Toward the end of the day, the wind picked up, and by nightfall distant thunder could be heard. A fierce storm rolled in from the West, and a torrential warm rain started pouring down on the island by 10:00pm.
To their credit, the club goers were a sturdier lot than the sun goers had been during the day. The discos, while by no means full, were doing decent business and pumping out dance music like a flower pumps out fragrance, and for much the same reason. Soon after nightfall, small groups of young people could be seen running to the clubs with jackets held over their heads to protect their carefully constructed coiffure.
The Doctor and Pandora found shelter under the palm leaf thatch of a beach cafe, which kept the rain off rather noisily and provided them a view of the entire club scene at once.
“It takes particularly brave and stupid individuals to be out with what’s going on. A little rain isn’t going to scare the likes of them,” the Doctor commented over the staccato sound of the rain on the thatch.
“What does that say about us?” Pandora yelled back.
The Doctor chuckled, but did not reply. They settled in for a long night.
An hour into their vigil, a loud and rowdy group left one of the clubs. They hung out under the eaves for a while, smoking cigarettes and talking back and forth, though the rain drowned out the actual conversation before it got to the Doctor or Pandora. Once they stubbed out the ends of the cigarettes and pulled their coats up over their heads, Pandora picked up her box and made to follow them, but the Doctor put his hand on her shoulder to stop her.
“Aren’t we going to follow them?” Pandora asked, confused.
“Only individuals have been abducted so far,” the Doctor responded. “Svetlana was picked up when she fell behind. This group is large and loud. I don’t think they’ll be targeted.”
Pandora sighed and set her box back down. She folded her arms across it and laid her chin on top. “So. More waiting then.”
More than an hour passed before another group left a different club, further to the West. There were only three of them this time. The Doctor slapped Pandora’s arm with the back of his hand to get her attention. “Get ready,” he said.
Pandora stood and grabbed her box by the handle, quickly alert.
The three men, each in their early twenties and dressed in casual high-water suits with white shirts, skinny ties and hats, stood under the lights outside the club laughing. One did a little spin, placing one hand atop his fedora, then stood on tip-toe with his knees bent, and froze in place for a moment. The other two thought this was hilarious. They all traded mock punches, then stepped out into the rain, unconcerned about how wet they were getting. They continued talking, laughing and dancing as they headed off West along the shoreline.
“Let’s go. These are them,” the Doctor said. He pulled a folding umbrella out of one of his pockets and handed it to Pandora. He pulled up his hood and looked her in the eye. “Don’t get too close. We don’t want them to know we’re there, and more importantly, we don’t want to be seen by whatever is taking them.” He turned and stepped out into the rain, immediately getting soaked.
Pandora pressed a button on the handle of the umbrella, and it extended outward then snapped open. She threw it over her shoulder, hitched up her box, and followed the Doctor.
They walked quietly, a hundred feet behind the three young men. The trio were in no hurry, as they continued to joke and play-fight and sing on their way back to their rooms.
When the trio got to the bridge that Svetlana had been abducted from, the Doctor held Pandora back. “Let’s give them some room…” he whispered.
They stepped onto the bridge and spread out a bit. The one in the lead went to the edge of the bridge and looked over as Pandora had done earlier in the day. He called the other two over and they stood there for a while, looking at something and talking together. After a short while, they continued on their way. Pandora caught her breath as they reached the other side, where she had found the seaweed earlier, but nothing jumped out of the dark at them, and she started breathing again.
“Okay. Let’s continue,” the Doctor said, and started walking toward the bridge again.
Just after the bridge, the trio took a hard right and followed a narrow paved path next to the riverbed. It led down to an elevation slightly below the bridge, and for a while they were out of sight of the Doctor and Pandora.
