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Denizens: 16 - Abyss

...On either side of the sub, as far as the eye could see, stretched the barren seabed of the Pacific. A few deep-sea creatures, blind sea worms and the occasional mollusk, shied away as their bodies reacted to the massive outpouring of light. But it was the scene directly ahead that held the crew spellbound.

Submersible number one was suspended, as if in space, a mere fifty meters from the most awesome void ever looked into by man. Its abyssal grandeur stretched before them, an undersea vista that made the Grand Canyon look like a plow furrow...

They crew of the submersible are about to descend into the Mariana Trench, the deepest dive ever undertaken.

Tension tightens, notch by exciting notch, in Brian William Neal's epic sci fi adventure. To read earlier chapters of this thrilling story please click on Denizens in the menu on this page.

The Western Pacific
July, 2034

The large swinging boom of the Halsey’s crane groaned under the weight of submersible number one as the sleek, streamlined craft was lowered to the flat, mirror-like surface of the Pacific Ocean, two hundred and fifty miles southwest of Guam. The weather had remained fine, with little or no wind, and the sun burned down from a clear sky, driving the temperature into the nineties.

Tom, wearing his customary shorts and tee shirt, stood by the rail watching the ship’s boson operating the winch, easing the sub down on to the water where it bobbed slightly on an all-but-non-existent swell. From where he stood, he could see John Peel, as well as Dennis Crafter and Arnold, through the transparent screen that covered much of the sub’s nose, and he waved as they slipped beneath the surface.

There had been a major change in Tom’s life, a change very much for the better, since they had left Guam. The trip out to the test area had taken only one day, but it was a day that Tom would remember for the rest of his life.

The day had begun ordinarily enough, and the trip had been uneventful until the late afternoon. Tom had been standing by the rail, watching the sun slip lower in the sky, when he noticed Jennifer sunbathing on an open area of the forecastle, taking advantage of the clear weather to freshen up her already perfect tan. She had been wearing a bikini that could have gotten her arrested in some parts of the world, and she appeared unaware of Tom’s observation.

Always having been one to take his chances whenever they presented themselves, Tom resolved to make one more attempt to get close to the blonde New Zealand beauty. If she still rebuffed his advances, he had decided to retire gracefully and leave the field clear for John. Not being one to make a nuisance of himself, it was with a certain trepidation that he walked up on to the top deck and approached her. She was lying on her back on a towel, and the sight of her long, golden form took his breath away.

Jennifer seemed pleased to see him, and he hoped she wasn’t just being polite when she invited him to share her towel. Tom removed his shirt and lay down beside her; his hand brushed hers, and she didn’t pull it away, so Tom turned on his side and raised himself on one elbow. He let his gaze run down the length of her body, from her small but perfect breasts to her flat stomach, then down to where her pubic mound strained against the flimsy material of her briefs.

Jennifer turned her head as he was drinking in the sight of her, and smiled. Tom quickly averted his eyes, and she said, “See anything you like?”

Tom began to stammer an apology, but she laughed good-naturedly, and he joined in. Then he said, “I guess you Kiwis would rather have stuck together, huh?” referring to the fact that John was in sub number one.

Jennifer shook her head. “No, I’m glad I’m diving with you.” Then she took off her sunglasses and looked directly into his eyes, and Tom felt a wave of goose bumps roll over him.
“Look, Tom,” she said, “I suppose it’s about time I came clean, owned up, so to speak. I know you think John and I have got something going, and I admit I’ve done nothing to make you think otherwise.” Tom started to say something, and she hurried on. “I was married a year or so ago, to a guy I met while I was with the Cousteau crowd. It was a mistake, a short, grubby business, and now it’s over. But…Oates is my married name.” She paused again, and Tom began to get an idea of what was coming. Then Jennifer said, “My maiden name is Peel. John is my older brother.”

Tom felt his scalp begin to tingle, that unmistakable feeling you get when something you thought was out of reach suddenly becomes attainable. Then Jennifer sat up, cross-legged, close to him.

“I know I’ve been cool towards you,” she said, “even though I was very much attracted to you” – Tom’s heart began to thump – “because I wasn’t sure I wanted to make another commitment.” She looked at him with her open, frank gaze. “Because that’s what it has to be with me, Tom. I don’t have casual affairs.”

Tom swallowed hard, and said, “Believe me, Jennifer, any affair I had with you would be anything but casual.”

She smiled shyly at him, then leaned towards him and kissed him lightly, then harder, her luscious mouth opening under his. She touched him through his shorts; Tom was hard as a rock, and for a moment he thought he was going to have an embarrassment right there, and he pulled gently away. They looked at each other, breathing hard, eyes shining.

“God, I want you,” he said.

