Awake at Midnight
Malcolm MacGregor awoke with a start in the middle of the night, and for a long moment he had no idea where he was.
The room was pitch black; the only illumination coming from a pale strip of light under the door.
Malcolm fumbled blindly in the dark until he found the switch to a bedside lamp and clicked it on.
The melody of a dream still rang in his ears. Malcolm shook his head, trying to shake his mind clear. He looked around, blinking rapidly in the sudden harsh light.
The room was tiny--designed to maximize efficiency. The bed was narrow and far too short to comfortably fit his lanky frame. A small wooden desk was bolted to one wall. A small, circular window stared out onto an inky darkness.
The entire room seemed to be gently rocking. Malcolm’s disorientation lifted as he realized that he was in his quarters on board the scientific research vessel Surveyor, which was currently anchored ninety off the coast of Samoa. The view from outside his window was black because, as a lowly grad student, his bunk was in the lowest deck of cabins.
The only reason he had a private room in the first place was because he was the only male chosen for this internship. The three female graduate students shared a larger room on one of the upper decks.
Not that he minded. He preferred his privacy, and during the day he had an amazing view of the colorful schools of fish outside his porthole window.
Sleep faded from his mind, but Malcolm’s heart still hammered in his chest. What had woken him? The past three nights of the expedition he’d slept like a rock, lulled away by the faint hum of the ship’s engines and the peaceful rocking as it moved with the calmly lapping water.
Malcolm sleepily pulled on his glasses and checked the time on his phone.
3:45. Ugh. No point in going back to sleep; he had to be up and dressed in barely more than an hour to begin prepping the day’s saltwater samples. The sun would be up soon anyway; the summertime days in the Pacific began early.
Malcolm crept out of his cabin and down the silent hallway before making his way up the metal stairs at the end of the corridor and up to Surveyor’s top deck. It was eerily still and silent up here; no one else was stirring at this early hour and Malcolm felt like he had the ship to himself.
Finally away from the low ceilings and cramped below decks of the research vessel, Malcolm stretched to his full height and uttered a quiet sigh of contentment. Then he raised his arms above his head, continuing the stretch and raising his head towards the night sky.
His breath caught in his throat as he beheld the blanket of twinkling stars that stretched from horizon to horizon. Hundreds of miles from the nearest city, the stars shone in their hundreds of millions. It was utterly spell-binding.
A tiny splash from the port deck snapped Malcolm out of his stargazing, and he peered over bulging walls of Surveyor.
If possible, the water was even blacker than the sky.
The ship was anchored just off the northern tip of the Tonga Trench, a fifteen hundred mile-long gash that ran from New Zealand. Beneath his feet the ocean floor descended more than thirty-five thousand feet into an abyss.
As always, when Malcolm pictured the six miles of crushing pressure between him and solid ground, an involuntary shiver of apprehension ran down his spine.
Six miles of blackness.
Feeling suddenly unbalanced, he backed from the metal railing.
There it was again.
Probably just a sea turtle. They adored the shade provided by Surveyor’s broad belly, and were constantly bumping into the research equipment.
Malcolm stared out into the dark expanse, willing his night vision to be sharper than it was. Hovering at the edge of his vision, he thought he could see a shadow. A shape bobbing--almost indistinguishable against the darkness--low in the waters to the west.
Malcolm jerked in surprise as one of the metal doors leading downstairs was thrown open and a bright light temporarily blinded him.
“What the hell!” he shouted angrily as the intruder clomped up the stairs in heavy boots. He looked back at the water quickly but the dark shape, if it had been there at all, was gone.
Sighing heavily, Malcolm turned back to see who had interrupted his peaceful pre-dawn quiet.
It was Claude, one of the ship’s navigational crew. A burly man with thick, meaty biceps covered in tattoos, he gave Malcolm a long, measured glance when he saw him.
Fishing a lighter out of his pocket, Claude crossed to the deck railing and lit a cigarette, drawing deeply and blowing the smoke out of his nostrils.
“The fuck are ya doing up here, kid? Top decks supposed to be off limits to students after dark.” He spat the word “students” as if it were a vulgarity.
Malcolm flushed under the man’s accusatory gaze. “Sorry, sir. I had no idea. I woke up early and thought I’d get some fresh air.” He immediately began backing towards the still-open door.
“You kids need to be careful. Maybe you especially,” Claude said, turning his back to Malcolm and leaning heavily on the railing.
“Why me especially?” Malcolm asked in confusion. He was getting fed up with being referred to as “kid”.
Claude shrugged his broad shoulders. “Just keep to your bunk, kid. And we won’t have a problem, now will we?”
Now Claude did turn his head to give Malcolm a conspiratorial wink.
“I--guess not,” Malcolm replied uncertainly. He headed back down the narrow metal stairs to his room. He swore he heard Claude give a soft chuckle behind him.
One hundred feet from the gleaming red hull of the ship, two dark pairs of eyes watched from the water as the young man was replaced by another, this one larger and uglier than the first.
The figures turned in the water, and with a few powerful thrusts of their muscular tails, they descended into the sea.
The nighttime blackness of the shallow coral seas quickly gave way to the true, infinite darkness of the ocean depths. As the two strange creatures swam down and down, the raised ridges along their spines began flickering bioluminescent reds and greens, sending a very clear message to the hungry ocean life that shared their world.
Danger. Stay away.
The flashing lights allowed the figures to see one another in short bursts. Long, thin fingers began moving rapidly, combined with a series of high-pitched clicks and whistles. A message was being communicated between the creatures.
Alert the High Priestess. An offering has been found.