Warning: sexual fetish content.
A darkness passes over the quiescent surveillance of drones mining precious metals beneath the ocean floor. What else could be hiding down here? Drones are the only things capable of withstanding the pressure and heat this deep in earth’s crust. The drones and their Spider Captain, of course.
Upon first glance, Chester Jones thinks nothing of it, and goes back to thumbing through the photos stored on his phone: Annika… Nata… Anita… Cherise… Only five more days until the transport arrives and he can get out of this pressurized prison.
Chester whistles more anxiously than a steaming tea kettle, thumping his restless leg on the floor, fearing he is on the brink of becoming a product of his environment. There is no internet access five miles deep in the sweltering heat of the Izu-Ogasawara Trench.
There it is again.
“What is that?”
He tips the brim of his School of Mines hat back and leans in to study the feed more closely, certain his eyes deceive him. It appears to be the lecherous tentacles of an octopus investigating one of S.P-I.D.R. Captain’s many drones. (Subterranean Poly-Intelligent Drone Regulator)
Drones continue to chisel and shape the bore toward the Moho, oblivious to this life that should not, could not, be where it is.
The only other life that survives below the subsurface biosphere are tube worms and microbes. Even the tube worms keep their distance from the Moho.
Hydrothermal vents gave humanity access to the Mohorovičić discontinuity and its wealth of resources – namely the heat and pressure necessary to create the strongest, lightest alloys known to mankind – but it also gave that same access to the wildlife of the sea.
For humanity to conquer space, it needs metal. This metal. But the nearly six thousand species in the sprawling ecosystem are protected by the U.P.I.N. (United Pacific Island Nations) charter, which is why there is a marine biologist aboard every mining ship. Every once in a while, a stray crab or fish falls into the mohole, but immediately dies because of the conditions. This octopus however, is very much alive. Alive and playful.
“Hey Ronin, you awake?” Chester says. “You better get down here.”
Chester watches the sway of the cephalopod in the currents and hydrothermal plumes along the sides of the mohole. It seems to be increasing in speed around the drones. Nothing in the subduction zone moves that fast.
“You better get Pania, too.” Ronin radios back.
“I’m not disturbing Pania. You do it.” Chester objects, remembering the last time he interrupted Dr. Pania Kahuhara during one of her many sessions inside the Ersatz.
“Just wake her up, Chester.”
Pania is stiff and recumbent inside the Ersatz, dreaming the vivid dreams of another world. One of her choosing. Her body sleeps, but her mind is stimulated. Either side of the ersatz divide, whether waking or sleeping, is punctuated at both ends by blinding white light, causing a sensation that you are always waking up into something like reality. It is so real, the pod itself is labeled Ersatz, in order to distinguish which of the two sides is in fact reality.
Though it is company policy not to yuck other people’s yum, the awkwardness of interrupting Dr. Kahuhara in the midst of shokushu goukan in the Ersatz, was more than Chester could then and still presently can handle. Something about his Australian bluntness that is usually endearing, but often veers into a flaw of character.
“Ahem… Dr. Kahuhara?” Chester squawks over the coms. “I hate to interrupt sushi night, but there’s a situation requiring your attention on the bridge.”
Pania opens her eyes in irritation, climbs out of the Ersatz rested, and joins Ronin and Chester, both fixated on a monitor staring at what appears to be nothing.
“What are we looking at, boys?”
“Wait for it…” Chester points at a grouping of rough hewn stone next to some hydrothermal tunneling. “It’s going to move again.”
Chester zooms in as close to the spot as possible, and then Pania sees it, the subtlest of squirms, and an oscillation of the eyes. It is a camouflaged octopus.
“That’s… impossible.” She leans in close and studies what she cannot believe. “What’s the depth?”
“We’re at about 45 kilometers.”
“Look.” Chester points to the instruments.
“That- there’s no way.” She looks closer. “Can we get it to move? Like really move. I want to know how big it is. I can’t tell.”
Drones nearby creep toward the indistinguishable spot, reaching out tooling appendages to delicately rustle the creature.
As the drones enter its orbit, the octopus changes color from pallid gray to bright shimmering red, bolting from the wall, vectoring into the center of the shaft and splaying out its tentacles in a pinwheel, expressing its extremities fully in an isotoxal octagram, finally jutting beyond the camera’s reach and into the darkness.
“Don’t lose it.” Pania cries. “What good are those drones?”
