Authors: Greig Beck
“I’m OK, just feel stupid for letting that little weasel ambush me.” He went to pull the knife out and Alex called for him to stop. Though the knife embedded in his shoulder would be painful as hell and would be even more so with movement, if he withdrew it now and couldn’t pack the wound he would lose a lot of blood before it could be closed. Losing blood meant two things down here: with the loss of blood so went your strength; and more important, it rang the dinner bell for every strange monstrosity that inhabited this world.
Alex doubted Silex was going to be able to get very far, and he preferred to have him in front of them rather than at his back. He looked down to see if Aimee, Matt and Monica were ready to proceed when his eyes were drawn to movement below them. The water only seemed like ink because there was no sun to give it colour or depth and the sand beneath it was also black; in reality it was almost totally clear. Now Alex could see the outline of an enormous moving mass just below the surface, and what was more disturbing was that the mass had focused an intelligent eye the size of a car on the small group.
“Everyone freeze, we’ve got company.” Alex quickly weighed up his options; they still had about ten minutes of climbing before they would be down on the opposite beach. He knew he could clamber higher and out of reach easily, but he doubted anyone other than Monica could keep up with him. Tank was wounded and wasn’t going anywhere quickly, and without ropes Aimee and Matt would certainly fall. They could either stand and fight or get across the cliff face, and given the size of the thing
coiling itself for an attack below them, standing and fighting would mean a very short battle indeed.
Alex spoke to Tank. “Soldier, hold fast but prepare to engage on my order.” Alex knew Tank might not have seen what he had and he needed the big HAWC to be mentally preparing for battle. Even with the knife in his shoulder and the dozens of bruises and scrapes all over his body, Alex saw Tank’s jaw set and his eyes darken; Tank had entered combat mode.
As Tank was checking his armaments and Alex was looking down again towards the water, Aimee screamed. Seemingly floating up toward them was Tom Hendsen.
Despite the danger, Alex marvelled at the creature’s ability to mimic a human form. In the sub-light environment it really did look like a person, right down to the colours in the clothing. He could now understand how it so easily lured people to its embrace in the dark.
The Tom Hendsen figure seemed to hang there in space, waiting for something, for some sign. He remembered the encounter that Mike had with the creature in the upper caves, and how it had only leaped at him when he moved. As an ambush creature and one of the few down here with sight, it was probably keyed to attack on movement.
“Nobody move a muscle.” Only Alex’s eyes moved as he watched the human form glide close to him, then down to pass over Aimee and Monica.
Silex reached the beach and looked back up to where his former team members were still stranded high on the rock face. He blinked a couple of times to remove the sweat from his eyes and also to clear his vision of what had to be a hellish hallucination. Reaching up out of the water was a tentacle whip as thick at the base as a redwood tree, but
tapering at the tip to what looked to be a human body. The owner of the massive appendage was still hidden beneath the water but by its size the creature had to be enormous.
Silex looked back at his colleagues and giggled. “Can’t let that tricky Captain Hunter evade his fate this time, can we?”
He raised the handgun and fired at Alex twice, then turned to run along the sand.
The twin boom of the handgun was like thunder in the cave. This was no silent gas projectile being fired but a hard round with explosive chemical propulsion. Two things happened almost simultaneously—the creature snapped its lure away from the team on the cliff face, and the lights went out.
At first Silex could not see what was coming. The creature propelled itself so silently and smoothly along under the water that it would have been invisible even in the twilight of the glow-worms. He continued to run across the black sand in the dark, oblivious to the danger. The first he became aware of a change in his circumstances was when he suddenly became engulfed in a marine-ammonia smell that made his eyes water and his nasal passages sting. Slowly the lights winked on and with them a clearer image of what now stood before him—Tom Hendsen.
“No, no, no, you don’t want me; there are more people back there. I already wounded one for you, Tom. You know I hoped that one day we could work together. I always admired your work; your research was always impeccable.”
Silex slowly raised the gun until he had it pointed at the face of the figure.
