Senator Warren Beaureguard watched as the submersible was hoisted from the deck by two monstrous cranes. “Gentlemen,” he spoke in his comforting southern inflection to the group
of high-ranking officers. “Our future, at best . . . is uncertain. We teeter on a razor thin and dangerous line, and this mission, although necessary,
could alter our lives beyond any believable comprehension. I pray that we’re
wrong about what lies at the bottom of this godless trench, but I fear that we are not.”
The tether lines slackened as the craft’s buoyancy adopted the weight from them. Several hand signals followed by a blaring horn indicated the start of the vessel’s descent as the
The two-man submersible was nearly half a football field long, but spared barely enough space for the two crewmembers
and leaving virtually no room for maneuvering. The Hippo had not been designed
for manned missions, but as a remote control, robotic laboratory for deep-sea exploration.
It wasn’t until congress, and specifically Senator Beaureguard threatened to withdraw the project’s funding
unless it was manned, that the craft was redesigned.
At the controls, Lieutenant Commander Anthony Jarvis watched the split-screen monitor as it fed information
from six outside cameras and nearly a hundred different sensors. Beside him watching
another set of equally impressive monitors and gauges was Doctor Lynn McKalister. With
PhDs in Oceanography, Anthropology, and Archeology he could hardly argue her qualifications, but she was a civilian, and in
his idea of a perfect world, she didn’t belong here. It wasn’t that
he disliked her. She was a hell of a gal and scientist, he thought, but eight
miles below the surface of the ocean was not a place he figured she should be, at least not in a military operation.
The seas were high, making for a rough ride at first, but the expedition drove on, plunging deeper into the
trench than had ever been accomplished before. No human, at least not living,
had ever been so deep. There’d been those who’d tried, and their
remains rested somewhere on the bed of this seemingly bottomless ditch. The enormous
pressure outside their craft taunted them through the singular window. The dark
sea waited for its chance to swallow them up, to crush their brittle bodies like the others and claim their souls for its
He slowed the Hippo’s descent into the blackness, bringing it to a smooth, quiet stop at thirty-seven
thousand feet. The long ride down had been quiet.
At one time this had been the very bottom of the sea, the deepest point along the Marianas Trench. But early in 2012 a massive shift of tectonic plates had further opened the trench to nearly twice its
previous depth. Many a crew had tried to search out the bottom since that day, but all had failed, and found the bottom only
The combination of the earthquakes and tsunamis that followed the
shift wiped out a good portion of the west coast of the United States as well as any other landmasses bordering the Pacific
Ocean. In Los Angeles alone, more than two hundred, thousand perished as the
mammoth surge devastated all in its path, extending nearly ten miles inland.
“What’re you doing, Tony? Did you see something?”
“No, Doc. Nothing,” he said as he continued flipping
switches, bringing them to a dead silent rest.
“Okay, Tony. You don’t expect me to fall for the,
“I’ve run out of gas story,” do ya? After all,” she said
pointing topside, “they can hear everything that goes on down here.”
“Can't now,” he said flipping the transmit switch on the communications panel.
“Major Jarvis,” she spoke losing the playful tone in her voice.
“If this is about me not being military or shouldn’t be here because of some pig-headed male chauvinist
attitude then I”---
“Do you think you could possibly pipe down for just a second?”
“Yeah. Did you know when you get all excited that there’s
a little blue vein that pops out on your forehead? It’s really kind of
“Tony, if I could move right now, I swear I would kick the living shit out of you. Now what’re you trying to pull?”
“I just wanted to . . . put the brakes on for a moment. Ever
since the Rover sent back those images from down here, everyone’s been running around like chickens with their heads
cut off. We’ve got Senators, National Security Advisors and Brass out the
wazzoo trying to run the show, and I think we’re letting the magnitude of the moment slip by without its proper notice.”
“What do you mean? Everyone is very dedicated to this mission.”
“Hell, Lynn, we just passed thirty-seven, thousand feet. We’re
nearly a thousand feet deeper than anyone has ever been before, and we’re barely halfway to the floor. Where’s the hoopla? Where’s the celebration? This thing was designed and tested for equipment, not us. Sure, this add on cockpit is supposedly capable of taking the stress, but sometimes there is a big
difference between theory and practice. If there’s so much as a pinhead
sized defect in this bucket, it’ll fold around us like a tin can, and no one would ever know what we’ve done.”
“Look, Tony, I know what you’re getting at, but we’ve gotta make sure of what we have before
anyone outside the loop gets a look at it. What would a cowboy like you do with
fame and fortune anyway?”
