Tuesday, May 3, 2011


It's claustrophobic. No, too big a word for what it feels like. Oppressive? Clammy? He can't think of an appropriate synonym but the spray of fire retardant sprinklers is dousing waterproof walls and he's knee-deep in the fridgid water.  "Where's Ally?" His first concern is for her. She was flung into the wall of the craft as it hit . . what hit? He doesn't know but it struck with force. The bridge has gone dark, down, and the interior is illuminated in red as they are immersed in a deep sea concussion, blacked out. For how long? They can't be sure. Everything's dead, except 'it' and they're sinking fast.

There was nothing routine about the trip. He'd wondered what their expedition was when entrepreneur Enda Morgan had asked him to share breakfast in Sydney's Double Bay.  "Cartwright, you won't be able to resist this," as the obnoxiously gratuitous Enda outlined his plan. "We're gonna be the first to bring one back alive. The Japs have filmed them. The Aussies have found them washed up on the beach but we're gonna be the ones to lob one into an Aquarium." Curious about which Aquarium could house such an aquatic fiend, Cartwright sat outside the small Sydney cafe, his protagonist enthusiastically describing the search and capture. "Georgia Aquarium has funded the expedition. You're one of the world's foremost deep sea explorers. You're the man for the job. We have the equipment, state of the art - all you need - everything."  Enda's florid sexagenarian complexion becoming more so with the excitement of the prospect.  "Get your team together, find it and bring it back. I'll make it well worth your while"

The sub, a MIR  copy, Neptune, was a submersible designed to dive to a maximum depth of 6,000 metres. This particular copy only one of the manned submersibles in the world that can dive beyond 3,000 metres.  Although thanks to corporate funding this one sustains a six man crew.  Dragged out into the depths by the Antarctic ice breaker, Southerly Buster, they're ready to drop. Their support vehicle, Poseidan by their side.

They were following and monitoring Sperm Wales in the Southern Ocean and the seas were rough. Even the most hardened and seaworthy of men, Cartwright, had spewed over the side until there was nothing left to hurl other than sea water and bile.   The sub had been prepared as a large whale breached and blew despite the horrendous conditions and they'd taken the plunge,

Now they're down, helpless in the cloying airless cabin and it's lying there, barely alive but contained in a tank. Huge thing but the first one they're to bring to the surface. If they ever see the surface. "Where's Ally!" he shrieks as the groans of compatriots announce their rousing after the almighty collision. "Comms up Vic?" a groggy Victor Stallard brings himself to his feet and brushes down his overalls, "No . . nothing . . gimme a minute to recal and I'll try to contact the surface." They're deeper than they've been before, deeper than the sub's been before. They knew its capability would be tested at this depth but the freefall into the abyss has taken them beyond what's supposed to be humanly possible. "No air peeps, need to keep still, conserve energy and try to get the systems up again." The obviousness of Cartwright's words is taken with wry sarcasm by the five crewmen but their female cohort is nowhere to be seen.

Bennett is first to check on their specimen. There was a time when he'd be repulsed at the idea of harvesting one and surrendering its magnificence to a zoo but he's come across hard times. The bitch he married, took his car,  his money, his house and left him penniless. His bitterness towards her holds no bounds and his desire to get back on his feet has compromised his once biologically conservative scruples. He looks at the monster and perceives dollars, millions potentially, and kudos, recognition, fame. He's already posing in front of the cameras and taking the credit even though he'd done little than ensure the chemical viability of the water housing the leviathan.

It writhes and makes him jump back. The thing curls and it's large, humanoid eye stares into his soul giving him momentary shudders until it relaxes, faces the other end of the tank once again. Caught, submissive, trapped.

"Cartwright!" Elias Maroon, yells from the forward bridge, the console is coming to life under emergency power.  The two men engage in a serious conference, whispering, lulled voices attract the attention of the other three even though words spoken cannot be heard, "We don't have enough power to surface with all the weight. That thing has to be released or we'll die down here." Cartwright is in two minds. He's been in tight spots before and knows that the surface vessel will also be working on their retrieval but air is short, the temperature is dropping and a decision has to be made. "Yeh, but we'll have to be quick, the water's rising and it's getting cold."There's an desperation in Maroon's voice that isn't wasted on Neptune's crew.

The remaining three begin to push the huge perspex tank with it's mega-cargo towards the airlock door, "Wait!" Bennett, dazed by the thump he's sustained but lucid enough to see his future being expelled, begins to talk them round. "Listen, this is it. This is why we're here. This is what we came for. The whole thing's lost, forgotten, fucked up without it. Is that what you want? To go back empty handed? Jesus! Ally's missing, find her. She's probably dead. That's some weight we can eject  . .  right? And there's the zodiac, our bags, loads of shit in here that we can trade for this thing?"

Cartwright is in need of a drink. The timing's lousy but he takes a huge swig of the celebratory whiskey now leaching onto the table top. He wipes his mouth with the finesse of a gunslinger about to engage in a shoot-out and shouts, "Stop!" Those wheeling the tank desist and pay attention. "We've got half an hour of air for the six of us." Bennett can't help interjecting, "Five . . five . . Ally's missing, probably dead."  Cartwright, despite the pangs in his chest continues with faux professionalism. "We have enough air for the six of us. So we need to make a decision. Either we release that thing and surface, or we take a chance, grab everything we don't need, jettison and then see if we can make it."

