“Get the Captain over here right now. What even is that?”
Rory peered at the display screen. When the sonar-men had first called him in to take a look at the sonar map, he had expected something interesting. He had been excited, even- he and his crew would be rewarded nicely for finding something like an ancient shipwreck or some kind of underwater volcano. But that was not an inanimate historical site, nor was it a newfound natural wonder. That was big, and it was moving.
Captain Reyes was at the sonar-shack in an instant- not that this was anything remarkable, considering the SS-179 was barely bigger than a school bus.
“Blue whales are known to dive as deep as 1,640 feet,” she barked in lieu of a greeting. “I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them had managed deeper when we weren’t looking. Still, we need to get out of the way.”
The sonar man- Josh, his name was- hastened to tell the Captain that he had veered the submarine off course as soon as he had detected the object.
“You’re sure it’s not just another sub? Russians, maybe- annoying, but they shouldn’t give us too much trouble…”
Her next orders were cut short as the Captain glanced down at the sonar for the first time. She turned pale. “Why is it moving towards us?”
For a moment, the three of them froze. Nothing ever moved towards the sub. Marine life liked to steer clear, and no foreign vessel would make the diplomatic mistake of rushing at another sub. Especially not at that speed.
Reyes shot into action first. “Make sure we’re moving away as fast as we can,” she ordered Josh. Then turned to me, “Get radio to attempt communication ASAP. Just in case it is another sub.”
Captain Reyes rushed through the now-hectic hall and made her way to starboard, where she made a quick announcement over the sub’s intercom system: “Unidentified object moving towards SS-179.”
She neglected to mention the insane speed at which the object was going. No need for dramatics, she thought.
“Weapons, ready for attack. Do not fire until further notice. All essential crewmen report to duty. If not essential, retreat to the panic room.”
Her immediate task completed, Reyes took a deep breath. In and out. In and out. She worried briefly that she was overreacting, but her better judgement quickly took hold of her. This was standard protocol when faced with the unknown. Best-case scenario, her crew would roll their eyes at her for being too cautious. Worst-case scenario, they would all be blown up by some strangely hostile enemy sub.
The intercom cracked to life, this time with a message for her. “Captain Reyes, please report to Navigation. Urgent.”
Navigation? Why not Sonar? I’ll figure it out once I get there, she reasoned. Off she rushed.
Rory sat at the far end of the table, frantically tearing through a series of maps and technical drawings. “Captain,” he croaked. Reyes had never seen him so frazzled.
“What is it?” She tried not to let her panic poke through the rock-hard exterior she knew she needed to keep up.
“There’s been some kind of mistake, I’m sure of it, someone did something wrong, maybe me, maybe sonar, doesn’t matter, whoever did it we’re all done for…”
“Get to the point, Smith!”
Rory’s head shot up at the mention of his last name. Generally, he was on a first-name basis with the Captain. “Ma’am…we’re not at 3,000 feet. Nowhere near. Don’t ask me how this happened. I swear it wasn’t any of our faults, I just don’t know how we’re going to-”
“I need you to get to the freaking point so I can figure out what it is I need to do to keep people safe,” the Captain growled coolly.
“We’ve descended to 45,000 feet.”
“Smith, that’s deeper than any human has ever gone.”
Still no response.
“We should be dead by now.”
More blank staring.
One of the scientists piped up, “SS-179 is the most advanced, experimental technology. It’s…well, it’s specifically designed to protect passengers regardless of-”
“Regardless of pressure or temperature. So well designed that any change in pressure due to rapid ascent or descent cannot even be detected,” Reyes finished.
The Captain didn’t understand how an error of such a large margin could be made. She didn’t understand how no one, not even her, had caught the mistake at any point, and she had no clue how Navigation had managed to continue in the correct direction despite being thousands of feet underneath where they were meant to be. This would be dealt with later. Reyes knew that she would be heavily punished for allowing this to happen. But for now, she and her crew needed to get out of the situation.
Her ruminations were yet again interrupted by the intercom. “Captain!” Josh sounded panicked. “Sonar!”
She didn’t need to be told twice. Slamming the door open, she found Josh and the 2 other sonar men gawking at the sonar map. Pushing them aside, she took a look for herself.
What had been, four minutes ago now, a single object thousands of feet away had morphed into dozens of similarly shaped behemoths approaching the vessel at lightning speed. What’s more, they seemed to be coming from every direction- every direction but up. In fact, the majority were detected below SS-179. As she studied the sonar map, Captain Reyes noted with an increasing sense of dread that the unidentified objects seemed to be surrounding the vessel in a sort of ring, working together in some way to stop the vessel in its tracks. Reyes jammed the intercom button as fast as she could and managed just one short command: “Up, NOW!”
Seconds later, Reyes and the entirety of the crew were rocked sideways as the SS-179 lurched upwards at a speed heavily against crew safety recommendations. Thanks to her years of experience in rapid pressure change, she at least managed to keep her footing while the SS-179 travelled at uncontrollable, state-of-the-art speeds, up, up, up and away from whatever it was that lurked down below.
Later, at a more comfortable 3,000 feet, Captain Reyes and her crew met to discuss the events. They were scared, of course, but none of them wanted to lose their jobs- and they would all be losing their jobs. As soon as their higher-ups learnt of just how deep they had sunk, everyone on the ship was done for. Together, the crew decided that it would really be best if no one ever found out about what happened when someone ventured a bit too deep in the ocean. Each of them retired to sleep that night, somewhat comforted by the knowledge that they would keep their very nicely paying jobs, but mostly with a lurking sense of dread that came about whenever they wondered what, exactly, the SS-179 had encountered down there. It was no surprise that most of the crew quit submarine life within a year of the event, retiring to cushy paperwork jobs at headquarters.
Captain Reyes was the sole member of the SS-179 who went on to spend the rest of her career deep down on the ocean floor. Decades later, when she re-encountered her old crewmate, Rory, he asked her how she had managed to keep going.
She smiled. “There was a split second, there in the sonar shack, right before I demanded we move upwards. When I looked on the sonar map- we were surrounded by those things, yes, we really were. But they were right next to us, so that lurch sideways, it didn’t make any sense- we were going upwards. I saw on the sonar map that those things were right on us, and they weren’t ramming into us or shooting or whatever. They were moving us. Away.”
“Away from what?” Rory asked incredulously.
Reyes laughed. “I saw something else on the sonar map. Something bigger than you could ever imagine, bigger than those things. But it wasn’t moving, just sitting there…those ships, or whatever they were, they weren’t trying to hurt us. Whatever that big thing was down there, they were trying to protect it. There was no harm meant; they just wanted us out.”
Rory looked at her as if she were crazy. She knew she wasn’t. As soon as the ship had begun moving upwards, Reyes had escaped to the starboard alone as everyone else tried to process what had just happened. There, she set up a blinding light and looked out the periscope.
There had been a city down there. Archaic, but futuristic in a way, lit up by some strange glowing substance. It was a city that was alive, alive in the shadowy figures she saw brushing up against each other on the street and scurrying into their strange homes as they pointed in fear at the sub above them. Alive, dynamic, breathing, protected by what looked to her like some kind of squid-creature, hundreds of them patrolling the city and hundreds more rising up towards the SS-179.
Someone needed to make sure that the SS-179’s mistake was never repeated. Someone needed to take charge of the deepest-diving subs, taking care that none ventured below that 40,000 marks ever again. There was a city down there, inhabited by something other than human, and when Captain Reyes saw it she knew that this was the last place on Earth still free from the cruel grips of humanity. And it was up to her to keep it that way.