The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham

  ‘That isn’t the kind of solution I like,’ he said.

  ‘It’s not the kind of solution anyone would like,’ I agreed. ‘And yet,’ I went on, ‘it does seem somewhat far-fetched to suggest that something in the deeps has been following an evolutionary line of its own, and has now blossomed out with a well-developed technology. That appears to be the only remaining possibility.’

  ‘And slightly less credible even than the other,’ he remarked.

  ‘In which case, we must have eliminated a possible along with some of the impossibles. The bottom of the sea would be a very good place to hide – if one could manage the technical difficulties,’ I said.

  ‘Undoubtedly,’ he agreed, ‘but among those technical difficulties happens to be pressure of four or five tons per square inch in the interesting areas.’

  ‘H’m. Perhaps we’d better think some more about that,’ I conceded. ‘The other obvious question is, of course, what do they seem to be doing?’

  ‘Yes,’ he said.

  ‘Meaning, no clue?’

  ‘They come,’ he said. ‘Maybe they go. But preponderantly they come. That’s about all.’

  I looked down at the maps, the criss-crossing lines, and the red-dotted areas.

  ‘Are you doing anything about it? Or shouldn’t I ask?’

  ‘Oh, that’s why you’re here. I was coming round to that,’ he told me. ‘We’re going to try an inspection. Just at the moment it is not considered to be a matter for a direct broadcast, nor even for publication, but there ought to be a record of it, and we shall need one ourselves. So if your people happened to feel interested enough to send you along with some gear for the job…’

  ‘Where would it be?’ I inquired.

  He circled his-finger round an area.

  ‘Er – my wife has a passionate devotion to tropical sunshine: the West Indian kind, in particular,’ I said.

  ‘Well, I seem to remember that your wife has written some pretty good documentary scripts,’ he remarked.

  ‘And it’s the kind of thing EBC might be very sorry about afterwards if they’d missed it,’ I reflected.

  Not until we had made our last call and were well out of sight of land were we allowed to see the large object which rested in a specially constructed cradle aft. When the Lieutenant-Commander in charge of technical operations ordered the shrouding tarpaulin to be removed, there was quite an unveiling ceremony. But the mystery revealed was something of an anti-climax: it was simply a sphere of metal some ten feet in diameter. In various parts of it were set circular, porthole-like windows; at the top, it swelled into a protuberance which formed a massive lug. The Lieutenant-Commander, after regarding it awhile with the eye of a proud mother, addressed us in the manner of a lecturer.

  ‘This instrument that you now see,’ he said, impressively, ‘is what we call the Bathyscope.’ He allowed an interval for appreciation.

  ‘Didn’t Beebe-?’ I whispered to Phyllis.

  ‘No,’ she said. ‘That was the bathysphere.’

  ‘Oh,’ I said.

  ‘It has been constructed,’ he went on, ‘to resist a pressure approaching two tons to the square inch, giving it a theoretical floor of fifteen hundred fathoms. In practice we do not propose to use it at a greater depth than twelve hundred fathoms, thus providing for a safety factor of some 720 pounds to the square inch. Even at this it will considerably surpass the achievements of Dr Beebe who descended a little over five hundred fathoms, and Barton who reached a depth of seven hundred and fifty fathoms…’ He continued in this vein for a time, leaving me somewhat behind. When he seemed to have run down for a bit I said to Phyllis:

  ‘I can’t think in all these fathoms. What is it in God’s feet?’

  She consulted her notes.

  ‘The depth they intend to go to is seven thousand two hundred feet; the depth they could go to is nine thousand feet.’

  ‘Either of them sounds an awful lot of feet,’ I said.

  Phyllis is, in some ways, more precise and practical.

  ‘Seven thousand two hundred feet is just over a mile and a third,’ she informed me, ‘the pressure will be a little more than a ton and a third.’

  ‘That’s my continuity-girl,’ I said. ‘I don’t know where I’d be without you.’ I looked at the bathyscope. ‘All the same – ’ I added doubtfully.

  ‘What?’ she asked.

