We may have not found a body, but with her scuba gear in the belly of that beast…The stomach acid dissolves organic matter quickly. So the items we found are the only things that could survive.” Merna’s hard eyes took her in, considering Alice. She came to a conclusion.
“Alice, if you can stomach it, I have what’s left of your mom’s diving gear,” she paused, letting that sink in. Alice’s stomach churned. But she forced her chin out.
“Bring it then.” Respect rose in Merna’s gaze at Alice’s firm reply and she nodded.
After Merna crossed the room, the door closing behind her, Alice’s heart felt like it was being pulled to the edge of a dark world where one never plans to be. It crept. The darkness. Trying to cloud her vision and steal her hope again.
She whispered, “Something’s wrong here.”
It was in a box.
Merna sat it down on the sofa. “Alice, I’ll give you time. I’ll check on you in a few hours.”
Yes, Merna was giving her time. Time to accept what Merna had been trying to tell her all along. That Mom was gone.
And the box sat on Merna’s sofa.
Alice stood and stared down at the white box. The room was ice cold. She couldn’t even feel her trembling fingers touch the box. She lifted the white lid.
Like her submarine, the equipment was scarred like it was burned and what little shreds of rubber were left were horribly disfigured. It left nothing to the imagination as to what happened to the human being wearing the equipment. Alice covered her mouth, stomach heaving and crushed the lid down in her other hand. After a breath, she collapsed on the floor by the sofa with eyes closed.
Breathe in – breathe out. Breathe in – breathe out.
Just breathe Just breathe Just breathe
The counselor said the panic attacks or this feeling of drowning in her grief were common, were normal. You just needed to breathe through them. Breathe in, breathe out.
“Breathe,” she whispered, eyes burning. A choked sob and whisper, “It can’t be true.” Yet the cold, hard evidence was literally in her hands. This had actually been what she’d been seeking. Closure. Opening her eyes, she focused on the wall of water telling herself not to cry, just face the truth, accept the truth.
But this wasn’t right. It was too real, too wrong.
It’s just a bad dream. Just a bad dream! She would wake up, and she’d be at her summer apartment. Mom would eventually call from her special satellite phone at sea. Dad would have her over for dinner and they would have their routine conversation and the world would be alright. She sank to the floor and buried her head in her arms to hide from the world, to hide from herself, and to hide from reality.
After a time, Alice raised her aching, swollen head and saw more boxes at the door. She hadn’t heard any one leave them. She crawled over to them.
Her sticky, wet hair was pasted to her forehead. Using her fingers to brush it from her face, she proceeded to wipe her nose and scoot closer. In black marker across the top was written, Clara’s research. Merna must have thought this would help bring closure, seeing what her mom had left behind. Opening the box, she gripped the edges as another sob attempted to waylay her. Alice whispered tightly, “It’s fine. It’s fine. It’s fiiiine.” Breeeeaathe.
A heaving breath out and it began to pass, the tightness in her chest.
Then Alice began to look.
She made herself look.
The boxes were full. Full of mom’s notes, piles and piles of them and pictures of the underwater dig site. Deep inside of Alice something sparked at pictures of the ancient city that was being revealed. A “something” that she thought was dead. Alice pulled out the next pile. It contained sketches of monsters and blurry pictures of a beast that made her heart skip. It was him, the kraken. Mom had been close enough for pictures? Why had she stayed if she knew?
Alice began to study the notes. Mom was a master maritime archaeologist but organizing notes required great effort from her. She tended to save doing it until the end. As she waded through all the information, she found notes from dad. His writing she could barely understand. His writing was even worse than mom’s. And Dad liked taking notes on his I-pad by hand. It appeared that Dad had been helping mom translate the language. Apparently it was a relative to Greek and Latin with strangely a script likened to Chinese characters.
That must have been fun. Alice felt envy peek its head. Why hadn’t they asked her to help them? Knowing dad, he would never have thought to mention it to her. Shrugging it off, she moved on.
Something glinted in the corner of the box, separate from everything else, like it wasn’t meant to be there. Reaching towards it, Alice realized it was a slim video cam. Flipping the screen open, she turned it on and waited for it to power up.
Beep Beep Beep.
Immediately a video began to play.
Alice’s breath stopped short. She gave a small cry, “Mom?”
“Hello! Guys, don’t leave me hanging here.”
Smiling through her tears, Alice walked over to curl up on the blue cushioned seat, cradling the video cam in her hands close to her face.
Leaning into the camera, her blonde haired, blue-eyed mom adjusted the tilt and leaned back.
“Clara, we’re both here,” Julian’s voice cracked softly on the audio.
Clara’s smile softened, “Hi, honey. I’m so glad we were able to connect. The island’s WiFi isn’t as reliable as I’d like.” The view screen split all at once. Clara, Julian, and Ian were quartered to all be viewable.
“Where’s Dr. Drew?” Ian asked.
Just then the bottom right corner flickered and a nose and large mouth filled the small corner screen.
“Uhh…? Dr. Drew?” Clara leaned forward with a smile. “Dr. Drew, try leaning back.” The large face shrunk to normal size and they saw an older gentleman in button up shirt and bow tie beaming at them.
