Pride of Man
Somewhere Under the Indian Ocean
Under dark waters a steel behemoth slept. It had a head of steel-reinforced glass, crowned with ever-rotating rings. The thing's body had flesh of off-color steel, and from it eight fins extended out at regular intervals. Each of these fins was fixed with a monstrous engine at its center. Many protrusions dotted its surface: observation bubbles, antennae, windows and other nautical devices of unknown purpose. A thin line stretching the length of its belly, like a docking bay sealed shut. From bow to stern the beast measured near a thousand feet long and had to weigh many tens of thousands of tons.
Upon the neck a name was branded: Pride of Man.
Three months ago that name had featured in every headline, prime time news slot and internet blog the world over as Argonautica International announced its maiden voyage. They called it the first fully submersible cruise liner- the first of many to come- and it was meant to lead the way in revolutionizing deep sea commercialization.
It was a pet project of one Veronica Cale, a multi-billionaire pharmaceutical mogul and heavy investor in Argonautica International, and it was plagued by problems from the start: Its original designers had been fired halfway through the project, the technology crucial to the ship's functioning was highly experiment and so closely guarded a secret that most of the engineers had never even see it, and the crew's training had been rushed to keep to the originally announced schedule. Experts and talking heads alike had torn Cale apart throughout the process, but she'd pushed ahead with it anyway, determined to prove it was possible. The vessel's first, major test would be a months-long journey from the harbor at Gateway City to the deepest point in the Indian Ocean, the Sunda Trench.
Today marked that journey's end.
lumbered to a halt at the mouth of the trench, engines sputtering and spitting boiling water from their heat vents. A long day's travel had exhausted the vessel as much as its occupants, but their destination lay open before them: a canyon draped in shadows, crawling with strange creatures and alien plant life. Two giants stood guard at the threshold, carved from and into the cliff face behind them. They wielded a spear in one hand, a shield in the other, and bore heavy armor not unlike that of ancient hoplites. Unfortunately for the archeologists that had joined the Pride's
voyage, time had smoothed out any distinguishing features from the statues and ruined the runic text ascribed along their bases.
On the morrow the passengers that paid to do so would mount smaller submersibles to travel into the trench itself. For tonight, though, they would celebrate a successful trek across the world with a gala in the main dining hall. Hundreds of passengers would attend, all dressed up in their finest silks and putting on their best faces for the woman of the hour. There were ambassadors, CEOs, celebrities and superstars from almost every country on the map. There would be much dancing, eating and drinking- oh so very much drinking if miss Cale had anything to say about it.
It sounded like a hell of a time to Captain Wilde. She had hoped to attend half an hour ago, but she was trapped on the bridge. Snags in the final routine checks of the night, if her chief officer was to be believed. She was a tall woman, gaunt and pale as milk. Glassy-eyed and dour, the captain leaned against the railing of the observation deck, staring through holographic displays and reams of data. "All signs show normal," she sighed, "as they did the last eighteen times we ran this."
Her gaze went down and to the left, where the CO was crowding their sonar technician. "Eddy, this is a waste of-"
Eddy threw up a hand to her, his eyes never leaving the screen. "We adjust, then. Set pulse transmitters standard bearing: one-one-five. Pitch thirty degrees down. Widen beams." The technician repeated his orders to confirm and followed them. He was trying his best not to sound as bored as the captain.
The first mate was tense. Sweat trickled down his round features, gathering under his fatty jowls and slicking a too-thin beard. Eddy was a portly man of fifty years who wore his officer's uniform well. Too well, Wilde had told him. He'd been out of the navy damn near a decade, now, but he was as stuffy and ill-tempered as any commissioned man she'd met.
"Have you finished with your delusions yet, Ed? I have a date with a tall glass of red with curves like ya wouldn't believe, and you're keeping me from it over...what, exactly?" The captain whinged.
"Sonar pinged." He said.
"Sonar pinged." She repeated in a low-pitched drawl. "It was a glitch
, man. An aberration in the machine. We haven't seen a ship for forty days."
With a shake of his head, Eddy looked back and up at her. "All eighteen of those checks showed all functions nominal. There's something out there large enough to set off the passive sonar."
Wilde paced back and forth. "Maybe it was a whale."
"At six thousand meters?"
"Or a rock. A big rock."