  ‘Well, that chap at the Admiralty, Winters; he was talking in terms of four or five tons pressure – meaning, presumably, four or five miles down.’ I turned to the Lieutenant-Commander. ‘How deep is it where we’re bound for?’ I asked him.

  ‘It’s an area called the Cayman Trench, between Jamaica and Cuba,’ he said. ‘Parts of it go below five thousand.’

  ‘But – ’ I began, frowning.

  ‘Fathoms, dear,’ said Phyllis. ‘Thirty thousand feet.’

  ‘Oh,’ I said. ‘That’ll be – er – something like five and a half miles?’

  ‘Yes,’ he said.

  ‘Oh,’ I said, again.

  He returned to his public address manner.

  ‘That,’ he told the assembled crowd of us, ‘is the present limit of our ability to make direct visual observations. However – ’ He paused to make a gesture somewhat in the manner of a conjuror towards a party of A.B.’s, and watched while they pulled the tarpaulin from another, similar, but smaller sphere. ‘ – here,’ he continued, ‘we have a new instrument with which we hope to be able to make observations at something like twice the depth attainable by the bathyscope, perhaps even more. It is entirely automatic. In addition to registering pressures, temperature, currents, and so on, and transmitting the readings to the surface, it is equipped with five small television cameras, four of them giving all round horizontal coverage, and one transmitting the view vertically beneath the sphere.’

  ‘This instrument,’ continued another voice in good imitation of his own, ‘we call the telebath.’

  Facetiousness could not put a man like the Commander off his stroke. He continued his lecture. But the instrument had been christened, and the telebath it remained.

  The three days after we reached our position were occupied with tests and adjustments of both the instruments. In one test Phyllis and I were allowed to make a dive of three hundred feet or so, cramped up in the bathyscope, ‘just to get the feel of it’. We did that, and it gave us no envy of anyone making a deeper dive. Then, with all the gear fully checked, the real descent was announced for the morning of the fourth day.

  Soon after sunrise we were clustering round the bathyscope where it rested in its cradle. The two naval technicians, Wiseman and Trant, who were to make the descent, wriggled themselves in through the narrow hole that was the entrance. The warm clothing they would need in the depths was handed in after them, for they could never have squeezed in wearing it. Then followed the packets of food and the vacuum-flasks of hot drinks. They made their final checks, gave their okays. The circular entrance-plug was swung over by the hoist, screwed gradually down into its seating, and bolted fast. The bathyscope was hoisted outboard, and hung there, swinging slightly. One of the men inside switched on his hand television-camera, and we ourselves, as seen from within the instrument, appeared on the screen.

  ‘Okay,’ said a voice from the loudspeaker. ‘Lower away now.’

  The winch began to turn. The bathyscope descended, and the water lapped at it. Presently it had disappeared from sight beneath the surface.

  The descent was a long business which I do not propose to describe in detail. Frankly, as seen on the screen in the ship, it was a pretty boring affair to the non-initiate. Life in the sea appears to exist in fairly well-defined levels. In the better inhabited strata the water is full of plankton which behaves like a continuous dust-storm and obscures everything but creatures that approach very closely. At other levels where there is no plankton for food, there are consequently few fish. In addition to the tediousness of very limited views or dark emptiness, continuous attentio
n to a screen that is linked with a slightly swinging and twisting camera has a dizzying effect. Both Phyllis and I spent much of the time during the descent with our eyes shut, relying on the loud-speaking telephone to draw our attention to anything interesting. Occasionally we slipped on deck for a cigarette.

  There could scarcely have been a better day for the job. The sun beat fiercely down on decks that were occasionally sluiced with water to cool them off. The ensign hung limp, barely stirring. The sea stretched out flat to meet the dome of the sky which showed only one low bank of cloud, to the north, over Cuba, perhaps. There was scarcely a sound, either, except for the muffled voice of the loudspeaker in the mess, the quiet drone of the winch, and from time to time the voice of a deck-hand calling the tally of fathoms.

  The group sitting in the mess scarcely spoke; they left that to the men now far below.

  At intervals, the Commander would ask:

  ‘All in order, below there?’