“Oh, no!” the Doctor said, a bad feeling coming over both him and Pandora. There was a loud cry, and the Doctor and Pandora quickened their pace and reached the bridge quickly. From there they could see that the rainfall had caused something of a flash flood in the formerly dry riverbed. A raging torrent ran beneath them and out into the sea behind them. They could see from there the path the trio had taken, but they couldn’t see the young men. The Doctor abandoned all subtlety and twisted the top of his sonic screwdriver. He activated it and shone a bright white light along the path, but still couldn’t see them.
He ran the rest of the way across the bridge and down to the path, the beam of his torchlight darting in all directions. He ground to a stop on the path, illuminating an area of the bank around a foot above the water’s reach. Pandora reached his side and saw a fedora there on the rocky incline.
It was covered with more of the same seaweed.
Lights came on in an upstairs window of the adjoining building and silhouettes appeared against the sudden brightness. “What’s going on out there?” called a voice.
The Doctor shone his light up at the sound of the voice. The man shielded his eyes for a moment, then dropped his hand. “Watch where you’re pointing that, buddy,” he said.
“Sorry,” the Doctor called out and shut off his sonic. “There’s been another disappearance.” He focused his sonic on the fedora and turned it on again.
The man leaned a bit further out the window to see, then shied back from the rain. A second figure joined him and looked out as well. “Must have just happened,” called the first one. “We heard a scream.”
“Yes! We could see them a moment ago, then they were gone,” the Doctor called back.
“How about you come in out of the rain?” called the second one. “You can use the phone here to report it.”
The Doctor looked at Pandora, then back up at them. “Good idea. We’ll pool our knowledge.” With that, they walked around to the front of the building where there was a stairwell leading up to the second floor. The second figure was there holding the door open when they arrived.
“Aaron,” he said, holding out a hand. Aaron was a man of average height and slightly more than average build. He was of Asian descent, but spoke with the accent of a man who spent his whole life in the Northeast of America. He was barefoot, wearing sweatpants and a white t-shirt with stains down the front. He apologized for his attire as the Doctor shook his hand. “Sorry, we were woken by the scream.” He shook Pandora’s hand as well then stepped aside to let them in and closed the door after.
There was a bleary-eyed woman with curly hair in a ponytail as well as the man they had first seen. Aaron made introductions. “This is Linda, and that’s John.” With better light, they could see that John was a man in his late twenties with brown hair parted in the middle and a ruddy unpleasant face. While Aaron and Linda may have been ready for bed, John was wearing a turtleneck and jeans. “We were just enjoying a bit of shore leave, but the ship sails at dawn, so we were all in bed early.”
“I understand. I’ve been known to keep some odd hours myself,” the Doctor said. “I’m the Doctor and this is Pandora. You lot must belong to that research vessel outside. Let me ask you a question. Why pay for a room? Don’t you have bunks on board?”
John snorted. “‘Bunks’,” he said. “A three by three by six cell is more like it. Four to a room. And the hot shower alone was worth the price per night. No, I’ll take shore leave at any opportunity.”
The Doctor nodded. “And exactly what kind of research are you doing?”
“Climate change,” Aaron said. “We’re studying its effect on marine species in this area.”
“You’re pretty nosey about our business,” John said. “Weren’t you here to call the authorities? Remember the abduction outside?”
“Actually I came here to get out of the rain,” the Doctor replied. “We’re what you might call ‘abduction authorities’.” The Doctor played that over in his mind, then added. “But don’t call us that. Just call me the Doctor, and her Pandora, alright? Good. Now, I think we may be working at very similar purposes.”
“What, criminal abductions and climate change?” John asked sarcastically.
“Yes. Well, I admit at first it doesn’t seem like it, but tell me, when was the last time global sustained temperatures were this high?”
“Not in recorded history,” Linda said.
“And not likely since…?” the Doctor prompted.
“Well since the dinosaurs roamed, at least,” Aaron added.
“Exactly. Since the Mesozoic Era,” the Doctor confirmed excitedly. “Other things roamed the Earth at that time, and more importantly swam its waters. You are seeing drastic changes in the habits and types of undersea life as a reaction to the changes, yes?”
