Chapter 1: part one
20 December Southwest Pacific Basin Outside the Trantom Mining Dome
Manny whooped with excitement as he did a loop-de-loop with the pick-up.
Ol' stick-in-the-mud Harry insisted that the old crate couldn't do a 360 turn, but what did he know about it anyway? He was coming out off the top of the loop when suddenly something big hit the vehicle from the side. He felt the jolt through his whole body.
The gyroscope, already strained by Manny's acrobatics, squealed and gave up the ghost, and the sea-truck went wobbling out of control while he fought to stabilize the trajectory. Manny knew that he ought to be calling for help, but if Harry found out that he'd monkeyed with the 'scope in order to try out a few moves, he'd never be allowed to go out solo again.
The truck shuddered again, it was jolted sideways and started to drop and Manny decided he'd take his lumps from Harry. He switched on the radio, but before he could call, the truck hit something, bounced off, rolled and landed upside down.
Manny put a hand to his head, feeling for injury as he looked outside. The exterior lights revealed a ship, a ship made of coral, sunk deep in the silt on the ocean floor. He stared at it for a moment, not quite believing and then he saw movement. Behind the coral ship, almost beyond the range of the lights, a massive shadow moved. Light gleamed on scales for a second as it twisted in the water and turned lazily toward him.
There was a small crunch as the wrecked truck tilted a little, settling more firmly onto its roof. Then the lights died and Manny lost external video. He froze for a moment, fearing another attack - then he realised he still had the radio and began screaming for help.
Trantom Mining Dome Manager's Office
Harry Scranton scowled at the salvage report and gave a grunt of disgust.
"That young idiot," he snarled. He was an old hand at mining operations,topside and underwater; he had no illusions as to the dangers of the job, unlike some of the hot-doggers who seemed to be getting into the business.
"If it hadn't been for Manny, we wouldn't have found the ship," his assistant, Kelly Fargus, answered evenly. She was a pretty young woman,competent and able, although her biggest asset to the others in the
Cooperative was her ability to handle Harry. "It's on territory not claimed by any other mining cooperative, so we have clear claim to the salvage."
"Kid shouldn't have been out that way in the first place," the older man griped. "And the wreck won't do us any good if we can't get that beast out of the way. Do we have any idea what it is yet?" he added sourly.
"Actually ... I think we do." Kelly bent down and typed a short command on the keyboard. A video appeared on the wall screen; bright sunlight gleamed on the dark skin of a good-looking young man as he waved a gun and showed very white teeth in a defiant grin - while, behind him, a huge cartoon crocodile hatched from a clutch of eggs and headed for the sea. She paused the photoshopped images.
"We think that it may be one of the Deinosuchi that seaQuest allowed to hatch last year. According to reports, several of them escaped."
Harry frowned thoughtfully at the image. "I ... remember when that story broke. The water dinosaur? They said it was sterile but the eggs hatched? There were jokes like that all over the Internet - but it wasn't anywhere near here, was it?"
"No, but it's not unlikely that one could have migrated here. they were big beasts. They could probably cover a lot of territory." She keyed another file; this one showed a photograph of the creature that had laid the eggs with a picture with seaQuest beside it. Harry nodded, his face clearing.
"If that's what it is, then this is seaQuest's mess. Contact them and get them here to clean it up."
"What do I tell them, that we think it's a Deinosuchus?"
"Hell no! You'll do no such thing." Harry gave a dry chuckle, "Just tell them ... we found a ship that we think may have been carrying ordnance and we'd like them to clear it. That should keep them wary enough. And serve them right for letting the critters loose in the first place."
Kelly nodded and left to make the call. Harry looked at the picture of the Deinosuchus and said,
"Sterile!" scornfully under his breath, before blanking the image and turning back to his work. He had a mining cooperative to run and no giant beast was going to mess up his schedule.
20 December Off Chatham Island, seaQuest Bridge
Tim O'Neill frowned as he lowered his head and raised one finger to the
right headphone. Then he looked up toward the command chair.
"Incoming call, sir. From Trantom Mining Dome."
