A collaborative story by The Parking Lot Confessional
At the control panel,Trevor stared headlong into the last half-hour of his shift. Day shift, night shift, who knew anymore. 35,000 feet below, it was only midnight all the time. He flipped the port-side sensors to long-range and yawned. Maybe a few hours in the UV tank would wake up his brain.
Stone tapped on the portal door twice, a cold ping ping. “Want anything from the galley?” He jabbed a wooden toothpick between his teeth and probes. “I’m thinking tuna fish, myself.”
Trevor groaned. “How can you eat that? I eat the tuna and I’m on the john for a week.”
“Not for me, thanks.”
Stone tapped two more times — ping ping — and his footsteps faded down the hallway. Trevor pulled the report binder from the file shelf and flipped it open to the current page. Clicking the ballpoint open-closed four times, he wrote the day’s date in the left-most column. When the ink formed the last number, he stopped, holding the tip still on the page and making the calculations in his mind. Five months, fourteen days. A long time in the deep. And what to show for it? Pale skin and a serious lack of social interaction. Not that either of those mattered so much. Not as though he had much action above surface. He penned the shift’s counts and readings into each column of the report, noting the most exciting moment at 05:14:37 when a black dragon fish passed the starboard panel, catching Trevor’s eye with its green glow.
Stone returned balancing a carafe of coffee and two tuna fish sandwiches on rye. He fell into the seat at control station two, and spread his dinner (lunch?) out among the keyboards, knobs and switches. “Anything to report?”
Trevor looked at him dead pan and slapped the binder closed.
“You read the new contract?” Stone pulled the wrapping from the first sandwich as though peeling a banana.
Banana. A word picture formed in Trevor’s mind so bright he could almost smell the sweet, tropical flesh. “Haven’t got mine yet.”
“Mph?” Stone swallowed. “Got mine yesterday. You gonna sign back up?”
Trevor shrugged. There were advantages to living below. Peace and quiet. Minimal interaction. He’d learned to meditate and speak French. And he’d written nearly three-quarters of his novel to boot. Amazing what one could accomplish when free of distractions — other than the eight hours out of every twenty-four. But no one had done more than six months below. No one knew the long-term effects. This crew would be the first. The guinea pigs. “Murphy?”
“Ah, yeah.” Stone nodded, pushing food aside to make room for speaking. “He’s re-upped. Said the Mrs. agreed, no hesitation.”
The compensation was hard to turn down.
Trevor sniffed and rubbed his eyes. He’d probably just missed his contract among the other papers and rigmarole from Command. “Yeah. I probably will, too.”
“Racquetball at fourteen hundred?”
“Naw, not today, man. I’m gonna hit the tank. Need some V’s.” He pushed his chair back and stood. Stretched. “Maybe tomorrow.”
“I’m just going to beat your ass again.”
“Probably.” Trevor returned the report binder to the shelf and picked up his mug and backpack. “Have a good –”
The port-side sensor light switched from green to flashing amber and in a tidy, British accent, a female’s voice — the only female voice Trevor had heard in a long time — cooed, “Alert. Unidentified object located off stern. Distance, four nautical miles. Velocity, 64.7 knots. Vital signs, unconfirmed. Series protocol four-point-two recommended.”
Trevor mouthed the words in disbelief as the message repeated.
Four. Point. Two.
Trevor hunched and ran down the cramped hall toward CONTROL, the stale, canned sweat-and-bologna air burning in his lungs. Contact in 18 minutes. Unless Captain followed ROS’s protocol and destroyed it.
“What do you want.”
“Please, sir, do not engage protocol.”
“No vitals, heading straight for us. What else is there?”
“At 64.7 knots? That’s not fast enough for a torpedo. More likely a probe, maybe the Japanese.”
The Captain clicked his tongue. “And maybe it’s a new kind of weapon, Mr. Renyard.”
“This is a research vessel, not a war machine. We can’t afford a diplomatic incident right now. And, what if it’s alive? ROS would have a hard time scanning vitals.”
The Captain gave him a look that said I want bourbon. “That’d make it some kind of goddamned sea cheetah.”
“A new life form. Anything is possible.”
ROS’s crisp accent lilted over his last words. “Velocity of unidentified object at 62 knots and dropping. Protocol recommendation disabled.”
“Thank God,” snorted the Captain. “Hate that tart telling me what to do. Well, Mr. Reynard, let’s try it your way. Let’s see if we can’t evade this thing’s trajectory, see what we can see. Go man Clippy. ROS, keep scanning for vitals.”
“Aye, Captain,” said Trevor, ROS echoing him eerily.
He took his seat in Clippy’s pod, worked the levers. Outside the ship, the metal arm scissored its sensitive claw open and shut. With Clippy, Trevor could pluck up a single strand of seaweed, or crush a coral reef. He twirled Clippy’s headlights, scanning the darkness. Excitement thrummed in his gut, a twin to the rhythm of the ships engines as the Captain maneuvered them out of harm’s way.
“ROS, how’s the scan coming?”
“Unconfirmed. Velocity of unidentified object at 59 knots and dropping.”
Trevor tapped his fingers. thuddah thuddah thuddah thuhDAH thuhDAH
Stone ping-ping-pinged at his station.
The Captain clicked his tongue. tok tok.
Like we’re some kind of crazy New Age drum circle, thought Trevor as he tapped. But tapping felt good. It made him warm inside. He didn’t want to stop, why would he want to stop?
“Unconfirmed,” said ROS. “Unconfirmed.”
Each consonant and vowel swelled, rolled, as she repeated, until he could not understand the word she was saying, because the word was a false understanding, a coating, the wrapper on the candy bar, the silken teddy dangling from the shoulders of his high school girlfriend. “Alexandra,” he groaned as his fingers tapped on. “Alexandra.”