  And simultaneously two voices would reply:

  ‘Aye, aye, sir!’

  Once a voice inquired:

  ‘Did Beebe have an electrically-heated suit?’

  Nobody seemed to know.

  ‘I take my hat off to him if he didn’t,’ said the voice.

  The Commander was keeping a sharp eye on the dials as well as watching the screen.

  ‘Half-mile coming up. Check,’ he said.

  The voice from below counted:

  ‘Four thirty-eight…. Four thirty-nine…. Now! Half-mile, sir.’

  The winch went on turning. There wasn’t much to see. Occasional glimpses of schools of fish hurrying off into the murk. A voice complained:

  ‘Sure as I get the camera to one window a damn great fish comes and looks in at another.’

  ‘Five hundred fathoms. You’re passing Beebe now,’ said the Commander.

  ‘Bye-bye, Beebe,’ said the voice. ‘But it goes on looking much the same.’

  Presently the same voice said:

  ‘More life around just here. Plenty of squid, large and small. You can probably see ’em. There’s something out this way, keeping on the edge of the light. A big thing. I can’t quite – might be a giant squid – no! my God! It can’t be a whale! Not down here!’

  ‘Improbable, but not impossible,’ said the Commander.

  ‘Well, in that case – oh, it’s sheered off now, anyway. Gosh! We mammals do get around a bit, don’t we?’

  In due course the moment arrived when the Commander announced:

  ‘Passing Barton now,’ and then added with an unexpected change of manner: ‘From now on it’s all yours, boys. Sure you’re quite happy there? If you’re not perfectly satisfied you’ve only to say.’

  ‘That’s all right, sir. Everything functioning okay. We’ll go on.’

  Up on deck the winch droned steadily.

  ‘One mile coming up,’ announced the Commander. When that had been checked he asked: ‘How are you feeling now?’

  ‘What’s the weather like up there?’ asked a voice.

  ‘Holding well. Flat calm. No swell.’

  The two down below conferred.

  ‘We’ll go on, sir. Could wait weeks for conditions like this again.’

  ‘All right – if you’re both sure.’

  ‘We are, sir.’

  ‘Very good. About three hundred fathoms more to go, then.’

  There was an interval. Then:

  ‘Dead,’ remarked the voice from below. ‘All black and dead now. Not a thing to be seen. Funny thing the way these levels are quite separate. Ah, now we can begin to see something below…. Squids again…. Luminous fish…. Small shoal, there, see?… There’s – Gosh! – ’

  He broke off, and simultaneously a nightmare fishy horror gaped at us from the screen.

  ‘One of nature’s careless moments,’ he remarked.

  He went on talking, and the camera continued to give us glimpses of unbelievable monstrosities, large and small.

  Presently the Commander announced:

  ‘Stopping you now. Twelve hundred fathoms.’ He picked up the telephone and spoke to the deck. The winch slowed and then ceased to turn.

  ‘That’s all, boys,’ he said.

  ‘Huh,’ said the voice from below, after a pause. ‘Well, whatever it was we came here to find, we’ve not found it.’

  The Commander’s face was expressionless. Whether he had expected tangible results or not I couldn’t tell. I imagined not. In fact, I wondered if any of us there really had. After all, these centres of activity were all Deeps. And from that it would seem to follow that the reason must lie at the bottom. The echogram gave the bottom hereabouts as still three miles or so below where the two men now dangled….

  ‘Hullo, there, bathyscope,’ said the Commander. ‘We’re going to start you up now. Ready?’

  ‘Aye, aye, sir! All set,’ said the two voices.

  The Commander picked up his telephone.

  ‘Haul away there!’

  We could hear the winch start, and slowly gather speed.

  ‘On your way now. All okay?’

  ‘All correct, sir.’

  There was an interval without talk for ten minutes or more. Then a voice said:

  ‘There’s something out there. Something big – can’t see it properly. Keeps just on the fringe of the light. Can’t be that whale again – not at this depth. Try to show you.’

  The picture on the screen switched and then steadied. We could see the light-rays streaming out through the water, and the brilliant speckles of small organisms caught in the beam. At the very limits there was a suspicion of a faintly lighter patch. It was hard to be sure of it.

