Authors: Rick Chesler
Tags: #Sharks, #Sharks --Fiction., #Megalodon, #prehistoric, #sci fic, #Science Fiction, #deep sea, #thriller
A Deep Sea Thriller
Copyright 2015 by Rick Chesler
Five old men, natives to this island all, sat on a jungle-covered mountaintop overlooking a turquoise lagoon studded with coral formations. The dark blue Pacific lie beyond, powerful beyond measure, and deeper than most can comprehend. A white line of thundering surf demarcated the shallow lagoon from the great sea beyond. The men were intimately attuned to their natural surroundings, knew every bird responsible for the calls they heard, every insect buzzing about, every animal responsible for a set of tracks left behind. Even though it was daylight, a lit torch spewed scented smoke into the air.
They gathered around a large wooden bowl, intricately carved with tribal designs passed down for generations. Into this bowl they dipped coconut husks, and filled them with a muddy brown liquid called
, a traditional South Pacific drink made from the roots of a plant known to have mild sedative properties. They drank in rounds, and before each round one man played a
drum, a wooden percussive instrument made from a hollowed-out log.
...the rhythm began slowly, but soon increased in tempo until the men drank from their coconut husks, relaxing themselves with the earthen drink.
They did not usually venture so far from their village to conduct a kava ceremony, but today they met to discuss something of concern to the entire village. The tribal leader, a man with long, white dreadlocked hair, set his drinking cup down and stared down on the lagoon, where a floating armada of heavy machinery was visible even from this high vantage point. Barges with dredging equipment piled high with construction materials. Worse, the sounds of explosions occasionally rent the air as passages were blasted through the underwater coral reef to make way for the new project. The villagers were grave-faced as they looked down upon the lagoon upon which they depended for much of their sustenance in the form of fishing, as had their fathers before them, and their grandfathers before them.
While much of Fiji had succumbed long ago to the international draw of tourism, their little island was far off the beaten path, far from the “mainland” as Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu was known, even though it, too, was but another island in the South Pacific far from any continent. Now, it seemed that the modern world had caught up with them, and in most spectacular fashion, for under construction in the lagoon below was a luxury hotel. Not just any hotel, however, for this one even the villagers understood to be most special, even by Western standards.
It was to be an underwater hotel. Built on top of the living coral reef, it would be like an aquarium in reverse, where humans stayed in a clear plastic air bubble surrounded by water. The natives found it strange. You can see the reef any time you want to! Dive down and look at it, the village Chief always gives permission. But technically, the land fronting the lagoon was owned by the Fiji government, and they seized an opportunity to profit by offering a long-term lease to an Australian property developer.
Now, the cacophony of industrial scale activity was heard all day long as the builders carved out the reef and sculpted the land to their liking. The men looked at one another across the smoke from their torch. The tribal leader spoke first.
“It is bad for the sea.”
The other four men nodded in agreement, but one had a response. “It brings work to our villagers and the neighboring villages.”
“We cannot stop it,” another said, staring down at the flurry of activity on the water.
The tribal leader nodded sagely. “We cannot stop it, but we must adapt our ways to it. We must respect the sea more than ever before.”
Another of the tribe’s elders spoke up. “The fishing has been different of late.”
“Bad?” the drummer asked, taking up the
sticks. It was time for another round.
The elder shrugged, along with a confused look. “Not bad, really. Just...
. What we used to catch here, we catch there. What we used to catch less of, we catch more of; what we used to catch more of, now we catch less. Fish I have not seen in many moons, now return. Fish we saw every day, now gone.”
The men nodded, and the drummer brought the sticks to the drum.
...Again they dipped their coconut cups into the kava bowl, and drank. Very relaxed now, they allowed their thoughts to drift silently while they observed the goings-on far below. One of the men, a lifelong fisherman who supported the tribe with his catches, reminisced on the many outings he’d taken with his father in an outrigger canoe. After a spell, he felt like voicing his thoughts to the group.