Jennifer nodded, serious now. “Me too,” she said. Then she stood up in one fluid movement. “Give me five minutes.” She gathered up her towel and sunglasses and walked off in the direction of the cabins, leaving Tom sitting there, out of breath and nursing an almost painful erection.

*

When Tom knocked softly on the door of her cabin, he heard her call quietly, “It’s open,” and he turned the knob and entered. The room was in semi-darkness; she had drawn the curtains over the portals, and was standing by the bed, wearing a short white robe that ended mid-thigh. Her blonde hair was loose and fell about her face in a golden cascade. Tom thought she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
Tom crossed the room quickly, and reached out and touched her cheek. She turned her head and kissed his palm, making him shiver. Then she moved close so their bodies were touching, and kissed him lightly on the lips, then began to unbutton his shirt. Tom loosened her robe and put his hands on her narrow waist, running his hands lightly over her satiny skin.. They kissed for a few moments, then Tom took off her robe and dropped it to the floor, then picked her up and carried her to the bed.

Slowly, they came down from the lofty heights to which they had risen. Still inside her, Tom moved until they were on their sides, facing each other, bellies pressed together, and her breasts and nipples firm against his hairless chest. He touched her cheek, she stroked his hair, and they kissed, small, ethereal kisses; eyes, noses, lips, nuzzling and burrowing.

Then Jennifer pulled back and focused on him.

“Do you believe in love at first sight, Tom?”

Tom nodded. “Oh, yes. Oh God, yes.”

Jennifer smiled. “Just as well, then. Because I think I love you, Tom Stoddard.”

Tom closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them and looked into hers. “I guess it is just as well. I fell in love with you the moment I saw you.”

They lay like that for a while, then Tom felt her begin to move against him. They made love for hours, and finally fell asleep in each other’s arms. In the morning, Tom opened his eyes and found her watching him, her beautiful face only inches from his. She smiled, and said, “Good morning.” Tom opened his mouth to speak, and she placed a finger against his lips.

“You don’t have to say anything about last night if you don’t want to, Tom,” she said. “I know what I said about casual affairs, but I wanted us to make love as much as you did. So, if it was just the sex talking, I’ll understand.” She smiled ruefully. “I won’t like it, but I’ll understand.”

Tom kissed her finger, and moved it away. “Sweetheart, how can I tell you how much I love you when you’ve got your hand over my face?”

Then they wrapped themselves in each other, and the ship arrived at the testing ground before they got out of bed.

*

When they came on deck, they didn’t have to say anything to John; the way they felt about each other was obvious, and Jennifer’s brother hugged them both, and expressed his happiness.

“Well, thank God for that,” he said. “You know, Tom,” he went on mischievously, “Mum and Dad are beginning to despair of ever having any grandchildren. Maybe we can give them some good news someday soon?”

Tom flushed, glanced at Jennifer, then back at John. “Well, there’s always you, isn’t there?”

John grinned, and shook his head. “ ’fraid not, mate,” he said. “If Jen hadn’t got to you first…”

Tom looked from one to the other, then understanding dawned as John grinned again. “What, she didn’t mention I was gay?”
Tom shook his head, and John gave Jennifer a mock stern look. “Typical,” he sniffed. Jennifer punched him lightly on the arm.

“You keep your beady eyes off him,” she said. “I saw him first.”
This exchange left Tom laughing with both of them, and he watched Jennifer in her by-play with her brother. They were a family, something he had never really had, and he felt better than he had in a long time to be a part of them.

*

Now, standing at the rail watching number one go in the water, Tom knew he was happy for the first time in his life. He gave a final wave to the figures in the sub, then descended the ladder to the lower deck.

Over the past week, the subs had been tested to various depths, although they had not been into the trench, and the alien metal had behaved exactly as expected. The structural strength of the vessels had increased proportionately with the mounting pressure, and Arnold had finally declared himself satisfied that they were ready to go all the way to the bottom of the trench. As project head, Arnold claimed the right to be in the first sub to make the historic dive, so it was to number one that the honor fell.

Now, sitting in the cockpit of the sub, bobbing on the surface of the Pacific, Dennis Crafter scanned his instruments once more, then declared them ready. “Any time you like, Doctor,” he said. “Just say the word, and we’ll be on our way.”

Arnold looked out through the Herculeum/Silicon glass at the softly lapping waves. This is it, he thought. If there’s anything down there, we ought to find it pdq. Then he turned to the English pilot and the New Zealand diver.

“Thank you, Dennis, John. You know, I can’t think of a single momentous thing to say, but no matter. I’ll think of something later, then claim I said it at the time.” The others smiled with him, and he said, “So, I’ll just say, let’s go, and may the good Lord protect us from the denizens of the vastly deep.” The others murmured their ‘amens’ and Crafter engaged the sub’s drive.

