Tentacles short story by Iris Carden
There was a time the continents weren’t below the water, when humans could live on solid ground, under the sun. In those days, submarines were weapons of war, not a means of trade.
The Atlantis is based in Brisbane Dome, the dome of the city is shallow enough to have snorkels and solar panels above the water level. Brisbane was moved further inland when the water started to rise, then was domed. The cities that survived were the ones that could be domed before the water levels rose too far, and were able to adapt quickly.
History books tell the story, but so does my great-grandmother, who was a child in the twenty twenties. She remembers it all. As a child she played in a back yard, a space of ground that wasn’t built on as accommodation, or used for intensive farming under lights. In her twenties, she was part of moving the city inland. By her thirties, when my mother was a baby, she was helping to build the dome.
It’s unbelievable to me, the idea that there was once land that didn’t have a dome over it, that people could live in unfiltered sunlight, that there was enough land that it individual families could own a space for children to play on.
We are on a basic trade trip. We are fishing along the way, harvesting protein to take back to Brisbane Dome, but mostly to take fresh fruit grown in the Brisbane Dome to take to trade for rice. We’re heading to Tokyo Dome.
Every twenty-four hours we rise to snorkel depth, to exchange air, with the atmosphere, and for the solar panels to recharge the batteries. At home, the cooling is better, and the snorkels bigger and longer. On Atlantis, the fresh air comes in hot, and the cooling system has to work hard to bring it down to breathing temperature. After two hours at snorkel depth, the air is exchanged, and the battery charged, we submerge to cooler water. At snorkel depth, we’re vulnerable to the surface storms and wild seas.
We’re three days out in the Coral Sea. Today we’ll make it to Japan. We’ve risen to snorkel depth, and are exchanging air, and charging batteries. It’s a matter of keeping the vessel stable, in the constant storm, and the rough waves. Today, the storm is more severe than usual. We’re floundering. I’m fighting with the controls, and the Captain is breathing down my neck, barking orders in my ear. The job is hard enough without going deaf.
I’m struggling to keep the vessel steady, with the snorkel above the wild waves. “Captain, the waves are too high,” Amy says beside me. “We’re taking in water. I have to close the snorkel.”
Captain Clark looks at her terminal, then back to mine. “Take us up further,” she says to me. “We’re going to have to almost surface the vessel to so the waves don’t overwhelm the snorkel.”
“It’s too rough,” I say. “If we surface, I won’t be able to hold it steady.”
“We have to have air and power,” the Captain barks right in my ear. “Surface.”
I adjust the controls. Now the vessel is being thrown around. I am using all my strength to try to balance it.
We’re rolling with the waves.
“Double time pumping to exchange air,” Amy says.
Martha, the navigator, who sits on the opposite side of me from Amy, helps me hold my controls, as we physically fight against the ravaging storm.
“We can’t hold it,” I tell the Captain. “We have to submerge, and come back to snorkel depth when the storm settles.”
“How is our air exchange?” Captain Clark asks.
“Thirty percent done,” Amy says. “It will last us eight hours.”
“That could be long enough to wait out the storm,” the Captain agrees. “Let’s go down to a safer depth, and get back on course.”
I follow directions, with relief.
Amy checks air and power. “We’re definitely good for at least eight hours,” she says.
Submerging takes time, and I’m still fighting to keep the vessel stable, as I begin the forward motion again. Then we’re caught, a rogue wave, an uncharted current, something.
“Oh no,” Martha says.
Captain Clark stops breathing down my neck to lean over her, and look at her screen.
“Hard turn to port. Complete 180 degree turn now!” The Captain yells.
I’m still fighting the controls, we’re still too close to the surface and the storm.
I spare a second for a glance at Martha. She looks worried. “Fukushima,” she says.
Old nuclear power plants are a concern, even if they were properly decommissioned before the inundation. Those where there were accidents, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Fukushima, and others, are a bigger concern. We don’t know if or how much radiation might be leaking from them. The work to stabilise them after the various accidents didn’t take into account that they’d eventually be at the bottom of the sea.
Atlantis, like many other submarines, might be built to protect from solar radiation when we’re close to the surface, but we have no protection from nuclear radiation, no shielding of any sort on the underside of the vessel. We avoid these areas.
Today, the storm’s thrown us off course, and Martha hasn’t seen it until now because she’s been helping me try to keep the vessel stable.
Now, I’m trying my best to submerge and simultaneously turn. I’m still fighting the storm to try to maintain stability.
Suddenly, the vessel seems to just drop. Downcurrents are sometimes associated with these wild storms. We’re deep enough to be out of the storm, but now the vessel won’t turn. We’re also leaning at a strange angle, and I can’t level us out.
Captain Clark is leaning over me, grabbing at the controls. Two of us together can’t pull the vessel upright, and it won’t turn.
“Amy, are we caught on anything?” Captain Clark barks. Her voice is hoarse with all her yelling this shift.
“I’m running through the cameras,” Amy says. “I can’t see any… what is that?”
We all look over at the screen she has up. The camera is showing a large purple tentacle across the skin of the vessel. It’s bigger than anything I’ve ever seen before. It seems to be wrapped around the vessel. I’ve heard of giant squid, but this is beyond anything outside of mythology. My mind runs to an illustration from an old book about the mythical sea beasts that could pull down an entire ship. This looks like those things that never existed, that explained ships going missing in the ancient past. Is this what leaking radiation does to ocean life? Is it another side effect of the change in climate that caused the inundation?
I continue fighting to turn the vessel. It’s not turning. It is going deeper, although I’m not trying to submerge further.
“Try just going forward,” the Captain says, “full power.”
I throttle forward full power. There’s no forward momentum, just downward, which I’m not doing.
On Amy’s screen we see the tentacle tighten, and the skin start to bend.
A light starts flashing at Amy’s station.
“Skin’s breached,” she says. “Locking down aft bulkheads.”
“How does that affect our air situation?” Captain Clark sounds worried now, not just barking orders.
Amy checks, “We’re down to ten percent. Two to three hours left.”
“Full stop.” The Captain says, “Pulling against it is making things worse. Try reversing to see if we can loosen its grip. Then we can manoeuvre out.”
“Sending distress signal,” Amy says.
“Don’t,” Captain Clark says. “Don’t bring any other vessels here. They can’t help, and they’ll only get themselves in the same trouble we are in.”
I reverse the engine, the vessel moves a bit, but not much, then seems to stop more firmly. Then there’s another sudden drop and a crunching sound.
“Further breach,” Amy said. “Closing the next level of bulkheads. Air down to five percent. Whatever we’re doing we need to do it now.”
“Orders, Captain?” I ask.
Captain Clark shakes her head. “Pray,” she says.
On Amy’s screen the tentacle tightens. The vessel drops further, and there’s a screech of metal. Water is pouring into everywhere.