Siren of Atlantis Massif
by "The Jaded"
MARCH 21 - I hate this submarine. Some of the crew called my uneasiness claustrophobia, but itís not that. I donít mind the enclosed spaces, the bare walls, the recycled air. I don't even mind the proximity to a nuclear reactor. I hate the lack of portholes. On any self-respecting boat you can look out, and get a sense of going somewhere. On this tub, for all you can see we might as well be back in a Norfolk harbor. We arenít, of course. I can only wish we were. I feel like I need to see something. Some sign of a world beyond the bulkheads. I shouldnít think too hard about it, or Iíll spend the whole trip doing nothing but.
After we submerged this morning, Captain Giles caught me wandering listlessly around, chewing my lip as Carterís hull creaked and settled. He asked why Iíd chosen this job if I didnít like submarines, and I told him that I didnít choose this job. Iím trained to program robotic equipment, not play glorified tech support for gear on-site, deep in the crushing, cold blackness of the Atlantic. I was just the guy on the project least popular with management.
This whole writing pad thing isnít my idea, itís the captainís. He said that if I just write things down when I begin to feel panic it will help me calm down. It seems to be working. Hopefully itíll keep working for the next five weeks, or until Carter is crushed by the water pressure, whichever comes first.
MARCH 23 - At least Carter isnít as crowded as it would be if it were still a Navy attack sub. With all the weaponry and hyper-advanced combat computers torn out and replaced with twice its weight in hull support, the crew doesnít need to be nearly as big. Besides myself, there are only about sixty people on board - less than half of the Navy compliment. I think maybe if Iíd boarded this tub when it was new and almost 150 people crewed it, I might feel claustrophobia. Thank God for the small mercies. Iím still going to lose my sanity to the niggling frustration of not being able to see outside, but thatíll take longer.
I went to look at the rig today. Itís amidships, where they used to keep Carterís really cool toys before it was decommissioned. Control panel looks just as it should, nothing looks damaged. Itís about the only thing in that section, every other compartment there is empty and bare.
Well, except one. They left the pressure lock in place, which used to be used to deploy Navy divers. Every time I see that door it gives me the creeps - I know enough about engineering to know that if Carterís going to spring a leak anywhere during this trip thatís probably where it will happen.
I found a way to get to the rig without going past that pressure door. Itís a little longer, of course, but thatís fine by me.
MARCH 28 - Not much for me to do until we get to the first drop point, so I mostly just wander around (where the crew lets me), and read books on my slate viewer. Canít get a data connection from here, of course, but I saved fourty-three full length novels to the thingís card before we set out. Iíve already finished four. None of them were particularly good.
Giles says weíll be at Atlantis Massif in three days. If Iím lucky, Iíll go the entire time reading and sleeping, and forget where I am until Iím needed.
MARCH 29 - Woke up in the middle of the night, hearing the hull creak as we slowly descend. This boat is six years older than I am, and it wasnít originally designed to go this deep - will it be able to take the pressure? Giles thinks so, of course, but I have my doubts.
MARCH 31 - Hit the first drop point today. Finally felt useful, though all I had to do was start the sequence and watch the equipment do its work. Program went off perfectly, no problems - the sensor piton went into the seabed easily. The automated site selector did fail, because Carterís screws blew the mud right up into the sensors. The hardware guys put in a camera in case that happened, so I just gave it a good spot manually from my control console. Ten minutes of usefulness in ten days of idle nervousness isnít an ideal ratio, but itís good to be reminded that I have a purpose here.
Interesting thing - I found out that no-one powered off the external gear when we got underway toward drop point two. That means the cameras on the arm are still running. I guess if youíre powered by a military-grade nuclear reactor you donít really need to conserve power. My control console still gets the feed from the cameras, and the flood lamp is still on. Sure, canít see much out there besides dark water and the occasional debris, but it makes me feel better that I can see something.
APRIL 2 - Been spending a lot of my idle time sitting at my equipment control console. Itís got a decent enough chair, and even if Iím just reading on my viewer itís almost like Iím reading next to Carterís only window. Donít know why, but it lets me relax a little.
One of the off-duty crew, an engineer (Gomez, was it?) came into the console room today, and tried to make conversation. I think I offended him, though, because I had nothing but one-word answers for his questions, and he left stiffly. I couldnít believe he would choose this sort of work.
Tomorrow we hit the second drop point.
APRIL 3 - I could tell we were getting close to the drop point when I started seeing the rocky, sloped bottom on the screen. Atlantis Massif is covered in irregular rock formations, and I sat at the console for hours watching the formations go by below us. Maybe Iím going crazy, but like a child watching the clouds I assigned them shapes. One long, sinuous formation became the remains of a great sea dragon, slain in time immemorial. Another set of rocks became the corroded hulk of a World War era cruiser, its rusted cannon mounts turned to fire just before the killing torpedo hit home. Still others became to my mind buildings, great monsters, huge objects, and more. I sat in the console chair for hours, finding shapes and histories for every rocky outcrop and spire that loomed out of the murk. Soon misty spouts of hot water also came into view - this drop point was close to a field of thermal vents. Most of the plumes were surrounded by colors - whites, reds, and yellows - and I began seeing things swim by every few seconds.
