Screams and rushing water.
Pin was standing over her when Emma came to, wild eyed and panicked. He was out of his harness and trying to keep steady as the pod rolled head-over-tail as if someone had stuffed them in a drum and sent it rolling down a mountainside.
Adam was still next to her, safely strapped to the wall but screaming bloody murder. In a moment, Emma saw why. The pod was filling with water.
Amid the chaos, she scanned the interior until she found the source of the leak— a wide tear in the pod’s fuselage was letting in gallons of frigid water, the level of which was already past their legs and over the top of the narrow bench.
“We touched down on water!” Pin yelled. “We’re rolling to the bottom! Stay in your suits! And pray we’re not in the middle of a goddamn ocean!”
As if looking for proof, Emma’s eyes shot to the window where, sure enough, a storm of bubbles raged outside, drummed up by the pod’s turbulent descent. Pin was right: they had made it to the planet’s surface, but the pod was submerged and moving further into the depths of a great body of water.
Eventually the pod stopped rolling and settled into a deep sandbar, the currents dragging it steadily downwards along the seabed.
Water still poured in through the fuselage, the level now sitting just below the children’s shoulders and rising.
The moment the pod stabilized, Pin slapped the center of Emma’s harness and the buckles released with a snap, the straps zipping back into their wall sockets. He pulled her to her feet and helped her steady herself before moving to Adam and doing the same.
Emma shivered in her suit as she watched Pin help Adam off the bench to stand beside her.
“We have to evacuate!” he yelled over the noise of rushing water and sloshed towards his small duffle bag. Reaching inside, he pulled out his package of clothbound tools and secured them inside his suit. When he was done doing that, he moved towards a small panel beside the pod’s door and, turning back, he said, “Don’t fight against the water when it floods the pod or you’ll end up topsy-turvy and breaking your visors against something. Give in to it until it settles around you and then kick your legs and move your arms like this until you’re outside the pod.”
“Then what?” Emma yelled back. She had never done anything like swimming before.
“Then you look straight up and kick your legs as hard and as fast as you can until you reach the surface! And don’t look back for any reason! Do you understand?”
Pin didn’t wait for their reply before slamming his palm against the red release button and bracing himself for the impact of incoming water.
The door hissed loudly and gears whirred and kicked up bubbles as its three deadbolts began to release one after the other.
When the first two were unlocked, the door rolled slightly and water gushed from the open seam. Pin yelled, “Here we go!” but then the last bolt squealed painfully and stalled, the door failing to open all the way.
Pin pressed the red button twice quickly then cursed and dove under the water.
Emma watched his shape jerk back and forth as he tried to release the final bolt by hand. Then, without knowing why exactly, she clasped her arms across her chest and hugged herself to stave off a punishing anxiety that was beginning to gnaw at her.
What she didn’t know was that, since the water level had risen to the bottom of her helmet, the first pangs of claustrophobia were creeping in, and all at once she felt as though the walls would close in to crush them.
To ease the sensation, she breathed in slowly and cast her eyes towards the window to get a sense of the larger world outside. But, instead of being calmed, a cold terror struck her and she screamed at the sight of an inky black tentacle that slid across the glass outside.
The tentacle pulsed and sucked at the window with a hundred bulbous appendages before removing itself with a sickening pop and slipping back into the darkness.
Pin burst from the water then and swam towards the children. Ignoring Emma’s panicked cries, he lifted them onto the bench before the water covered their helmets and huddled them all together.
“The door won’t open!” he yelled. “Hydraulics are shot and I ain’t strong enough to fight against them.”
“Are we going to die?” Adam cried out.
“Not if one of you squeezes through the tear in the pod and opens the door from the outside,” Pin replied. “It’s a failsafe designed to override the pod’s systems so those inside can be rescued during a bungled touchdown just like this. Problem is, there’s nobody outside to rescue us.”
“There’s a monster outside!” Emma blurted pointing to the window.
“How’s that?” Pin asked, quickly turning to look, but seeing nothing but dark water outside.
“I saw it,” Emma continued. “A big arm hugging us. It wants to get us!”
The desperate look in Emma’s eyes told Pin she’d certainly seen something outside the pod. But right then, faced with knowing they would definitely drown versus the not knowing what was outside, he didn’t see they had much choice but to follow his plan.
“Did you see it too, Adam?” Pin asked the boy.
Adam shook his head and gulped. “I don’t want to—” he began, but stopped short of finishing.