"On screen, Lieutenant O'Neill." Jonathan Ford settled back, an expression of intelligent interest on his face. Captain Bridger and Dr. Smith were ashore, visiting the esper community that Wendy Smith counted as family. It made the young first officer wish that he could visit his family, his brother was married and soon to be a father and his dad was over the moon about it.
"It's not a vidcall, sir," Tim replied. "Voice only. Putting it on speaker."
"Trantom Mining Dome, this is the seaQuest. How can we help you?"
"I think we can help you, seaQuest," a warm female voice answered. Ford sat up a little straighter. Watchstander Lonnie Henderson, noticing his reflex action, looked down to hide a grin. The voice, Kelly Fargus, continued.
"As I understand it, you're charged with neutralising old warships; is that right? We think we may have one in our area. It may even be one of the nukes from '14."
That was serious. The police action of 2014 had involved some of the dirtiest nuclear weapons ever devised. Ford brought his mind back to duty and, after exchanging a few more words, he signed off and ordered O'Neill to contact the captain, recalling him onboard. In a very short time, the seaQuest was underway, heading toward the coordinates they had been given.
21 December Trantom Mining Cooperative Area
The three WKSRS circled the sunken ship, analysing it from every angle. Captain Nathan Bridger, Commander Ford and Lt. Commander Jim Brody stood before the forward screen, studying the scans.
"If that's from the '14 Tensions, I'll eat my boots, sir," Brody announced decidedly.
"With or without catsup?" Ford quipped. Brody shot him a look.
"Without! The shape of that structure, it's got to be from the second world war."
Captain Bridger nodded seriously. "And the coral growth agrees with you. That ship has been sitting in place for the past seventy years at least. Perhaps longer."
"So why did Trantom tell us it was from '06?" Ford let suspicion show in his voice.
His attention intent on the wreck, Bridger pursed his lips in thought, "That ... is a most interesting question. I think, that perhaps the first thing we should do is find out exactly what is in that ship. Mr. Ortiz?"
Sensor Chief Miguel Ortiz looked up, shaking his head with regret.
"I'm sorry, sir. I can't find any opening large enough to fit a WSKR through. I could try breaking up the coral, but ..."
"Save that for a last resort. Jonathan, lets send out a recon team, Darwin and Piccolo."
"Yes sir!" his first officer replied and turned sharply on his heel, calling for Seaman Piccolo to meet him down on the SeaDeck. Captain Bridger went back to studying the coral-covered wreck before them.
Tony Piccolo was not much pleased to be rooted out his warm bed and told to go for a swim. The gilled-experimental was onboard seaQuest due to an early release programme. As he told his Aunt Rose, it was either join the Navy or stay in the slammer for another four years - and he'd thought he'd meet up with a better class of people in the Navy.
"Boy was I wrong about that," he grumbled to himself as he swam away from seaQuest, towing a bag of equipment behind him. Darwin, the dolphin that lived on seaQuest, swam a short distance ahead, occasionally circling back to swim with him. The dolphin seemed to be enjoying the trip. "Loner", one the seaQuest WSKRS, followed them both, providing light for the expedition. Tony had a light attached to a headpiece, but it wasn't switched on; he'd use it if and when he managed to enter the wreck.
Tony went on complaining as he swam away from the brightly lit seaQuest.
"At least in the slammer, I got to sleep and no one gave me a hard time." He had either forgotten or didn't care that he was being monitored. Tim answered him, the communications officer's voice sounding through the earbud directly into the young man's ear.
"You know, Tony, if you're homesick for lock-up, we can always arrange for you to bunk in the brig."
"Ha, very ha. You're a comedian, O'Neill, you're killin' me here." There was a brief pause before he asked, "So what's this wreck anyway, the Queen Mary?"
"We don't know what it is. We're hoping you can find something to identify her."
"If we don't know what it is, why are we here?"
Back on board the seaQuest bridge, Tim sat back, a strange expression on his face.
"Tony, didn't Commander Ford brief you on this mission?"
"Naw, I don't think so. He was yap, yap, yappin' somethin' at me but I wasn't exactly awake, you know. Some of us need our eight hours."
"Okay Tony, listen closely. We got a call that there might be nuclear weapons onboard that ship ..."