“Yes, but what does that have to do with the abductions?” John said, his face growing redder.
“Is there a marine biologist in the house?” the Doctor asked and pulled the fedora they had just found out of a pocket and slammed it on the table. It was still festooned with seaweed and other marine gunk. “Sorry, I’ve always wanted to say that.”
Linda got up and sat at the table. She was mesmerized by the hat. “Someone get me a light,” she said without looking up. She delicately gripped the brim of the hat and turned it to see the seaweed better.
Aaron reacted quickly and started digging through a duffle bag while John looked over her shoulder. “What is it?” he asked.
Linda looked impatient. “I need better light.” Aaron ran over with a torch and illuminated the hat. Linda gasped and looked up at John. “Tweezers.”
“Seriously?” John said, impatient as well.
The Doctor forestalled any further argument by handing Linda a pair of tweezers. She carefully flipped the seaweed over and leaned in closely to look at the bivalves revealed there. “That can’t be,” she said, barely over a whisper.
“Ahh. But it is,” the Doctor smiled. He began pacing. Pandora smiled and found a comfortable spot on the couch, knowing what that meant.
Then the Doctor said, “Frogs,” and Pandora was confused again, as were the others present. The Doctor looked around, surprised nobody was on board with him. “Well, you know how frogs will dig down into the mud and freeze over Winter, only to wake up when the temperatures rise again. It’s been shown that they can be frozen for years in this way. Now imagine that on a global scale. Creatures living in the Adriatic Sea of the Mesozoic Era who go into hibernation when the waters got too cold for them. Creatures that were used to hunting on the shores of these small islands. Turns out one year, the temperatures never get high enough, and the next year, and in this way, a million years go by. Suddenly temperatures start getting warm again, and they wake up and return to old habits, only there’s new prey on the island.”
“But that’s not possible,” John argued.
“Those clams prove it is,” the Doctor said with a grin nearly too broad for his face.
“What? Are those ancient clams?” Aaron asked, leaning low over Linda’s shoulder.
“No, but they are deep water. Whatever deposited these on this hat had to have come from the ocean floor. Nothing alive today would have done that,” the Doctor said.
“That’s a pretty big leap…” Aaron said, trying to wrap his head around it.
Linda pried a clam off the seaweed using the tweezers. It shut a little tighter and expelled some sea water in the process. “But the proof is right here. Unless you’ve got another explanation,” she said.
“Well, no,” Aaron admitted. “But I’m not prepared to accept an ancient predator hibernating for thirty million years.”
“Well,” the Doctor said, “it’s just a hypothesis. Easily proved. And as it turns out, by something you were planning on doing tomorrow anyway.”
“What are you proposing?” John asked, folding his arms across his chest.
“You leave at dawn, just as you were saying, only you have two extra crew members on board,” the Doctor said.
“I can’t speak for the captain,” Aaron said.
“Give me the chance to convince him. I’ll make it worth his while.”
“I think I can promise that much,” Aaron agreed.
“One other thing,” the Doctor said, coughing embarrassedly, “mind if we spend the night? We didn’t have a chance to secure lodging before the town closed down.”
They ended up agreeing, but it turned out, there were only two rooms in this place, and John, low man in the pecking order, was already taking up the couch. Pandora and the Doctor had to bunch up their wet jackets for pillows and sleep on the shag carpet. As far as sleeping arrangements went however, both had had far worse.
Pandora wasn’t ready to go to sleep yet, with too many questions going around in her head. She laid awake thinking about it for the better part of an hour until she heard the sound of John snoring. She rolled over and called out in a whisper, “Doctor, are you awake?”
The Doctor rolled over and lifted his head.
“You know what this is, don’t you? It’s not just some hypothetical creature, is it?” Pandora asked.
The Doctor hesitated a moment before answering. “Yeah. I know what it is. You remember when I was talking about the Venusians, I said Silurians ruled Earth at the time?”
“And you think it’s them?”
