The Ocean has its silent caves, Deep Deep, quiet, and alone; Though there be fury on the waves, Beneath them there is none.
Over the course of the last few weeks of training I’d memorized nearly every facet of the Tuscany – every dial and every redout and every knob and screen and nuance of structure – and the quality of the personal submarine’s craftsmanship never ceased to astound me. It was a remarkable feat of engineering, this little beast; designed with such care that even the equipment on the hull could withstand more water pressure than the sea could muster up at any achievable depth. It was my Pegasus. My Trojan Horse; my very own Apollo 11 – and inside this matrix of layered syntactic foam I would follow the ballasts to the gratuitous and unexplored depths of Higgin’s Maw.
I began the separation sequence, and the deep-diver fell away from the escort and dipped beneath the surface of the Pacific with silence and grace and a few knots of speed, and then I was consumed in a whole new world – albeit one I’d frequented – that of the sea. Schools of fish swam on by me, and when their cloud passed through a sunbeam it glinted silver, and beneath them swam rays that rolled their wings to the beat of the current, and out in the rocks crawled the crustaceans and sat the plant life that spruced up all the white-washed stones there like holiday ornaments. But I had an appointment to keep, and the oxygen tank was a demanding clock, so I dove right on past the old reef and out into the open waters where the seabed couldn’t be seen for many, many miles yet.
”The Maw,” Reuben had said. “Fifty thousand feet below the surface, Booker. Fifty thousand. Do you know what that means?”
”Means its a whole hell of a lot deeper down than the Challenger Abyss.”
He’d nodded at that. “Are you ready to make history?”
Was I? I thought I was. I’d prepared for this lonely dive and nothing else, for some years now. It was the culmination of a lifetime of work and study in the field, and so tight was its grip on my mind that I often dreamt of it in my sleep; of what I’d find at the bottom, and what it would mean. And what monstrous things might take offense to my presence there.
No. No. I shoved that thought aside. Tuscany was all the protection I needed in that regard; it offered technology on the bleeding edge in lieu of a heavy hull, and that was enough to withstand enough water pressure to crush bones beneath skin and inches of steel. What animal had jaws more powerful than the ocean itself at fathom?
So I hit the thrusters, and down I went, like a bullet to the pitch. I eyed the depth meter as much as I did the sea. One hundred feet. Two hundred. Sharks and turtles and uncountable fish swept past me. Three hundred feet. Five hundred feet. Seven hundred. A thousand. Twelve-fifty – the inversed height of the Empire State building. Fifteen hundred. Sixteen.
The water began to blur and grain up and darken as the sunlight struggled to push on through. Two thousand. Twenty five. Three thousand. Thirty two – where the light no longer shines.
And soon all the light I had to spill glow to the path ahead and down, were the lights of the Tuscany.
I continued the descent for hours. The pressure meter ticked up in spasmic bursts, but up it went, up, up, up, soon ticking past the point where the weight of the sea would’ve crushed the steel of another vessel. One mile down. One point three. One point six – where even Sperm Whales hit their lowest dive. I could now claim with confidence that no mammal on earth was as deep down at that very moment as myself. And still I dove. Two miles. Two point one. Two point two.
The water was as black as space now, except for where the lights of the Tuscany pierced through it, and the thickness of the fluid made it look like ink or oil or some kind of alien sludge that smeared up against the reinforced windows and slimed its way across the hull. Things were tight down here, despite the vastness of it all, yet still I dove.
Thirteen thousand feet. The Abyssal zone. Pressure stands at 11,000 psi. I saw an Angler float by, and it was startled by the sheer volume of light spread by the Tuscany that dwarfed its own bioluminescent glow. It swam away, and I dove further. Fifteen thousand feet. Three miles. Three point one.
Now things get interesting.
Mankind had visited these depths almost infrequently enough to count the expeditions on a single pair of hands. I was now ranked among an illustrious few explorers, and although I wasn’t the first to hit these marks, I’d hit the deepest one yet before this journey was over. I was determined and I was capable. So I checked the depth chart. Sixteen thousand, two hundred eighty one point four feet. Nearly halfway to the world record. The Tuscany continued its dive.