"Hell, what? I aint goin' near no leaking nukes. I'm heading back."
A new voice answered him, Miguel Ortiz.
"Relax Tony. The WSKRS couldn't sense any radiation leaking at all. You're safe."
"You sure?" the streetwise ex-con asked warily.
"Cross my heart and hope to die."
"Easy enough for you to say, but it's Ma Piccolo's little boy's tail that's on the line here."
"Cut the chatter," Captain Bridger cut in. "Mr. Piccolo, proceed to the wreck and do a visual survey - try to find a way in if you can. Make one if you can't."
"Aye-aye, Captain Bridger, sir." Sotto-voce, he muttered, "Your wish is my command." To his dismay, the Captain answered with a cheerful, "I'm glad to hear that, you can start tomorrow by cleaning up my quarters."
Recognising that this was one instance where silence might be, if not golden then at least advised, the irrepressible seaman took refuge in silence.
The silence lasted until he reached the downed ship.
"I'm here," he announced. "Looks pretty good, like it just dropped straight down from the surface. There's a pretty healthy coral growth all over. I'm circling around."
Tony swam around the wreck several times, circling closer and closer as he checked for openings large enough to admit him. Coral polyps waved from the bulkheads under the brightly coloured fish that swirled around the decks and hid in the crannies of the wreck. The predatory jaws of a moray eel protruded from what might once have been a porthole and Tony saw a lobster react to his shadow by backing quickly into a crevice, menacing the dangerous world with its claws. The reef had colonised this new part of its surface; the coral growth over the broken keel almost entirely sealed off the crack in the hull.
In addition to the coral, barnacles and rust covered the superstructure, over-growing hatches and obscuring doorways. Seen closely the ship was not as intact as it had appeared from the distance; the deck was covered with fallen debris. Square lumps, coral-infested, that might once have been boxes were scattered across the deck and around the hulk, hosting tube sponges and their attendant fish.
Tony found several spots where he thought he might possibly make it through, but even the largest would be a tight squeeze. He announced his findings to the seaQuest and awaited further orders.
"Hold up, Tony," Captain Bridger ordered. "Jim, thats all the pictures; have you identified the class of ship yet?"
"Yes sir. Putting schematics up on the screen."
An outline of an intact ship appeared above the computer image of the wreck; the outline rotated and lowered, superimposing one image over the other.
Labels appeared, identifying the various sections of the wrecked ship. With that information, it was clear that one of the openings was close to the bridge, offering what was probably the best chance of finding something to identify the wreck and information about the cargo.
When Tony swam back to the designated opening he found it was much smaller than the one he had chosen.
"Aw, cripes, Cap!" he exclaimed. "No way I can fit through that hole. I may be skinny, but I aint skeletal! Coral's sharp!"
"You should be able to widen the hole enough to admit you," Bridger decided. "But try not to break up more of the coral growth than you need- I'm of the opinion that we should leave the ship intact as part of the reef."
"Want me to polish up the brasswork while I'm at it?" Tony asked sarcastically.
Bridger's answer was drier than the Sahara, "Perhaps later." Once again, Tony remembered with whom he was speaking. This time, however, instead of holding his tongue, he switched off his mike and continued belly-aching but since he also started tapping away at the edges of the coral, Captain Bridger made no complaint.
Tony was concentrating on clearing a hole that would let him through easily and had no sharp edges. The living reef had a variety of creatures and, intent on avoiding morays and sea urchins, Tony had failed to notice Darwin's increasing agitation. He was aware of the Navy-trained dolphin swimming around the
wreck, but assumed that the intelligent creature was simply sight-seeing or possibly hunting.
Tony was levering at a piece of coral, still complaining, when Darwin suddenly passed closely above him, buzzing him. Tony waved him off. It changed the pressure on the lever and a large chunk of coral broke free just as Darwin approached again, chittering loudly and swimming close enough to knock him off his feet. Tony turned angrily --- just in time to see the shadow of some swimming creature - larger than Darwin - strike Loner. The impact was hard enough to send the sturdy WSKR satellite flying, plunging the seascape around Tony into darkness. Voices rose in his ear, worried voices, asking what was happening, demanding explanations.