“They’re mining drones, not sentries.” Ronin says, arms folded, brow furrowed.
Chester brings up dozens of cameras in a grid on the monitor, surveilling thousands of feet of the plunging tunnel, not one showing movement beyond the hydrothermal effluent migrating toward the surface.
“We have to find it again.” Pania says. “We must know how it survives down there.”
“Congratulations gentleman, we’ve just had our first encounter with an unexplainable species of marine life.” Pania addresses the two men in front of a wide video display of the octopus in the midst of its escape, backlit by the distant floodlights of the drones. “Here’s what we know: by size, the creature appears to fit into the Giant Pacific Octopus range, at somewhere between sixteen and twenty feet in diameter; it’s coloration would also suggest Pacific Octopus, the previous maximum depth for a Pacific Giant was 1,500 meters, and hyperthermophiles were thought to be at the physical limits of life just below the seafloor… but our little friend – Kali – was all the way down to 45,000 meters.”
“Grigori,” Chester says.
“I saw the critter first, which means I get to name it.” Chester spits a mixture of sunflower seeds and Skoal into a plastic cup. “-and I’m naming it Grigori.”
“It’s just a nickname. We will have to give it an official name at some point, once we know more about its physiology, habits and habitat, and where exactly it fits into the evolutionary tree.” Pania says, returning to her dossier. “What we don’t know about… Grigori, is precisely how he/she got down to this depth, what its food source is, and why we haven’t seen it before now.”
“The Law of Rare Events,” Ronin says. “It’s predictable. A Poisson distribution of binomial random variables predicts this. It’s only a matter of time.”
“You wanna translate that into English for us bogans?” Chester says.
“The more times we travel down into the mohole, the deeper microorganisms go, the deeper large organisms go, and eventually, through that exploration, eventually the rare breakthrough event occurs and one survives. The probability of a breakthrough event is small, but predictably, inevitably it will happen.” Ronin holds his palm out to Chester, flexing his fingers in universal code for ‘gimmie,’ to which Chester obliges with a sprinkling of seeds.
“The questions are then, why and how?” Pania says. “Without answers to those, this isn’t a rare event, it's an impossible event.”
“You have a Law of Impossible Events?” Chester asks.
“I have a theory,” Ronin says. “In organic chemistry, there is something called the Grignard Reaction Mechanism. Basically, organometallics form when magnesium bonds carbon to various metals. These can only occur in a waterless environment. However, my theory is that because of the extremely high temperatures, and extremely high pressure preventing the water from boiling at these depths, and the plethora of amalgams – if a creature started metabolizing magnesium and high volumes of other metals on a regular basis, eventually-”
“The Law of Rare events.” Pania says. “You’d get an organometallic life form. A carbon-based animal with metallic properties. Like organometallic skin. A creature like that could travel to these depths, in these temperatures, under this pressure.”
“Precisely.” Ronin says. “And an octopus would be particularly primed to accomplish this because of its regenerative ability.”
“Holy shit.” Chester looks at the other two. “We’re gonna be famous. We discovered a Robot Octopus. A Robo-pus!”
“It’s a working theory.” Ronin says. “We won’t know for sure unless we capture it and do some tests.”
“To that end,” Pania says. “Since we cannot continue mining operations until the creature is located and removed, I propose pulling Spider Captain away from the Moho and use it to force the octopus to the seafloor, where we can then use bait to lure it into captivity. We can flood the cargo hold and put it there.”
“What kind of bait exactly?”
“Well, we’re almost out of supplies, and there is that chuck roast in the freezer-”
“No. No way.” Chester jumps up in protest. “First you try to take my naming rights, now you want to take my meat?”
“It’s the only meat substance we have that won’t dissolve in the conditions near the hydrothermal vents.”
“That’s my celebratory chuck!” Chester says. “For going home. My last meal down here.”
“If we can catch this thing, you can buy all the chuck you can handle.” Ronin says. “Heck, you’ll be able to buy the whole damn cow.”
“This better work,” Chester pouts. “Damn octopus gets sous vide steak, while I’m sitting here, living off of sunflower seeds and crab paste.”
Ronin overrides the S.P-I.D.R. Captain’s internal intelligence and allows Chester to take manual control of the rig. It disengages with its stirring bit glooped in plastic rock at the edge of the Moho. The bit is shaped like an industrial whisk, and sticks straight up into the water bordering the smoldering glow.