He looked at Emma and saw the fear and exhaustion in her eyes. Even amid the chaos, he didn’t want her to be scared. He thought back to how she’d pulled him into the wall and saved them both from the fire on the Tian. She’d saved him then, despite his protests, and now it was his turn to do the same. All of a sudden Emma’s fear made him feel brave in comparison and he wanted to be strong and protect her.
“I’m not scared, Pin!” Adam said finally, though he knew it was a lie.
Pin grabbed his shoulders and pressed his visor against the boy’s. He could see hesitation in Adam’s eyes and feared it would turn to panic once he left the pod and found himself alone in endless, dark water.
“I know it’s a lot to ask,” he said, “but you’ll hear my voice over the communicator and I’ll talk to you the whole time. You won’t be alone out there.”
Adam nodded quickly and Pin helped him down.
Emma watched, terrified and helpless, as they swam to where the pod had torn apart. Since the gash was now underwater, it wasn’t long before both were under the waves and she was alone and scared in the claustrophobic water coffin.
Before letting him go, Pin explained to Adam what he needed to do. The pod had slowed its descent but they were still being dragged by the currents, so there was a risk of being left behind if he didn’t keep a good hold onto it from the outside.
“Pull yourself along the outside of the pod until you reach the round door,” he said firmly. “Then look for a square panel. It’ll be somewhere close and latched shut, so you’ll need to open it up before you can trigger the door. Once you open it there will a button of some kind. Press it to release the hydraulics and the door should open. If you get in trouble out there, just holler and I’ll talk you through it.”
The more he spoke, the more Pin could see Adam was beginning to hyperventilate, which meant he was taking in too much carbon dioxide and could end up passing out.
“Breathe slowly, boy,” Pin said sternly. “Focus on what you’re doing and you won’t be scared. It’ll all be over soon and we’ll be out of this blasted thing once and for all.”
He waited for Adam to calm himself before patting the back of his helmet, saying, “Okay, let’s do it,” and swimming with him to the gash.
Floating next to the opening, Pin gripped a jagged portion of damaged fuselage and pulled it forcibly away to enlarge it enough that Adam’s body could squeeze through. The strain on his already tired muscles was immense and his forearms shook almost immediately, and he began to lose his grip.
Adam swam to the hole and pushed his face to the opening to look out into the dark abyss. He scanned the depths for a sign of danger but could see no shapes or movement in the water outside the pod save the sandy seabed that flowed beneath them.
Meanwhile, Pin was about to release the piece of damaged pod. “Out you go, before you get caught up! I can’t hold it much longer!”
With that, Adam flashed Pin one last worried look then ventured outside the pod and into the blue darkness.
Twisting his body as he left the pod behind, Adam kicked his legs and quickly reached for a thin pipe he saw running along its side. Grasping it with the tips of his gloved fingers, his grip slipped immediately and he was left floating just out of reach as the pod continued along the bottom.
“Pin!” Adam yelled.
A moment later, the communicator in his helmet clicked on and Pin’s electronic voice filled his helmet.
“Where are you?” Pin said.
“Floating!” Adam replied, panicked.
“Can you see the pod?”
“Then swim to it. Kick your legs and move your arms. You can do it, my boy!”
Adam did what Pin said and kicked his legs ferociously until his body was an arrow pointing towards the moving pod. Then, using his arms to guide him, he swam madly through the water until he was close enough to make out the mechanical details along the outside of the pod.
He saw the tear along the fuselage where he had ventured out, bubbles trailing from it as the pod made its way along the sandy bottom. He saw the pipe that was too narrow for him to hold onto then, looking up from it, saw a spindly metal hook that jutted from the pod and hung out over the side, like fruit hanging from a tree branch.
Narrowing his eyes and keeping them trained on the hook, Adam kicked harder until he was close enough to grab for it. He smiled when his fingers touched metal and made a bold move to snag it when the pod was swept up in a current and began to roll over, taking the hook along with it.
Adam kicked harder and followed the hook as it moved upward, no longer on the side of the pod now, but on top of it.
Planting his foot against the side of the craft, he launched himself up and on top of the rolling pod, scrambling along until the hook was finally within reach. Grabbing it tightly with his right hand, he pulled himself into a sitting position and straddled the top of the pod, using his left arm for balance.
“I did it, I’m on top!” he yelled once he was finally stable.
“Good boy!” Pin yelled hurriedly. “You’ll have to slide over the front to get to the door. Hurry up now, there’s no room for water in here anymore!”
And indeed, Pin was right. As Adam worked to catch the pod outside, inside had completely filled with water.
