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Denizens: 18 - Lost

Submersible number one dives deep, deep into the Mariana Trench, deeper than humans have ever been beneath the seas. Then...

...There was silence for a few moments, and then Arnold came back on the line. “We’ve spotted some movement a little further down the slope, Tom. Heading down now to investigate. We’ll call you again in a few minutes. Out.”...

And after that, nothing.

Ace sci-fi writer Brian William Neal makes the reader's heart beat ever faster. If you are coming to this great sci-fi epic for the first time, do please begin at the beginning by clicking on Denizens in the menu on this page. And allow hours and hours to read a great adventure story. You're sure to be hooked!

The Western Pacific
July, 2034

Tom Stoddard walked into the control room below decks on the Halsey and took a seat at the long trestle like bench that held the communications and sonar equipment. Jennifer was seated at the other end of the bench, in front of a bank of monitors, and he pushed his chair along until he was beside her. She turned towards him; she smelled of soap and a faint perfume, and her cool blonde looks excited him more than ever. When she smiled at him, he found himself blushing like a schoolboy.

They hadn’t repeated their one night of passion; Jennifer insisted they wait until they could be alone, that there were just too many people in too small a place. Tom could see her point; shipboard gossip had a habit of traveling far and fast and, while their affection for each other was no secret, neither of them wished to fan the flames of idle chatter.

Tom was, to put it mildly, disappointed. Their one night together had been the most thrilling of his life; he was falling more deeply in love with Jennifer all the time, and he knew she was the one, the woman for him. He had tried to change her mind, but she was firm in her resolve. She mollified him slightly by telling him she loved and wanted him too, and that the abstention was just as bad for her as it was for him. In the end, Tom agreed to wait until the testing was over, as long as Jennifer agreed not to do any more sunbathing. The sight of her in that bikini, he said, would be more than any mortal man could stand.

Now, sitting alone with her in the control room, he felt his resolve crumbling. He stroked a golden arm, then her back, and she leaned against him, her hand on his leg. Then she turned to him, and they kissed for a long time. Tom slipped a hand under her tee shirt and cupped her breast, feeling the nipple stiffen. Jennifer gave a small moan, and ran her nails lightly over the growing bulge in his shorts.

“Number one to Halsey.” The crackling of the radio made them both jump; Jennifer hit the send/receive switch, while Tom muttered, “Thank you for that, Arnold,” through clenched teeth.

Smothering a giggle, Jennifer said, “Halsey receiving loud and clear. Go ahead, Doctor.” The radio crackled again.

“We’re just entering the trench, Jennifer. On our way to the bottom now.”

Tom switched the monitors on while Jennifer spoke again to the sub. “How do the arcs work, Arnold?”

“Like the sun itself, my dear,” came the reply. They both smiled at Arnold’s turn of phrase, then turned their attention to the screens. They showed the same scene, relayed by the cameras in the bow of the sub, that had confronted its occupants, and they looked in awe at the magnificent sight of the trench. Arnold signed off, saying he would call again when they reached the bottom; then the sub dived into the trench, and the screen went dark.

Tom sat back and said, “There won’t be much happening for a while, sweetheart. Why don’t you go get some chow, while I keep watch.”

Jennifer agreed, and with a final peck on his cheek, headed for the galley. Tom watched her go, admiring the view of her tight shorts receding. Like two puppies fighting under a blanket, he thought, amused at his adolescent reaction to this beautiful girl. Tom had enjoyed himself with more than a few women in his time, but Jennifer was different. It was not just that she was the best lover he had ever had; she was just a joy to be with, and he found he didn’t really mind the enforced celibacy. Just being near her was enough, at least for now. And if that’s not love, he thought, it’s a pretty good substitute.

Shaking his head to clear it of lustful thoughts, Tom returned his attention to the monitors. Even the enormously powerful lights of the sub, admittedly running on low power, showed little detail in the ultimate blackness of the deep. Except for the occasional small organism or workalike creature, nothing could be seen in the inky dark. Not exactly the stuff of legends, he thought.

Tom had asked himself several times whether he believed the reports Cheeseman had quoted, and the best he could say was that he was trying to remain objective. All of his training as a marine biologist told him that such creatures could not be, but he was determined to be as open-minded as possible.

Twenty minutes later, Jennifer returned from lunch. Tom smiled at her, and said, “How’s the food?” She slipped gracefully into the seat beside him and squeezed his arm, but before she could reply, the radio crackled again.

“Number one to Halsey, come in please.”

This time Tom triggered the microphone. “Halsey receiving. Go ahead, Arnold.” The depth meter on the telemetry board read just under thirty-six thousand feet, and Katzmeyer’s voice came to them clearly.

“We’re at the Trieste’s landing site, Tom. Our depth is thirty five thousand nine hundred and twenty two feet. Another record bites the dust."

Tom and Jennifer exchanged a smile. “How’s the sub holding up, Arnold?”

“Amazing, Tom. There’s not even any condensation on the inside of the walls or the glass. We have the heaters on, but they’re turned to their lowest setting, and we barely need them. Unbelievable material. Hang on a minute.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Arnold came back on the line. “We’ve spotted some movement a little further down the slope, Tom. Heading down now to investigate. We’ll call you again in a few minutes. Out.”

Tom and Jennifer stared at the monitor for a moment, but it was too dark to make out any detail. “Spotted what, Arnold?” said Tom. He waited a few seconds, then repeated his query, but there was no reply.

“Maybe we should give them a few minutes to get to wherever they’re going,” suggested Jennifer. Tom nodded, and thumped the table lightly in frustration. Damn Arnold! What the hell was he doing?
After five minutes had passed in complete silence, Tom keyed the mike again. “Number one, this is Halsey. Do you read? Over.”

Tom waited another two minutes, then tried again, but only silence greeted his call. He and Jennifer stared at the monitor, then it suddenly turned to electronic snow.

“O.K.,” said Tom, “that’s it,” and slapped his hand against a red knob set into the wall alongside their station. Immediately, a klaxon alarm began to sound throughout the ship. A minute later, van Damme and a couple of technicians burst into the room.

“What is it, what’s the matter?” the diminutive Belgian cried. “What’s happening?”

“We’ve lost contact with number one,” said Tom, as Jennifer began repeating the call over the radio. Tom turned off the alarm, and a silence descended over the ship. Several tension filled minutes passed, but the only sound in the room continued to be the static from the otherwise silent radio.

“No signal from the sonar,” said one of the technicians. “The monitors are dead, too.”

Tom and Jennifer looked at each other, while van Damme stared in horror at the silent speaker. “My God,” he said, “we’ve lost them!”


***



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