Twenty thousand feet down. The Hadal zone. Pressure here is eleven hundred times what it is at the surface. Twenty two thousand feet. Twenty six. Twenty nine thousand – The height of Mount Everest. Thirty. Thirty point five. Thirty one – the same distance from the surface as a commercial airliner at the peak of its flight.
The Challenger Deep, what had previously been the lowest recorded place on the seabed, sat at roughly 36,000 feet below the surface, in the depths of the Mariana Trench. No light from the sun had ever come close, and to the best accounts life existed there, but only sparsely, and the pressure is unspeakable.
But I was going somewhere vastly deeper, even, than that.
”All we know is we found a canyon,” Reuben had said. “Dwarfs the Grand – sitting dead center in the Pacific seabed. ‘Bout twelve hundred kilometers west of Hawaii, and another nine hundred south, and, near as we can figure, some fifty thousand feet straight on down.”
Thirty six thousand feet. I was now tied for the world record.
“Fifty thousand feet?! Why the hell are we just now seeing it?”
Thirty six five. I did it. My heartbeat swept up to a faster rhythm. I was officially a world record holder; no human being in recorded history had been as deep below the surface as I was at that very moment.
“New seabed scanning technology helped. Gave us a more detailed topographical map of the hydrosphere than we’ve ever had before, and once we got back the results, we took a look, and there it was. Just waiting for us. Inviting us down.”
”So what’s down there?”
Thirty seven three.
”Hell, Doctor. If we knew that we wouldn’t be sending you, would we?”
Thirty seven nine.
”I suppose not.”
Thirty eight five.
The awful spirits of the deep Hold their communion there; And there are those for whom we weep, The young, the bright, the fair.
Higgin’s Maw, according to the best information available to me at the time of departure, is a pit, roughly a full kilometer across. It begins at approximately forty six thousand feet below the surface and is estimated to bottom out at Higgin’s Deep, a small valley that sits at its base, some five thousand additional feet below that. The Maw is the largest and deepest such formation in the hydrosphere, and yet its dimensions and location are the only things concretely known about it. That, of course, is where myself, and where the Tuscany, come in.
Forty three thousand feet down. I hit the floodlights underneath the Tuscany, and the glow washed over an alien landscape that likely hadn’t seen light in over a billion years. There were mountains here – mountains – ones that rivaled the Alps, and wild arches and plateaus that stretched far off to a murky horizon before being shrouded by seawater.
I even saw life down here in the depths. A squid-like thing of simply monstrous size swam on by my boat. It stopped for a moment, and during that moment I thought it might take offense to me, but after looking hard at the Tuscany and brushing a tentacle down the port side it swam off in search of other things.
I descended further.
Forty four thousand feet. Forty five.
And then, all of a sudden, there it was. The Maw.
My mouth hung by the jaw as the sheer scope of the beast came into view. It was a breathtaking sight to behold; a monstrously large and equally dark hole in the crust of the earth that plummeted to inconceivable fathoms. I descended a bit further – forty five five, forty six thousand feet – and Tuscany fell into its yawn. Somehow things were even blacker in the depths of the thing, even though sunlight had long since been blotted out.
Forty six five. Forty seven. Forty seven two.
I began to become aware of a low current pulling me downward. It wasn’t particularly powerful, but it was unexpected and it was therefore alarming. And yet I couldn’t bear to pull myself back up. Not yet – I’ll turn around if it gets bad – so down I went, deeper and deeper and deeper still into the cavern.
Forty eight thousand feet. Forty eight five. Forty nine. Forty nine one.
And then I saw it. A glow.
I squinted and dimmed my lights to confirm the intuition. What in the name of God…? It was there indeed, a dim reddish-purple, then green, then purple again, and then blue, floating on a mist of current some few thousand feet down. I resumed the dive to chase it. Forty nine five. Forty nine seven.
Forty nine nine. The glow, whatever it was, was getting deeper, and wider, and brighter. Soon it filled up the whole path down and ahead. I dimmed the Tuscany’s under-lights to their lowest setting, and by fifty thousand feet I could see that the glow was coming from somewhere not directly beneath me, but off to the left and around a wide corner.