“The fame you can keep, but as for the fortune, I’d spend on good booze, cheap women, and gambling,
and if there was anything left, I’d waste it.”
“Well, don’t count you money yet, there’s not gonna be any hoopla and there’s not a
whole lot either of us can do to change that.”
“Now see, that’s where you’re wrong,” he said as he stretched to open a small auxiliary
storage compartment. Producing two plastic cups and a small carafe of champagne,
“to us,” he said, “and to new frontiers, whether they be of this earth or the far reaches beyond.”
She held her cup up to his and smiled with affirmation. “You realize, of course, that they’re shitting
a brick topside right now. Kendall doesn’t like being left in the dark,
especially with the Senator breathing down his neck.”
“Oh, he’ll get over it, he’s wound a little too tight anyway.”
“Yeah, especially since the Rover malfunctioned. You still
uptight about those last few photos?” she asked.
“It bothers me, Lynn. I got a sneaky feeling, a feeling
we’re about to cross a border that can't be uncrossed.”
“So, you think we should just ignore this find, bury our heads in the sand and pretend we never found
“No, not at all. This thing, whatever it is, could turn
the whole friggin world upside down and I’m just not sure we’re giving it the weight it deserves. We’re in such a rush to dig it up that we’re not thinking about the consequences.”
“Okay,” she said. “So we slow it down a bit
from here on out?”
“One last thing and I’ll shut up.”
“I hate to even ask, but what?”
“I want to leave the camera feed to the topside off, until we both agree to send what ever we find through
the wire. We can tell Kendall that it’s malfunctioning.”
She thought for a moment, downed the remaining drops of champagne and agreed.
He began flipping switches, bringing the lifeless submersible back online.
He skipped over the uplink for the camera feed and lastly flipped the switch opening the communications channel back
to the surface.
“Hippo! Hippo! Do
you read me, Hippo?” Kendall’s voice frantically summoned over the speaker.
“Yeah, we hear you, Frank. We hear you.”
“What the hell is going on down there, Tony?”
“Just a program glitch, don’t get your panties in a wad.
She’s up and running again.”
“We’re not getting a camera feed. We’re gonna
bring you up.”
“Negative, Frank! Negative!
Our camera is recording fine. We’re not coming up.”
A long silence ensued, “Roger that,” Frank Kendall finally responded.
“Shall we?” he asked, dialing new numbers into the depth indicator.
“Hell, why not,” she said, punching the button that sent them slowly deeper to the new waypoint.
Outside the craft a new universe of life unveiled itself. The
curious life forms swimming effortlessly outside their window, undaunted by massive water pressure, seemed as enamored of
them as they were in return. The jagged edges of the crevice jutted out toward
them like claws of a giant sea creature threatening to pull them in, but disappeared into the darkness as they seemed to drop
straight away again toward the vast unknown.
Reaching the waypoint, Tony squeezed the transmit button, “fifty-three thousand feet,” he said,
“roughly ten miles.”
“Roger, Tony. How’s she looking?”
“So far, so good.”
The mike from topside keyed several times in quick succession and broken voices spurted unintelligible bits
during the keyed stages.
A few more undistinguishable blurbs followed before a steady voice came over the line. “Major Jarvis, this is Senator Beaureguard. I’m
sure you are aware that you are nearing the site, and I’d like detailed descriptions of what you’re finding there,
Sir. It is imperative that we have these in case . . . well, in case something
would happen, God forbid.”
“Roger, Senator, but the area appears to be pretty narrow and treacherous.”
“And, just what are you telling me, Sir?”
“What I’m telling you, Sir, is that my first duty is the safety of this craft, and I will
not be distracted from its operation to give you a play by play. If I see something
I feel is significant, I will tell you.” He unkeyed the mike and winked
at Dr. McKalister.
“Sixty-two five,” she said looking at the digital meter.
“Roger,” he said and began to slow the craft in preparation for the bottom.
Another fifty feet and the spotlights began to pick up the floor. The
reverse engines stirred the silt into a murky cloud, blurring the outside view, but only momentarily. Like wind blown smoke an unknown force swept it away leaving the water once again clearly lit. The crevice walls seamed strangely alive with colorful displays, whether they were mineral deposits or
some sort of plant life, they weren’t quite sure. Eerily they noticed all
the life forms from a few thousand feet above had suddenly disappeared. Had they
crossed some sort of unseen boundary? Had they gone too far? The bottom was a dead and desolate place.