"Finding it would've been easy, then. Whatever this is moved."
," Wilde pointed down at him with a long, accusatory finger. "We've all been down here too long. Seen nothing but water and more water. Maybe in his desperation for even the tiniest kind of excitement, our esteemed colleague- whose neck you've been breathing down, by the way- imagined
The tech didn't turn around, but he seemed to sink into his chair at that suggestion. He kept his eyes on his equipment.
The captain pressed. "We all have our delusions, my friend, its nothing to be ashamed of! For example, I thought I might get to drink, dance and fuck tonight. But alas, I'm in here, supervising you gentlemen in your search for Moby Dick."
Eddy finally had enough, taking a step toward his captain. "Perhaps, captain, you'd like to exercise your position of command and call off our pointless search?"
She scoffed. "I have half a mind to-"♬
"Contact!" The technician screamed, cutting her off. "We- we have contact! Bearing three-zero-eight, degrees...its passing underneath us!"
Wilde felt her blood go cold. "I'll be damned. Maybe you aren't crazy." She stood straight and called up the sonar display in front of her, tracking the ping. There it was. It was a little red dot swimming through a sea of green, disappearing and reappearing with each chirp. Its movements were slow. So damn slow it barely seemed to crawl across the display.
"Contact is now inside minimum range, sir!"
Her voice caught in her throat as she went to call for cameras, but Eddy picked it up for her, bellowing out in that commanding tone of his. The bridge's skeleton crew rushed to fulfill the order, sending word down to the drone bay to deploy units one through five to the bottom stern. Five visual feeds popped up before her, sending her information from each of the active drones.
"Pitch up!" Wilde called, shaking out of her stupor. "Pitch up and quarter-rudder left. I don't want whatever that is scratching up the bottom of my fuckin' ship. Edward, what is it?"
"Unknown, sir!" He yelled back, running to a different station. "We need a visual first, but-"
"It looks big." He breathed, his voice shaky and dry.
Everyone on the bridge went quiet. Someone from the engine room was yelling complaints at the captain through a speaker, but she ignored them. Her attention was absorbed fully by the screens in front of her. The ocean was pitch black at this depth. The only light came from the lamps and windows all along the side of the Pride
and from the swarm of drones themselves. Beams of thin light cut far into the distance, but they revealed nothing but more water...nothing but ocean and shadow in every direction.
"Operator One," Wilde glanced toward the section of the bridge where the drone operators sat. Most of their seats were empty- their usual occupants off enjoying the gala, unaware of their troubles on the bridge. "Move down, see if you can't light up the sea floor." It was too dark underneath them for her comfort. She thought they'd gotten quite low before bringing the Pride of Man
to a halt earlier. Had they really pitched up that quickly?
"Descending." He confirmed, guiding the fat, ocular-shaped machine into the depths. Its feed sounded with the buzzing of its propeller and the beeping of its instruments; it was loud and overwhelming. The shape of the Pride
disappeared high above it, other drones also, eventually, vanishing into waves. It was alone, now, so deep that not even the flood lights pierced this far down.
Wilde could feel her throat go dry, a lump forming within. She glanced between the depth meter and the main feed, anticipating the first sign of sand or rock. 'Surely we should see the floor by now...'
She looked to the other operators. "Can any of you see Drone One?" She asked, and all at once the different machines began their search. Several tense seconds passed before a roaming beam caught a glint of metal. It was drifting above a sea of blackness, its own flashlight pointed straight down into the void.
"Contact has not reappeared on sonar." The technician called, his voice cracking. "Its still under us."
"That drone's all but pressed on the sea floor." Eddy growled. "What the hell?"
The drone crashed into something unseen, cracking the camera and knocking the lamp from its mount. Its beam went flying, drenching the screen in darkness. Operator One let out a string of curses as he tried to get the drone back under control as it spun and whirled through the water. Its other drone companions raced into the black to find it, but without the guiding ray of its lamplight the round little thing was all but lost.
Wilde and Eddy were shouting, demanding a second pair of eyes on the situation, but no one could get it for them- nor could they explain what, exactly, had happened
to Drone One.
Though it offered no visuals, its auditory systems were still running. Still picking up the buzzing of its own propeller, and the off-beat beeping of its malfunctioning equipment. But there was something else, too. Something so low and distant that the propeller drowned it out.