Emma, scared and crying, clung to Pin’s body like a baby marsupial would its mother. They had swum to the door in anticipation of Adam opening it, but the wait was proving agonizing. Each time the walls of the metal machine groaned under pressure from the depths, Emma was sure the monster had come for them again and kept her eyes shut for fear of seeing the fearsome creature.
“It’s okay, little mouse,” Pin said to her soothingly. “Adam will get us out in no time. He won’t let you down. You’ll see.”
Outside, Adam had shimmied onto his belly and was working to slide his legs over the front of the pod. His right hand still holding the metal hook, he felt along the front with his feet, searching for a sturdy foothold. When his right foot finally felt secure, he let the hook go and fell in front of the moving pod.
Unfortunately, the weight of his suit and boots forced him down more quickly than expected and he was unable to grab anything before his feet slipped from the bar and he landed in a heap on the sand, the pod dangerously close to rolling over him.
He looked up wildly to see the round door bearing down on him, threatening to smash against his helmet if he didn’t act fast. So, pulling hard against the water with both his arms, he swam straight up until he was on his feet. Then, turning his body, he shouldered the heavy metal pod as it was thrust forward, carried by another strong current.
His elbow crunched against a square bolt in the metal door and he screamed out in pain, but didn’t hesitate to clasp his fingers around a maintenance ladder alongside it. Another strong tug upwards and his feet were safely on board as well, and he was within reach of the door’s main control box.
“I’m here!” Adam said into the communicator. “I’m opening the box now.”
Adam reached for the control box and saw the latch Pin had mentioned. It was a thin strand of metal, twisted into a figure-eight and threaded through the round ends of the box’s strike. He grabbed it with the tips of his fingers and pressed to twist it apart when a great shadow overcame him and the water around him darkened.
Adam stopped moving, paralyzed with fear. He felt a rush of turbulence as a mass above him threw a great gust of water downwards with what felt like the flick of a massive appendage.
“Adam?” his communicator crackled as Pin’s voice filled his helmet? “Adam, are you there?”
Without opening his eyes, Adam whispered, “It’s the monster.”
“Okay, don’t move,” Pin said. “I’ll wager it ain’t got good eyesight, so you just stay still and we’ll see if it swims away. Emma said it already had a good suck on the pod, so it knows we’re not tasty. It’s just making sure. Be patient now.”
Adam did his best to stay perfectly still. He could sense the shape above him, lurking and feeling around with its bulbous tentacles, sending wave after wave toward the pod as it swam around in a sickening circle, like a vulture waiting on death from above.
Just when Adam thought it was safe to look up again, the beast threw a thick tentacle against the pod, missing him by inches and striking the metal door.
The pod jerked and rolled as the beast pulled at it, tasting through touch. Adam weaved to the right as the tentacle moved across his path, ducking before it could connect with his side. Finally, it curled itself into a circle before releasing with a suck and pop of fleshy suction and flying back upwards. Then the darkness vanished and the monster swam away with one last flick of its three long tentacles.
Adam twisted the latch as hard as he could and the top of the box floated open to reveal a green button that read EMERGENCY USE ONLY. He pressed it down with all his might and bubbles exploded all around him as the final bolt sprang loose and the round door rolled open.
Pin and Emma burst through the door in an explosion of bubbled and Pin pulled Adam by the suit as they passed him by.
“Everyone look up and swim as fast as you can!” he said, dragging Adam by his suit until the boy began to kick his legs and swim on his own. “And nobody look down, no matter what!”
Bubbles raged around the three survivors as they swam furiously towards the lightless unknown surface.
The stronger of the three, Pin lead the way, moving through the dark waters quickly. Scared of being left behind, Emma did her best to keep sight of his heavy boots as they kicked ahead of her. She could see Adam just below her out of the corner of her eye.
Worried he would lose sight of them, she looked down momentarily and saw the monster wrapping itself around the empty pod. It was even bigger than she’d thought, a grey mass of inky flesh surrounded by three great arms that swirled around it, manically searching for food.
Before she turned away, she saw its body flip inside out to reveal a repulsive mouth full of hundreds of bone-white teeth. They bit at the pod twice, sending a reverberating clang through the depths, before recoiling again. Then the beast let loose a deep, agonizing bellow before vanishing down a long trench, dragging the pod behind it.
Eyes wild, Emma looked back towards the surface and prayed they would soon leave the dangerous depths for good.
She kicked her legs and moved her arms as quickly as she could muster until finally she saw a twinkle of light dancing somewhere above them. At first it was dim, pale white amid the darkness, but soon it shone like a star on fire in the night.
She trained her eyes on the light as she swam upwards behind Pin, towards what she hoped would finally be safety for them all.