Champagne bottles popped open and cheers roared through the radio. The mission was successful.
“You did it, Henri!” Shouted the mission commander, Captain Joann Vandenynas.
Henri had been dreaming of this moment since he could dream. All his life he wanted to see the deepest reaches of the ocean. He trained in engineering, marine biology, obscure mathematics, could recite word for word entire Cousteau documentaries; he was going to conquer the ocean. Now that he sat in the most advanced submersible ship ever constructed, staring at a place of the earth no human had ever seen before, he allowed himself a smile.
“Wouldn’t be here with out, Jo,” Henri said. Tear welled in his eyes.
The darkness surrounding him was cut by a series of lights that would blind people on the surface, but this far down they struggled to provide vision even 20 feet away. Within that 20 feet, Henri saw fins and tails dart in and out of the light. Every so often he would hear the ping of a fish hitting the side of the one man vessel. No matter how many times that happened, and despite legitimate concern for the fish’s well being, he found himself laughing.
He took in a deep breath and let himself enjoy the moment. His team had worked too many long nights to make this happen, he was not going to let it go to waste.
“Henri,” Joann’s voice came through with a little bit of static on the radio, “instruments surface side indicate you have about a 20 minute surplus of oxygen. Go explore for a moment.”
That was the best news he had heard all day. “Gladly,” he said in reply.
He took the submarine deeper into the ocean. The light of the ship illuminating an ever narrowing area, he pushed on.
Air bubbles flew by his window and he figured one of two things was about to happen; he had found a vent and ground was approaching, or a creature of unfathomable size was about to eat his tiny craft. He hoped for a vent and slowed the descent.
“Surface Station,” Henri called to his team, “do we have any sonar indication of land about 300 meters below original target depth?”
“Negative, Craft, sonar readings cut out at 250 yards below target depth. Craft, Surface Station cannot see your current depth. Possible pressure related system failure. Advise to ascend,” the team replied.
“I have two minutes of excess air by my clock. Will begin climb at that time.” Henri was going to use every single second he was afforded. That the Surface Station had lost connection with the depth indicator was annoying, but his dials and screens were all functioning without error.
He did slow the craft. Land was near and crashing here would not be fixed with a tow-truck.
The ship’s lights began to shine on something other than fins and tails as land did indeed approach from below.
Henri could not believe his eyes. “Surface Station, land approaches at the 350 meter below target goal. Please access video feed. Are you folks seeing this?”
Lines. Straight, curated, organized lines filled the bit of earth sitting below the human carrying submarine that had gone deeper than anything before it.
“Now, don’t be too excited, Henri. That brain of yours is trained to see patterns. Begin your climb up and we’ll analyze the feed later.” Joann knew the young scientist’s imagination was running.
“These look too perfect to be quirks of the brain, Jo. I’m taking the craft a little closer,” he said.
With more light, the lines crew more detailed. They looked carved, purposeful. “This is the most amazing thing I have ever seen,” Henri told his team as he moved the ship over more of the area with the precisely designed lines.
Henri heard another ping of a fish bouncing off the craft. The sound continued. It grew more forceful.
“Surface Station to Craft, we are showing increased pressure on the hull. Begin climb now.” The radio said.
Henri listed to the pinging of the metal give way to creaking. He turned his pilot’s chair around to look at the source of the sound, ignoring the commands.
“Craft, we have lost updates from the life support system. Begin return climb immediately.”
Henri shook his head and shook away the thought of an animal purposefully trying to enter the ship. The pings stopped as soon as he did so. “Craft to Surface Station, ready for accelerated climb. Pressure’s too much down here.”
He turned his chair around again and began flipping switches and pushing buttons. The ship he spent years designing and building was giving out on him. The curious lines would have to wait.
“Surface Station, this is craft, beginning ascent now,” Henri informed the team.
He felt his finger touch the very edge of the button that would send his ship skyward at a speed considered by most in his field to be ‘dangerously reckless’. Before he could push it, the lights of shining on the carved lines darkened.
“Surface, power use update,” he requested.
The viewing portal he had spent the entire trip looking through filled with a face. Not fish, not human, but something of both. Henri was terrified and curious as the face stared right into the tiny ship. The creature’s eyes moved around the interior of the ship. Had Henri known any better, he would have said the creature was trying to find a weak spot.
The two locked eyes. The creature’s were so human.
“Surface, connect to the video feed now.” Henri whispered. The creature held to the glass with tentacled arms and maintained an unnerving stare.
“Henri, press the button already,” Joann commanded.
“Video. Now.” Henri whispered again.
“Fine,” Joann conceded.
As the Surface team connected to the video feed new lights erupted with a blast of energy and filled every square inch of the ship with a powerful glow.
Air bubbles fled the creature’s mouth and Henri assumed it was screaming. In the beast’s fear, it released it’s grip of the viewing portal and punched it, once, twice, seven times total before the video feed was cut and the lights stopped.
“What was that thing?” Joann shrieked.
Henri’s eyes adjusted to the dimmer view. The lights outside that helped the ship see where it was going had returned and the creature was gone. In it’s place, a fracture in the glass began to grow.
Henri heard one ping and pop after another.
“Surface Station, this is craft. Thank you all.”