Oceans- the daughters of Neptune. Man, in his greed for wealth, has plundered their depths for centuries. But never even for once has contemplated on the consequences that would raise their hoods when serene and calm daughters of Neptune are angered. Still now I wake up in the dead of night, sweat adorning my forehead when the world sleeps peacefully for it has not seen the angst of these daughters of gods, their acrid tears degenerating my body and mind. But again this could be fully owed to the experiences that succeeded that September evening. The trench, the phantom signals and the screams of the old sea-man still haunt my memory in the stillness of the dark and cold desert nights. That September evening was usual in all its sense except for the recurrence of the phantom sonar. Dr. Jane Slater, our oceanologist was busy explaining me the implications of this re-occurrence when the holographic images of frequency analytics were replaced by that of a melting humanoid. “21 NE of 44”, boss’s voice commanded. It was code alpha red.
The pallid eyes staring into nowhere through the translucent eyelids did not belong to human but to that of a sculpture carved in frozen mercury. The scarcely used wing of the Marine Research now brimmed with activity. The Electro Encephala Monitor (EEM) registered a low activity. The extremely low temperature of the ICU had started to reach through my heavy outer insulations. With a nod Boss called me out. Jack was already with him. He led us into the conference room. Every member of my team had already taken their respective seats. “He was one of my best men”, Boss said when we were finally seated, “Three months of extensive search without any result. And now spoof, he appears brain-dead in the form of an ice statue.” I was able to fathom his frustration. It was one of our ‘failed’ cases. Dr. Armand Nicholson, the marine biologist had gone missing near the erstwhile Great Barrier Reef. Three months we sieved the area but with no result. Now he had reappeared. “Where?” asked Dr. Slater with curiosity dancing all over her face. “On the lee-side of the barrier” came the reply, “As if he was egested.” An eerie silence settled in the room. “He was discovered by aquanauts of Marine Corp.”, Boss broke the silence. His comment was superfluous in this context as the report was in front of us but I was grateful to him. “Though unofficial, yet MC has confirmed our fears that this is not an isolated case. They have lost as many as four of their personnel in the last one year”, he continued; “Now the ball is in our court. So, Captain Ray, set sailing.” As I stood up to leave Boss retorted, “I know of your antagonistic views about the motives of M.C. But don’t let it take precedence.” With a nod I resigned myself into my office for preparations.
Boss was not wrong about my antagonistic views about Marine Corp. More than a decade ago, Marine Corp had staked for sole ownership of the erstwhile Great Barrier Reef, now referred to only by its Latitude and Longitude. In a year long legal battle that ensued, Marine Corp won. Now they were the unchallenged leaders in Petrochemical products. Their insatiable hunger for money was thorn of contention in my mind against the likes of Marine Corp. It was this aspect of the Corp culture that led to the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef which, till the end of last century was an indispensable part of marine ecosystem. But the indiscriminate strive for profits led to the exhaustive exploitation of the Reef. Consequently mining led to structural faults in the Reef. The periodic seismic activity added with continental shifts was the fabled last straw. At the dawn the current century all that was left of the Reef was a mount. Today this mount was a gold mine for the petrochemicals. A notification tone snapped me out of the memory lane. It was the repot filed by Dr. Preena. The report confirmed my fears. Dr. Armand’s body was a silicate ghost of its previous self, sodium silicate to be exact. The superceding of sodium silicate over cellular matter was even in the lower extremity, scant in the upper extremity, especially near the skull, and uneven near the abdomen. Though they were able to arrest the process but were too late. Armand’s dying words were ‘We Are’. These words could be the blabbering of a dying sea-man, yet they stuck in my mind like a fly caught in a web. My broodings were interrupted by a sharp knock succeeded by Jack’s face. “Marine Corp. has you issued a carte-blanche”, he declared, “That too without any provocations”. “It includes…”, I interceded. “A prototype of scuba gear”, he said nonchalantly. I gave a smile as an answer. “But I’ll have to caution you about your intentions. They are suicidal”, he cautioned me. Untold fears were dancing across his face. With a nod I accompanied him out to the deck which was now facing the platforms erected on the mount by the Marine Corp.