She was coming, and she was dying, and she was speaking to them through these rhythms, this no-song singing. Red droplets splashed onto Clippy’s console. My blood, thought Trevor. “Alexandra,” he said.
His head filled with light.
The pings, clicks and taps didn’t so much as drown out the light, but accompanied it, filling it out. Even the blood that dripped from his nose, splatted in concert with the rest. With his non-tapping hand he traced her name.
The light in his mind spoke in time with the no-song singing.
“I’ve waited as long as I could,” the voice tapped and pinged. “My time is smaller. I… am smaller. Your consciousness is as prepared as it will be.”
Trevor continued his tapping, and his lips moved with the words of Alexandra. It wasn’t his voice. Almost certain, it wasn’t his voice. He wanted to tell her to go on, but his words failed him. All he could do was will it, and she went on.
“The brionne is closing in. Make it stop.” The clicks and taps went on unaccompanied, the light swelling and deflating before adding, “Please.”
There was no begging in the word. He could feel the desperation, the need, the last chance, but not supplication. Whether or not Trevor could help, she would accept her fate. He had no doubt. He again tried to form the words. His lips were not his, but his thoughts. His thoughts seemed to get through.
What is brionne? He thought. The pings and taps quickened, and as he began to form another question, a melee of images burst into his head: the sea floor raked with baskets and hooks, the churning ocean under the eye of a hurricane, birds of feather and of metal soaring and swooping, shorelines creeping closer, a boy throwing a rock across the surface of a lake, cars, bags of trash, pipelines of oil leaking streamers of brown and black, rockets, speakers blaring music out of sync, buildings, shoestirestoiletscryingsobslaughterfists—
It crowded in closer and closer. Everything compacting and compressing. There was no room. Nowhere to spread out. Trevor’s chest tightened, constricting his lungs. No air. He was going to die.
The tapping slowed. The pings settled back to its previous pace. And the air—the glorious, life-sustaining air—rushed back into his lungs.
“That is brionne.” She waited for him to catch his breath. Thrrrud-d-d, thrrrud-d-d, drip, splat, tap. The rhythm ebbed and swayed. His breathing calmed. Alexandra went on.
“Beyond the waters are beyond my reach. I can’t stop it. There’s only to ask. Please,” again she paused amongst the clicks and pings. “Please, leave me room.”
With that his mouth became his own. His tongue flopped like a freshly grounded fish. And lips trembled under his own power. This creature—no. That didn’t fit. This entity wanted help. But how?
“We had no idea you were here. How is it only now you’ve tried to reach us?” He knew as he spoke it what the answer was. No one else has been down here as long.
The light in his mind pulsed in agreement.
“Can you pinpoint your location? Maybe I can get the captain to send word to Command. Maybe set up a perimeter or something.” But where. How big was she, what room could you be happy with when once the whole sea was your home?
The light brightened, blood dripped from his nose. No, from his ear this time. His lips moved to her words.
“Once I was all. Now I can settle to be. Sacrifice, but live.”
Another ping. Pop-squeeeeeeerk, PONG. Still in time with the taps of his finger, but coming from outside. The wall buckled. It bowed inward almost like a metallic bubble close to bursting. ROS filled the vessel with its voice.
“Integrity breached. Emergency ascent initiated. Surface in T-minus 9 minutes. Mark. Integrity breach. Emergency-“ ROS droned on. Trevor shuffled the alarm to the back of his mind, and focused on Alexandra.
“What did you do?” He didn’t feel like she meant him harm, but did this entity know his body and mind’s limits?
“I’ve marked the side as I could to render a border that does not hinder your kind, but should keep the brionne at bay. The skin of your machine proved less sturdy. Steady your machine so I can repair.”
“Surface in seven minutes, thirty-eight seconds.”
“You’re moving into the brionne.”
Trevor could not stop the ascent. Once ROS started the alarm, the sequence was unstoppable. The ticking stuttered. The ping-ping ceased. Water trickled down the left wall. First a drip, then stream. The blood from his nose mirroring it.
The light dimmed, and Alexandra slipped away.
* * *
Decision to abandon Research project XT1335 reached a unanimous vote upon reading Captain Trevor M. Stone’s latest report logs. Stone’s mental stability had come under question in the previous months, but deemed safe enough to finish out the term. With less than one month to completion, Stone began submitting three daily reports under three separate names. Messages were sent to end the project without response. Stone continued to submit multiple daily reports.
A separate dive planned to extract Stone required a timeframe longer than the original project end time. Stone’s reports didn’t suggest an extended dive time, but the board felt it in the best interest to continue with the emergency extraction if necessary. If Stone held to the end date, the extraction would be unnecessary and called off. Otherwise extra time wouldn’t be wasted in putting a plan in action.
At 9:19:47 on February the twentieth, we received a distress signal from the Stone’s Remote Ocean Systems. Something had impacted the research vessel and had sent it into an emergency ascent. A team was able to rescue Stone who appeared to be bleeding from mouth, nose, ears, and eyes. All throughout transport to a medical facility Stone continued to ask about the condition of his shipmates.
He is under twenty-four hour supervision. The few moments when he is conscious and not asking after his shipmates, he calls out for an Alexandra. No timeline is given for recovery at this time.
The ship sustained substantial damage to the hull. The lines carved into the side and dents give no clue as to the source of impact. One engineer commented that it looked topographical in nature, but dismissed it as coincidental. All damaged sections are marked for scrap. What can be salvaged will be used as spare parts for the new sea lab already under construction.
Due to the unexpected loss of the first sea lab and the mental state of its sole occupant, plans will be set back three to four months. Upon completion of the new sea lab, a Captain will be selected based on a more thorough psychological exam.
Otherwise, expansion to the sea floor will continue as planned.