Despite the rushing of water and the creaking of the sub's shell, there's silence. Just the gentle lapping of rising water and the heavy breathing of five men. All have a story, all have a need, all are there for reasons other than discovery. All want this mission to be successful because it will give them everything, money, recognition, kudos, academic accolade and self-satisfaction. A quiet nod from the four wheeling the tank indicates that they're willing to take the chance.

As they clamour for anything loose and unnecessary for the ascent, Cartwright begins the search for Ally. The sub's small, apart from a separate galley and sleeping quarters for three at a time. There's the tank bay, two airlock doors and the platform housing the zodiac. At this point, he's distracted by the thought, "Why do we need a zodiac at 6,000 metres?" Until it clicks that it's a survival craft in the event they are separated from the mother ship - on the surface - it's useless weight down here.

Maroon yells, "Cartwright, I have radio contact but it's not the Buster" The whalesong is clear, Sperm Whales. A symphonic echo  reverberates around the drowning pod, they listen. "What are they doing?" Maroon, amplifies the sound. "I dunno, I've never heard so many at once but sounds like they're calling, hunting perhaps?" The mournful tunes combine with the creaking hull as a fissure bursts and sea water, cold as a witch's tits spews into the tank bay. "Jesus!" One begins to cry, the others panic and attempt to fill the void with flotsam. "Get it out of here!" yells Cartwright. The Kraken stirs as if begging to be released, One huge eye looking at all four men, and Bennett. As the fissure expands, Maroon prepares the airlock and four men push the tank through the first door. The monster raises a suckered tentacle and grabs Bennett around the waist.  "Cartwright! Maroon! . . For fuck's sake help me!" his screams almost drowned by the amplified whale song serenading his demise and the gush from the expanding fissure in the sub's skeleton drowning his pleas, as blood oozes from his mouth and nose. The tentacle does not let go.

From behind the thing, submerged within the tank, a woman feebly swims into view.  She's grey, pale but alive "Ally!" Cartwright rushes forward hoping the thing is distracted enough with Bennett to be able to retrieve her exhausted body. She swims to the surface but doesn't look at him. Instead, she looks at 'it'. That eye, that human, huge, pleading eye and drops once more below the water line. Treading water and staring, the two beings connect and Bennett, bruised but alive is dropped into the rising seawater on the subs floor. The thing grabs her, gently, even the word 'fondly' strikes the onlookers. It wends it's slippery arm around her waist and elevates her above the waterline as she takes a gasp of air. She looks to Cartwright and signals toward the airlock. He's reluctant. No stubborn, he's not going to see her die in the arms of a cephalopod. She smiles at him, a half dead smile, a half alive smile, a 'let me go' smile and he waves to Maroon. The door is opened, the inner door shut behind them and squid and whale are reunited along with Ally in her asphyxiating embrace.

Cartwright is on deck, an insulation blanket across his shoulders. A glass of Glenfidich in his hand. Bennett is in the infirmary, mindless and mumbling gibberish. The others, exhausted, are downing black coffee as if it's their last. The submersible made it to the surface, locked in a salty kiss against Poseidon's hull before the air gave out and Southerly Buster hauled their sorry hypothermic asses from the swollen waves.

His eyes are bloodshot from the whiskey and his stomach's churning. She's gone. She wanted to go and he's gutted that she did. He looks at the photo in his wallet. A photo from happier times, before the divorce, before the bitterness. They'd remained friends despite the emotional discomfort and she was the best marine biologist he'd known. The old cliche "She died doing what she loved" came to mind. But with the next burning sip, he knew better, he knew why she really surrendered to the sea.

 Posted for Tenth Daughter of Memory "Neptune's Payback"

Posted for the Tenth Daughter of Memory "Neptune's Payback"


  1. What's the difference between pay-back and pay-up?

  2. Interesting that he would call his ex-wife a fuck buddy but compelling story arc, I wanted to see what would happen all the way through.

  3. Nice change of pace for you... pretty good, too, though my logic circuits are having a fit. Not that I'm a qualified sub operator or anything. I like.

    Edits: Lose the (feet parentheticals). They're distracting.

    Immersible? Or submersible? Or is that an American/Aussie translation?

    You spell "Ally" as "Alley" a couple of times.

  4. Whiskey is a truth serum for some, even if it's only to themselves they admit it. Nice twist in that last sentence.

  5. Loved this! The Abyss is a favorite movie, so I really enjoyed this piece. The tension you created here, between the discovery, the hard choices, and the completely claustrophobic feeling of the whole thing just sucked me into the setting you created. And this from a girl whose nightmares are mostly about suffocation and drowning...yikes! Very well done. I haven't read any of the other entries from this round at 10thDOM, but wow, already I'm thinking this is a contender.
    Tina @ Life is Good

  6. Ok, so you're story is Kraken, and the word verification was 'crack'. Life is weird...as well as good ;-)

  7. Tense. Pace. Sense of time racing away. Edgy.
    Unpredictable - felt it could go all sorts of ways.
    All good.

  8. Good job building the tension. I was hoping the whales were coming to their rescue though.

  9. nice. like this baino...think you have plenty of room to expand this...you got my heart going for a sec there...smiles.