“The balance may be upset,” is how he summed up his thoughts. The others nodded, still sipping from their cups, aware that he referred to an ecological balance between sea and man. He then proceeded to tell a story about a particular fishing trip he had taken as a young boy.
He had seen it as a child, a living animal so disproportionately large, so enormous, that he would not have believed it had he not witnessed it with his very own eyes. He knew that scientists would never believe it without documentation. They would accuse him of telling spirit stories after drinking too much
. Even some of the neighboring villagers seemed not to believe his account. But he had seen it, his father, too, bless his departed soul, and he spoke of it now. An animal that size likely lived a very long time. It could still be alive, he thought, down there somewhere, upset by the unnatural disturbances wrought by the foreigners tinkering with the reef.
“Should we warn the others?” one of them wanted know upon hearing the fisherman’s tale.
The chief set down his cup, and looked at his peers in turn as he spoke. “There is good with this. There is bad. We take the good with the bad, and hope it is great enough. We need say nothing, but we pray. We pray every day.”
Six months later
Coco Keahi grinned at her distorted reflection in the mini-sub’s acrylic dome. Her nose looked much broader and flatter than it really was, exaggerating her Polynesian ancestry. The curve of her long, flowing black hair was distorted as well. Of Hawaiian blood, that rare lineage had helped her to earn a full scholarship to the University of Hawaii to study marine biology. She had excelled in her studies, particularly in coursework having to do with coral reef ecology. Upon graduation, she did what most recent graduates do—look for a job. A poor market in Hawaii led her to pursue a family connection who had found employment in faraway Fiji, an island nation in the South Pacific a six hour flight away from her home island in the aloha state.
Something exciting was happening there, though, that made the distance seem trivial. A distant cousin working in Suva told her about an incredible new project being financed by an Australian property developer—an underwater hotel. As amazing as that sounded to Coco, at first she saw it as somewhere she’d like to go on vacation, not as a potential place to work. She was a marine biologist, not a maid or a bartender or something. At least she hoped so. She knew that before too long she’d have to take whatever kind of work she could get. But then her cousin had told her how they were hiring a staff marine biologist to give eco-tours to the hotel’s guests and help design the interpretative signage peppered throughout the property that would explain the sea life.
She had looked into it as a long shot, might as well try that kind of thing. Every marine biologist along the entire Pacific Rim must want that job. After submitting the application online, she never thought she’d hear back. One day, though, she’d been surprised with a phone call requesting an interview. Before she knew it, she was flying to Fiji—one of the few places even more exotic than Hawaii—all expenses paid. “Fiji is Hawaii fifty years ago!” she’d heard one of her aunties say.
Once there, before a panel of the hotel’s stern-faced managers, Coco had been asked a series of questions that at first seemed liked they had nothing to do with the job. Situational questions like, “Can you tell us about a time when you were asked to do something you didn’t want to do?” Or, “What would you do if you thought the work of a supervisor was not up to par?”
So on and so forth for over an hour, half a dozen people taking turns delivering the questions while the others took notes, and all the while she tried not to be distracted by the magnificent view through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the pristine, palm-studded lagoon outside. Later there were the questions she had expected and was more than prepared for—fish identification quizzes, name this type of coral, walk us through this underwater video of the reef, please, and narrate a virtual tour for us. What are some of the issues affecting manmade underwater structures over time?
She hadn’t realized it at the time, but it was her responses to the first set of questions which had set her apart from her competition. Her psychological makeup was perfect for the job, which was important, because of the way in which she was to conduct eco-tours for the hotel’s wealthy clientele: in a mini-sub. She was a certified SCUBA instructor already, sure, but when they told her upon offering her the job that her employment was contingent upon passing a submersible pilot training course, she’d been ecstatic.
She could picture her new business cards in her head:
Coco Keahi, Marine Biologist/ Submarine Pilot.
Wow! She had done it, she had landed her dream job at the tender age of twenty-three as the official marine biologist for the Triton Undersea Resort.
