For these scientists, the deepest region of the ocean will hold more than darkness...
They found lights at the bottom of the Mariana trench. Bright glowing blue, massive and flowing in ribbons, the only source of light at the bottom of the world. The lights did not come from the facility drilled into the ocean floor, but from the supergiant invertebrates swimming throughout the cold waters. “They’re beautiful,” said Gerard. He had been staring out of the pressurized submarine for hours during their descent, and this is the first time he’s actually been able to see anything but darkness. “Wait ‘till we start our work,” said Roland Bouvier, captain of the voyage […]
[…] and head marine biologist. “You’ll get to see them up close. Sometimes they look at you through the windows when you’re studying…. Sometimes it’s too close.”
The lights in the submarine started flashing. The only other scientist in the submarine, ecologist Nadia Laroche, finally woke from her sleep. “What’s going on?”
Captain Bouvier pulled some levers and looked tense, even though he’d journeyed here a dozen times before. The giant creatures outside seemed to watch as the submarine pierced the protective synthetic semipermeable membrane attached to the facility, floated into a metal chamber and started the pressurization process. “We’re here,” said the captain.
Becoming accustomed to the depth of the Mariana trench was disorienting. Still, when Gerard looked out the reinforced window in his lab, it was somehow worth it. It was so dark out there, like outer space, like a different planet. Gerard was a microbiologist. He spent most of his time studying fascinating extremophiles sifted up from the ocean floor. At least, he found them fascinating until… the other creatures started to appear in his window.
Gerard had been hunched over his microscope as usual when his room was flooded in neon blue light. He had to stop working. He had to stare. There in the window, the creature was bigger than the largest whale, transparent and luminescent like a jellyfish with intricate patterns, and its shape was indescribable. It had several finned tentacles, four more delicate appendages which almost looked like arms, and a slender egg-shaped head. It had no face, but the blue luminescent strands that ran through its head in flowering patterns almost gave the effect of some beautifully deformed face.
In some surge of curiosity, Gerard reached out and touched the glass. He expected the creature to run away. Instead, the creature put two of its four arms on the window, thin veiny webbing spreading over the glass. It was incredible. It was like he could feel like this creature had emotions and… thoughts. Memories of his childhood bloomed from the back of his mind, all his happiest moments. It was all so powerful, tears rushed to his eyes and cascaded down his cheeks, and he couldn’t stop them if he tried.
Gerard stumbled back when something long and sharp shot through the water, slashing right through the glowing creature and causing blue blood to spray into the water. The projectile lodged in the creature’s body looked like a harpoon connected to a cord, dragging it, but the animal fought back. The invertebrate made the most insane sound when bolts of electricity lit up the dark waters, the surge stemming from the harpoon. The noise it made was heartbreaking, strangled with pain and Gerard wanted more than anything to help it somehow, but he couldn’t. Gerard heard shouts down the halls, and he ran to find them.
He found Captain Bouvier and Nadia Laroche surrounded by strange controls and a large window. They had sent out the harpoon, they were electrocuting the waters. “What are you doing?” Gerard shouted. “Stop, whatever you’re doing, you have to stop.” He tried shoving Bouvier away from the controls, but the large man shoved him right back with twice as much force.
“Keep your mouth shut, boy,” Bouvier hissed. “We’ve almost got it.” Nadia pressed a button and another surge of electricity crawled through the waters, and the trapped creature finally went limp as it was dragged into a dissection cabin.
Gerard felt sick, like he had just witnessed the murder of a dear friend. He thought the glowing creatures were only creatures, but they were… intelligent. More than just intelligent. He could tell by the way the one had put its arms on the glass and looked at him with the complex emotional gaze to match that of a human. “Why would you do that?” Gerard whispered.
Bouvier looked confused. “Have you forgotten why we’re here? We’re here to study, not to look at the pretty lights in the dark. We need our samples.”
“You could have studied its behavior, its social structure before you butchered it. You could have been more… humane,” Gerard said.
Bouvier only huffed. “No point in being humane for things that aren’t human.” Bouvier and Laroche left Gerard alone in the control room. Gerard stood there for a long time watching the blue blood dissipate, watching as ribbons of blue light appeared in the distance like eyes to mourn from the dark.