*

Four hundred feet down, there was no light at all. Arnold spoke from where he sat in the rear seat, with Crafter in the left-hand pilot’s seat and John Peel on the Englishman’s right.
“Well, gentlemen. I can see no reason why we should not be on our way. Mr. Crafter, two thousand feet to the sea bed, if you please.”

Crafter hunched one shoulder, and squinted an eye. “Aye, aye, Cap’n,” he rasped, in a terrible Long John Silver voice. “An’ them as dies be the lucky ones, har har.”

John groaned, and turned pleading eyes to Arnold. “Please, Arnold, don’t let him do this all the bloody way to the bottom. It was bad enough on the test dives. I don’t think I could take thirty-eight thousand feet of his insane cackling.”

Arnold smothered a smile, and said, “Yes, Dennis, a little more decorum on this momentous occasion, if you don’t mind.”

Crafter hunched and squinted. “Aye, aye, sor, har har.”

Then he put number one into a steep dive and headed for the bottom. John switched on the sub’s standard lights, and they illuminated the way ahead, but there was little to see. They passed fish, and once, a small hammerhead shark; the oceans of the world had suffered badly from pollution and over-fishing for decades, and the marine life was sadly depleted. The sub continued its dive, but they saw little else except the silvery glittering of plankton and small organisms sweeping past them as they descended, in almost perfect silence, into the deep.
Because of the alien metal’s fabulous ability to nullify pressure, there would be no need for the divers to depressurize before returning to the surface. They could also descend and ascend as fast as they wished, so it was only after a few minutes that Crafter said, “Bottom coming up, gents.”

“Right,” said Arnold. “Stand by the super arcs, John.”

“Aye, aye.” The New Zealander lifted a panel covering a row of switches, which operated a bank of lights set above the sub’s standard spotlights. Crafter, meanwhile, leveled the sub off only a few meters above the seabed, and aligned it to face the trench, which lay hidden in the darkness.

“All right, John,” Arnold said. “Light it up.”

Using both hands, John pushed upwards at six switches simultaneously. Above the sub’s cockpit, a bank of six lights, each one less than a third the size of an ancient World War II searchlight, but utilizing a technology light-years from those long-ago days, burst into life.

They began slowly, like old-style sodium street lamps, but even in that embryonic stage they were brighter than almost any man-made light in existence. They waxed gradually, drawing on the enormous power of the fusion reactor in the heart of the sub.

As the light grew, the crew of submersible number one could only stare in open-mouthed wonder at the scene slowly being unveiled before them. Then, when it seemed the lights had reached their peak, John touched a seventh switch, and the three men shaded their eyes as six supernovae burst into an incandescent coruscation of ice-blue fire.

Arnold touched a control that polarized the glass of the forward screen, and they watched as, for the first time since the dawn of the earth, the sun rose over the Mariana Trench. John Peel was the first to find his voice.

“My God.”

Crafter said nothing, simply stared out at the scene before him.
Arnold Katzmeyer spoke softly, reverently into the silence.
“Oh, Lord, thy wonders to behold.”

On either side of the sub, as far as the eye could see, stretched the barren seabed of the Pacific. A few deep-sea creatures, blind sea worms and the occasional mollusk, shied away as their bodies reacted to the massive outpouring of light. But it was the scene directly ahead that held the crew spellbound.
Submersible number one was suspended, as if in space, a mere fifty meters from the most awesome void ever looked into by man. Its abyssal grandeur stretched before them, an undersea vista that made the Grand Canyon look like a plow furrow.

Where the trench began, the ocean bottom simply ended, and became a sheer drop of twenty-five thousand feet; almost five miles, straight down. The rim of the trench was a jagged tear in the earth’s crust, with a clearly defined edge. Slowly, as if afraid they might somehow fall in, Crafter moved the sub forward to the brink of the enormous chasm. Nothing could be seen in that cavernous abyss, even with the super arcs, and Arnold ordered them turned to their lowest setting. Then he addressed the other two members of the crew.

“So, gentlemen. The moment of truth, as it were. Ready, Commander?”

“Ready, Doctor,” replied John, tightening his chest harness.

“Ready, Mr. Crafter?”

The Liverpudlian’s manner was sober for once, and he took a firm grip on the control yoke. “Ready as I’ll ever be, sir,” he said.

Arnold nodded. “Very good. Then take us down, pilot, if you please. Next stop, the site of the Trieste’s touchdown, thirty-five thousand eight hundred feet.” Then, in a softer voice, “And may fortune favor the foolhardy.”

The other two murmured ‘amen’, then Crafter advanced the throttle slightly, putting the sub into the spiral dive pattern that would take them away from the trench wall and towards the center, almost thirty miles away, eventually bringing them to the deepest place on earth: Challenger Deep.

***


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