“Well, a species of them anyway. Back in the sixties, someone called them ‘Sea Devils’ and the name stuck. Frankly, I don’t know what they call themselves.”
“But they’re not just animals, right?” Pandora asked.
“Oh no. They’re intelligent. And more technologically advanced than humans are now. Why they’re taking people, I have no clue, but we’ll find out tomorrow. Trust me.” With that he rolled back over.
Pandora wasn’t fully satisfied, but she didn’t expect any more answers, so she laid back down and tried to sleep.
Somewhere before dawn, in what felt like minutes after Pandora fell asleep, an alarm went off and the day began. The Doctor had his still damp hoodie back on, and was zipped into his long pants. As they were getting dressed there was a knock at the door. John went to answer it and returned with a covered tray which he set on the table. They had arranged a breakfast of sliced meats, cheeses and breads. They made coffee in the apartment’s coffee machine and packed quickly while Aaron settled the bill.
The horizon was brightening, and there was a flurry of activity on the deck of the ship as the crew prepared to cast off. A blonde man in a thick turtleneck was giving commands for launch.
“That’s the captain,” Aaron said needlessly.
Linda and John headed toward their bunks to put their bags away, while Aaron led the Doctor and Pandora up to meet the captain.
“Permission to come aboard!” the Doctor called as they approached.
The captain finished what he was saying to a crewman before looking over at them, annoyed. “Who are these, Aaron?” he asked.
“This is Pandora, and the Doctor,” Aaron said, “They have a theory about global warming that dove-tails nicely with our expedition, and were hoping to join us today.”
“Oh yeah, what’s this theory of yours?”
“Well,” the Doctor said, “It’s long and complicated and I don’t want to delay your sailing but it has to do with why we’re seeing a species of deep sea clam showing up on the shore of this little island.”
Aaron looked at the Doctor strangely, but said to the captain, “It’s true. Linda confirmed it.”
The captain sighed. “Ja, sure.” He stuck out his hand. “I am called Lukas. Captain Weber to my crew. Welcome aboard the Atlantis.” The Doctor shook his hand, then Pandora. “Now if you’ll stay out of the way, we have work to do.”
The Doctor and Pandora found a common area below decks while the crew put out to sea. After the ship cleared the shelf, some of the crew members made their way down there to play cards or darts or to read. By that time, they’d already heard all about the Doctor’s story of ancient creatures coming from the ocean’s depth to prey on the unwary.
A group of sailors sat down with the two of them to trade stories. It turns out the locals have been telling stories of creatures rising from the depths for centuries; of powerful leviathans bringing down ships on storm-tossed nights; of enormous beings that laid waste entire villages leaving not a single soul, living or dead. It seemed everyone had a story they had heard, and some even recounted personal experiences.
Pandora was getting pretty spooked by what were essentially ghost stories, but the Doctor tired of it quickly. “I’ll be up on the bridge,” he said and took his leave.
He found Captain Weber in the pilot house. The captain looked over his shoulder when the Doctor entered, but returned to the view out the front windows without a word. The Doctor had a good look around the pilot house before saying anything. Directly in front of the captain were a pair of flat screen monitors, one showing a live sonar graphic, and the other one listed the status of various ship functions. On the glass window, dead center, was a large microphone which the captain used, by press of a button, to relay orders to various parts of the ship. Speakers lined the edges between ceiling and wall, spaced out such that without looking, the captain could tell what area of the ship the response was coming from.
The ship control console was directly to his right, with buttons, dials and scopes, and anachronistically, a series of wooden blocks in a peg board that indicated heading and had to be updated by hand. Currently the blocks were set to 0,6,8. Overhead was a large magnetic compass, and at the back of the room was a plaque dedicating this vessel to the original ship Atlantis of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.
“So, how does a German national become the captain of an American Navy vessel?”, the Doctor asked at last.