Gerard had trouble sleeping that night because the creatures had been stalking him outside his window, filling his cabin with light. I didn’t do anything, his mind hissed. It’s not my fault…. But they still kept staring at him, gazes filled with… disappointment and… anger. That morning Gerard awoke to the sound of screaming. He wrenched himself out of bed, listening, but there was nothing. Goosebumps traveled along his skin from the silence and the chill of metal against his bare feet. He looked out the window and it was black. He barely stepped out of his room before he stopped. The hall was completely trashed. There were tables broken in half, lights shattered, wires sparking, doors ripped off their hinges… and droplets of red liquid trailing along the ground.
Gerard froze when he saw something move around the corner. He was ready to retreat, but then he heard a groan of displeasure he had heard many times before, and he dared to approach. In a cramped broom closet he found Captain Roland Bouvier balled up on the ground, clutching his heavily mangled arm with one hand and searching through some shelves with the other. The captain laughed emotionlessly and blood poured profusely through his fingers. “I’ve been down in this hell a dozen times before and nothing like this has ever happened. Can you believe that?”
Gerard’s mouth was dry. “Have you ever killed one of them before?”
Bouvier’s gaze was hard. “No. But whatever happens, I’m glad I did. Damn glad.” He looked down at his arm where there was not only blood, but some strange silvery splinters lodged in his flesh, his veins disturbingly purplish around the wound. “It… hurts like you wouldn’t believe.”
“But what happened?”
Bouvier found a roll of paper towels and used them to wrap up his arm even though the blood still seeped through. “You’d have to ask Laroche. Don’t know where she is, though. She was the last to work on the samples….” The man looked to the far side of the closet like he could see through the wall and through the vast waters on the other side. “It’s them. I know it is, even if I don’t know how. A dozen other scientists are dead by now because of those… things. We need to get to the emergency submarine. Help me up, boy.”
Gerard helped the captain up to his feet but they both nearly fell back to the ground when the whole facility shook on its foundations. “What is that?” Gerard breathed. They found one of the brilliant creatures slamming its entire body against one of the windows, glowing so brightly it was almost blinding.
“The thing’s trying to break in,” Bouvier snapped. “If it makes a breach, it won’t be the water that’ll kill us, it’ll be the pressure. Stop staring, hurry up, hurry up!”
They didn’t even get to make it to the end of the hall before they saw it. The creature was transparent with glowing blue veins running throughout, shapeless, and it moved with strange webbed appendages that could mold to any surface. It paused in the middle of the hall as if it could see them. Perhaps it could, because it chased after them faster than they could imagine, glowing as bright as a floodlight. “RUN!” Bouvier screamed.
Horror filled Gerard’s throat. Bouvier managed to close one of the heavy metal hatches behind them by dialing something onto a number pad. Before the door could fully close, one of the appendages of the creature reached through, but the door cut it in half in a flurry of azure blood. They could hear the monster on the other side, still alive and skittering along the floors until there was silence. Gerard was ready to keep running but he saw the captain had paused to grab a lighter from inside his coat to set the appendage on fire. “What are you doing?” Gerard asked.
“I saw it with my own eyes,” Bouvier muttered. “Those things… you can cut them into a million pieces but they’ll keep growing back. Each piece’ll just… grow into a whole new beast.” When they turned back around, they saw at the end of the hall the door that lead into the submarine cabin. Gerard screamed in pain when Bouvier suddenly slammed his head against a wall and bolted for the door. Gerard’s nose gushed with blood and he barely had enough time to regain his senses to chase after the other man. He tackled Bouvier to the ground just before he could reach the door. “What are you doing?”
Gerard was knocked back when the captain’s fist crashed into his face. “We’ll never both make it out of here with those things crawling around,” Bouvier shouted. “You’ll be a great distraction, boy. Now get out of my WAY!”
The captain kicked Gerard in the head, but Gerard held onto the man’s leg to immobilize him. “You’re not in your right mind,” Gerard rasped. “I know you. I’ve been to your lectures. You wouldn’t leave someone for dead like this. You’re a good man. You’ve been in these depths a dozen times before. Why did you kill one of those creatures only now?”
Bouvier shoved him away. “Because I finally realized something about those things. They’re too smart. Smarter than you or me or any other human being alive. It’s more than just logic that they’ve got. They’ve got emotions that we can’t even comprehend, and the ones we can understand are more than twice as strong than what we experience. They can be afraid for their offspring, they can feel the tension in a hunt, they can feel friendship and compassion and love, all so much more intensely. They can hate, too. I’m so glad they’ve come to hate me, because I’ve despised them for too long. They wouldn’t leave me alone, Gerard. You’re felt them in your mind, haven’t you? Slithering around in there like an infestation. Tell me, did you see beautiful things?”