“We’re on bottom, Senator, nothing here to report. GPS
shows us about a half kilometer west of target. We’re repositioning now.”
Hydraulic pumps groaned loudly as they pushed gigantic tracks from the bottom of the craft lifting it onto
four squatty legs, giving it the look of its namesake, the Hippo. Within minutes
it was slowly edging its way across the ocean floor. The only sign of movement
outside was escaping gasses from the ocean floor. The only sounds were monitors
beeping, the sounds of their nervous breathing and the occasional groan from the Hippo as it fought to maintain its structural
“Something’s coming up in about forty meters,” she said.
“What is it?”
“Can't tell. The monitor just shows a dark spot. Better ease up on it.”
“Ease up? A damn snail moves faster than this thing.”
“You’re the Captain,” she shrugged.
“Tell that to the Senator, would ya?”
She chuckled. Then yelled, “stop!” as the right front
track slipped over the drop.
Holding their breath, they waited for the inevitable failure of the hull. “Damn,” he finally spoke. “I thought we were fish bait.”
“What’s going on down there?” the Senator spoke.
“Senator, can you please put Kendall back on?”
“Just a minute, Commander. I have complete authority when
it comes to this mission.”
“Senator, I don’t give a rat’s ass who is in charge up there.
Ya’ll can hash all that out a little later on, but unless you know the intricate details of this craft, or the
multi-functional dynamics of hydraulics and the effects of massive water pressure has on such, I would suggest you put someone
on the mike that does.”
“Multi-functional dynamics of hydraulics?” she questioned.
“What the heck are you talking about?”
“Shoot, Lynn, I don’t know. Lets just see if it works.”
Silence lofted over the frequency. Finally the radio crackled
and Kendall spoke. “What’s the situation, Tony?”
“Well, there seems to be a drop off here. Our right front
track is over and appears to be stuck.”
“Have you tried reversing course?”
“Negative. Everything seems to be up and running, but we
wanted to run it by you prior to acting. You designed this thing. Can she take the pressure, if we put her in a bind trying to back up?”
“Honestly, Tony, I don’t know. Technically yes, but
I wouldn’t bet your life on it. How deep is the drop?”
“Couple hundred feet, I would guess.”
“Damn, I suppose we have to try to back her up then. I’ll
read off the sequence you’ll need to reassign the hydraulic pressure to the other three tracks. You don’t want the stuck one to rev and suddenly get traction.
The torque could cause a hull breach.”
“Well, that’s a cheery thought. Hang on.”
The entire room waited for a response. “Kendall,”
he finally spoke. “We don’t like the backing option. I am going to purge the tanks a little, just enough to gain some buoyancy and then we’re going to
ride her down to the bottom.”
“Tony, the Hippo was not designed to float with the legs down.
I’m not sure how she’ll respond to the controls in open water. The
reverse engines may not operate and you could hit bottom or the side awfully hard.”
“What do you think?” he asked her.
“I think I should’ve listened when you said I didn’t belong down here. Are there any other options?”
“I don’t think so. Right now it’s either forward
“Well, we’ve seen what’s behind us. I say we
“Kendall, we’re going forward. I’ll advise as
soon as we hit bottom.”
“Roger, Tony. Good luck.”
“Before we do this, let me ask you something,” he said.
“What?” she asked.
“How about having dinner with me tonight, in my quarters?”
“Dinner? You’re asking me to dinner? We’ve got a better than good chance of being dead in the next few minutes. I don’t think this is the time.”
“Yeah? Well the way I figure, it’s the perfect time
“I’m gonna be sorry I asked, but what kind of logic is that?”
“Well, if you tell me no and we die, then I wont have to live with the rejection, but if we live, I’ll
be so thrilled that I won’t give a shit.”
“Let’s make it through this, Tony. We’ll worry
about eating arrangements later.”
“Okay,” he said without missing a beat. “I’ll
take that as a yes. Give me twenty percent on the tanks.”
“Roger, twenty percent.”
The hippo groaned, but did not move.
“Twenty-five,” he said.
“Twenty-five,” she nodded and crossed her fingers.
Still no movement, the track was stuck over the edge and the only way to test the buoyancy was to go forward.
“Thirty should do the trick,” he said, “but
be ready for more if we need it.”
“Thirty it is.”
“Here we go, Kendall,” he said into the mike. “If
this thing folds, I’m coming back to haunt you.”
With no answer from above, he eased the lever forward to one-quarter.
