What Lurks Beneath
By Steven Remington
Many people didn’t understand just how deep and dark the ocean depths were. Oh, they’d heard that it was, but they didn’t really KNOW. The concept of deep water, miles and miles of it, the inky black depths, sunlight incapable of penetrating that far down was something that most didn’t like to contemplate, much less comprehend. It stirred up primal fear in several, the thought of an area of the Earth that was so deep and dark that mankind, in all its exploration, knew less about than the star-filled void of space in which their little planet drifted through. It was a terrifying concept, and that was even before one factored in the crushing depths and all the creatures, both great and small, but mostly huge and alien, monstrous and horrific, some dating back to a time from before the dinosaurs ceased to be in all their unevolved kill or be killed forms of inches thick armor and foot long teeth that filled those briny depths and crawled along the floor of Davy Jones’ Locker. Actual aliens were out there, but not here. Those creatures in the ocean, now THEY were here, always had been. The unknowable, unimaginable, incomprehensible, yet undeniable fact that they were here, many longer even than mankind itself, is something that kept those few up at night that didn’t carefully guard against the threat of allowing ones mind to drift past the safety of counting sheep or recounting the events of the past day.
Tomas Cellick was one of those few who knew. Knew, and had the mental fortitude to not crack under the weight of knowledge. Knowledge of the mountains and valleys that hadn’t been dry or seen the unfiltered light of the sun for a millennia or more. Knowledge of the creatures that called the ocean depths their home. And lastly, but most certainly not least, the knowledge that there were advanced intelligent beings here on Earth, living in the ocean depths since before mankind discovered the magic of creating fire by banging two rocks together, wielding technology so advanced it bordered on otherworldly.
To his greatest relief, the existence of the Atlanticans wasn’t something that he had to keep to himself. Ever since the Atlantican ruler, King Gills, had led a massive attack on the surface world in a thankfully failed attempt to take over the whole of the planet, every last human man, woman and child knew of their existence. Few, however, knew that this race of technologically advance sub-aquatic beings had their roots here on Earth in a past so far and distant its inky blackness the ocean depths could never hope to match. Worshipers of a Lovecraftian god-like being who had granted its followers the ability to call this dark and murky void home.
It was here in those murky depths that Tomas now currently found himself, though thankfully not alone. Tomas was seated comfortably in Deep Dive, his car which had been specifically modified by Special Branch, which Tomas was a long-standing member of, for underwater operation, both exploratory as well as combat. Tomas was undertaking the former and hoping against, though not unprepared for, the latter. Accompanying him were a pair of Democracy mini subs deployed by its Navy Branch. Each was manned by a pair of brave operators and armed with a small magazine of appropriately sized torpedoes, along with a single, forward-facing short-range laser mounted on the nose of each craft. Though the mini subs were fast and agile in their own right, they couldn’t hold a candle to what Deep Dive was capable of, which was why Tomas was often called in to accompany these scouting missions into Atlantican territory. The lager submarines prowled along the coastlines of the Democracy, right up to the invisible line that top military brass had drawn on a map denoting Atlantica’s territory, thought Tomas was quite sure that should an Atlantican see that map they would declare that every bit of the ocean was their uncontested territory and that the surface was simply under the unwanted and quite temporary stewardship of the human race. The mini subs and his Deep Dive were small enough to sneak in, usually undetected, for a quick peek at what the fish people were up to. Quite often it amounted to nothing good. Today was no different.
Tomas flicked the switch that activated the communications system. Their radios were unreliable at best at their current depth, but the real danger was their proximity to the Atlantican settlement and the possibility that any communications they broadcast would be picked up by the enemy, so Deep Dive was connected to both subs with a long wire, allowing them to speak with each other. However, now that they had reached their target destination, they would have to split up, which would mean disconnecting their communications and having to rely on signal lights from this point on.
“Ok boys, we’ve reached point alpha. I’ll be cutting communications now, so you two watch each other’s backs on your way to bravo and charlie. I’ll make my way to delta and take my readings. We’ll rendezvous back to omega in thirty minutes for RTB. Remember that if any of us encounter trouble and need back up, the emergency signal is a pair of double pings. Anything else before we disconnect?”
“Last one with proof of good intel buys the first round at O’Malley’s!” replied the pilot of Mini Sub Two, which was named Minnow.
There were some chuckles from the other members of the group, then the comm line went dead as each switched off, the wires connecting each of the submersible craft detached and were wound back into internal storage spools. Tomas aimed Deep Dive in the direction of the set of coordinates designated point Delta and engaged the vehicle’s twin caterpillar drive.
Silently making his way towards the target coordinates, Tomas noted the undersea life was less and less clinging to or swimming around random stones on the ocean floor, replaced more and more by man-made (or at least intelligent-life made) ruins and debris. He dutifully aimed Deep Dive’s cameras at each and snapped a photograph as he passed by until a chime from the control panel alerted him to his arrival. Peering out of the reinforced windscreen, Tomas was able to make out lights and slight movement in the distance through the murky depths.
Flicking one of the many switches around him, Tomas engaged the telescoping lens of a spy camera disguised as a headlight, turning a knob to adjust the amount of thermal imaging to compensate for any particulates in the water between the camera and his point of interest. What came into focus was a golden dome surrounded by flights of the newer, smaller Barracuda attack craft, occasionally one of the older and larger Manta aircraft, with small and large tanks making regular patrols around the perimeter and surrounding seascape.
“Well that’s an awful lot of security for one lone facility. What kind of secrets are you Scalies hiding?” Tomas mumbled to himself as he began recording, panning the camera around the scene, cycling through the camera’s suite of imaging capabilities to provide the analysts with the greatest amount of workable material.