Now, as she refocused her eyes and looked through her reflection to the watery world outside her small craft, the view outside her dome window forced her to reign in her giddy thoughts. To her left was the newly constructed underwater hotel. A series of pod-like structures connected to a long central tube were situated a few feet above the lush and thriving coral reef. She knew by now that there were fifteen pods on each side of the tube. Inside each one was a luxury suite consisting of three rooms. Each suite had an acrylic viewing area, the material not unlike the dome her submersible was made from, that offered sweeping underwater views. Spaced only a few feet apart, the sides of the pods were the only sections built from opaque material in order to afford privacy to those in adjacent rooms.
Right now the suites were unoccupied, awaiting the grand opening of the resort scheduled for tomorrow. Coco was ready, but wanted to take the sub out to the far side of the lagoon to practice the drop-off view. She planned to take her passengers to the very edge of the lagoon where there was a cut in the circular atoll that lead directly into a deep submarine canyon. A narrow undersea trench, basically, that led into a miles-deep abyss. She wouldn’t descend into it, of course. Her little sub wasn’t rated for those kind of depths, and the average hotel guest would find it too frightening. It was dark down there, with not as much life to see compared to the vibrant colors of the lagoon’s coral reef.
But she could take them right to the edge of the drop-off. Give them a look down into the real ocean for a few seconds, down into the yawning throat of the deep while she dispensed fun factoids about the deep sea being less explored than the moon, despite occupying the largest percentage of our planet of any habitat type, and stuff like that. Super-fun stuff for a marine biologist.
Coco banked the sub into a lazy turn until she headed away from the hotel across the reef, which occupied most of a shallow lagoon ringed by the coral atoll. Inside waters that were protected from the fury of the open ocean, the undersea complex sat at a depth of forty feet. This meant that during the day it was always well lit, the aquatic rooms flooded with seductive, cerulean light. Even at night, if the moon was full, its silver beams could be seen playing across the undersea garden from inside the suites. Coco was a little jealous that she didn’t get to stay in one herself. She’d been inside them, of course, on a tour so that she would understand the experience for the guests, but the staff quarters were a much more simple set of bungalows, or
as they were known in Fiji, and on land, along with the rest of the support buildings for the underwater hotel.
She deftly navigated the craft beneath an overhang of branching corals, emerging on a flat, sandy patch which soon gave way to a rocky slope. She lined up the sub between the coral shelves on either side, and then hit the thruster button while moving the joystick to propel the craft forward and down.
She followed the slope down about ten feet until it gave way to an abrupt drop-off, the opening of the submarine canyon. Grains of sand spilled over into the tunnel-like gorge, a waterfall of sparkling flecks.
She glanced over at the two empty seats next to her, which before long would be occupied by paying passengers.
This was the exact perfect spot from which to offer her “glimpse into the abyss,” as she thought of it. She practiced the little spiel she would give, her voice echoing somewhat in the mostly empty sub cabin.
“Here we have a unique look into...” She paused, thought about her choice of words, and then continued while hovering the sub in place, poised above the canyon drop-off. “Here we can see down into the submarine canyon that leads straight into the deepest part of the ocean. Down there where it’s thousands of feet deep, in the cold and perpetual darkness, exists a whole other world completely different from the coral reef on which our hotel sits...”
Yeah, that’s pretty good! Just a little bit more, and that should do it for the canyon...
“Don’t worry, we won’t be going down there today! So just sit back, relax and—“
Suddenly the sand grains in front of her sub began to swirl up off the bottom as if set into motion by a tornado.
Sit back, relax and...
At first Coco thought it was just some temporary upwelling, a current blasting up out of the deep to sweep through the canyon, and up onto the shallow reef. But as the seconds went on, the swirling sand intensified until it actually clouded the water, making it difficult for Coco to see outside the sub.
She wasn’t sure, but when she heard—and felt—the side of the sub bump against the coral shelf on her right side, she knew it was time to go.
Not so far down the slope next time!