“Oh my, I’ve figured it out. Alfred Butler take that! I told him it would be easy.” The older gentleman chuckled. His face however was upside down. No one seemed inclined to let him know.
Clara laughed, “Tell Alfred that Clara says hello.”
The conversation continued like this. They had apparently gathered to help Clara as she was stumped on what she was uncovering at the dig site, and there was a strange lack of pottery that tended to pepper these ancient sites.
As Alice listened in to the recorded conversation, the group dug further and further into each item with her mom jotting down notes. They were concluding that the strange artifacts were definitely man-made but they weren’t able to make heads or tails of them. It was all too alien.
“Clara, maybe they are activated by water? This civilization was by the sea most likely. I know, I know, I’m crazy, but just humor me.” Julian’s intent gaze peered at Clara with a small grin. Dad? Being the imaginative one? Alice touched the screen. She missed dad’s smile.
Clara walked away from the screen and came back with a black formed object with something sticking out that looked like a ballerina, like a little mechanical toy. Clara had been unable to puzzle out how it was supposed to work. But now, she grabbed a cup of water and going against all procedural processes and trusting my dad, she drizzled water over it.
Clara gave a faint smile, “I’m sure you already thought of this, but it came out of the water.”
Julian nodded, “Okay, now, press the buttons or whatever you did before.” Clara tilted the delicate dancing girl on it’s side and the screen showed a script of its side. “Wait, Clara, what’s that script say?”
“Hmm…Dear, I think we will have to decipher this language, because I have no idea.”
The call continued that they’d meet up again after some headway had been made on translation. No doubt that was the key to figuring out how their technology worked, for this particular piece anyway.
Ian and Dr. Drew left, giving mom and dad their time.
“I’m so excited for you, Clara. This is the find of the century for sure.” His tender gaze embraced her mom. Alice’s heart ached. Where had this dad gone?
“Julian, I wish both you and Alice could be here. But it is good for Alice to make friends and break out on her own.” Her dad nodded, but after a moment, Clara narrowed her eyes. “What is it, Julian?” Mom had an uncanny ability to read emotions, and it felt like she could read your thoughts. She was such an empath if such a thing existed.
Julian dropped his gaze. “Alice came over last night.”
Clara waited, “And?”
“I miss her. Having her home.” He wouldn’t look up.
A smile inched across mom’s face.
“Julian, are you pouting?” She started laughing. His face went red. Alice was dumbfounded. “Okay, Julian, I’m sending you a letter with all the activities that I can think up for you to do with Alice. And Julian?”
She waited until he looked up. “Tell her. She won’t know what you are feeling or thinking if you don’t tell her.” He looked like she’d asked him to pull out all his teeth.
“Clara,” was all he said.
Her tender gaze embraced him through the screen. Alice suddenly felt like she had invaded their privacy. She began to move to turn it off when her dad finally broke, “I just think, she’d rather be anywhere else but with me. I think not being there is the best thing for her.”
Alice’s stomach clenched. Is that what he really thought? Why had he never talked to her?
“I’m going to stop you right there. Your daughter loves you. She needs you, even if you don’t see it. Now, mister, you are being assigned to make a movie date with her at home. Make popcorn. You know the fun popcorn with Nacho Cheese that you like, okay?”
He nodded. Then after a few ‘I love yous’ they signed off.
Alice let the memories come. She faintly remembered dad trying to make a movie night together, but something at school had come up. Her heart began to ache. She’d never realized dad was so insecure about how much she needed him.
All of a sudden, the video started up again, all by itself then darked, crackled and sparked. Alice stood up holding it away from her body. A small beep beep… crack. The glass screen shattered.
What? Alice stared blankly at the broken screen. Then it felt like she’d lost something. Something she’d been yearning after for a long time.
She flipped the vidcam over. There was a sticky note. Someone had jotted down with speed. Find the emails. And that was it. Nothing else.
Alice looked around herself. How long had she been here? Would Merna come barging in soon? She must have been in here a while. No doubt Merna would be back any moment.
She grabbed the box she’d left by the door and set it on the chair. She slid the broken vidcam into her zippered pocket thinking maybe she could fix it then dug into the box.
Flipping through the papers, Alice found the emails stuffed at the bottom.
The first email seemed okay. It was just an update on findings. The second however her mom was requesting the Navy to be present if they were to continue. The third requested that they end the project until all sonic blasts had ceased within a 1000 mile radius. The fourth demanded action and that she would be closing up the site that week and that if they continued they would be endangering more than just this area. They could possibly be endangering the world. That was the end of the emails. It was dated the week mom had disappeared.
Alice knew the government had been the funding behind the project, right? Why hadn’t they taken her seriously? Who would really ignore the head researcher and why? And did Merna put these things in the box? Why would she be so cryptic? She didn’t seem the type. But the most disturbing part, what did mom mean about danger? What danger could there be in the Coral Sea that could possibly impact at a global scale?
Disclaimer: I will be modifying this as I write. So nothing is cannon. Thank you for reading!
NEXT: Sea Siren: Chapter Eight
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