“Everythin’ stable, cap’n. We’re a wee bit deeper ‘an we should be, but she’ll hold jus’ fine,” the engineer’s voice said through the radio.
“Many thanks, Buchanan.”
Despite the reassuring tone of his mechanic, the loud creaking noises coming from the hull of his ship were still worrisome to Captain Winston Grey. Neptune’s Chariot was not originally made to get to such depths. His men were quite handy and their modifications had made her much more than she was designed to be, but…
“By jove, are these noises unnerving!”
“She doesn’ like bein’ ‘ere, cap’n. We’re too deep for ‘er likin’,” his helmsman said, shaking his balding head.
“I suppose we’ll have to give her a bit of an upgrade next time we go to shore,” Grey said with a smirk.
“Course, cap’n. Me and Buck’ve go’ some fine ideas for the engine, and the radar… oh, and for the armamen’ too. If we jus’ look ‘ard enough, I’m plenty sure we can find some of those new torpedoes from Nobles & Aberdeen. I’ve ‘eard Badger’s got a shipmen’ of ‘em back in London. I’ would be nice to go back to the burrows for a few days, wouldn’ i’ be, cap’n? What I wouldn’ give for a good Boddingtons. Been a while since I las’ laid eyes on the wife and the lad. Matter o’ fact I s’pose I should maybe say ‘lads’, now, considerin’…”
“Yes, indeed,” Grey said dismissively as he emptied his pipe in an ashtray. “However, may we please focus on the matter at hand for now, Atkinson.”
“Aye aye, Cap’n. You know ‘ow I get when I talk abou’ ‘ome.”
“Yes. And when you’re nervous too…”
The Chariot was still creaking and squealing in protest as they kept going deeper and deeper still.
Only the sturdiest mining vessels could have followed them so deep into the Cayman Trough.
Had they looked through one of the few portholes, they would have seen nothing but a few little lights, dim and sad, amidst an ocean of darkness, like will-o-wisps in the black nights of the Dark Ages. For in that moment, surely they felt as the commoners of eons past had felt in the shadowy forests of the world: unwelcome, alone, insignificant, and yet emboldened by the call of the unknown, fascinated by the mystery unraveling, entranced by the abyss.
But, as Captain Grey liked to quote: “As one gazes into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into him.”
And gaze back it did through thousands of lidless eyes, blind and cold. For even as they were cloaked by the inky waters, invisible to the sight of man except for those sad little lights, the denizens of the deep were everywhere around them.
Again, the hull whined.
“Let’s bring back some good ore for our trouble. Anything around us, Simpson?” His radar operator did not answer. “Simpson?”
He turned around to look at the American.
“There’s somethin’ alright, cap’n, good ore too, I think. But…”
“But?” Grey said, impatient.
“Somethin’ else. Large. Twenty degrees to starboard. Movin’ toward us.”
“American, or British?”
“Ain’t no ship I know of, cap’n,” the radar operator answered, dumbfounded.
Everyone on the bridge remained silent for a few seconds.
“Maintain our bearing, Atkinson,” Grey said as he hastily walked out of the room with a radio in hand.
The captain strode through his ship confidently despite the copper pipes and wires crisscrossing on the floor. He knew his vessel like no one else, and he could have been running with his eyes closed. When he got to the front porthole, he shoved his pipe in his pocket, opened the reinforced hatch and turned on the front spotlights before looking through the steel lined glass. It took little time for his eyes to get accustomed to the darkness outside
“Where is it, Simpson?”
The radio crackled: “Pretty much dead ahead, cap’n. Six hundred yards.”
He peered through the vast, eyes peeled. Right under his nose, there was something moving through the black waters. He did not know exactly what he was looking for until he saw it: in the distance, a swath of darkness was making its way to them.
“Atkinson,” he said calmly in his radio, “divert course. Ten degrees portside. Slowly.”
He felt the vessel making a slow turn to his left, and in the same moment, the thing entered the range of the spotlights.
It was the tides made flesh, a living embodiment of the indomitable ocean. It had the tail, and the lined belly of a great whale, and four long fins on both sides. Countless weird fishes, mollusks, barnacles, and algae covered its underside. It was six times the size of the Chariot at the very least: an awesome force of nature lazily wandering the boundless depths. The captain had read about cetacea maxima. He had heard of colossal creatures roaming the deep, but it was the first time he laid eyes on such a gargantuan beast. As he gazed in amazement, Grey was reminded of a passage of the Bible about Leviathan:
Upon earth there is not his like, who is made to be fearless.
He looketh at all high things; he is king over all the proud beasts.
“Extraordinary,” he whispered.
(c) Jean-Philippe Savoie