Weber glanced back at the Doctor again, then back at the sea. “This is not a warship, Doctor, it is a vehicle of exploration. And to answer your question, I worked my way up. I served on six previous expeditions and earned my place.” He turned to face the Doctor, hands clasped behind his back, just before the ship made a hard turn to port. He watched the Doctor coolly keep his balance as the ship listed. He adopted a thoughtful expression. “So, now that we have time for proper introductions, exactly what kind of Doctor are you?”
“Marine biology today. Yesterday I was a Doctor of Humanitarian Service. The day before that it was Astrophysics. Before the day is out it may be Paleo-biology as well. Do you mind if I have a look at your sonar?”
The captain stepped out of the way and indicated the sonar with an outstretched hand. The Doctor walked up to it and was but a moment before he started tsking. “Your software is way out of date. You need to keep up with the patches. I hope you don’t mind…” The Doctor pulled out his sonic and twisted it, then pointed it at the sonar screen and activated it. The light on the end remained unlit, but it made its buzzing noise. The screen fritzed for a moment then went blank.
“What are you doing?” Captain Weber came to stand next to the Doctor looking on with concern.
“Not to worry. It just needs to reboot. You see, a sonar ping bounces all around, but the software you had was only set up to detect the direct return. All the other bounces were just treated as noise. That’s why it was so fuzzy. There!” He deactivated the sonic and slipped it back into his inside hoodie pocket.
The sonar blinked back to life, the familiar blobs of yellow and green showed up, but in greater relief. Pixilated blocks were now sharp edges, and indistinct areas could now be recognized for what they really were. “This software update can actually recognize the fuzz as the original ping bounced off other objects and back a moment later. It uses subsurface back-scatter algorithms to better refine the true shape of objects,” the Doctor explained. A sunken ship could be seen here, a discarded anchor there. Then other colors began popping onto the screen. Red indicated fish, as what was clearly a shoal of sardines appeared on screen. Plant life showed up in a lighter green, strong currents in blue, man-made objects in dark green and natural formations in yellow.
“Oh,” the Doctor added, “I also wrote some pattern matching software. Since the object shapes are more discernible, the software can color code them for you. And yes, I’m also a Doctor of Computer Science. You’re welcome.”
“You did all of this with that wand?” the captain asked, astounded.
Instead of answering the captain’s question, the Doctor changed the subject. He pressed a button on the side of the display several times to zoom out and asked, “Where were you planning to head today?”
Captain Weber had been staring at the sonar, but tore himself away to grab some papers he had scattered across the controls. “We had identified three points of interest before we had to head back to land for supplies. We are headed for the closest of them now.”
The Doctor accepted the papers and leafed through them, nodding.
The captain apologized. “I’m kicking myself now, they were taken with the old sonar software.”
“Oh, not to worry, I can read these just fine.” He held up one of them. “Do you mind if I help refine the search a bit? This area looks like the general spot Pandora and I need to study.”
“I’m sorry Doctor,” the captain said. “I thank you for the refinements to the sonar, but I can’t allow your mission to take precedence over that of this crew.”
“Ah, but captain, your crew will find this area fascinating. I guarantee it. And my findings may very well provide the irrefutable proof you need to affect the changes you seek.”
The captain considered the Doctor’s words, but seemed torn. Before he could speak and potentially say no, the Doctor added, “And full credit for any discoveries go to your team.”
The Doctor spent the rest of the morning huddled over the sonar, watching the movement of the red objects on screen. When the ship got to the location they intended to work in, the captain called to slow the engines and signaled the Doctor. The two stood over the sonar as the ship began a slow back and forth pattern across the search area.
Once or twice the Doctor pointed to some feature that looked interesting at first, but as more of it appeared on screen he dismissed it. Finally, after a couple hours of this, he and the captain watched as a relatively flat area, deep beneath them, suddenly opened up into a craggy area with a group of even deeper holes, almost perfectly circular. The Doctor tapped the screen excitedly. “Yahtzee,” he said.
“Are these lava tubes?” the captain asked. “But they are so regular. And these two are so large.”
