The Deep Watchers

First Researcher Douglas Church


[Excerpt from a natural philosopher's journal]

Before the cable snapped, there was nothing to see. Nothing to report. My lantern revealed only an endless depth below and my mission felt like a bitter failure. I would have returned to the surface, but now, at the cost of my life, I have made a profound discovery. So I write these words with the hope that someday my companions will recover this diving bell (which has become my tomb) and find this journal. I want others to know what I have seen here; what extraordinary events have transpired.

Frost is gathering on the inside of the thick portals and my breath is misty. It has been six hours since this ill-fated adventure began and my calculations make it clear that there is no more than an hour of good air remaining within the sphere.

What brought me here? Curiosity? A desire for glory? Financial gain? In all the months I spent designing this submersible, my mind had been fixated on the minute details. Tempering the glass portals. The air flow from the surface to this sphere. The ingenious switch that would allow communication via bells with the ship above. I poured [sic] over every element in the design and construction of this apparatus. Why had I never considered that the creatures here might resent my intrusion? That they would lash out at the iron monstrosity plunging deep into the unfathomable darkness?

It happened in an instant. Out of the inky depths, the great fluke of a whale slid past my lantern, casting wide shadows into nothing. A second later, what had been a steady, controlled descent became a gut-churning tumble. The metal around me groaned and I felt certain that the sphere would soon implode from the pressure. The spinning dizzied me, such that I could scarcely keep my feet. Then the savage collision whereupon my skull struck the deck and I blacked out.

A precious hour of my time was spent in that fitful sleep and when I awoke, the sickening realization came upon me. Cut off untethered, and completely removed from the world above, with no chance of returning.

I extinguished my lantern some time ago in order to conserve air, and only then did the ghostly radiance of the sea floor reach my eyes. Not the sea floor itself, but the tiny, tentacled creatures that swarm over it. They create a carpet of soft colors, twisting and moving in waves, as if they are singing with light.

It is in this dim luminosity that I can see them. The leviathans. The great whales. Here, in their domain, they move with grace and elegance. With purpose. They have approached the sphere repeatedly now, one almost touching the portal with her great eye. As I stare into the orb, it is clear to me that the thing is not mindlessly searching for prey, it is - observing me. It is curious. One by one they approach and peer in my window. There is an unnerving sense of intelligence in that gaze, devoid of malevolence. For a time, they examine me, my predicament, and allow themselves to drift off to trace the broken cables along the sea floor.

I dream that one will take the cables in its great jaws and haul me back to the surface, but it is only a rapturous fantasy of the thinning atmosphere. I find myself gasping now, while the creatures move away and watch from a distance. Their song is different here. I've heard it for years on the surface, but here it is soulful and moving. The natural philosopher in me is beginning to suspect that the song has notes we cannot even detect. But here in the depths they can be felt. I believe they are trying to comfort me while I die.

First Researcher Douglas Church
ESS Keeper, Forward Exploratory Vessel
Academy of Natural Philosophy