The Ocean has its silent caves,
Deep Deep, quiet, and alone;
Though there be fury on the waves,
Beneath them, there is none.
Throughout the last few weeks of training, I’d memorized nearly every facet of the Tuscany – every dial and every readout, 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.
The separation sequence took the deep-diver away from the escort and into the surface of the Pacific with silence and grace and a few knots of speed, and then I was consumed in a world – albeit one I’d frequented – that of the sea. Schools of fish swam 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 inverted 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 my descent for hours. The pressure meter ticked up in spastic 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. 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.
Humankind 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?”
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 at the time, 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 whole complex constitutes the largest and deepest such formation in the hydrosphere, and yet its dimensions and location are the only concrete information known. That, of course, is where I, and the Tuscany, come in.
Forty-three thousand feet down. I hit the lights beneath the Tuscany. 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 as far as the eye could see
I even saw life, thriving down in the depths. A gargantuan, squid-like creature swam by my submersible. It stopped for a moment and looked hard at the Tuscany, brushing a tentacle gently down the port side. Seemingly uninterested, it gilded off into the darkness.
I descended further.
Forty four thousand feet. Forty five.
There it was. The Maw.
It was a breathtaking sight to behold. Carved in the crust of the earth and falling to inconceivable fathoms, the Maw was a monstrously large and equally dark hole. I descended a bit further – forty five five, forty six thousand feet – and Tuscany was swallowed by the pit.
Forty six five. Forty seven. Forty seven two.
A faint glow suddenly shone from below.
I squinted and dimmed my lights and saw a dim reddish-purple, then green, then purple again, and then blue light, floating on a mist of current a few thousand feet down. Forty nine five. Forty nine seven. Forty nine nine. The glow, whatever it was, was growing deeper, wider, and brighter. Within no time, it had filled the entirety of the path ahead. I lowered 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.
Sure enough, the hole bottomed out, and then opened up to its left.
Holy God. Holy God.
It was a cavernous chamber, despite the presence of thousands of floating bioluminescent pods that pulsed in flashes, the majority of the cavern remained bathed in darkness. I took the Tuscany deeper, her cameras whirring to life.
Calmly the wearied seamen rest
Beneath their own blue sea.
The ocean solitudes are blest,
For there is purity.
Soon after passing the pods, Tuscany floated by a bizarre and rope-like plant that appeared to stretch nearly across the height of the cave and which grew wider at the base. I took the submarine in close, bringing up her lights to their highest setting.
A gasp caught in my throat. There were suction cups on the plant, each as big as the Tuscany herself, that writhed and pulsed down the side of what was now very clearly a tentacle.
I shot Tuscany into reverse, but the base of the hull collided with the tentacle, nestling roughly into one of the cups. I gunned the thrusters, but the ship was stuck. Putting everything she had into it, I ignited the boosters and heard a wet tearing sound as theTuscany ripped herself free.
Responding to the commotion, the tentacle roared to life. It whipped around the cavern without insane strength and speed. Pressing itself to the roof, it then disappeared into the dark abyss.
I hit the thrusters again, and Tuscany rocketed off the way I came in, through the darkness and off towards the pods. When I reached them, I shut off the ship’s lights, allowing the bioluminescent life to illuminate the escape route.
But as I did, I heard and felt the movement of something titanic rolling across the floor of the chamber. It rumbled and thundered, shuddered and shook, creating clouds of dirt and rock that blanketed the path forward. Boulders began slamming against the ceiling of the cave, before sinking back down.
A deafening shriek filled the cave. My eardrums shook, I shook, and the ship shook too. Luckily, the Tuscany held held together long enough to fly past the floating pods, which were now knocked about on their sides and rolling, and back towards the mouth of the tunnel that would take me back into the open ocean.
A sudden, and forceful impact knocked the Tuscany into an uncontrollable spin. The tentacle had shot up from below and hit the ship between her ballasts. Although spinning, the force of the hit had also sent the ship flying upwards, towards the exit. Regaining control, I boosted the thrusters. Now back into the Maw, 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, Doc. 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. The tentacle was closed behind, crashing against the walls of the pit. It smashed its way on through the tunnel, and whipped and thrashed and surged. But Tuscany was too quick.
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, but just as the surface seemed in reach, the tentacle flew out and smashed her front window. I tanked Tuscany to the left, missing the wall by inches. Hurriedly flipping the light back on, I began to navigate through the labyrinth or rocks.
With the bright light of Tuscany, I realized 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 into a watery grave by whatever was chasing me. Mainmasts, battlements, flat-decks, rusted iron and wooden boat hulls littered the ground. I sped Tuscany through this nautical graveyard, far too quickly to steer safely. We flew under ship towers, through cannon mounts, and past the blades of dead and upended rudders.