“You know, you really should watch that Captain Hunter and that co-worker of yours. There’s something
going on there.” Silex grinned and blood spotted his chin from his cracked lips. He double-gripped the gun and pulled the trigger.
The boom of the gun’s report made Silex’s hand jerk upwards and the bullet slammed into the facial area of the human form in front of him. A small hole had been punched into the flesh, but no blood flowed and no pain showed on the placid, wet-looking face. The Tom form rushed forward and slammed into him. He wasn’t knocked from his feet as the tentacle club was exuding its sticky paste. In addition, large hooks embedded themselves into his flesh. He was snared as effectively as a rabbit in a steel-toothed trap. Silex was pulled from his feet as the horror from the deep dragged itself free from the dark water.
For the first time the group saw the creature clearly—it looked like a squid but was different. Two long, whip-like tentacles and eight thick muscular arms extended from its head. From just behind its enormous eyes it was encased in cone-shaped armour plating that was dragged behind it. Nearly the size of a 747 jet plane, it looked to be easily 160 feet in length and a sick, mottled green colour. It lifted the screaming scientist towards it, briefly holding his wriggling form up to the emotionless disc of an eye and then used the longer tentacle to hand him to the shortened feeding appendages. These commenced to strip him of as many of the inedible pieces as could come away easily; his backpack and belt and his caving suit were roughly torn free and with them probably a good deal of his skin. He looked raw by the time his still struggling form was passed towards the centre of the tentacle mass. The thick arms opened to reveal hundreds of inward-pointing teeth like some sort of gigantic rasp. Silex screamed as he was gently lowered into this jagged maw. Mercifully, the tentacles
closed over the disappearing form of the scientist so the others would be spared watching him be ground up and devoured.
Matt and Monica both moaned and Aimee kept her forehead pressed against the cliff wall. Alex heard Monica praying softly, hushed words calling for deliverance from damnation. Both HAWCs remained impassive, only their eyes moving quickly over the large beast, probing, searching for tactical weaknesses. The diversion also gave Alex the opportunity to get the team off the cliff face while the creature was occupied with the scientist. Up here they were as good as dead as they couldn’t stay motionless forever; at least on the sand they had a slim chance. His destination was a small cave right at the base of the cliff on the dry beach. It was only half a mile away, and it looked defendable and much too small to accommodate the large hell-snail. Monica was the first to land on the sand and it took all her willpower to stay focused on getting Aimee and Matt down and not look over her shoulder at what was happening to Silex. Tank and Alex arrived next, and Alex had to yell to stop them all either freezing or collapsing to the sand in terror. He pointed to the small opening in the rock face and yelled again for them to put their heads down and head for the cave. Aimee was too slow; Matt, Monica and Tank were already shooting along the dark metallic sand while Aimee was only just climbing to her feet on wobbling legs. In a fluid motion Alex closed the distance between them and scooped her up under his arm; his legs were pumping hard, throwing glittering black sand out behind him in a plume.
The creature detected the movement and shot its long whip-like ambush tentacle forward again. This time, just as Alex dived into the cave, he turned to see the figure of Dr. Adrian Silex presented to try to entice them from the
cave. Considering they had just witnessed the scientist being peeled like a grape and devoured, looking at him now was like seeing a returned soul that had been condemned to hell. Silex was now trapped forever, united with some terrifying creature miles below the earth. Perhaps this was his punishment after all.
The group huddled at the back of the cave. It was only about twenty feet deep but narrowed considerably so the creature could not hope to wedge itself inside. Unfortunately for the group, it didn’t need to get its entire body into the cave and Alex knew too well what sort of power it could use to drag them out when it determined its lure wasn’t working.
The cave was dark, and when the faint glow from the cold bioluminal light was blanketed by the creature’s huge bulk the darkness was almost total. Even in the near complete darkness Alex could still see the leviathan and was glad only Tank could see what he could—just outside the cave, an enormous eye began to peer into the gloom where the group had taken refuge. This was a monster of legend, perhaps the grounding of all the tales of sea monsters. Maybe every hundred generations a movement of the earth’s crust opened a rift that allowed one or more of these things to be released into the surface ocean to steal sailors from the decks of their great ships—the mythical kraken incarnate.
