OF DARK WATER
By Craig Russell
Und das Meer
gab die Toten, die darin waren
And the sea gave up the dead which were in it
King James Bible
is a fear of large and deep bodies of dark water, such as seas or
lakes, where the bottom cannot be seen. As a specific phobia, it
is not related to aquaphobia or other water phobias but is more
akin to agoraphobic conditions.
It is not a fear of water itself. It is a fear of the void: of what
lies beneath the surface.
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Fifteen Years before the Storm
Korn hit the Pharos One comms link again. He heard Wiegands
voice, but the transmission was breaking up. No crackle or hiss:
the digital communications system had no degrees of function; the
signal was either there or it was not. Wiegands anxiety came
to Korn in severed syllables and silences. Shards of words. Sharp
Korn looked at the submersibles depth meter. Oh Jesus, too
deep, too deep. And still dropping. Dropping faster. Three thousand
metres. Three thousand two hundred. Three thousand six hundred.
No sense of falling, of descent. Just the relentless plunge of the
reading on the depth meter.
Beneath him the trench. Around him the water; chill, dense, crushing.
It was a different universe. A different reality.
Pharos One had travelled the shortest of distances. A journey of
three and a half kilometres. On land, you could walk it comfortably
in three-quarters of an hour. Yet Korn was now in a place as remote
to mankind as space. As the moon.
Four thousand metres.
Now, Korn was on the edge of the abyss. Literally. This was where
the abyssopelagic zone began. The water outside was now beyond any
normal understanding of the concepts of water, of a liquid. This
was deep in the aphotic layers of the ocean, where all life was
blind in a lightless universe. The readings showed that the water
temperature outside was near freezing, yet it remained fluid because
of its intense salinity. It was a liquid, yet had an unimaginable,
crushing density. Korn knew that already the pressure was four hundred
times that of the atmosphere at sea level, and it increased by one
atmosphere for every ten meters the Pharos One submersible sank.
Ive lost control, he shouted into the comms. The
control desk is completely dead. You have to try to bring me up
More sharp shards of speech came through the comms. Korn knew that
that was how he would have sounded to the mother ship on the surface.
If basic communications were not working, then there was no chance
of them establishing a reliable remote control link. And even if
they could link in, there was no guarantee that whatever system
failure had robbed him of control had not also severed the link
with the remote navigation computer.
Another shatter of syllables.
Korn didnt attempt to answer. He tried to think. Or more accurately
he tried to slow his brain, to clear it of panic, so that he could
think. Why had Pharos Ones main motors cut? Why had he no
control from the helm? And why had the submersible experienced such
a catastrophic loss of buoyancy? It was as if the whole system had
collapsed. He was sure that the engines were okay; the steering
gear. It was an electronic fault, rather than mechanical. Why didnt
he know? He had helped to design the Pharos One; planned its electronic
management himself; designed failsafe systems with Wiegand. How
had this happened?
And having helped design the Pharos One, Korn knew that, unlike
a bathyscaphe, it did not have ultimate buoyancy. Its mix of gasoline
and electromagnet capture ballast was limited. Korn had insisted
on a submersible capable of reaching significant depth, but which
could fly through its environment. Without motive power
its weight would, ultimately, sink it.
Korn stared out through fused quartz into the dark water, the beams
of the iodine floodlights picking up an upward snowstorm of particles.
Then something pale was caught in the external navigation lights.
An intricate basket star, like a lost lace doily, drifted up and
past the window; the only life he could see. If you could call it
life. Bloodless, capable of regenerating parts of itself, even reproducing
a complete new creature from a lost tentacle. A being with a sixty-five
million year old pedigree.
I should not be here. The thought hit Korn as he watched the basket
star drift up and out of sight. Not a passing thought; a revelation.
A rejection of years of study; of millions in investment. Of a lifetimes
devotion. I should not be here. Suddenly it struck Korn that his
presence in this place was as preposterous as the basket star he
had sunk past exploring the heights of Mount Everest. I have no
right to be here. This is not our world. He thought of the time,
the effort, the money he had poured into the Pharos Project. Millions.
