Louis Armstrong’s trumpet painted the walls of the little craft with soaring blue notes. He climbed, she fell. The contrast pleased her. Will sat back, muscles relaxed, mind drifting in a pleasant state of meditation. The deeper she sank the safer she felt.
She dropped like a stone but the tiny sphere cradled her like her own private bubble. She went deeper, felt lighter. Outside it was dark, cold and forbidding. To Will it was home. She had all the company she needed.
Now, mama, mama, mama, why do you treat me so?
Ah, mama, mama, mama, why do you treat me so?
(I know why you treat me so bad.)
You treat me mean, baby, just because I’m gully low.
It amused Will that Armstrong reached his gully low just as her little craft registered 8,000 feet, about as deep as it could safely take her. Its headlight penetrated the darkness and a field of tubeworms came into view. The primitive creatures rose like a forest, swinging in the gloom as though swaying to the music’s rhythm. The hydrothermal vent spewed boiling water from the ocean floor like a giant cauldron. If hell was anything like this, Will reflected, maybe she should stop running from her demons.
“Beautiful,” she whispered.
“Who knew worms could be so sexy?” Sheila murmured.
Will had briefly forgotten that even down there, she couldn’t really be alone. Someone was always watching, always listening. Not that she minded Sheila, sharing her camera’s view while perched on the mothership above. Sheila was more than the expedition’s leader; she was one of Will’s few friends.
A spidery white crab danced in front of her light.
“Showoff,” she grinned.
Next her beam played over a towering chimney-like structure.
“Wow -- look at that huge black smoker.”
“Crazy cool,” said Sheila.
Out of the enveloping darkness, an enormous sea creature swooped into the sub’s beam and plastered itself onto Will’s view screen. She could see nothing except eyes -- large, inky pools, reeling her into their depths. Will’s heart raced. Her breath came in ragged bursts. Silently she told herself: It’s not real ... it’s not real... The sub hit the ocean floor and bounced crazily.
“What the hell?” Sheila barked.
“Uh ... some kind of ray is blocking my view -- I can’t see --”
“What are you talking about? There’s nothing there. Slow down!”
Will forced her eyes from the mesmerizing gaze. Drops of sweat fell from her face onto the control panel. As abruptly as it had appeared, the creature vanished, and Will took in the scene outside. The worm field was dead ahead. She pulled up hard, but groaned with dismay as she plowed into the fragile sea creatures. The sub settled in their midst, bits of detritus floating about her like the snow in a globe.
“We’re aborting,” Sheila said, her tone unreadable. “Set for the surface.”
Under ordinary circumstances, Will would have responded to the order automatically, but the destruction she had caused so unnerved her that it didn’t immediately register.
“You need to come up now,” Sheila said.
“Right,” Will muttered.
An icy breeze swooshed through the tiny space, overwhelming her with a new dread. It stopped her hand in mid-air. It stopped her breath. It froze the moisture on her face. Her head throbbed with the effort to resist turning around, to no avail.
Slowly she turned and found herself looking into the deep, liquid eyes of a gray. The thing was about three feet tall, with a big triangular head, overwhelming black eyes, no nose, and a tiny immobile mouth.
It looked just like the aliens Will had seen on book covers, in movies, dangling from key chains at novelty shops in the mall. It looked just like the aliens crazy people claimed had abducted them. Just like the ones in her nightmares. It now stood two feet away from her, telling her in a kind of otherworldly mind chatter that resistance was futile.
“Get out!” Will screamed.
Sheila re-entered the conversation, sounding detached, like HAL the computer, Will thought, with the tiny corner of her brain that wasn’t consumed with terror. Sheila reminded her of the sub’s depth limit, that she needed to surface. Will wanted to turn away from the gray, but her eyes wouldn’t comply. She dimly heard Sheila’s voice warning that she was going too deep, too fast.
The gray’s small, slit-like mouth didn’t move, but a deep vibration cut through Will like the chant of a Tibetan monk. It told her not to be afraid. She reached blindly behind her, groping for anything she might use in her defense.
The craft lurched -- the lights flickered off and on. Armstrong’s trumpet wailed. The alien told Will to obey. One part of her was swept into its hypnotic gaze. Another part told it to go fuck itself.
The sub careened drunkenly over the ocean floor, its mechanical arms flailing. Its beam revealed a fast-approaching drop-off. Will didn’t hear Sheila yelling at her to pull up. She didn’t hear Armstrong. She could only hear the deafening drone of the alien, commanding her to give in.
With a monumental effort, Will slammed her fist into the creature’s head. It took the blow without comment, merely bending sideways, then springing upright again. Will reached for its slender neck. Her fingers closed around it, sinking through the disgusting substance that passed for flesh. Will felt a wave of nausea rising. The creature stared at her, unfazed.
Sheila’s shrill voice suddenly penetrated. “Will!”
She spun around, maneuvering the sub away from the drop in a swift, reflexive motion that made her feel, for an instant, back in control. Panting, adrenaline surging, she swung back to face her adversary. The alien was gone. She was alone, except for Armstrong.
If you listen baby / I’ll tell you something you don’t know.(You don’t know.)
If you just listen to me honey, I’ll tell you something you don’t know.