"I ... I dunno. Something ..."
Captain Bridger interrupted him, harshly ordering, "Tony! Seaman Piccolo! Report!" and Tony remembered that he'd muted his mike. He quickly turned it back on, remembering at the same time that he had headlamp too. He turned that on as well.
"I don't know what it was. Something big. I couldn't see it very well, it came up on the WSKR from behind. If I didn't know better ..." he fell silent, unable or unwilling, to articulate his fears.
"If you didn't know better ... what? What is it that you thought you saw?"
Tony swallowed heavily before answering. "Cap'n, remember that giant crocodile thing we ran into a while back?"
"You think it was one of those?"
"Nossir but ... I was wondering ... Were there any giant shark things around that might have ... I dunno ... might have come from the same place?"
Darwin had disappeared after knocking Tony down, now he reappeared, coming close to the gilled seaman, anxiously crowding him toward the opening in the ship.
"Settle down Darwin. Stop pushing!" He turned his head as he spoke, trying to locate the danger .
"What's going on?" Bridger asked.
"It's Darwin, he's ... Oh Geez! That thing's heading straight at me."
His headlight was focused straight at the great beast hanging in the water, illuminating the streamlined shape, the sinuous motion of that deadly body.
He jerked backwards, hitting the encrusted hull behind him, the sharp coral tearing at his skin. Unseen threads of blood rose in the water.
The big fish stiffened and seemed to focus. It had not been sure if the strange creature with the glowing head was prey or threat, but blood in the water made the question moot. The scent of blood triggered a dance of predator and prey that had been programmed into the great white shark before its birth.
For Tony, time seemed to slow to a sickening crawl; he saw the shark's body turn and the head move as though it was taking aim. The dull, dead-black eyes started to roll back into their protective sockets and the jaw opened to an incredible extent, revealing a mouth lined with teeth - he was looking down its throat as the shark charged.
Dimly, Tony was aware of voices, shouting at him to get to cover, to take pictures, to tell them what was happening, but he was frozen, watching death coming to take him.
Luckily, Darwin had no impulse to freeze. The dolphin dove at the hapless seaman again, slamming him down and away. Tony fell forward; the coral shelf gave way beneath him and he was falling when the shark passed overhead, a slash of its tail sent him tumbling down to the distant bottom, disoriented and helpless, landing with a swirl of sand and detritus that spun up far over his head, clogging his gills.
Tony rolled across the sand, dizzy and confused, fighting the atavistic urge to cough, expecting at any moment to feel those huge jaws close over him. He could feel something moving in the water nearby but the murk surrounded him and, when he groped for the headlight, his fingers found broken shards. He was trying to remember the act of contrition when something large and muscular brushed against him. Tony instinctively tried to scream; he choked on the dirty seawater, changed direction and swam on, frantically, staying as close to the sand as he could. He was hoping for a hiding place, but instead he hit his head against something solid, shoved himself away and landed on an outcropping of rock. It scraped against his gills but he stayed as close to it as he could while he slid down to try to huddle at its base.
Then he felt the swirl of displaced water as something big swam over him.
The beast nudged him - there was no other word for it - and when Tony curled up as small as he could, it nudged at him again. Hardly daring to hope, Tony reached up and touched the animal. Soft, slick skin, not the sandpaper rough scales of a shark. It was Darwin.
Sobbing with relief, Tony scrambled to his feet and reached for the dolphin. He hooked his arm into the aqua-lung harness and gave the command, "HOME" - and then he closed his eyes, letting Darwin do all the work while he hung from the harness and tried to remember every prayer from his childhood; he mentally repeated them over and over again during the forever it took for them to get back to seaQuest............................
Coral slashes could be dangerous. Tony had one deep gash too near his gills. Treatment took some time; it was only when he was called to the bridge, afterward, that he found out why the shark-creature hadn't attacked him again. Despite the damage done during the attack, Miguel Ortiz had managed to regain control of the WSKR satellite, Loner. The damaged machine had missed the shark's first approach but he had managed to direct it back into position. The video showed Tony half crouched, mouth open, watching as the shark started to charge - then Darwin's heroic intervention. The shark had blocked the camera's view of Tony for several seconds as he fell forward under the jaws, just before the creature passed over the spot where he had been standing.