Void. Korn heard Wiegands one complete word before the comms
went completely dead. Void. Void what? It was a word well suited
to the black, crushing emptiness around him. But Wiegand had been
trying to tell him something. Korn tried to raise the mother ship
again, but there was no response. He hit the main motor control.
Nothing. The desk was still dead. I am going to die here, he thought.
Im going to die and no one will ever find my body and I deserve
it because I should not be here.
It was a low, rumbling groan, like a sea creature moaning in the
abyss. But Korn knew it was the ribs of the pressure hull protesting.
He looked desperately around the cabin; at the tightly, claustrophobically
confined space of reinforced steel that surrounded him; at the thick
quartz of the portholes. Maybe it would be quick. He had imagined
himself coming to rest at the bottom of the trench, trapped and
motionless, going claustrophobically insane as he waited for the
one hundred hours of oxygen to run out. Screaming and clawing. But
he realized that the Pharos One would soon exceed its safe operating
parameters. Maybe it would be a rivet that would kill him; fired,
bullet-like, from its socket by the intense pressure of crushing
water. Or maybe, and more likely, he would be squeezed to death,
like a bug between fingers, by the implosion of steel as the hull
Wiegands voice again. This time clear.
Korn stared at the depth meter. Four thousand, eight hundred metres.
Five thousand. Oh God, no. Too deep. Too deep.
Im here, he said and was surprised at how dull
his voice was. There was a sound. Not loud, but constant: a soft,
mechanical whirring. The engines.
Weve overridden the controls, Dominik. Dominik, can
you hear me?
Im here, he said. I shouldnt be here.
Dominik, listen to me. Concentrate. Put on your evac suit.
Evac suit? Korn suddenly felt alert. A voice from five
kilometres and a universe away woke something in him. What
the hell use is an evac suit? Im down nearly five thousand
Weve got the readings on your power levels. Somethings
damaged the cells. We can get you up, we think. Maybe all the way,
Korn looked at the depth gauge again. For a second that seemed to
last forever, it stayed static. Then, unbearably slowly, it started
to indicate ascent.
Do you hear me, Dominik?
I hear you. Now fully alert, and suffering. The unbearable
pain of hope. Ill do it. Im doing it. Korn
fumbled furiously at the restraint belt. He struggled in the coffin
confines of the cabin to pull the suit from its housing behind the
command chair; wrestled into it. Neoprene and rubber cuff seals
strangle tight, the bright orange evac suit loose tented around
him. A second confinement.
Youre going to have to hurry, Dominik... Wiegands
voice over the comms was tight and even. Forced. Artificial calm
wrapped around panic. Listen Dominik, when the power fails,
were going to void all of the ballast. Itll be explosive.
Were hoping the momentum will topside you. But youre
going to come up fast. Too fast. Do you understand?
I understand, said Korn, voice muffled through the plastic
screen of the suits hood.
You may lose comms again. Youve got to keep watching
the depth gauge. If your ascent stops, youve got to get out
and come up in the evac suit. We may get you all the way up to the
surface without evac, but if we dont, youve got to act
fast. Youll drop like a stone again otherwise. Have you got
Got it. Just get me out of here, Peter.
Were going to kill all power except the engines and
comms. Hold tight until we bring back the control panel lights.
Darkness. A darkness beyond any night. To begin with he could see
nothing; then something drifted past the quartz porthole. Something
glowing in the distance. A single bright pinpoint. Bioluminescence:
an Angler Fish or Cookiecutter Shark creating its own distant speck
of light in the abyss, like a distant lighthouse. A beacon. For
a second, Korn fixed his full attention on that small, faint glimmer
and it seemed to him to have a profound significance he could not
The control board before him lit up again. The few blinking buttons
and the LED display of the depth gauge suddenly blindingly bright
after the abyssal dark. Three thousand meters. There was an alert
light on the suit. When he switched it on, its flashing exploded
in the cabin. More creaking. The sea still wanting to crush him
out of existence.