“I remembered things from my childhood that I had forgotten about,” Gerard breathed. “Yes, beautiful things. My mother… singing to me before I was a year old. I… I shouldn’t be able to remember that, but I do. I remember my first steps, my first word, how proud my parents were of me, how excited they were….” He could feel the swell in his heart, the burning in his eyes just thinking about the strength of the memories.
The captain stared at him with deep, deranged eyes. “And when you remembered them, the emotions you felt were more powerful than anything you’ve ever known before. That’s what the researchers say when they come down here to study the things. The world famous Aequorea ardens, a species more intelligent than dolphins, than chimps, perhaps more than humans. You won’t find it in scientific journals, but everyone that comes here feels that love those creatures amplify in us. But for some reason I have never understood, those creatures target a cruel few and instead amplify the most heinous moments of their lives. I… I don’t know if those things just want me to suffer, o-or if I’ve done something wrong…. When I first made the venture down here, I almost had to kill myself because of how miserable they made me. They drilled in my mind the memory of my wife dying so I couldn’t think of anything else. I couldn’t even escape in my dreams; I kept seeing the stiffness in her face in her lovely white coffin….”
Tears seeped from the corners of the captain’s eyes, fueled by unstoppable emotion. “Everyone else gushed of what wonderful thoughts they were remembering. I kept forcing myself back down here to see if it might be different the next time, forcing myself through my studies, but it was always the same tragedy. But I kept going back, as if it was an addiction. It was so horrendous, and yet so intense, that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Maybe those things just wanted me to suffer. But this time, I’m done. I made them suffer, killing one of their own. They deserve it, Gerard. Tell me they don’t. They need to die. And if you’re going to stand in my way, then so do you.”
Gerard saw Bouvier grabbing a knife in his coat and barely managed to dodge the blade slashing through the air. Gerard slammed his foot into the captain’s head and the hall filled with both their yells.
A heavy banging started outside the door behind them and it was beginning to dent. With haste, Gerard kicked the knife away from captain on the ground, opened the heavy door and locked it just as the creature on the opposite end of the hall broke through in a flurry of sapphire light. Even through the 8-inch lead door, Gerard could hear the screaming on the other side. But then he heard sobbing on this side.
He wrenched himself around and saw Nadia Laroche balled up in one of the submarines, visible through a window. “Nadia,” Gerard gasped. He stepped up onto one of the steps leading up to the submarine, but Nadia wrenched herself away.
“No,” she gasped. “You can’t. I’m… I….”
Gerard saw it once he stepped inside the stuffy submarine. She was curled up on a bench, her hair and expression wild and covered in blood. All the blood was coming from a deep gash on the side of her neck, the flesh there riddled with silver splintery things and most of the vessels of her skin already purple
“I don’t want to die,” she whimpered, horrified. “I… I saw it first. The samples in my lab we collected from that thing we killed…. I discovered it too late but… those things can perform extremely rapid cytogenesis. Their cells can multiply exponentially in an incredibly short amount of time and they… they can’t seem to die. Not really. The cells just keep multiplying, keep living. We cut that corpse into so many pieces for study… we brought them all inside and we didn’t know. We’ve killed ourselves now.”
“Don’t say that,” Gerard insisted, holding her by the shoulders, but her skin felt as cold as the ocean. She shook her head, her eyes wide like she was looking into a dream.
“I shouldn’t have listened to Bouvier. I shouldn’t have launched that harpoon and killed that creature. They were so beautiful. This wouldn’t have happened. We could have lived.”
“Bouvier’s dead but we’re not dead yet. We need to start this submarine right now and we can get out. We can. Are you strong enough to help?”
Nadia was hesitant to answer because she knew the real question was: Are you strong enough to survive? Eventually, she nodded. Gerard had seen enough people maneuver these submarines enough times that he somewhat knew what to do, and with Nadia helping, the engines soon were alive.
Pressing more buttons, the machinery of the facility slid the submarine into the pressurization chamber, a massive titanium lock sealing behind them while they stared at another lock ahead.
Gerard forced a smile at Nadia standing beside him to try and make her feel safer, but he wasn’t sure if it worked. “Go and close the upper hatch and then we’ll be on our way, okay?” said Gerard.
Nadia’s face was emotionless but she nodded and walked off. Gerard sighed deeply once his back was to her. Everything grew quiet, then it was too loud. His ears filled with screams when one of the walls of the pressurization chamber split open and a massive shapeless creature as bright as a blue star roared through. The breach was connected to the rest of the facility because if it wasn’t, he would have been dead in an instant.