“Lava tubes,” the Doctor confirmed. “And there is no telling how deep they run until we get down there.” He seemed to catch himself in his excitement. “Think of the science!” he said in an attempt to cover it.
The captain pressed the com button and gave the order. “Engines full stop. Submersible team to ready, prepare Alvin for launch.”
“Pandora and I will need to be aboard. I’ll help get Alvin ready,” the Doctor said as he left the pilot house.
There was a huge crane at the stern of the Atlantis, and a crew of six were busy hooking it to the top of the large white and red submersible, Alvin. The fore of the sub was a sphere with viewing ports in front and at sixty degree angles to the sides. Atop the sphere was a red horseshoe shaped hatch for entering the submersible, and around the front were a series of lights and video cameras. Directly in front and under the sphere was a large collection basket and a pair of manipulator arms, each carrying another video camera. Aft of the sphere, the craft lengthened and came to a point surrounded by six thrusters.
Another two crew members were busy removing charging cables. The submersible was entirely electric.
The Doctor found Aaron supervising the preparations, and walked to stand with him. “Will you be going under?” the Doctor asked.
Aaron was startled to find the Doctor at his shoulder, but recovered quickly. “No, my place is here. I just make sure operations run smoothly. John, whom you’ve met as well as Juno, Bettina and Samuel will crew the sub.”
“That’s a four-man sub, isn’t it? Pandora and I will be on it, so you’ll have to cut two of them.”
Aaron sighed heavily. “Well, Samuel is the best pilot, and Juno is the only biologist on board qualified to operate the manipulator arms, so it better be those two.”
“I’m a fully qualified pilot, so if I took Samuel’s place, who would you want?” the Doctor asked.
“Better be John and Juno then. Actually, that’s a bit of a relief. John would have been livid if I cut him from the team. He obviously feels threatened in his position, and frankly I think he feels like he should have mine.”
“Understood. Is there anything I can do to help with preparations?”
“Our teams know their job, and work quite efficiently. We’ve got it Doctor. But if you’d like to bring your equipment aboard, we’ll be ready to launch in fifteen.”
Pandora was having trouble with a couple of the crew members when the Doctor got back belowdecks. “Then we’re going to make room, because I’m not leaving it behind!” she was yelling.
The crew members backed away, surprised at this response to what they considered a reasonable statement of fact.
“What’s going on here?” the Doctor asked upon entering.
The crew looked relieved when they saw the Doctor. Surely he’d see reason. One of them spoke up. “There simply isn’t room on Alvin for a chest of that size. She’ll have to leave it here.”
“That chest contains vital scientific equipment necessary to our expedition. What can we do to make room?” the Doctor responded.
“How about we just pull out what you need from the chest? We may find room for smaller individual packets,” they tried to compromise.
“No!” Pandora cried, holding the box close to her chest.
The Doctor held out his hands for calm. “The contents of that chest are highly proprietary, while we’ll share the results of our investigation, the means must remain undisclosed.”
“I’m sorry, but there is only 4.8 cubic meters of space in the Personnel Sphere. Barely enough room for the four passengers and the required equipment. There simply isn’t room for a box of that size.”
“Perhaps then it’s time to redefine what is ‘required’.”
“Maritime regulations require-” the crewman started, exasperated.
The Doctor cut him off, holding up his psychic paper. “I think you’ll find this trumps maritime regulations.”
The crewman threw up his hands. “Fine, but if it were me, I wouldn’t go down in that thing with you.” With that the two crewmen left the room.
Finally alone, the Doctor turned on Pandora. “Now, I have never asked what’s in the box, nor have I questioned your guardianship, and I’m not breaking that now. However, I need to ask: if I could guarantee the box’s integrity, secure and inviolate, would its presence aboard Alvin be in any way negotiable?”
“Absolutely not, Doctor. If I leave it with strangers, they will be tempted to open it,” she said, still clutching the box defensively.
“Okay, that’s what I thought,” he said with a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry. If worse comes to worst, we’ll toss John over the side before your box.”