Dominik... Wiegands voice again.
We have to get you up to at least one-eighty metres. The evac
suits tested to that depth. Just relax and let it bring you
up. The suits designed to ascend no faster than three metres
a second, so dont worry about decompression sickness. But
you must get out if theres any sign the module isnt
going to make it to the surface.
One thousand five hundred metres.
I shouldnt be here, Korn said, to himself. We
shouldnt be here.
I said we shouldnt be here. We have no right. We shouldnt
have the presumption, the arrogance...
I need you to focus, Dominik, Wiegands voice cut
across him. Stay focussed. Got it?
Nine hundred meters. Eight.
Im focussed, Peter. Im more focussed than you
The water outside became less dark. Not lighter; less dark.
Keep your eyes on the gauge, Dominik...
The constant, reassuring whirr of the motors stopped.
Brace, Dominik! Wiegands voice over the comms
was urgent. Im going to vent the tanks. Brace!
Something thundered around Korn. Deafening. Uncompressible petroleum
ballast being voided from the stabilizing tanks. Steel ballast released
from the Pharos Ones electromagnetic grip. Now he felt movement.
A surge upward pinning him to his seat. He clung tight to the arm
rests, trying to control his breathing, his pulse pounding in his
The comms system was down again. He was alone once more, but surging
up to the environment he belonged in. His true place in the world.
Out of the depths.
Five hundred metres. Four. Three. He snapped the red cover off the
emergency explosive bolt release and pushed back the trigger guard.
He had to time it right. Exactly right. Two hundred and eighty meters.
Just a little more.
He knew what he was seeing, but didnt want to see it. His
ascent was slowing. Two hundred forty
now. Two hundred. Too deep. Still too deep. The gauge held for an
eternity at one seventy.
Now. Do it now. His reason screamed at him: he knew that the impetus
given by the explosive voiding of the tanks was spent. There was
only one way to go now: back down into the abyss. Yet something
froze him: an irrational hope that the submersible would somehow
overcome the universal laws of physics.
One hundred and eighty.
He had lost ten crucial metres and gained one atmosphere of extra
pressure. He checked his restraint harness was fastened and pulled
the switch and the explosive bolts fired, releasing the hatch.
It was like being hit by a car: the water did not surge into the
cabin, it rammed into the back of the command chair like a solid
mass. An intense, steel-sharp pain shot through his arm and into
his shoulder. He knew his forearm had been broken, but when he checked
his arm, it wasnt to examine the extent of the break but to
make sure the sleeve of the evac suit hadnt ruptured. It hadnt.
Slamming the fist of his uninjured arm into the release buckle,
Korn undid the safety harness. Ignoring the sharp pain in his arm,
he scrabbled around behind his chair and pushed himself out of the
Pharos Ones only hatch, at the rear of the vessel. He was
going to be coming out of a fast-sinking submersible; he needed
to get out and clear fast. A snagged sleeve or belt, or becoming
tangled in the robot arm, and he might end up trapped there, dragged
back down to the bottom. As it was, he reckoned hed have lost
another ten, maybe twenty metres. Suddenly, he was outside, in the
open water. Pushing away. The survival suit insulated him against
the cold, swelled up with captive air to resist the worst of the
pressure, but its buoyancy pushed him upwards against the rear hull
of the sinking submersible.
He braced his legs against the bright yellow hull and pushed away
with his feet. He was free. Free and rising.
He watched the Pharos One sink beneath him. Silent. Fading fast
in the gloom; becoming smaller then gradually invisible in the dark
of the water. He looked at the depth gauge on the wrist of his suit.
One sixty and rising.
Survivable. Dangerous, but definitely survivable. He was going to
He continued to rise at a decompression safe rate for another ninety-seven
metres. He could see, vague and distant above him, the attenuated
bloom of day.
It was at that moment that the material of his evac suit
which, unknown to Korn, had been caught on a hull rivet and stretched
to tolerance when he had been evacuating the Pharos One split
open and exploded into a constellation of escaping air bubbles.
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all material © Craig Russell