But the captain heard it. She shouted for the operator to shut it off to much protest from the man trying to regain control. He relented, after a moment, and now all they heard were the beeped warnings of broken parts and the tumbling, twisting currents.
"Can you hear that?" Wilde whispered.
The others on the deck were silent, straining to hear something between the beeps. Nothing had ever felt louder than that damned beeping.
Eddy closed his eyes and listened. He could feel it tingling at his ears, at the edges of sensation. Like a touch so light you'd swear it was never there. Focusing, he reached out to meet it. It was the rumble of a far away thunderstorm. A single drum beat echoing for miles. Less a sound and more...that ambient, not-sound that lay behind everything else, that humans weren't meant to hear.
And it was getting louder, he realized, the more he thought about it.
"Fuck." He heard Wilde mutter. "Fuck, fuck. Its so loud. How can't you hear that?"
He turned to look at her, meeting her eyes. "I can hear it, too."
It rose to a cacophonous crescendo so overwhelming that Wilde, Eddy, and half the bridge crew dropped to their knees. Their anguished screams confounded and terrified their compatriots, who looked between each other for any explanation as to what was happening. Some called for medical personnel to be brought to the bridge while others rushed to check on their captain and her first officer. Everyone had questions yet no one had answers. In those few, panicked moments, no one thought to check the camera feeds.
Four drones remained operable, their nose-mounted lamps and cameras pointed into the black beneath. They could see it moving. Those shadows on the sea floor did not rest as previously thought, but instead writhed and twisted as a living thing might. They squirmed away from each beam, as if its radiant touch caused them unspeakable agony. Dark hands slipped free from the mass, thrashing out at the nearest drone. It crumpled under the impact and went spinning into the distance, its lamp flickering out. Other hands, emboldened by this success, raced to crush and slash at other machines, snuffing them- and their hateful little lights- out one by one.
Static filled each of the screens.
Captain Wilde couldn't see them as she lay on the floor of the observation deck, staring up at the ceiling. That horrific sound still played at the edges of her awareness, kissing her ears and dancing away before she could take a hold of it. "God," she breathed, pushing up onto her elbows. The word had to be forced out between her teeth. She focused all her energy on sounding out each letter, as if talking was the hardest thing in the world. The sound was teetering off in severity, thankfully, so she was no longer completely
debilitated, but everything still felt off- like she was swimming through syrup.
Someone grabbed her under each arm and pulled her up to lean her against the railing, but she was only vaguely aware of it. She was cursing under her breath. Her eyes were glazed over and bloodshot, and she could feel something wet and sticky in her teeth. There was a vague, aching pain stretching the length of her body, but from whence it came she could not say. Wilde grabbed the deck railing in front of her, staring forward. She was looking for something- something...important.
Other things were happening around the bridge. People were running. There was lots of yelling. It was loud. Too loud. Wilde strained to listen, trying to catch something specific. Even just a word would do. Something that could ground her while her head swam. "He's not getting up!" Somebody was screaming. They were screaming it over and over and over. "He's not getting up!"
"W-what happened?" Wilde slurred, looking around. Her head was pounding, but she was sober. Why was she sober, again? "I...I need a drink."
A man was standing in front of her. His mouth was moving, and she heard him talking, but she couldn't understand a lick of it. He was all dressed up in white, with a red symbol snaking around his arm. Was he a medic? Did she need a medic?
Suddenly the bridge shook, knocking Wilde off her feet, her forehead slamming against the rail on her way down. The medic went tumbling over her head, tripping over the railing and falling to the floor below. People were screaming. An alarm was going off. There was a sound like metal being sheared apart. Wilde blinked rapidly, turning to try to see what was happening, but her head was exploding by now. Red light filled the room. She could see someone laying against their station on the other end of the room, unmoving. Someone else was scrambling on their hands and knees up the stairs, a trail of blood in their wake.
She didn't bother trying to get to her feet again. Instead, she turned over onto her belly, and flicked her eyes around the bridge. Sparks were flying from broken machinery, metal plating was torn asunder in several places, and water was leaking in through cracks in the glass bubble that surrounded the bridge. It was only then that she noticed just how dark it was outside the bridge. The floodlights were either gone or off, and the water was as black as night. She blinked again, and saw the wicked face in the black. Captain Wilde prayed to every god she'd ever known.