  ‘Seems to be circling us. We’re spinning a bit, too, I think. I’ll try – ah, got a bit better glimpse of it then. It’s not the whale, anyway. There, see it now?’

  This time we could undoubtedly make out a lighter patch. It was roughly oval, but indistinct, and there was nothing to give it scale.

  ‘H’m,’ said the voice from below. ‘That’s certainly a new one. Could be a fish – or maybe something else kind of turtle-shaped. Monstrous-sized brute, anyway. Circling a bit closer now, but I still can’t make out any details. Keeping pace with us.’

  Again the camera showed us a glimpse of the thing as it passed one of the bathyscope’s ports, but we were little wiser; the definition was too poor for us to be sure of anything about it.

  ‘It’s going up now. Rising faster than we are. Getting beyond our angle of view. Ought to be a window in the top of this thing…. Lost it now. Gone somewhere up above us. Maybe it’ll – ’

  The voice cut off dead. Simultaneously, there was a brief, vivid flash on the screen, and it, too, went dead. The sound of the winch outside altered as it speeded up.

  We sat looking at one another without speaking. Phyllis’s hand sought mine, and tightened on it.

  The Commander started to stretch his hand towards the telephone, changed his mind, and went out without a word. Presently the winch speeded up still more.

  It takes quite a time to reel in more than a mile of heavy cable. The party in the mess dispersed awkwardly. Phyllis and I went up into the bows and sat there without talking much.

  After what seemed a very long wait the winch slowed down. By common consent we got up, and moved aft together.

  At last, the end came up. We all, I suppose, expected to see the end of the wire-rope unravelled, with the strands splayed-out, brush-like.

  They were not. They were melted together. Both the main and the communication cables ended in a blob of fused metal.

  We all stated at them, dumbfounded.

  In the evening the Captain read the service, and three volleys were fired over the spot…

  The weather held, and the glass was steady. At noon the next day the Commander assembled us in the mess. He looked ill, and very tired. He said, briefly, and unemotionally:

  ‘My orders are to proceed with the investigation, using our automatic instrument. If our arr
angements and tests can be completed in time, and provided the weather remains favourable, we shall conduct the operation to-morrow morning, commencing as soon after dawn as possible. I am instructed to lower the instrument to the point of destruction, so there will be no second opportunity for observation.’

  The arrangement in the mess the following morning was different from that on the former occasion. We sat facing a bank of five television screens, four for the quadrants about the instrument, and one viewing vertically beneath it. There was also a ciné-camera photographing all five screens simultaneously for the record.

  Again we watched the descent through the ocean layers, but this time instead of a commentary we had an astonishing assortment of chirrupings, raspings, and gruntings picked up by externally mounted microphones. The deep sea is, in its lower inhabited strata, it seems, a place of hideous cacophony. It was something of a relief when at about three-quarters of a mile down silence fell, and somebody muttered: ‘Huh! Said those mikes’d never take the pressure.’

  The display went on. Squids sliding upwards past the cameras, shoals of fish darting nervously away, other fish attracted by curiosity, monstrosities, grotesques, huge monsters dimly seen. On and on. A mile down, a mile and a half, two miles, two and a half…. And then, at about that, something came into view which quickened all attention on the screens. A large, uncertain, oval shape at the extreme of visibility that moved from screen to screen as it circled round the descending instrument. For three or four minutes it continued to show on one screen or another, but always tantalizingly ill-defined, and never quite well enough illuminated for one to be quite certain even of its shape. Then, gradually, it drifted towards the upper edges of the screens, and presently it was left behind.

  Half a minute later all the screens went blank….

  Why not praise one’s wife? Phyllis can write a thundering good feature script – and this was one of her best. It was too bad that it was not received with the immediate enthusiasm it deserved.

  When it was finished, we sent it round to the Admiralty for vetting. A week later we were asked to call. It was Captain Winters who received us. He congratulated Phyllis on the script, as well he might, even if he had not been so taken with her as he so obviously was. Once we were settled in our chairs, however, he shook his head regretfully.

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