I am a great hunter. I have a big hat and boots, and I carry a big elephant gun. This summer, in the Serengeti, I collected many trophies and put their heads on my wall. I have maps and locations, and a guide to bring me there. This time we’re hunting Kudu, a spiral-horned antelope. Did I mention I have a big moustache?
Lunch is prepared, and I eat two ham and cheese sandwiches, no crusts. Lemonade is cold, and it feels good when I drink it.
Great waves crash into the side of the galleon. The pirate ship heels on the left side. Something is out there, in the vast sea. “Hard to port! Hard to port!” I call, but the crew are thrown from side to side. I hold onto the ship’s wheel and spin it clockwise. Another wave is approaching. “Brace yourselves, men!” I yell, and before the wave comes crashing down, I see it. The Beast. It’s many eyes, black and searching. It’s tentacles reaching out. I scream as it grabs hold of me.
The woman holds me, and rocks me. She puts a damp cloth on my forehead. I know I’m safe with her. She hums a gentle melody into my ear. There is a dark silhouette at the door, and for a moment I think the beast has come back. The woman shushes me, and rocks me, and I am safe.
“This is the second time this week,” the dark silhouette says.
“He’s burning up. I’ll call the doctor in the morning.”
The Nexus Team for the Aspire Research corps drilled for four straight weeks. I am the lead researcher in this exploratory mission, and so far we’ve found nothing. The ice planet, Kokiri, has much potential, and diversity in minerals, water, and gasses. There are more resources in the deep depths to discover. We are sure to find something. We will tunnel to it’s center core if we have to. I take a gyroscopic reading and send orders to realign the drill. We’ll make the planet's center within one earth year.
Due to low crew morale Aspire Research has sent us a new mascot. A Scottish Terrier named Tank. I guess they figured if humans can brave the recesses of deep space, land, and begin mining an ice planet, so can a dog. Tank is very friendly, and lively. He is constantly getting his nose into the crew's business, but so far has not delayed drill progress. Crew consensus on Tank is positive. It seems our parent company Aspire might know a thing or two.
We broke ground today. The Nexus team discovered flowing rivers and deep lake-like pockets within the ice cores. I am taking Tank with me to see it first hand. What wonders to behold. Blue caverns illuminated by phosphorescence. Maze-like tunnels running throughout, connecting and disconnecting. I can hear the rushing of water overhead. Tank ran into one of the tunnels and disappeared out of sight. “Command, this is team leader one. Do you copy?” His barking is further and further away. “Command, I am proceeding down the third tunnel on the west end, and should, according to the read out, arrive at one of the lake pockets. Stand by for visuals.”
The lake pocket is a ginormous cavern with dripping stalactites. The water is so still. “Tank! Here, boy. Where are you, Tank?” My words echo off the cavern walls. Tank runs out towards me, and jumps into the icy waters sending out ripples into water that has been still for probably a thousand million years. The blue light wavers. Dark shadows loom. The Beast is coming, and its jaws are threatening. Tank is suddenly beside me and I hold on to him. I can see tiny fish at the bottom of the lake. They are glowing. “Command, are you getting this? It is...it is fantastic!”
“I’m so happy we went. I never thought he would respond so strongly,” the woman says.
“I know. Who knew the Aquarium would have such an impact. Did you see him light up when he saw the jellyfish?” the man says. The woman’s head bows. “Hey, don’t cry now, sweetheart.”
“I’m not. It’s just, I saw a glimpse of who Peter could be.”
They embraced, and both came forward to kiss my forehead.
“Goodnight Peter.” The woman tucks me in.
It takes three and half months before we break through Kokiri’s mantle. The immense pressure on the hull of the ship creaks and groans. To our surprise, the deeper we go the hotter it gets. There are still big chunks of ice but now it is as if we are at the bottom of an ocean. The marine life at this depth is larger. It is baffling to all our scientific study. Kokiri was believed to be completely made of ice, with random hotspots, creating those lake-like pockets, dappled across the asthenosphere. The core is supposed to be pure ice. What we discover is completely not what we expected.
