Submarine Sickness - Flash Fiction
What sounds scarier, traveling into space or deep into the ocean?
We were thousands of leagues under the sea. We were traveling to Mariana Trench. We were expected to stay under water for a six month research project. There was a crew of seven of us. The ocean at this level is dark, it's serene, but unsettling. All of us humans, as far as we know, all of creation started, in this whirlpool, this chasm called the ocean.
Before Darwin pointed to the tortoises at Galápagos Island, before we thought primates were our ancestors -- the Greeks thousands of years before us said "All is water." Ages ago, there was already indication that we, in fact, come from water. The Greeks themselves could tell with the fossils they had. Even from a Biblical perspective, the Garden of Eden, I think the point of the message is that our blood mutated and we used to be water, that when we took the fruit -- our bodies changed, we became fragile. We became blood.
I mean, isn't it funny that one of the best recommendations for better sleep, for better health, and for better memory is drinking more water? It's funny how connected we are to water; that we have some amount of electricity in our veins, but water -- that's our universal solvent. But water is also terrifying. I've heard that the most comfortable way to die is drowning, that only after a few anxious moments of gasping for air -- you release and die.
Don't get me wrong, I think my life is cut out for living under the ocean. It's difficult when you're surrounded by dark waters and bizarre creatures to not have sudden insights into life and her sister, death. I'm fairly certain unless you're an immortal you already have insight into death anyway, and don't necessarily need a lesson on the matriarch herself.
We were asked to travel to the lowest point on Earth to see if we could find pieces to the puzzle of life. What kind of cells live here? Why do they live here? And what exactly does it look and act like down here. I think scientists have agreed that as you move up in the layers of our planet, life gets more complicated. It doesn't take a genius to figure that out.
From the belly of the ground you have these tiny cells and as you crawl all the way up to the large fish, the land creatures, the birds. It's fascinating how these things come together and dominate their kingdoms. But you know on the same token, I wonder just how wrong we are. We have to be brutally wrong. We can only look at these cells for so long to figure out the cosmos, to figure out the human mind, to figure out why... why any of it.
The two biologists first got sick. We separated them from the crew and split up their responsibilities. We didn't want the sickness to spread to everybody. The poor women were nauseous, green looking, vomiting frequently. There are certain revelations about reality when you are sick. I think I'm madder at God when I'm sick than when I'm well. I'd like to blame someone for my pain, for my reality... but I think more so, I'd like to not feel alone when I'm sick, so what if God is there to hear my sob story?
It would be interesting to take a priest down to the depths, to take a youth group, or a Buddhist chanting circle, or any kind of spirituality. The conversations are heavy down here in the depths, but it's not really a ground for religious conversion... or arguably religious practice.
The nightmare took a dark turn when one of our lead crew members started vomiting out blood. The ratio of sick to well was taking a deadly turn. We couldn't afford to go back to the surface. We can't get too sick either. We need each other as a whole unit.
Dr. Samantha Brakov, Ivris Kenningston, Ibrhim Ismalio, and myself, Jonathan Jacobs met in the control room. Dr. Brakov tested out blood levels. She said we shouldn't continue the mission if we all got sick. She said she had enough medicine to keep us going, but didn't want to risk us all getting worse, or even dying, being headline news, and end this moment in failure. Ivris and Ibrhim continued driving the submarine. We collected samples every single day. We wanted a full, new supply. Our ship brought in the cells; we were too far down to got out ourselves. The pressure would be too torrential.
I followed Brakov to her office. I asked her what she thought was happening, and she said the blood samples were not adding up. She couldn't understand what it could be. She was worried we had run into some new plague. Some strange disease -- Dr. Brakov was worried that if we did get back to the surface and were not well, we could spread something to the whole planet.
Then what would have been the point of collecting these cells?
I stopped by the quarantine room, but didn't enter. Layla and Gena were top graduate assistants from a university in France. They were excited to be picked for the project. They had an extreme interest in microbiology, I'm sure now their own microbiologies would be quite interesting to study. What joy it must be to be sick and discover your own unique disease as a microbiologist.
Ivris and Ibrhim were Navy SEALs. They were specifically trained to handle this new submarine. If anything were to happen, they would be ready to fight with torpedoes, and even hand to hand combat if we were somehow taken by another crew. I admired how much they had grown. It was impressive to see them mature. I imagine whatever weird illness we were experiencing, Dr. Brakov could handle it. She was my favorite. I'd taken a liking to her quiet ways, and behind the wire frame glasses were some kind, honest hazel eyes.
How is this... this thing spreading? Did it have another target or were we in the clear? It's no fun to fail a mission. It doesn't look good on your record.
As I was about to head down the hall to my room -- the door opened. Reginald Cox bust out the room.
"You can't leave me in here with the women. They've done something. You have to save me."
I backed away from him. His skin looked yellow, his eyes bloodshot. There was blood trickling from his mouth. I wasn't sure what options I had to escape him.
"Reginald... don't come near me. Go back with the girls."
"No. You have to listen to me. They did something."
"I order you to go back to your room now. Now!"
Reginald cowered back to quarantine. The door sliding behind him.
I didn't know whether to run back to Brakov. I didn't know whether I had contracted the disease. But I decided -- this could be a clue.
I went back to my room and put on my deep sea diving gear. I figure... this will at least protect me. I went to the girls' lab and it seemed normal, it seemed fine. But my suit detected something -- it detected a heavy, noxious smell. None of us had gone back to the room since the two girls had fallen sick. None of us needed this room or had a desire to come back here. We should have cleared it. We should have cleaned it. We failed protocol.
As I entered the lab, there were tiny test tubes out -- experiments with some of the cells. This all seemed normal, a lab, nonetheless. I followed the detection on my suit's panel for the smell and was led to the refrigerator. There was green gunk on the handle, sliding down to the ground. On the sides, in the cranny of the refrigerator, there was more green goo. This has to be -- this has to be it?
I pulled open the refrigerator door and my heart stopped. An old pot roast was covered in green mold spores; it had progressed to a slithering, cellular organism. There were two tentacles that had grown out of it, barnacles, and a human eye. Next thing I know, I had fallen on the ground and had blacked out.
The dilapidated cells in the refrigerator made their move. It took over the ship one by one. Slithering its way to Dr. Brakov and poisoning her. Then sliding its way to the control room, and killing Ivris and Ibrhim. The submarine drifted straight into the Mariana Trench and never returned.