I was still there when Captain Giles signaled down that I should ready the placement gear, and I stayed there after the piton was in place and we were moving again. I only retired to my bunk to write and to recharge my slate viewer - after all, Iím not doing anything that justifies feeling tired.
APRIL 5 - I think when we got close to the seabed around those vents something decided to hitch a ride. I keep seeing something come just barely into the edge of the cameraís view - a fin, looks like. My going theory is that some fish liked the heat that Carter gives off and stowed away in between the pieces of the piton placement equipment. Maybe one of these days itíll move enough that I can get a good look at it. I could move the driver arm and scare it away, but the mystery fish is something that keeps my mind off the monotonous passage of time on this tub. For now, itís welcome to stay.
Iíve stopped eating in the mess hall. I keep getting stares from the crew. Apparently Gomez passed the word around that all I do is read books all day, and itís probably better for everyone if I keep from rubbing that in anyoneís face.
APRIL 7 - Hit the third drop point today. Probably means my fishy stowaway is gone - I havenít seen anything since we got underway.
APRIL 9 - Against all my predictions, I think Iím actually getting used to living on Carter. Being able to see the water outside on my control console helps, of course. I havenít had a really bad panic attack in a few days. Getting used to something and liking it are of course different things - I canít wait until I can go back to working at a desk in a room with a real window.
Weíre already nearing the fourth drop point, and there are only eight on this run. Strangely enough, I've started seeing fins again, so the moving equipment didn't scare off my fishy stowaway. I catch a few glimpses of tail fin and narrow, scaled tail now and then. Itís a pale off-white color, and the scales that Iíve seen are iridescent. I imagine from my limited information that itís some sort of gulper eel, hoping that Carter will take it to where thereís food. Hard to get a sense of size without seeing the whole thing, but itís big - if it is one of those eels, itís probably around eight or nine feet long.
I could always use the loader arm to try to grab at the fish and drag it into view, but that would probably injure or kill it even if it worked. No sense being cruel.
APRIL 10 - Fourth drop point today. Since the last one didnít chase off the fish, I didnít think this one would, and sure enough I started seeing it less than two hours after I locked down the rig.
When it did show again, I got a good, long look at the tail fin and a bit of scaled body. Doesnít look like the tail of an eel at all. I think it wasnít sure about the camera at first, but itís getting used to it. How it accepted nesting itself among all the moving parts and yet was afraid of the camera, Iím not sure. Iím probably over-analyzing things, but I had a suspicion that itís hiding from the rigís ďeyesĒ and thinks it canít be seen.
Captain Giles stopped by the control rig to tell me that heíd heard grumblings about my presence, and that if I felt unwelcome I should let him know. I told him promptly that there was no way Iíd ever felt welcome on Carter, that it was no fault of the crew, and that I would try to avoid them for the rest of the trip. He seemed to accept that, and let me get back to the book on my tablet.
APRIL 11 - Iím going to have to start hiding this logbook so Giles doesnít think Iím going crazy. Thatís probably futile, though - I think Iím going crazy. I was sitting at the console, just staring out into the water, when a set of slim, pale, long-boned fingers grasped the top of the camera lens. I jumped so high I fell out of the chair, and when I got back up they were gone. I probably imagined it, probably conjured this impression from a fleeting look at the stowaway fishís fins, but I canít shake the image in my mind.
APRIL 12 - I slept a lot last night, a lot more than usual, but it was sleep troubled by nightmares, where rotting corpses of drowned sailors were aboard Carter and hunting me down. Probably related to me thinking I saw human fingers on the camera.
My fish isnít moving much today - only saw fins once or twice. No ďfingersĒ.
APRIL 14 - Fifth drop point today. This is the first time Iíve really earned my keep - the arm fouled halfway through the planting routine when the silt seized one of the motors. It only took a few minutes to write a jam-clearing routine, and soon we were on our way again.
This drop point was near the vents, like some of the others, except the vents seemed... I donít know. Organized. Tended, like little farms. Maybe my imagination again. I havenít been sleeping well - each time I fall asleep I have nightmares, and they all take place on this tub.
APRIL 15 - If Iím crazy, itís elaborately so. I saw the hand again, but this time I stayed still and watched, a chill running down my spine. It tapped on the glass playfully with two fingers, as if to get my attention, vanishing as soon as my brain started to process what I was seeing. Very disconcerting. Obviously, I wonít be sharing my hallucinations with Captain Giles.
I made up an excuse to have Giles lock the control console room and give me the key. It was a lame one, something about suspecting that someone had moved the driver arm while I wasnít around, but he seemed to buy it.
APRIL 16 - I am crazy, Iím sure of it. We had to go to all stop today to let the engine people replace some part or other, and... well, I got a good look at the ďfishĒ thatís been living in my piton placement gear.