For this time, though, it was too late. She was at the edge of the sandy slope that dropped off into the canyon proper, spinning in place in the powerful current. To get back up onto the reef she’d have to break out of the spin, and get control of her machine. She tilted the joystick to the left and held it there, applying the left thruster only to counteract the rotation.
It worked. The sub shot off the slope out into the water above the canyon, the reef just behind her, the canyon dropping away beneath her. She looked around, taking her bearings, and then arced the submersible up and to the right, slanting up toward the reef. She decided not to try and channel back through the slot with all the turbulence there, but instead to rise in open water until she was above the level of the reef, and then shoot straight across until she was back over it.
Then she saw it. Down below, out of the corner of her vision. Her sub’s dome was clear on the bottom as well, to allow 360-degree visibility. Looking between her feet, she gazed into the dark waters of the submarine canyon.
She could swear something just passed beneath her. But there was nothing there. Odd, she thought, still peering into the gloom,
the last time I came to the edge here, when I got the idea to add the Glimpse Into the Abyss as a stop, I thought I saw something, too. That shadowy shape...now here it is again?
A sense came over her, something that made her quickly crane her neck to look up.
This time what she saw was not just a shadow. It was very real. Whatever it was, it was so large she couldn’t really put it in perspective, but it was big, and moving fast—right at her sub. Even as she fought to control the sub, her mind tried to provide an explanation for what something so massive could be. Not a shark. There were plenty of reef sharks around here, sure. Blacktips and the like, but whatever this thing was, it was way larger than her sub, and none of those sharks were anywhere near that size.
A whale? She supposed it was possible that a rogue Humpback had ventured too close to the reef chasing a school of baitfish. Or maybe...a chunk of the reef itself separated from the shelf and fell away? She didn’t think seismic events were common in this part of the world. In fact, geological stability of this very reef formation was listed as one of the selling points for the hotel out of all the places in the world they could have gone—Dubai, various Caribbean spots...Hawaii was out precisely because of the volcanic instability.
Coco had just completed the turn to point the sub back toward the reef, when she saw it again, rolling into her sub. A wall of...
...something dark...slammed into the left side of the submersible. She only had a split second for it to register, but something shiny, black and round passed briefly in front of her field of vision.
Was that an eye?
She didn’t know, and right now she didn’t really have time to care. Her sub slammed hard into the right lip of the reef shelf—a solid wall of coral. The impact jolted her in her bucket seat, accompanied by a loud
that was followed by a sickening screech as the sub’s starboard thruster assembly—a propeller in a circular caged mount—was dragged across the coral.
Then she saw something inexplicable. The gigantic thing slid down over the front of the viewing dome. Coco was distracted by the flashing array of instrument lights and braying systems alarms that indicated problems with the submersible, but she saw something white. Triangular. She heard a
as whatever it was impacted the acrylic surface, and then, just like that, it was gone.
Shaken, she activated the controls she knew would put the submersible into reverse. Instead of moving straight back, though, as the craft should have, she veered backwards to the right, bringing the sub’s rear into contact with the coral wall yet again.
She tried the full reverse maneuver again with the same results: the craft went backwards, but to the right, into the wall. Coco cursed softly under her breath. This was not good. Not good at all.
Left thruster’s toast.
Then, for the first time since she began piloting subs, which wasn’t all that long ago, she felt the sensation of fear.
What if I can’t get this thing to the surface?
There was no way to simply open the dome hatch while at depth—the water pressure was too great. She did have a radio link to Topside operations in the hotel and on the island compound, but
. She was supposed to start taking guests on rides in this thing
Something darker played on her fears as well.
What was that thing that caused this? What if it comes back for me?
Coco forced herself to slow her breathing before attempting to maneuver the sub again. She looked back through the rear of the dome, but couldn’t see anything in the suspended sand cloud. Activating the right thruster only, she brought the craft away from the coral wall and into open water. She looked over toward the reef, but it was too cloudy to make anything out. She eyed the dash-mounted compass.
She knew the hotel lie in that direction.