The hippo popped, whined and groaned, but edged forward, dropping the other front track over the sea cliff.
The nose started a downward tilt and he yelled, “thirty-five, Lynn!
Give me thirty-five.”
Dialing in the numbers without a response, she held her breath as the nose sluggishly leveled off. The underside of the Hippo scraped the rock overhang creating a loud squeal, before it rose back to level. “Thirty-five is a good number,” she said, releasing a long ragged breath.
“I think you’re right,” he said pushing the throttle another notch forward.
Switching to stern cameras, she announced the rear tracks are about to clear the drop.
“Roger. Be ready. We
may need another shot of air.”
The rear tracks cleared the drop and the Hippo started a slow, controlled descent.
“What do you think, Tony?”
“Let her go. Give me full power on the lights and forward
and below monitors.”
She flipped several switches in quick succession and punched in a quick command on the keyboard bringing the
requested configuration online. “How deep you think it is?”
“Not sure. I just hope it has a soft bottom,” he said.
The slow descent was smooth, but nerve racking. At the meager
pace of a few feet per second, it allowed for a lifetime of reflection. Eyes
glued onto the four monitor screens, neither spoke.
“There,” she spoke excitedly.
Flipping several switches and easing back on the yoke, the reversers came online and again stirred up the soft
“We’re on bottom, again, Kendall.”
“Great, Tony. You had some folks holding their breath up
here. You see anything?”
“Not yet. I’ve got a cloud of silt.”
As the silt settled the crushed remains of the Rover became visible, reminding them of unthinkable possibilities.
She looked at him and shrugged, “at least we got a few photos from it, even if they weren’t definitive.”
“Yeah, I just don’t want to end up like---Holy crap! What
the hell is that?”
the port camera, she watched as the silt settled, unveiling the prize. Seven
towering, serpent-like heads protruded from the bottom. As if frozen in
their eyes glassy and unfocused.
look like some sort of . . . sea serpents.”
at that,” he said pointing to the monitor. “Looks like the body. I don’t think there are seven of them.
It looks like one body, seven heads.”
working at the data terminal, she began searching for an obscure morsel.
is it, Lynn. What are you looking for?”
on . . . I’m almost there . . . Here it is,” she said taking a deep breath before beginning.
“Revelations 13.1 And I stood
upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns.
Revelations 20.1. And I saw an angel
come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.
And he laid hold on the dragon . . . and bound him . . . cast him into the bottomless pit.”
What’s going on down there, Tony?” Kendall questioned. “Tony? Dammit, Tony, do you read me?”
He looked at her with a bit of shock, neither spoke as he lifted his hand and flipped the breaker, sending
the camera feed topside, putting an end to the insistent query.
At the very boundaries of her peripheral vision she caught the slight movement, but was suddenly unsure if
it was real or if she was just spooked from the whole encounter. She couldn’t
take her eyes off the floating heads, seemingly close enough to touch. She placed
the palm of her hand against the thick glass as the deep black eyes of the beast began to gradually turn from a cavernous
death to a bright glowing light. She could hear her name called again and again
as alarms began to ring all about her, but she could not turn away from the beast’s radiance.
“Kendall, do you read me? Do you read me?” he shouted
into the microphone. “We have multiple malfunctions and alarms. I’m jettisoning tracks, purging the tanks and getting the hell out of here.” The radio offered only static in response.
He watched her as he took the necessary steps to get the craft moving again.
Her face glowed red as the light entranced her through the tiny window.
The tracks were loosed. The tanks were purged, but still they
didn’t move. Something, some force was holding them. He couldn’t keep up with all the alarms sounding and Lynn was not responding to him. He needed to break whatever bond this thing held her in. A
strange thought came to him. Maybe the craft was not being held down, maybe it
Unsnapping his safety harness, he flipped himself over, trying to avoid looking at the light glaring through
the portal now. With an awkward lunge he place an operating manual over the window,
breaking the light. The Hippo suddenly surged upward as if he had broken a tether
line. The sudden heave sent him railing into Lynn’s lap.
As the craft quickly moved upward and away from the creature the radios began to crackle with frantic calls
from above. “Break, break, break,” he shouted in rapid succession,
trying to get through the hysteria.
When the frequency went quiet, he looked at Lynn’s burnt face, her solid white, milky eyeballs and spoke
urgently into the mike, “Frank, we’re coming up fast. We’ll
need an emergency crew standing by and get the rotors on a med-evac helicopter spinning and ready.”