Writing Prompt: Mighty Beasts
There were many ways to die inside an undersea research facility. Crushed beneath a poorly stacked food crate. Asphyxiated due to a faulty CO2 converter. No one had ever told Commander Mark Sullivan what to do if a mile-long leviathan crushed his station.
Somehow, those topside left that out of the emergency manual.
Claxons blared as Mark led his survivors through the increasingly deformed plastic corridor connecting Central Command with Hydroponics. Again the monster outside Echo squeezed, compressing his undersea facility with tentacles thicker than corridors. Metal buckled and plastic popped.
“Could we get someone to shut off those goddamn alarms?” Chief Engineer Jean Rosseau shouted over the racket. “They’re making my headache worse!”
Undersea Research Station Echo was a cluster of domed habitats that would very soon be a cluster of metal and bodies. Mark didn’t know how the tentacled monstrosity crushing his station had come to be. He just knew he had to get his surviving crew to Hydroponics before they all drowned.
Plastic buckled and the frothing ocean burst from a rip between bulkheads. Mark’s husband, Desalination Officer Ron Sullivan, slogged through rising water lugging a metal backpack. Ron squirted superheated quickseal above and below the water. He stopped the cold ocean at their waists.
“Won’t hold long,” Ron said, gasping as he recovered from wielding the bulky sealer. He glanced into the dark behind them. “Where’s Rosseau? Angeloro?”
“Not drowning,” Science Officer Angeloro said as she hopped around the corner clutching Rosseau’s shoulders. “The water helps. It’s easier for me to move when I can float.” Despite her mangled leg and bloodied face, Angeloro remained as calm as any of them.
“We’re going to make it out of here,” Mark reminded the survivors. He forced himself to focus of those still alive and not the twelve others, now floating in briny seawater behind the sealed hatches at Central Command. “If we keep our heads, we survive.” He couldn’t save people who were already dead.
Ron grimaced at the sealed round hatch ahead of them, at the baleful light casting shimmering red across the seawater flooding the corridor. “Rosseau,” Ron said, “might need you to override this hatch.”
“Keep your pants on, Sully!” Rosseau handed Angeloro off to Mark and sloshed through the waist high water, broad shoulders squared. “It’s not as simple as changing a filter, you know.” She grunted and pulled at a deformed plastic panel beside the doorframe. “Dammit, man, help me get this off!”
“You know,” Angeloro said quietly, “the thing crushing our station might be one of those unknowns topside warned us about.”
“You think?” Mark didn’t have any idea what was squeezing his station to death – a giant squid? A giant octopus? – but he did know it was cracking Echo open like an oyster shell. Nothing was strong enough to do that. Nothing from Earth, anyway.
“Either way,” Angeloro said, “it’s vital we get logs of this attack topside. In case you didn’t notice, this leviathan went after our communications tower first.”
Mark fought a chill as he helped Angeloro toward the sealed hatch. “Which implies intelligence.” That made it even less likely the thing strangling his station had originated on Earth. “You think it’s alien?”
“If you mean extraterrestrial,”Angeloro said, correcting him with the calm indifference of a woman who remained as precise as her undersea experiments, “I’d say there’s a very strong possibility.”
“Well,” Mark said, as Ron and Rosseau snapped off the stubborn panel. “That’s terrifying.”
Rosseau swapped out wires as bits of panel sparked. The corridor groaned and shifted as the monster outside squeezed again, like a boa constrictor wrapping itself tighter around prey. Another bulkhead popped, seawater frothed, and Ron sprayed quickseal while shouting curses at the sea.
The light above the hatch chimed green as seawater sloshed up to Mark’s armpits. Ron grimaced and shrugged off his metal pack. “That’s it.” He took a shuddering breath. “I’m out of quickseal.”
For one blissful moment, Mark was alone with Ron as they climbed Mount Everest together. It was adventure that had driven them together, adventure that led them to accept a year-long tour on an undersea research facility. Echo had been one more mountain for them to climb.
Strained machinery groaned as the hatch leading into hydroponics rattled open. Mark felt a tug that quickly became a riptide. He locked his arm around the guardrail at the elbow and wrapped his other arm around Angeloro’s slim waist. “Hold on!”
Water pulled. Mark’s fingers and arm and elbow hurt as hissing seawater struggled to rip them away from the bulkhead. Finally the current slacked enough for Mark to unclench his pulsing, pain-filled arm. He and Angeloro sloshed through the ankle deep water that had equalized between Hydroponics and this corridor. It seemed Hydroponics was, as Mark had hoped, intact.