After a few moments he figured that he had collected enough for the tech guys to make something of and switched his scanners off. He was about to reposition to try for a different angle when the speakers in the cabin of Deep Dive sounded with a low rumble, followed by two loud pings. Tomas’ eyes snapped to the sonar display. It read that the ping had originated from Mini Sub 1, dubbed Tadpole. There were two red dots heading towards it, the onboard computers matching the acoustics to a pair of Barracudas. Knowing that the small craft tended to travel in packs of three, the knew that Tadpole had already shot down one, and the other two were coming for revenge, along with a sizable chunk of the nearby patrolling force in short order if they had sent out a call for reinforcements, of which Tomas had no doubt.
Muttering a curse under his breath, Tomas flipped up a plastic cover and pushed the red button that automatically changed Deep Dive from stealth mode to active combat, charging the ionized gas in the focusing tube of his lasers and flooding the torpedo tubes. Wheeling over, Deep Dive sped towards Tadpole, Minnow also making a beeline as well. The mini subs were slower but Minnow was closer. Tomas estimated that the two of them would arrive at the same time. His eta was 90 seconds at max combat speed, an eternity for the Tadpole to last in combat all on its own against the far more agile Barracudas. Knowing that it would drain the fusion battery much faster, Tomas switched on the caterpillar stealth drive to run in tandem with the standard propeller screw driven drive. The speed pressed Tomas back against his seat slightly as he grit his teeth. Eyes flicking to his sensors, he noticed that three more dots were heading in his direction, most likely drawn by the noise his vehicle was now putting out. The two that were identified as tanks he wrote off as inconsequential, their slow ground speed along the sea floor meaning their weapons would never reach effective range on him or his comrades before they were either long gone or dead. He hoped it was the latter, because the larger dot could only be an Atlantican bot.
If he had a few seconds to spare Tomas would have swerved towards them and released a pair of torpedoes, but those were seconds he couldn’t spare if he had any hope of reaching Tadpole in time. His own effective weapons range would be reached in 15 seconds and they seemed to crawl by as if time had frozen. In the distance through the briny depths he could faintly make out the red glow of laser fire. The Barracudas were swarming over the Tadpole, who was returning fire as best it could but couldn’t keep up with the smaller craft as they took turns making passes.
After what seemed like an eternity Tomas settled the aiming reticle on one of the swooping yellow craft and, the cross-hairs turning from red to green, the focusing lens of his laser weapons telescoped out as far as they could go for maximum range, released a salvo of shots. Shooting energy weapons underwater was always iffy, as the shots would boil the water around them, burning off their destructive power. It was for this reason that they tended to be used as close range weapons, but sometimes you could get lucky by shooting through a patch of relatively clear water instead of a stretch filled with particulates and dirt. Tomas considered himself lucky as the twin beams managed to make it to the target. Much of their punch had been lost due to the distance they had traveled, so instead of blowing the craft to bits, they burned their way to vital systems and caused the small craft to twist out of its dive and begin a lazy corkscrew away from Tadpole, effectively taking it out of the fight. The other veered off from its planned strafing run and wheeled up away from the fight.
The Tadpole was limping along, its drive system damaged from the continued bombardment, its combat capability compromised. Tomas knew that if it didn’t set out now that it would never get away safely. The crew must have realized this, for as the large red blip on the sonar entered the combat zone Tadpole launched its entire payload of countermeasures and preformed an emergency blow, the small craft shooting upwards like a cork.
Fortune and caution paid off for Tadpole in spades as the countermeasures drew the attention of the Atlantican missile, constructed for dual water/air use, which sped through the white cloud and off into the distance without a target. Tomas directed his attention towards the bot which had fired and recognized the downward swept wings of Nekton speeding towards them. Just like the cruel bot to fire upon a fleeing enemy he thought as he wheeled over and moved to engage. He needed to buy enough time for Tadpole to escape. Hoping for a Hail Mary maneuver, Tomas switched on his searchlights and headed straight for the enemy, releasing a torpedo and peppering the bot with laser fire. Minnow moved to put Nekton in a pincer movement, launching one of its precious torpedoes to distract the large yellow bot.
Nekton snarled and raised an arm to shield his eyes from the sudden glaring light, temporarily blinded. The lasers didn’t have much affect against the bot’s heavy armor, but they had been low-power shots for rapid fire. The true damage was meant to be caused by the torpedoes. Tomas’ torpedo struck Nekton in one of his wings, failing to cause lasting damage, but the Minnow’s shot was much more effective. The impact struck the arm shielding Nekton’s eyes, right on the pair of missiles mounted on the wrist. The blast created a concussive wave that threw Deep Dive off-kilter as it passed by. Nekton dropped the weapon he had been carrying in his other hand. When it hit the ground it discharged a shot, the beam passing through the space where Nekton’s head had once been and struck a glancing blow on Deep Dive.
An alarm starting sounding in the cockpit, quickly silenced by Tomas as he surveyed the damage, both to himself and the Atlantican bot. His caterpillar drive had been damaged, going into an emergency shutdown. Just as well, it had been draining a large amount of power being used during combat. Nekton had fared much worse. Tomas spared it a quick glance as he signaled with a single ping to Minnow a general retreat. The bot stumbled around drunkenly, its one arm flailing about, a blast hole from an eye and exiting out the back of the head taking it out of the fight and forcing costly and time extensive repairs to the Atlantican war machine.
As Minnow matched pace with Deep Dive, moving to Tadpole’s position on the surface Tomas prepared a retrieval transmission he would send to the mother boats. They hadn’t escaped unscathed, but at least he wouldn’t be mourning the passing of another comrade at O’Malley’s tonight.