Gerard wrenched himself around to find Nadia, but all he was able to see was her body plucked from the open hatch by a transparent tentacle and thrown across the submarine cabin. Gerard didn’t get to see where she landed, but the force of the throw was so strong he knew she was dead. He ran and closed the hatch just as the pressurization cabin filled with water and shoved the submarine into the black ocean.
His entire body shivered as if he could feel the chill of the water on his skin. His knuckles were white as he clutched the steering controls. All the lights of the submarine were on, but still he could see absolutely nothing ahead of him. He was in the void. Over his shoulder he could see the shell of the facility, its lights flickering and red splatters on the windows. He gasped when something caused a breach in the structure and, in the blink of an eye, the entire building flattened like a piece of dough. Lights went out, titanium crumpled, and dust was kicked up in a massive cloud. Everyone was dead except for him.
Gerard tried to make to the submarine go faster but all its setting were on maximum. He could see no blue glow anywhere which he thought was unsettling, but maybe all the creatures had been surrounding the facility and maybe he had a chance. He flinched when a warm liquid splashed against his wrist, clear. He realized he was crying, the amount of tears flooding down his cheeks unnatural. Warm memories flashed across his eyelids, kicking his legs on the swing in the sunny backyard, his first kiss, his father pointing out the red deer in the woods. Warm, contrasted with the clammy chill of goosebumps coating his arms.
They surrounded him at once in a brilliant and mortifying shimmer of blue. There were so many of them, so large and clustered together they almost looked like one gigantic mass. The creatures stared him down with the same hard gaze.
Gerard screamed when some gelatinous tendril smacked against the side of the submarine, knocking him to the floor and making alarms sound. “Please,” he sobbed. “Please, please…” Another huge appendage hit the submarine. He didn’t know what to do. Should he lie on the floor and wait for the creatures to break through and for the pressure to crush him? Should he scream and cry and try to get the submarine to do something?
He was smart enough to realize that nothing he could do would change anything. All he did was stare out the window at all of them. I never did anything, Gerard thought miserably. I don’t know why you wanted Bouvier to hurt, I don’t think he deserved it, but he shouldn’t have done what he did to you. He wanted to cause you the same pain you caused him, but he took it too far. I never wanted to hurt you, not any of you.
Gerard was confused when some of the creatures began to swim slowly away. He could barely breathe when he saw the largest creature of them all glide up to the submarine, its oblong head slithering back and forth in front of the window to study him. This would be the creature that would crush his life to pieces, Gerard was sure of it.
But… then the creature put two of its four arms up against the window, veiny webbing spreading across the glass. Shakily, he raised his hand and placed it on the window. For a few brief seconds, all the emotions he had ever felt came to him at once, bouncing off each other, stronger than he had ever known. It felt like… the creatures had no control of what emotions they made their targets feel. They could only amplify the emotions from moments that were already most poignant in a person’s life, whether they were pleasant or not.
The creature bellowed deeply, and all the other invertebrates swam away, down into the depths until their lights disappeared. The largest and brightest beast retreated last, and Gerard watched until the tears dried on his face and he could no longer see the animal through the window.
Then, the waters were empty.
Gerard pressed some buttons, the submarine hummed, and he started to ascend. He felt like he could have collapsed, but he didn’t. He felt like he should have died, but he didn’t.
The submarine continued to rise for hours, and finally, he saw rippling light far above. He kept looking back into the depths, however, waiting to see something, a beautiful flash of blue, but it was only ever black. It was strange that he almost wanted to see it again, just one more time. His thoughts could not drift to anything else. But he forced himself to shake the feeling when he was reminded of Captain Bouvier. He kept coming back, again and again, for the feelings of an intensity he could never experience on the surface.
Gerard wouldn’t let himself make the same mistake, despite how hard it was to fight the allure, and he wouldn’t let anyone else do the same ever again. Eventually, Gerard stopped looking back.
He should have never come here.
No one should have. These waters were too ancient for the likes of him.
Willow is pursuing a degree in anthropology, has published Elektraphrog Literary and Arts magazine, the Scarlet Leaf Review, Quantum Muse, Jumbelbook, the Uprising Review, and the magazine and public radio show of AntipodeanSF.
Much of the inspiration for her writing stems from the months she spent traveling America and Europe.
You can find more about her by following her Twitter Account”