This cave isn’t a straight pit. And sure enough, the hole bottomed out here, and then opened up to its left.
Holy God. Holy God.
It was a cavern chamber, at least a full kilometer up and deep and side to side and across, and only the enormity of its radius maintained the darkness of it despite the presence of thousands of floating bioluminescent pods that pulsed purple and green and blue and red and dimmed in the interim. I took the Tuscany in deeper, and her cameras whirred to life.
Calmly the wearied seamen rest Beneath their own blue sea. The ocean solitudes are blest, For there is purity.
The cavern became darker still when the pods faded into the water behind the ship. But there were more things to be seen here than rocks. Tuscany, about a quarter hour after entering the chamber, soon floated on by a bizarrely rope-like plant of utterly impossible size; one that appeared to stretch nearly across the height of the cave and grew wider at the base, although the bottom of it was shrouded in blackness. I took the submarine in for a closer inspection, and hit her lights to their fullest setting.
My heartbeat slammed. There were suction cups on it. Each one as big as the Tuscany herself, and they writhed and pulsed across and down the full length of what was now very clearly a tentacle. In a panic I shoved Tuscany back and away from the thing, but when I tried to turn her around, the base of the hull collided with the beast and stuck fast to one of the cups. I gunned the thrusters and could hear a wet tearing sound as the machine ripped itself free from the cup’s grasp.
But then the tentacle came to life. It whipped and whirled and smacked around the cavern, and pressed itself to the roof, and then it fell down, deep beyond where the darkness blanketed the floor.
“C’mon, baby.” I hit the thrusters again, and Tuscany rocketed off the way it came, through the darkness and off towards the pods, whose glow I hoped would afford me an opportunity to shut the lights off the ship and make my escape.
If I were so lucky.
But very soon I began to hear and feel the movement of something unspeakably titanic rolling across the floor of the chamber. It rumbled and thundered, and shuddered and shook, and soon clouds of dirt and rock flew up out of the black pitch and blanketed the view forward and I could hear boulders smack against the ceiling of the cave before sinking again to where they’d been.
“F-fuck!!” The sound had erupted across the entire breadth of the cave at once. My eardrums nearly burst and likely would have, had it not been for muffling of the explosion provided by the walls of the Tuscany. The submarine shook, too, but she held up her integrity well enough to for me to fly on past the floating pods, some of which were now knocked about on their sides and rolling, and back towards the yawning mouth of the tunnel that would take me back out into the open deep s-
The Tuscany buckled and rolled with an impact. The Tentacle, I realized, had shot up from the ground and hit the bottom of the ship between her ballasts, but luckily it knocked her with force up towards the tunnel. I rolled Tuscany with the hit and managed to regain some control, and I boosted the thrusters into the turn and up again, now back into the Maw. Then I began to climb.
Fifty two thousand feet. Fifty one five. Fifty one.
”So what’s down there?”
“Come on, baby. Come on. Don’t you fail me now. Don’t you fucking fail me now.”
”Hell, Doctor. If we knew that we wouldn’t be sending you, would we?”
Fifty point five. Fifty. Forty nine nine. Forty nine six. Tuscany ascended with panicked speed, and all the while she did it I could feel the rumbling of the Tentacle’s pursuit in the walls of the Pit. It smashed its way on through the tunnel, and whipped and thrashed, but Tuscany was too quick a runner. Forty seven five. Forty seven. Forty six eight. Forty six four. Forty six thousand feet and climbing high.
”I suppose not.”
Tuscany burst out of the Maw and was about to rocket straight on back up to the surface, but then the Tentacle flew out beside her nearly smashed in her front window. I bent the controls to the edge of their set-casing, and Tuscany tanked to the left and up a bit and missed the ground by inches. I hit the lights again to navigate the labyrinth of rocks as I struggled to remount the climb.
But in the light of the ship I saw it; these weren’t rocks after all – they were other ships. Massive vessels, Imperial warships from ages past, bent and crooked and broken at the bottom of the sea, pulled down here by whatever it was that now threw its back to my devouring.