The Silex lure stood silently at the cave mouth just off to one side, seemingly imploring them to come closer. Because of their enhanced vision the HAWCs could see the other club snaking along the opposite wall of the cave as it hoped to catch them off guard while they had their attention focused on the human form.
“Aim for the area of the club attaching itself to the tentacle, see if you can cut it off. I’ll take a body shot and try to blind it.” Alex sighted at the giant eye.
“Roger that.” Tank aimed at the tentacle snaking its way towards them like a giant, wet-looking slug. The air in the cave was becoming an eye-watering ammonia soup and the only sound was the terrified breathing from the team behind them. The creature started to move faster and Alex barked, “Fire!”
The sound inside the cave from the gas projectile rifles was like soft clapping, but outside there was a sudden pounding commotion as hundreds of tons of flesh moved to cover itself. Tank didn’t manage to sever the club from its base but ensured it was a ragged mess when it was quickly withdrawn. Alex aimed for the eye but a moment before he fired the creature moved, turning part of its armour-shell casing towards them. Though his projectiles could punch a hole through solid steel, the biological armour plating could easily be several feet thick.
“Cease fire.” Alex waited to see the result of the push back, hoping it would discourage the creature from any further attempts to get at them if it thought it was going to be too much trouble or more pain than it was worth. However, several of the shorter, stronger tentacles reached into the mouth of the cave and began to pull the rocks away from the walls as it attempted to enlarge the cavity. They were far from safe. It was going to dig them out; it would peel open the cave like a tin of food to reach the tasty humans inside.
Again the HAWCs fired but the creature moved faster than anything that size should have been able to. Once again it withdrew its thick tentacles and turned its shell to block the cave. The HAWCs needed to keep firing into the same place on the giant beast to cause any real damage. The creature would soon re-emerge and resume tearing
rock away from the mouth of the cave. At this rate within the hour they would be torn out like oysters from their shells.
Matt inched his way along the cave wall to Aimee. “Hunahpu must have had some weapon other than his spear and knife to drive these things off. Could it have been some form of natural toxin?”
Aimee shook her head. “Maybe, but probably not enough to worry something that big. I’m not sure what this thing would fear.”
“Damn, he must have used something we haven’t thought of. How could he have made it all this way and perhaps even escaped with just a gold knife and short spear? Think, think. His army is gone, his brother is dead, he’d be running, holding the torch . . . Hang on—of course. Fire. He had fire! Kinich Ahau wasn’t just the god of the sun, he was the god of fire as well—why didn’t I think of that before? He must have used the flaming torch to keep it away.”
Matt darted forward, keeping a hand up over his face to shield himself from the flying debris. He crouched down behind Alex. “Fire. I think they must have used fire to drive the creature off.”
Alex stopped shooting and thought for a few seconds. While Tank kept up rapid firing to try to slow the creature’s demolition of their hiding place, Alex moved to the rear of the cave. From his backpack he removed his portable propane canister and broke open the back of his rifle.
“What’s the plan?” Aimee had scurried over to Alex in the dark and put her hand on his forearm. He looked down at her. She looked tired and frightened and he wanted to give her a reassuring hug, but now was not the time.
“Whoever designed the gas projectile M98 never expected the adversary to be a giant squid, especially one
that has its own armour plating. We might as well be throwing rocks at that thing.”
“That thing looks like an orthocone.” Aimee hugged herself as if from the cold even though it was over seventy-five degrees in the cave. “I knew this deep biosphere had been cut off for millions of years, but it must have been in isolation for more like hundreds of millions. That creature attacking us is an orthocone squid, the giant ancestor of all squid and octopus. It was the top of the food chain for millions of years, until it got knocked off by things like the megalodon shark. Down here it has been shielded from competition, from potential predators, from meteor impacts and any other mass extinction events in history and has been allowed to grow to an immense size.”