Spider Captain thrusts itself upward in slow squirts toward the surface, illuminating the shaft with its broad flood lights, the hollow hum of the magnetohydrodynamic drive at its epicenter.
“Okay, good,” Pania says. “We can see everything.”
Spider Captain picks up drones as it goes, clearing the path to the seafloor. After several kilometers, the silhouette of the elusive octopus emerges.
“There it is,” Pania says, lurched over Chester’s shoulder. “Track it.”
The octopus climbs gradually, keeping steady pace ahead of the ascending Spider Captain.
As soon as the octopus reaches the seafloor, it darts between triangulations of rock, coral, tube worm colonies, and drones strobing lights at it, until it settles on the chuck roast at the mouth of the cargo hold. Spider Captain continues its chase, forcing the creature into the back of the bay, the drop door closing behind them.
The crew sleeps, having captured their prey, which has found a comfortable corner to lay inside its cell. Pania is the last to bed down, deciding to stay up and observe the creature in some semblance of stasis. Her eyelids grow heavy and her thoughts sway between her newfound discovery and the Ersatz. Thoughts of ravishing tentacles in every orifice.
She can’t remember when the dark fantasy started, or if it had always been there. A product of her upbringing, conditioning from living her entire life on the water, always around these creatures, a symbiosis with the sea. She wasn’t the first, certainly not the only one; shokushu goukan has been around for thousands of years, proliferating across the pacific, across the world.
36 hours until the transit submarine arrives. 36 hours until the world will know of their discovery, and all Pania can think about is her libidinous thirst for submission to the cephalopod. Was this why she became a marine biologist? Was this why she was miles deep in the Izu-Bonin arc? Was it fate or had she willed it all into being? The circumstances and the discovery.
I’ll be on every news show and podcast in the world, she thinks. I’ll be famous. Will they know? Will someone hack my Ersatz file? It’s happened before. Celebrities are always being hacked for their Ersatz fantasies.
Dozing off, Pania is startled by loud banging noises coming from the cargo bay. It’s Kali. She’s suctioned to the electrical paneling near the air lock door, piercing through the metal with her beak.
“That’s impossible. That’s T12 Alloy.”
Pania alerts the other two and sets the ship to red alert.
“We’ve got a serious problem.”
Dazed and startled, the two men crash into the observation room.
“She’s trying to break through the door.” Pania points at the monitor. “If she gets through it’ll flood the whole ship.”
“Use spider captain to peel her off the panel.” Ronin shouts commands to Chester, who mans the controls. Robotic limbs swing across the bay, molesting the octopus from behind. It’s only a temporary distraction, and Kali doesn’t stop tearing through the panel, using just two of her tentacles to rip the mechanical arm in half.
Ronin rushes to the airlock, putting on a deep diver suit, grabbing a welding rod he intends to use as a weapon.
“You can’t!” Pania yells. “You can’t kill her.”
“If I don’t, we’re all dead.”
Ronin closes the airlock, which quickly floods with steam and rising water. As soon as the port into the cargo bay opens, he races toward the sieging octopus. Chester flings a battery of repurposed mining appendages from Spider Captain at the creature, to no avail. The Octopus’s skin is too tough to penetrate with standard utensils. Ronin attacks with the welding rod, the bright tip of which catches the octopus’s attention. Tentacles wrap around his leg, flipping him sideways, immobilizing him in the briny water, making it impossible for him to retaliate in his cumbersome suit. Suddenly, his torso is snapped in half from the torque force of the muscular metallic tendrils. Kali enters the airlock unimpeded.
Boiling water erupts into the hallway outside the airlock as Kali enters the ship. Chester and Pania flee the scalding water, heading for port doors slowly closing in emergency. Chester trips on the mouth of the port, and Kali grabs him by the ankle. It is too late for Pania to save him. She watches his red face disappear into the pillows of water, as Kali drags him back into the jaws of death.
Pania rushes to the Ersatz pod, the only possibly safe place on the ship, but it’s only a matter of time before Kali finds her way through the port doors.
Which will get to her first — the transport, now an unassuming rescue ship, or the excited omnipresent monster outside the doors, born from the hellish improbable deep?
Upon seeing Kali drill through the second port door, Pania realizes she has less time than she thought and climbs into the Ersatz.
No time; she’s coming too fast.
Water and steam flood into the compartment as the lid of her coffin slowly closes, the raging tentacles above the glass slowly dissolve into the bright white light of the Ersatz.