The Tentacle smashed along behind me. Mainmasts and battlements and flat-decks and rusted iron and wooden boat hulls were splintered up and tossed to the winds of the sea, never again to reconvene. I took Tuscany through this nautical graveyard with far, far too much speed for my safety. Under ship towers we went, and through cannon mounts and past the blades of dead engines and around upended rudders.
The cacophony of my flight and the destructive path set by my hunter awoke the life in the place. Fish washed out of holes, and cabins, and captain’s quarters and deep-deck stair flights and soon joined me in my effort to escape.
But it seemed there was no escape to be found here. The entire ground for countless miles shook and rumbled with seismic force. It was thunderously loud, and it picked up speed and violence with time. Tuscany finally flew up to miss a splintered crow’s nest atop the mast by less than a foot, and finally used that directed momentum to put away distance between the seabed and herself with as many knots of speed as her thrusters would allow without bursting from the effort. The depth chart began to rise.
Forty five nine. Forty five two. Forty five thousand feet. Forty four eight.
“Come on, you motherf-”
The water itself seemed to shift with the sound. And then, out of nowhere, Tuscany was no longer the only thing spilling light to the Abyss; an orange glow flashed across the sea and for an instant illuminated nearly the entirety of its vastness. Then it blinked, and then flicked on again and stayed active. I shut off Tuscany’s lights to preserve every molecule of power for the ascent.
Forty four two. Forty four. Forty three seven.
Beside me in the glow I could make out other creatures retreating, too. Ones of spectacular size, again, that mankind had never catalogued and that I, sadly, would not have time at all to study. There were city-bus sized manta ray shaped things, wrapped up in clouded wisps of transparent jelly, and even that squid the size of a building, all flying upwards in a mass panic. I led the charge.
Forty three one. Forty two eight. Forty two three. Forty two.
I looked behind me and down through the rear window. The Maw had moved. It was alive. God almighty. I was in the Leviathan’s throat. I was in its fucking throat! I saw its Tentacle tongue lash out of the Maw and collect enough fish to feed a small town. Tuscany rocketed ever upwards as the Leviathan whipped even larger Tentacles behind it and gained speed with the force of a hurricane.
The Leviathan opened its Maw yet again and spewed forth its tentacle tongue, and with it it whipped up several Olympic swimming pools’ worth of water into a gale-force maelstrom. The Mammoth Squid was caught in its fury, I saw, and then it vanished into the pit forever when the Maw snapped shut with a thunderous, echoing snap.
Tuscany, meanwhile, continued to rocket upwards, and managed to escape the whirlpool by a foot.
Thirty nine five. Thirty nine. Thirty eight seven. Thirty eight two. Thirty eight thousand feet, and climbing.
But the Leviathan pursued me relentlessly, riding on the flood of its own current. Its tentacles – each dozens of feet across and a mile long, beat the water back and tried to gain speed for their host.
Thirty seven five. Thirty seven. Thirty six four.
Tuscany had proved her worth with speed, and the pressure gauge now fell in jumps. It remained in the red and would for some time, but it was falling steadily, even as the depth chart rose.
Twenty nine thousand feet. Twenty eight three. Twenty seven five.
But the Leviathan hadn’t given up the chase. Not yet. I could feel it doubling its efforts. The displaced water rocked the Tuscany and she buckled and rolled in the synthetic current. Then I heard the Maw open up behind me and the water begin to whip and swirl itself into a frenzy by the oceanload. I punched the thrusters to breaking point.
“Come on!!” The encasing syntactic foam was pressed to its limits; the reinforced glass began to chip every so very slightly, but the chips broke into cracks and those cracks began to crawl across the width of the windows. I checked the gauges. Twenty thousand feet. Nineteen eight. Nineteen four. Nineteen three. The ascent was slowing. Come on, baby. Come on. Come on, come on, come on. Please God. Be with me now. Be w-
In the orange glow of the Levianthan’s eyes I could see how quickly the water was slipping by Tuscany and getting swept up into the maelstrom. The submarine began to sway port to starboard and shudder and shake. Seventeen four. Seventeen thousand. Sixteen nine. Sixteen three. Sixteen one. Sixteen thousand.
I watched the gauge with a nauseating desperation.
Fifteen nine five. Fifteen nine two.