The momentum of the shark's charge had taken it directly into the hole that Tony had been working to widen. There, firmly wedged, it had threshed wildly as it tried to free itself until, with one massive, desperate wriggle, it had forced itself through the hole and disappeared into the wreck.
The beast was trapped.
It took some time for the monster to be identified, partly because the authorities initially refused to believe it. Then seaQuest became a hive of activity; helicopters thrummed overhead as scientists landed. A commercial trawler was temporarily commandeered by UEO Wildlife to suspend a reinforced submarine net completely around the wreck at a distance of a few meters.
Since Kelly Fargus was on Christmas leave it was Harry Scranton, the manager of Trantom Mining Cooperative, who glared defiantly down at Captain Bridger from the forward screen. Diplomacy was not his strong point.
"Yeah, I knew there was something out there but I figured it was one of those giant crocodiles that you lot let loose last year. SeaQuest made that mess, so I figured you heroes might do a better job of fixing it this time around!"
Captain Bridger's voice was a little too controlled as he responded.
"And I suppose it didn't occur to you to warn us of the danger?"
"Nobody warned us! That brute nearly ruined the Ford operation - there were casulties! Your lot said it was sterile. You said the eggs wouldn’t hatch, and then they did! Now the damn things are out there somewhere and we're the ones left hanging."
"That creature at the wreck wasn't a Deinosuchus. It was a Great White shark."
"Don't kid a kidder.” Scranton scoffed. “Everyone knows Great Whites are long gone. Hunted to extinction years back. Wasn’t the last kill about 2011?”
"We thought they were illegally hunted to extinction," Bridger countered. "And now there's one trapped inside that wreck, just outside your claim. That whole area’s under full Conservation, so…"
Scranton stood up straighter, his expression hardening.
"Now just you hold it right there! We found that ship, we get to claim it for salvage."
The captain shook his head slowly but decisively.
"Oh no. That wreck is part of the coral reef. According to UEO statutes, all coral reefs are protected structures. The reefs are the rainforests of the ocean. No one is allowed to alter, harvest, or interfere in any way with the natural growth of that coral."
"Natural? That's a shipwreck! There's nothing natural about that!" Scranton was shouting.
Bridger settled back in his chair, looking comfortable and relaxed. He was not quite smiling,
"Not when the wreck occurred, no. The Bunyip damaged part of the reef when it was wrecked, but that was years ago. The reef has recovered, and the wreck has been incorporated as part of that recovery. That whole reef is protected by law and, by now, that includes the wreck."
Scranton’s mouth moved as though he'd just tasted something bitter, but he said nothing.
"As for the shark,” Bridger continued, “You should be thankful that the incident took place outside your borders. Otherwise you might have been responsible for rescuing it – without damaging the reef, of course.” This time Scranton took a deep breath, but he remained silent as Bridger went on,
“As it is, we have alerted UEO Conservation and they’re netting off Amity Bay to make a habitat for it.” Now Bridger did smile, “Of course, I don’t know if one bay will be quite big enough, now.” He turned toward a man who was sitting quietly to one side, working on a laptop.
“What do you think, Carlos?”
The stranger looked up from his work. He was grinning widely, and he spoke in thickly accented English,
“Nathan, we have her! We were setting up to send in a drone from the other side, but then she swam out. Our vet is treating her now. Her skin is thick, but even so the coral cut her when she entered that wreck. I think she swam out safely; to judge from your film she is much thinner now. I do not think she is at risk, but we will not know until she begins to eat. That may not happen for a couple of days; it is too soon after the birth. There could still be problems with her. Records say that some Great Whites did not eat in captivity at all, but I am hoping that the Bay is so big she will not perceive herself as a captive. Oh, this is a wonderful day! The best Christmas present I ever had! They are updating me moment by moment – look!”