Worst didn’t come to worst, and the Doctor managed to remove several ‘required’ items, including a pair of harpoon guns and a box of safety flares.
John, Juno, Pandora and the Doctor boarded Alvin, and it was lowered over the water, then detached to drop the last couple meters into the sea. The water felt rough at the surface from within the cramped space, but once the submersible sank below the waves, there was an otherworldly calm to the tiny vessel. There was a constant stream of radio chatter with the captain and Aaron, as the Doctor and Juno ran through the required tests. After the formalities had been concluded, the Doctor dove steeply into the murky depths. He left the exterior lights off, even after descending below the range that sunlight permeated, navigating solely by sonar. During the prep phase, he had given it the same treatment as the ship-board sonar, and Juno marveled over the clarity and specificity of the readings.
“Two hundred meters,” the Doctor called out.
“How deep is it here?” Pandora asked curiously. Her eyes were glued to the port observation viewport. Interior lights only illuminate a few inches outside the window, but she watched every particle that passed her range of vision.
“Just over twelve hundred meters,” John replied, looking out the starboard viewport.
“Four hundred meters,” the Doctor said.
“Wow,” Pandora whispered.
Juno looked over at Pandora strangely. “If you don’t mind my asking, just what is your area of expertise?”
Pandora realized that she hadn’t been acting particularly professional all this time. She bought time by nervously asking, “Why do you ask?”
“It’s just that you act as though this is your first time below the waves,” Juno added.
“Pandora is Earth’s foremost expert on exobiology. She knows more about hypothetical alien species than any other living human,” the Doctor said over his shoulder. “Six hundred meters,” he added.
If by ‘hypothetical alien species’ he meant himself, and all the aliens she had met from Eight Legs to Drendarins, he might be telling the truth, Pandora thought.
“What a waste of time,” John said. “And just why do we need her down here replacing Bettina who can be of actual use?”
“If my theory is correct, she will not simply be useful, but instrumental,” the Doctor said.
John and Juno were quiet as each wondered why it was again that the Doctor was calling the shots.
“Six hundred meters,” the Doctor dutifully announced, and a minute or so later, “Eight hundred meters.”
“What exactly is your theory, anyway?” John finally asked.
“Well, I say theory… Really more of a dreaded certainty. One thousand meters. Ah! Look there. The sea floor is showing up on sonar.” The tops of ancient volcano cones showed up first, and slowly widened as the sub descended. The remains of millennia old cinder cones showed up next, and finally extinct smoker vents before the vast plane itself filled the scope.
“What was that?” Pandora asked fearfully.
“Nothing on sonar, what did you see?” the Doctor asked.
Suddenly the vessel was thrown violently to starboard. Pandora fell backward onto John and his head hit the glass of the observation window. Juno’s reflexes were quick enough that she grabbed hold of the Doctor’s seat to keep from falling. “What did we hit?” Juno yelled.
“There’s nothing on the sonar!” the Doctor yelled back. He flipped a bank of switches and the exterior lights came on.
“Guys, that’s our communications transducer,” John said, pointing at a twisted chunk of metal sinking away from them.
Pandora righted herself, eyes darting from one viewport to another. A vast shape moved past the starboard viewport. “There it is again!” she said, pointing. Juno screamed as she saw the creature, large as any shark with a reptilian snout, large golden eyes and six limbs. It darted past in an instant, propelled by a thick tail.
“A Myrka!” the Doctor yelled. “Hold on tight, I’m going to try some evasive maneuvers.” The Doctor threw the sub into a steep dive, then banked hard to port. Unfortunately, the Myrka was far more maneuverable. There was another collision, and the sub tilted backward and gained speed as if it were being pulled through the water in the grip of the beast’s teeth.
Everybody picked a viewport and stared out through it, trying to get a glimpse of the beast that was now controlling their descent.
The Doctor watched the sonar as the spires of ancient hydrothermal vents whizzed past at incredible speed. “Twelve hundred feet!” he called out. “Brace for impact!”