I could feel her slowing to a crawl. Come on. Come on. Come on!
Fifteen nine two five. Fifteen nine four. Fifteen nine six.
“Shit!!” And that was it; Tuscany was caught, and no sooner did the depth chart begin to slip then did I feel the whole submarine lose all sense of control and tumble backwards and around. I was thrown out of my seat and smacked my nose against the roof of the pilot sphere. Blood exploded, and it drenched my shirt and sprayed the glass and the entirety of the control set.
I grabbed my face and began to apply pressure to slow the blood loss, but Tuscany again flipped ballast over ballast to starboard in the whirlpool and spilled me into the hatch ladder. I felt my shoulder dislocate and my kneecap smack into the bottom rung. My head swam, and still Tuscany tumbled backwards. The cracks on the windows spread faster.
Sixteen three. Sixteen four.
I could smell the inside of the Maw though the hull of the ship.
But then, all at once and not a moment too soon, I got an idea. It wasn’t a particularly good one, but hell if it wasn’t better than nothing – I managed to limp and tumble my way to the controls and grip the handles as the ship rolled. Wait for it. Wait for it. Wait…
Now! The sound of the roar was so close every last control surface in the sphere rattled in its case. My eardrums rattled, too, but then I flared up the thrusters again, full blast and at an angle, and the Tuscany shuddered and flipped and shook and, with fortune, fell straight out of the maelstrom with inches to spare. I felt the edge of the Leviathan’s Maw graze the starboard side, and the impact again sent me into the roof while the ship rolled end over end over end again. I smacked my ribs up on a dip in the alcove and fell back down into the seat, head first, and then out onto the floor.
I managed to right myself with my good arm and get my bearings. I was free, but only just; the Tuscany banked and tumbled again and rolled, slower now in the absence of the whirlpool’s flood current, but not yet in control of its pull. I tried to steer away, but it was useless; the ship flipped around the back of the Leviathan’s titanic Maw and up over its head as the beast flew on by underneath me like a freight train. And for the first time since catching the monster’s eye I began to fully appreciate the magnitude of its size.
It’s back was an endless, snake like and sharp-finned spine the size of a minor mountain range, and only quick maneuvering moved Tuscany away from the jagged back fins that chugged up towards me and sliced open the sea itself. They missed me by feet, and the blast of the current they’d swept up sent the submarine reeling backwards, off a bit further and into relative safety.
I quickly dimmed the lights to their lowest setting and caught my breath, as the full form of the Leviathan washed on past me. It stretched far away into the abyss below, for well over a mile, and dragging away behind it were thousands upon thousands of tentacles, a forest of the things, each the size of a six lane highway and tipped with razor sharp hooks and a flurry of wing-fins. It took a full three minutes for the beast to pass by me fully. And then it curved around in the other direction, and swam off in search of other things to devour.
The form soon slipped away into a shadow. And then it was gone.
I surfaced hours later, having allowing the battered Tuscany to take its time with the journey. She was solely responsible for my escape – my quick thinking be damned. A marvel of engineering indeed.
Once I did break the surface I disbursed a distress beacon and then promptly collapsed from exhaustion. Evidently, I was picked up by the Coast Guard some hours after that, a few hundred miles southwest of Hawaii, and pulled from the near-wreckage of my submarine and taken to a hospital on the mainland. It was there that I woke up a full day later.
As I recovered I heard some isolated chatter of tremendous seismic activity near where I’d been, and how the whole ocean floor had changed and moved and shifted form. But I couldn’t care less. I told the bastards what I knew. And on top of that, they have the Tuscany and they have all the recorded evidence, and you now have this written account. What everyone does with this information now, is entirely up to them.
All I know is that I won’t be doing any more diving any time soon. I’ve come to a realization: that mankind has more than enough space to expand throughout and live upon and thrive in above and near the surface, and on land, and in the skies and soon, hopefully, out there amongst the stars.
But there are things in the sea that hold ownership of the deep. And perhaps it’s best to leave it that way. For all our sakes.
The earth has guilt, the earth has care, Unquiet are its graves; But peaceful sleep is ever there, Beneath the dark blue waves.
– Nathaniel Hawthorne