The day we punched through the mantle to the outer core is riddled with problems. The front of the ship hit something hard, and stopped altogether. We are at a stand still. The crew prepares to make an excursion to find out the cause of this abrupt stop. Nobody has ever stepped outside at this depth before. My atmospheric pressure suit gives me a hard time as my hands are having trouble slipping in properly. I wave them around like a mad man, and finally my fingers find their way in. Tank is running back and forth nervously. I pat his head. “Sorry, Tank. You can’t come with me.” He looks at me with his head cocked to one side. I must look funny in this get up.
Water fills up the airlock. I open the door and walk out onto the outer hull with magnetic boots. It is extremely dark here. I flash my light towards the front of the ship, where lies the tip of the drill. “Command. You wouldn’t believe what I am seeing. There appears to be the skeletal remains of some large, no immense, sea-like creature. It is rooted to, what appears to be, a crust level.” My light flickers. “There should be no crust at this depth. Command, please confirm depth at 2900 km.” Approaching the drill I notice it’s all clogged up from the creature's tendons and sinew. My light flickers again. It takes 30 minutes to cut the drill free. For some unknown reason I feel watched. It occurs to me this creature may have been eaten. What horror, what leviathan could have done this? I scramble back toward the hatch door of the airlock. The latch is stuck. I pull on it again, and then I see it in the murky depths. The Beast. Bigger than mortal man can describe, it is there watching me with its multitude of dead black eyes. Its tentacles reach out for me. The suckers pulsating. I am screaming. I am screaming and wishing for this nightmare to end. I am screaming madness.
The hatch door pops open. Inside, I regroup, and remove my pressure suit. “Begin drilling,” I say. Tank is at my feet barking. The hull moans and creaks. Suddenly the ship is jostled about. We are caught in its mighty grip. “Propulsions! Forward!” I yell. The ship breaks free and lurches forward. There is no more up or down, above or below. The drill breaks through the crust. In some miracle we pierce through Kokiri’s mantle, and surface on the stormy shores of an unimaginable beach, the outer core. Light shines upon us from the center of the core and the Beast withdraws down into the deep. It’s horrendous tentacles writhing as it sinks. The shores calm and tidal waves subside. There is stillness again.
“I don’t know if I can do this anymore,” the man says.
“He’s your son.”
“I know, but these meltdowns are too much. This time it lasted well over three hours. I hate to say it, but I think we may have to consider putting him in a home.”
“Over my dead body. Peter may be difficult at times, and things aren’t always easy, but he’s our boy.”
“Don’t you see what he’s doing to us. We’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown. There are days you are so frazzled, I don’t know what to do. We can’t live like this.”
“Peter deserves just as much love as any other child. We are not putting him into a home.”
“I love him too, but we need to do something.”
Tank runs down the beach and back, retrieving a piece of dry wood. “Good boy.” I give him a pat, scratch behind his ear, and toss the wood once more. Communications with Aspire have been completely severed since breaking through to the outer core. It’s been months since we’ve surfaced on this strange tide. The landscape is fantastical. Constant clouds keep the crew and I in a perpetual sunset, or sunrise, if you prefer. Strong winds coarse through the underground sky in currents that seem to electrify the very core of the planet. At times there are breaks in the clouds that illuminate the uncanny terrain upon which we find ourselves. Our ship lay like a beached whale, and the crew made camp there, and in the surrounding area. On particularly stormy days the crew can take shelter in the hull of the ship.
After our second week here, I begin to think the place resembles the Isle of Skye in Scotland, with its green cliffs and protruding rocks. I must have seen a picture once. There’s no greenery here though, just stone and more stone, rock upon rock. Our geologists are having a field day. I climb the stone wall to its peak, as I do everyday, if you can define what a day is here, with Tank by my side. I am getting good at it, for its slopes are not too steep and Tank is always very supportive. At the peak I gaze out into the torrents and know there is no going back. Beyond the clouds the inner core sits flooding light back at us when one can see it. There is a mystery there, but I have not yet grasped it. Perhaps there are more clues to be found.