This dome made up Echo’s center, protected by six other slightly smaller domes in a hexagon formed of metal and plastic corridors. Mark had known this would be the last dome to crack. What he didn’t know is how much time they had left. Small windows topped Hydroponics and Mark could just make out the mottled purple body of the leviathan strangling his station from above, bathed in emergency lights.
“Pods.” Mark pointed to the two closed hatches on the far side of the Hydroponics dome, metal circles surrounded by green emergency lights. “Each has enough oxygen for four people.”
There were pods across the facility, of course – every dome had at least two – but Mark suspected the other pods were already lost, crushed just like Central Command. Ron took Angeloro’s other arm and together, the three of them sloshed through ankle deep water behind Rosseau. They hurried beneath heavy gantry after heavy gantry festooned with hanging vegetation. Humid air choked everything.
Something groaned outside the station, a chilling sound like a great whale. It was loud enough that when it finally stopped, Mark couldn’t hear anything over the ringing in his ears. The whole room buckled. Rosseau turned, shouted something, and then a falling gantry crushed her like a grape.
Ron screamed beside Mark as they stared at where Rosseau stood one moment ago. Mark willed Rosseau to rise from that gantry with a smirk, howling like a madwoman and grateful to be alive. Rosseau didn’t rise. She wasn’t going to, and now that gantry was between then and the pods.
Mark pushed forward, pulling Angeloro and Ron with him. Seawater continued to rise, lapping at their thighs, and that told Mark Hydroponics had new leaks they couldn’t seal. Mark left Angeloro with Ron and dived, two minds working as one, and wriggled beneath the gantry. He popped up on the far side.
Ron and Mark locked eyes, and Angeloro didn’t argue or question them. She closed her eyes and dived. Ron dived and Mark did too, and a moment later Angeloro surfaced, gasping in Mark’s strong arms.
“Move!” Mark shouted at his husband.
Ron dived, but as soon as he went under the room buckled again. The gantry shifted and Mark’s world stopped. Then Ron burst from the water, facing the metal gantry and clutching it like a drowning man.
“Okay!” Mark shouted. “Time to claim our medals!”
Ron grunted as he wrapped his upper body around the gantry, but he didn’t push off. “Gantry shifted as I came up.” He looked almost embarrassed as water swirled. “Trapped my leg.”
“Well,” Mark shouted, “we’ll untrap it!”
“No time.” Ron grimaced at seawater sloshing about at Mark’s waist. “Get to the escape pod.”
Mark glowered at him. “You don’t give the orders down here.”
“We’ll get him out together.” Angeloro dropped off him into water high enough to let her float. “On three-“
“No.” Mark pointed at the green circles. “You get to those pods.”
“You said it yourself,” Mark interrupted. “Something extraterrestrial snapped off our communications tower. Someone has to let topside know what happened down here.”
Angeloro looked between the two of them. “Is that an order, sir?”
Angeloro pushed off him and splashed away, jaw clenched and eyes narrowed. She dove into a strong breaststroke, fighting swirling seawater to reach the half-submerged escape hatch. Not looking back.
Mark clutched Ron’s hand as Angeloro struggled with the panel. It opened, water rushed inside, and Angeloro did too. As the hatch closed, she watched them both and sketched a shaky salute.
A thump echoed as Hydroponics groaned and Angeloro’s escape pod whooshed away. Safe, Mark hoped, from the thing that struggled to drown them. Above them, plastic windows crackled and split.
“What’s next, commander?” Ron asked, as seawater rose to their necks. “Where do we go from here?”
“Where else?” Mark closed his eyes as bulkheads shifted and popped, squeezing his husband’s hand and sagging against the metal gantry. “Our next great adventure.”
Ron squeezed his hand back. They had done all they could, together. Topside would learn the truth.
The frothing sea crashed down.
About the Story:
With the theme “Mighty Beasts”, my mind initially defaulted to dragons (which I’ve seen more than often enough) or classics such as Godzilla or King Kong. The one thing I did know (from seeing similar movies) is that any drama to be found in a story about some sort of massive creature would come from how those tiny humans it attacked reacted.
Once I’d decided I was going to do the typical “ground level” kaiju story (seen in the newer versions of Gozilla, Cloverfield, and similar films), I tossed around ideas until eventually settling on something closer to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, in this case, a monstrous aquatic creature that could believably be hiding in the ocean depths.
Finally, I’d had the last lines exchanged by Mark and Ron in my head for several months (I’d initially concepted a far different story) but the closing dialogue ended up fitting very well in this one. People who would volunteer to man an undersea research station strike me as both risk takers and adventurers, and I tried to write characters who fit that mold.
Cover Photo Credit:
<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/27677464@N06/2805510789″>under the ocean.</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>