Solitary scuba diving was the most dangerous of all the water sports in vogue. But it were not the dangers but the report on the phantom sonar coupled with Armand’s inability to switch on his beacon were the thoughts that transpired my mind as I was descending the walls of the mount. The sonar scanner was getting active as I approached the spot where Armand had gone missing. As I ventured nearer, the proximity curve started to ascend. The spot was not isolated though not frequented. The more I wavered towards a small slit in the rocks, more acute became the ascend of the measurement. For the split of a second I hesitated, then stepped towards it. One moment I was on the verge of a steep rock, trying to peer through the slit, in the next I was falling into a cavity hidden by the pseudo rock-face. The sudden fall deprived my lungs of air. The steep descend was broken as abruptly as it started. It felt like a cave filled with decay giving out acrid pungent smell. I raised my arm to activate the air filter at end of the oxygen synthesizer. At that instant I felt a prick at the nape, the only exposed part of my body. I tried to reach the spot by working the arm through left. In the water it was exhausting. Before I could reach something stung at the same area. This time pain exploded into my brain like ball of fire, clogging my voice. The (dark) world went white. Reality lost solidarity. The events that succeeded were incoherent for some time. The only thing I remember is the grave yet soothing voice of my dad and assurance of his strong hands. Three days thence, I was relieved from hospital and back at my house, decommissioned for three months. Things were sliding back to the mundane, yet something gave me fitful sleeps at nights. Those were the words of Armand. One night I awoke with a shrill scream. In the dark of the night, for the blink of an eye, I saw glassy yellow streams sliding down through thin air. It increased the shrillness of my scream. I felt a hand on my shoulder and sprang back startled. It was dad. At that moment everything became crystal clear. Even before realizing, my revolver was in my hand, its cold nozzle pressing at my temple. “What are you doing?” he cried out to me. “That should have been done before”, I replied, “And don’t play games with me.” “What games?” he asked trying desperately to get to me. “This is not real”, I answered sweat drops appearing on my forehead, “Then again why should I die? It should be you”, I continued with a smile generating at the corners of my mouth, “The brain of the mount isn’t it.” My aim was set at the dead centre of his forehead. The figure had lost its voice and its face as well. Many faces morphed in and out on his head. The room was bulging intermittent by glassy streams. I concentrated on the streams. Gathering every ounce of my energy I muttered “Aztec”. A shiver ran down my spine. It was nothing like I had ever felt. Images appeared before my eyes. My iris contracted and a selection was made. Chaos ensued. The ‘morph’ degenerated into plasmodia, tendrils sprouting out of its cyst. My assumption became fact. The words uttered were ‘V.R.’ and not “We are”. My thoughts were interrupted by a déjà vu of being drawn out. Ice cool slashes of the saline water assured me I was indeed egested without being assimilated. “Beacon on”, I hissed, “Jets on”. I broke to the surface within moments. Through my ‘Eagle Eyes’ I saw the mast lights of my ships hovering nearer. The ocean was calm as ever.
“Incredible”, Boss retorted, “Just incredible. The Great Reef being a man eater.” “Tip of the ice berg”, I replied, “The whole system had evolved into an intelligent predator. Had it been given a century more, it may have became species of a rare kind.” “Still, how did it survive till now”, he asked after being silent for seconds. “It lured the fish into the cave”, I answered. “Through sonar”, explained Jane, “the sonar appeared to us as phantom sonar. The pseudo rock-face being the make-shift base.” “Once trapped the ‘food’ was enough for months”, I took over from Jane, “But once platforms were erected, the marine provisions became scarce. After a century of evolution, this was not a great challenge for the Mount. It restructured its epithelia. Man being the prey. Unassuming divers were contrived in through the pseudo wall.” “Once inside, the electric circuitry was broken down by effective reverse current feed through tendrils”, Dr. Preena took over, “Having done that, sulphuric acid concoction melted the rexin covers. The next process is carried out by the gastric counterparts.” “If this was going on for so long why wasn’t there any inkling?” asked Boss. “The Mount couldn’t consume everything. So it assimilated the fats and proteins”, explained Jack, “And deposited water soluble sodium silicates. Thus forming a statue. To really accomplish this, it inserted parasitic D.N.A strand into the prey’s genes.” “And now about the ‘We are’ thing”, Boss said in a lighter vein. “Its V.R. Virtual Reality. The mount injected chemical in the lines of Hallucinogens that interacted with the memories of the victim creating a virtually real world”, I said chill running down the spine, “But with me, my memories are not mine.” Boss nodded in acknowledgement and enquired, “So M.C’s all happy?” “No they won’t be”, I spoke in low tones, and “The chemicals I ejected to break free would not only pacify Mount’s hunger but also de-synthesize the petrochemicals into useless sewage. By the way the petrochems were the refusals of the Mount.” “What if more such mounts exists?” Boss asked. I unconsciously quoted lines of an unknown poet of 22nd century
“Daughters of Neptune, Calling out to Nuhn,
Brittled by tolerance, Crying for vengeance,
Tell me o’ man, where you stand,
When the daughters of gods are angered?”
A solemn silence had descended on the congressional room. No one dared to answer.
(From the journals of Captain Ray)