Only then did he see a large opening in the plane below. The creature was dragging them into one of the lava tubes.
They passed through the opening and were enclosed on all sides by the rock walls of the tube. There was a crash on the starboard side as they collided with the wall of the lava tube, then debris filled the viewports, and they could see no more. Then there was a second crash, and the vessel was thrown onto its side. The passengers flew up against the ceiling, then fell against the port side of the submersible where it came to rest.
There was silence, except for the sparking of damaged equipment. Luckily the glass of the viewports had held. “Is everyone alright?” the Doctor asked.
John put a hand to his head and came away with blood on his fingers. Nevertheless, he nodded his head.
Juno cradled her left arm, “I’m going to be badly bruised in the morning, but I’ll live.”
“Pandora?” the Doctor asked.
“Scared, but okay,” she said. Pandora located her box and clutched it to herself like a safety blanket.
“There’s light out there,” John said.
Everyone jumped to the closest viewport, aside from the port side which was pressed up against the rock floor.
“Just the exterior illumination, surely…” Juno said.
“No,” the Doctor replied. “The electrical systems are out. But there is light out there. And air.”
He reached forward to put his hands on the hatch.
“Wait, are you sure it’s safe?” John asked.
“Of course not. But the coms are out, and we aren’t piloting Alvin out of here. If you’ve got a better idea, let’s hear it. Or we can wait here for the Myrka to return.”
“What is a Myrka anyway, and how do you know about them?”
The Doctor let go of the hatch and turned to face them. “A Myrka is a creature as old as the dinosaurs. You might call them pets to the Silurians. They are graceful in water, but clumsy on land. Don’t let that fool you into thinking they aren’t dangerous though, as a single touch can deliver a massive jolt of electricity, killing you instantly. Your best bet is to stay on land and outrun them.”
He turned back to the hatch and braced to turn the wheel. “And what exactly are Silurians?” John asked.
The Doctor sighed and turned around again. “Lizard people from the Triassic Period. I’ve met two sub-species, one land based, another amphibious. They have rather advanced technology, but went into hibernation when global temperatures got too cold. Now that they are warming up again, the advance guard is emerging. There. All caught up now. We should really go.”
“Then why aren’t they called Triassics?”
The Doctor ignored him and instead turned back to the hatch. Before anyone could ask any more questions, he twisted the wheel and opened it with a loud clang. He stuck his head out first, and satisfied that the coast was clear, he crawled out. He turned and helped Juno out, then Pandora shoved her box through and the Doctor set it aside to help her crawl out. Lastly, John crawled out, ignoring the Doctor’s offered hand.
The Doctor stood up and surveyed the area. The lava tube was wide enough to fit two lanes of traffic, and plunged into the water just behind the beached submersible. In the other direction, it led upward for some ways, then crested and descended again. The light they had seen from inside Alvin was coming from over that hill.
He looked around and surveyed the group, then nodded and said, “Let’s go.”
They trudged up the hill and stopped at the peak.
“No way,” John said in awe.
Just beyond the rise, the natural rock of the lava tube was replaced by a worked stone hallway, lit by some sort of recessed artificial tube. The hallway extended into the distance to the limit of their vision, branching off at even intervals.
The Doctor started toward the hallway, but Juno caught his arm. “What are we expecting to do here?”
“We’re going to find them, and we’re going to talk to them. If we can negotiate a peace between your species, we do that. If we can’t, we get them back into —”
“Doctor! Look out!” Pandora called out.
The Doctor turned to find a group of creatures, two meters in height with scaly black skin and a beak for a mouth standing in the entrance to the hallway. Each was wearing a sort of frock made of netting, and each had one hand up at shoulder height holding a silvery dish pointed in their direction.
“We come in peace, representing the humans of Earth,” the Doctor said, holding up his empty hands.
The Sea Devils fired their weapons at the four of them. The Doctor, Pandora, John and Juno all slumped to the ground.