At camp, my hand shakes, spilling my soup. I grasp the spoon, but I am unable to eat. Atmospheric pressure and the wind velocity make it difficult. There is something about being here, this deep near the inner core, that is unsettling. The crew feels it too. There is a silence among them as we listen to the wind. All of us can hear the low hum of the inner core as it churns. At the peak again, the storm brews to new heights. I can see the tentacles of the Beast out there, in the distance. Its massive shape rises from the deep. Those black eyes watch me, wait for me. If I stare any further into them I know I’ll go mad. I turn away, and climb to a new plane of which I hadn’t reached before. There, a large stone at the edge of a steep precipice juts out like a shrine, or some makeshift altar. To my unbelieving eyes, upon the stone, like from some ancient runic language, a symbol is carved deep and weathered by time. ROM it spells. It tastes funny upon my tongue as I utter the word. Above me the inner core continues to churn. Its mysteries, still begging to be lifted.
“Peter’s progress is good and steady,” a woman says. Not the woman who makes me feel safe and tucks me in at night. A different woman. “We’ll continue with the occupational therapy, and physical therapy, as it’s going very well. Peter’s speech therapy, however, is going slow, but it’s going nonetheless. As for the medication we will continue as is, for now.”
“Thank you, doctor,” the man says.
“Don’t fret, there is progress,” she tells the woman who tucks me in at night. “We take small steps. As for the meltdowns, remember, it's about prevention. Know the triggers and follow your action plan. Understand what Peter must be feeling when he is going through one. The frustration at not being understood. The fear and anger. It’s not easy for him.”
“Yes, we’ve been doing much better with his tantrums now,” the man says.
“We have his iPad with his favorite Jules Verne's stories on it. That always seems to help him calm down,” the woman, who makes me feel safe, says.
The Nexus Team sends out a couple of crew members to do some reconnaissance after what I had discovered. Upon their return three more monoliths with runic carvings were reported. I take Tank with me to visit these new discoveries. Another ROM is carved with a slight variation in the lettering. The other two have RAHD etched into it, again with slight variations. At camp, our best cryptographers discuss, and argue, about the meaning. None of them can come to a consensus. The general idea is that they are symbols of the four elements. Earth and Water being attributed to ROM, Fire and Air to RAHD. As to what these monoliths are for we have no clue.
Tank is licking my face. I wake to find the crew in a panic. Outside the hull, the men stare out towards the deep stormy seas. The Beast is upon us. Like a titan risen he steps forward. Waves crash into the camp and we are all scattered. Up the rock face I go, Tank following close behind. The Beast's eyes are searching. ROM. I turn towards the monoliths. My hands caress the smooth surface of the stones. Another wave crashes against the rocks. “ROM,” I say, aloud. The Beast’s hoard of eyes fix me with their interminable reality. It knows I am here. Tank is barking. “ROM,” I say again, and there is a metallic taste on my tongue. The hum of the inner core is louder now as it churns.
“ROM” I say.
The cliffs shake and I am thrown down upon the rock face. Tank has abandoned me. The waves crash as the Beast is almost upon us. I push my legs to stand. RAHD. Simultaneously the monoliths emit a faint yellow glow from it’s etchings, and I feel a power standing within its circle. The twisting tentacles turn, and squirm about, reaching for me.
“RAHD” I say.
Suddenly the power of the monoliths fills me. The tentacles wrap around my body, squeezing, and then pull me up. I am staring into the fearful reality of those black eyes. The inner core churns and churns. It’s hum is deafening.
“ROM” I say.
The dark clouds part and the inner core is revealed. It shines down a golden light, and I remember that I am an explorer. The Beast cringes.
I am a Pirate. The Beast draws back.
I am not afraid, for I am a Great Hunter.
There is the woman, and she approaches me. There is a look upon her I do not know. “Abe, come here,” she calls out.
My name is Peter.
“MOM,” I say to her, and the Beast is gone.
“Oh, my,” the woman cries, lost for words.
The man comes to the door.
“What is it, Maya?” He says.
“DAHD,” I say, and the man’s mouth drops in utter astonishment.
“What? What did he just say?”
“MOM,” I repeat. “DAD!”
My parents look at me as if for the first time. My dog comes into the room enquiring what all the fuss is about.
“Tank!” I say.
My parents laugh with tears and hug me. My dog licks my face. There is joy here, and I am safe.