Almost as soon as we were dead in the water, something pale and iridescent darted past the camera. I watched patiently, and it soon reappeared, easing skittishly into view. I couldnít believe my eyes, so I squeezed them shut and shook my head, but what was out there was still staring intently at my camera when I was done wishing it away.
I can say it no other way than to describe what I saw as a mermaid. The tail Iíd seen fleetingly in the camera joined seamlessly to a very human-like bare female torso, which would explain the hand Iíd seen earlier. She was hauntingly beautiful, with big, white-less black eyes, flawless off-white skin, and translucent, anemone-like tendrils on her head in place of hair.
I just stared for a few seconds, and it seemed that she could tell someone was looking, because she smiled, revealing even, pointed predatorís teeth. I should have been wondering how this was possible, but the first thing that came to my mind was an entirely different question - why was she revealing herself now?
When Carter started moving again, she darted back behind the camera. I realized that she probably canít keep up with the sub when itís at speed without holding on, and that pale face reappeared briefly, smiling impishly as if to agree with me. I must admit, Iím considering the possibility that this creature can ďhearĒ my thoughts - after all, if an entity like that one can exist, how much more far-fetched is mind-reading?
APRIL 17 - Sixth drop point. Iím fairly sure now that my stowaway can indeed read my thoughts, at least when Iím at the control console. Maybe I can use that to teach her some simple hand gestures. Probably means sheís been listening to my thoughts this whole time.
She canít get entirely in front of the camera while weíre under way, but I get the occasional hand gesture (more and more of those), and sometimes she ducks her head down to smile toothily at me or to frown at untoward thoughts, but otherwise I donít see more than I did before. She really is beautiful. Part of me regrets that we could never meet in the same room.
APRIL 18 - From what I gather, my stowawayís purpose in hitching a ride was curiosity, nothing more. Itís probable that none of her species has ever seen a human vessel - the might only guess at our existence from the occasional wreck or refuse that makes it down this far. She surely had never heard about us. Carter looked to her like a strange sea creature, and only after hitching a ride did she find out that it was a machine.
That she would risk her life and certainly forsake any chance of seeing her home again to satisfy mere curiosity is something that strikes me as foreign, perhaps even primitive. Itís surely not something a modern Western human would ever do... But Iím not sure that itís a good thing that we wouldnít. Thereís a certain romantic allure to that mindset.
APRIL 19 - Second to last drop point. I tried to make her understand that we have to go back to the surface in a few days, but Iím not sure that I succeeded. I know that if my stowaway tries to follow the ship up, the pressure difference will likely kill her. She has to leave Carter after the last drop point.
Not that I care too much anymore, but theyíll probably want me to do this job on the next run too. Iíll probably do it, but I wonít see this strange being ever again after we start the ascent, and that is a very depressing thought. Sheís easy on the eyes, yes, but thatís not why. Iím having my mind read, and I donít feel it as a violation - itís actually rather a relief, especially when Iím deceiving everyone else on this blasted tub, itís good to have someone around who canít be lied to.
APRIL 20 - Tomorrow we reach the last drop point. I think Iíve gotten through to my aquatic friend that she will die if she follows us up, and that is a big load off my conscience. Iíd hate to let Carterís dropping a bunch of sensor pitons kill someone.
Iím not sure if Giles suspects me of hiding something, or if heís worried about my sanity. Itís probably the latter. I have myself wondered if I am not just hallucinating this whole thing, but I am led to believe otherwise. I donít think even my brain could come up with something this crazy, so it has to be real.
APRIL 21 - Canít believe itís been a month to since we submerged. We placed the last piton today, and there was a sense of relief on-board: everybody clearly wants to be back topside. Except me, of course - itís funny how these things turn out. Captain Giles broke out a stash of beers, and heís throwing a party for everyone as I write. Iím at my console, as usual, and since Carter is stopped my companion is floating in front of the camera, reading my dejected thoughts. Thereís nothing but rocky ridges and mud flats on the bottom here, so Iím not sure where sheíll go, but she doesnít seem concerned. We start the ascent tomorrow, after everyone has had a good nightís sleep.
APRIL 22 - She beckoned for me this morning to come out to her. Sure, I could leave Carter - even without risk to the rest of the crew, thanks to the pressure lock - but Iíd be crushed immediately, and I let her know that. She seemed disappointed, more that I didnít trust her than that I couldnít leave the sub. Does she know a way to protect me from the pressure, to keep me alive underwater?
I have about an hour before Giles orders the screws restarted, and Carter starts the long ascent. Is it crazy that Iím really considering trusting my mystery companion, and leaving Carter? Even now, she floats there, beckoning to me, and smiling. If our positions were reversed, sheíd already have taken the plunge. She's a lot more adventurous than I am.
Is what I might experience in her world worth the risk, the probability that even if she can keep be alive that I'll never be going back?
Thereís only one way to find out.