Beyond the Sky: Chapter 36

Depths of Danger

  Selva nodded in her power armor, scanning it with her hand. “Implosion-type nuclear weapon, approximate yield fifty kilotons. Looks like they removed the parachute assembly. I detect no anti-tampering devices, assist me.”  
Velli shouldered her rifle and moved in. Selva took a tool from her other arm, the tip of which extended like a screwdriver and morphed into a head to turn a bolt. She removed a half-section of outer cover. Velli set it down and looked inside.
The atom bomb was a mess of wires, shrouding a sphere made of triangular segments. Atop it sat a flat apparatus with three dials, spinning as they ticked.
“A Burrower blasting timer,” Velli said.
Selva asked, “How long?”
“About...” she squinted, “Eleven minutes.”
“Hand me your pack,” Selva said to Abdul. “Connect to the ship, see if you can find the signature of another bomb. They had at least two.”
Carter turned part of the compartment’s forward surface into a display screen, for Glint to watch. After a meteoritic plunge, they descended towards the sea.
“We should slow down.” Glint gripped the padded walls, and his harness with his underhands. Nikrit were not meant to fly. Waves approached. “Slow down!
Jets fired, the drone-flyer decelerated and dropped gently into the sea. It began to sink.
“The Deep Ones are below?”
“A settlement we detected in our surveys. An ocean current travels from Jepsei to the Forsaken lands, it is plausible the bombs passed through here.”
The water outside turned blue-green as they descended, then faded to black. A pair of lights came on near the drone’s nose.
“Running bathymetric scan,” Carter said, more for Glint’s sake than his. Wire-frame outlines appeared on screen, showing underwater hills and flats. Below and ahead, the seabed was split in two, a yawning canyon.
Buildings covered its walls. Glint couldn’t tell what they were made of, plants or fabric? He’d heard they hunted sea creatures, harvesting their skin and bones. The structures had an organic, flowing look, not the angular architecture of surface races. Its whole expanse shone with gentle blue light, emanating from jelly-like orbs anchored down with vine-like cables. Not electricity, obviously. Then what was it?
Elongated shapes approached, swimming—the Deep Ones themselves.
Glint put his face against the screen. He discerned central bodies, fleshy lumps at their fore, and a mess of tendrils and fins trailing behind.
“The tendrils contain fronds with vascular media, for oxygen exchange with seawater,” Carter explained. “They share ancestry with the Stilt-Striders.”
This was a war-party, Glint realized, for they approached bearing spears and long rods with cylinders on the ends. A strange sound echoed, warbling and cooing. “What was that? Their speech?”
Carter confirmed as much. “Their language, unlike yours and those of humans, is not symbolic. For you, words must be mapped to their meanings. Heard without understanding, they are nothing. The Deep Ones speak in images, created with their ultrasonic organs. To communicate the idea of a fish, for instance, they do not say the word. They form a picture of the subject, and transmit it to the recipient. I must trust my translation engine is sufficiently prepared.”
Carter’s systems reduced it down to a crude meaning, one word on the screen:
“I will modulate the deflectors to emit ultrasonic waves.” The drone rumbled, ghostly pictograms flashed on the screen: DRONE-THINKING MACHINE BOX-NIKRIT.
They were talking with a single Deep One, Glint realized, at whom the craft’s nose pointed. His motions carried him into its lights, he saw a tiny eye amid a body clothed in colored fish-skins. A thinking being, no mere animal. He opened his elongated, narrow mouth and sound echoed inside the drone. His reply was a jumble of images: People, Fesks and Cepics, various objects, ships and boats, swimming fish and others that dove above water.
“He asks whether we are of Mespreth, Source of Trash and Shipwrecks.”
Carter replied, in a manner like an old slideshow movie: OTHER PLANET-SPACESHIP NEARBY-SPACESHIP FLYING TO THE LAND (ALIEN SPACE TRAVELERS).
That got a reaction. The sea filled with sound, echoing and warbling. Deep Ones thrashed in agitation outside. One spoke back, BIG FISH TURNING INTO LITTLE FISH (LIARS).
“A concrete representation of an abstract concept,” Carter clarified. “Much of their language is built upon it.” He replied, HUMAN-BLACK TRIANGLE-SPACESHIP ABOVE WORLD-SPEARS AND WEAPONS NEAR DRONE THEN FLOATING AWAY (CLARIFICATION, PEACEFUL INTENTIONS).
It took several more rounds before they seemed even close to believing him. One Deep One, younger than the others, swam up and tried to rap the butt of his spear on the drone. It hit a repulsor field boundary, invisible, and stopped instead, requiring effort to pull free. More and more emerged from buildings, perhaps hearing sound reflected down.
Finally, Carter flashed out the images NUCLEAR BOMB-AIRPLANE-OCEAN-SINKING.
The Speaker showed them a story. Its ghostly rendition played out on the screen: vast expanse of flat seabed, far below the light, desolation extending on and on. Stopping upon wreckage—a bomber, remarkably intact, ribs and gaps visible in its structure. One wing bent down, almost broken, no markings. (But could Deep Ones ‘see’ paint?) Skeletal Flyers still strapped in their seats. From inside, aquatic figures retrieved rounded cylinders with fins on one end.
“All ahead full.” Flight Captain Julan lowered his binoculars. The roar of jet-fans increased, he felt the superskimmer gain speed. The fleet’s other elements surrounded it: narrow-winged destroyers, elongated cruisers with ranks of missile tubes, a flight tender wide enough to carry fighters on its back. All powered along atop a cushion of air compressed between their undersides and the sea below, an ingenious way around the lasting decree of the Deep Ones.
“Sir,” the radar officer reported, “Eight Malgie fighters, vectoring in from their fleet.”
“Send ours out,” Julan ordered.
“Warmaster Nellan for you.” A second officer held out a phone.
Selva snipped a second wire. “The timer is disconnected.” It continued ticking, she lifted it away. “However, the firing circuits are still charged. We must deactivate them.”
Outside, Velli heard the roar of jet engines. Malgie fighters, readying for a confrontation? She turned back to the bomb. “Is this safe?”
“Radiation is negligible in its current state.” She indicated the sphere and its wires. “These are explosive lenses, surrounding a plutonium pit and tamper of dense metal. Removing them will eliminate the weapon’s ability to reach criticality.”
Beyond another set of doors, a vehicle rumbled to a stop.

Cover image: by Arek Socha


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