The Tentacle pursued me through it all. In it’s wake, fish washed out of holes, cabins, captain’s quarters, and deep-deck stair flights.
I jerked the Tuscany upwards, barely missing a splintered crow’s nest atop a rotting mast, and used that momentum to put distance between the seabed. 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 shifted with the sound. And then, out of nowhere, Tuscany was no longer the only thing spilling light into the abyss; an orange glow flashed across the sea, and illuminated nearly the entirety of its vastness.
Forty four two. Forty four. Forty three seven.
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 upwards and the Leviathan whipped even larger tentacles at its hull.
The Leviathan opened its Maw and used its tongue to whip up a maelstrom beneath the submarine, and consume everything inside. Then, it closed shut with a thunderous, echoing snap.
Tuscany escaped the whirlpool, but it was taking damage.
Thirty nine five. Thirty nine. Thirty eight seven. Thirty eight two. Thirty eight thousand feet, and climbing.
The Leviathan pursued me relentlessly. It rode on the flood of its own current. Its tentacles – each a dozens of feet across and a half-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 falling in jumps.
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 current. Then, I felt 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 ship was pressed to its limits; the reinforced glass began to chip ever so slightly, but the chips soon broke into cracks, and those cracks began to crawl across the windows. I checked the gauges. Twenty thousand feet. Nineteen eight. Nineteen four. Nineteen three. Nineteen two-five. 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 glow of the Leviathan’s eyes, I could see how quickly the water was slipping by Tuscany and getting swept up into the whirlpool. The submarine began to sway wildy, from port to starboard.
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.
And that was it; Tuscany was caught. The submarine lost all sense of control, tumbling freely through the water. I was thrown out of my seat and smacked my nose against the roof of the pilot sphere. Blood spurted out, drenching my shirt and spraying the control panel.
I tried to put pressure against my nose to stem the bleeding, but Tuscany rolled violently in the whirlpool and I spilled into the hatch ladder. My kneecap smacked into the bottom rung, head swam, and shoulder slipped out of its socket. The Tuscany continued to veer out of control. 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. It stunk of death.
A flash of ingenuity dashed through my mind; I had an idea. It wasn’t a particularly good one, but hell if it wasn’t better than nothing. I limped to the controls and gripped the handles as the ship rolled.
Wait for it. Wait for it. Wait…
The roar was so powerful, and close, that every last control surface in the sphere rattled in its case. Using the Leviathan’s roar as the starting gun, I flared up the thrusters at full blast and an awkward angle. The Tuscany shuddered, with great fortune, rocketed out of the maelstrom with only inches to spare. I felt the edge of the Leviathan’s Maw graze the starboard side, smacking the ship and sending my flying against the roof, again. I cracked my ribs against an alcove and crashed back into the seat, head first, then spilling onto the floor.
I managed to right myself, with my good arm, and regained my bearings. I was free, narrowly; the Tuscany banked hard, much slower in the absence of the whirlpool’s flood current, but not yet in control. 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 by underneath. For the first time, I was able to fully appreciate the magnitude of its size. Head pressed against the window, my jaw dropped in awre.
It’s back was an endless, snake-like and sharp-finned spine the size of a mountain range, and only quick maneuvering moved Tuscany away from the jagged back fins that chugged up towards me, slicing open the sea itself. The blast of the current created by the fins sent the submarine reeling backwards, and to relative safety – away from the beast.
I lowered the lights to their lowest setting and caught my breath, as the full form of the Leviathan washed past me. It stretched into the endless abyss below, for well over a mile. Dragging behind it were thousands upon thousands of tentacles, a forest of them, each the size of a six lane highway and tipped with razor sharp hooks. It took a full three minutes for the beast to pass by fully. Like a massive ship, it banked slowly, and swam off into the darkness, in search of other things to devour.
It’s massive tailfin swinging back and forth, the Leviathan slipped into the shadows
I surfaced hours later, having allowed 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 broke the surface, I disbursed a distress beacon, and then promptly collapsed from exhaustion. Apparently, I was picked up by the Coast Guard sometime after that, a few hundred miles southwest of Hawaii. They pulled me from the near-wreckage of my submarine and transported me to a hospital on the mainland. A full day later, I woke up in a drab hospital gown.
As I recovered, I heard isolated chatter of tremendous seismic activity near where I’d been recovered, and how an entire section of ocean floor had shifted. But I couldn’t care less. I told the bastards what I knew. Not that it mattered, they had the Tuscany, and along with it, all of the recorded evidence.
Now, you have this written account. What people do with this information is entirely up to them.
All I know is that I won’t be diving any time soon. I’ve come to a realization that mankind has more than enough space to live and thrive on dry land, in the skies, and soon, hopefully, out amongst the stars.
But in the sea, the rulers of the deep have complete dominion. Perhaps, it’s best to leave it that way. For all of 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