Professor Carlos Mendez tapped the keyboard. There was a flicker and his laptop projected a picture onto the wall opposite the communication screen. A scarred, somewhat scrawny shark was patrolling the floor of an aquarium. As they watched it swam up the glass to bite at meat suspended over the tank by a technician. The fish looked to be little more than a meter long.
“Is that IT?” Harry Scranton said, incredulously; “Even Manny couldn't have been wrecked by that!”
“Oh, no, no!” Carlos told him, “This is her pup,” He pointed at the projection, “This one is a male; do you not see the claspers? He is the small, the .. the.. weak…” He gestured as though as though grasping for the concept,
“The runt?” Bridger suggested,
“Yes, the runt. He was born just in time, this one. You see the cuts on his tail? He must have hidden from the others at once. Perhaps he stayed in the wreck to hide, or we would have lost him. His sister is much bigger, but her jaws would not fit that bite radius. These are … Nathan, we have both sexes! Both sexes of an extinct species! This is the best Christmas present of my life!” He was grinning uncontrollably. “I could not believe it when the mother swam out, but when we saw the young…! We could have lost the male. The mesh of your nets is not small enough to keep the pups within…” Scranton was staring, completely confused; he barely managed to stammer out his next question,
“Pups? That fish … spawned in there? She ate the others?” Carlos looked at him in surprise, then he spoke slowly and carefully, as though Scranton was terminally stupid.
“Great whites are … unique. They do not spawn like sardines, they have live young. The mother cannot eat at the time of birth. She may not eat for days yet, even though the young could escape her. The shark’s uteri are big; the young swim while they await birth and, while they do, they eat the eggs and the weaker pups. That male was not the strongest. Look, he is newborn but he has been bitten by another pup. That means that there were more; we have divers in the wreck now but the others probably went through the net. Great whites are fascinating. The young are experienced hunters at birth! They are born full-fed and they know how to fight! Oh, this is a wonderful day – I cannot wait to learn more!”
Scranton looked appalled.
“But … more…of …them … Here? What are we supposed to do with …?
“If you see them do not let anyone hurt them. Contact us. We will come.” Carlos assured him. “To have a captive-bred population – that would be good, but of course, there must be more out there. The father of the pups, at least – and now there are new young! Now that we know of them they will be a most protected species.”
Harry Scranton sat down, slowly. He was at a loss for words as he watched the projection. The camera had zoomed out to show two aquaria side by side. The male shark had become a blur of motion as he fed on the hanging meat; a slightly larger, much fatter shark pup was circling around in the second tank, watching everything that moved. Scranton's hand moved toward the disconnect key and then hesitated, as though he could not believe that there was nothing left to say. Then his screen went dark.
“Well, I think that covers it,” Captain Bridger repressed the urge to laugh and spoke teasingly to Carlos, “Should we let you get back to your pets or have you time for Christmas dinner? We’re serving turkey.” Carlos stood, leaving the film of the sharks running, and turned toward him,
“Oh, I think I can make time for that, though I should really return to my staff. Perhaps … Nathan, do you know perhaps of somewhere that I could get champagne? It would be nice to drink to success when we get that family home.”
Dagwood had come into the room unnoticed; he collected something from a chair, started to leave and then paused to watch the scene with interest. He looked from the sharks to the professor and asked,
“Do they have names?” Carlos smiled at him, turning of the laptop and picking it up as he spoke,
“Officially I suppose they will have numbers, but my staff …they call the mother Maria and the pups Feliz and Navidad. It means Merry Christmas in our language. Those fish are the best Christmas present I ever had. I think everyone at the Centre feels that way.” Carlos paused for a moment and then turned back to Bridger, smiling,
“No, Nathan, on second thoughts I must refuse your invitation. Moving the mother will not be easy and I should return to supervise the operation. I think perhaps we will have a party at our headquarters when the job is done. You do not need me at your Christmas dinner; I would be checking the updates on my sharks at every moment.”
The sounds of seaQuest had become audible as they entered the corridor; somewhere there was a clatter of crockery, voices and laughter. Lonnie was singing, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and getting the words confused. The song ended in laughter and then there was a pause before Tim began “Adeste Fideles” in a surprisingly pleasant voice.
Bridger slowed, smiling in spite of himself, and turned to Carlos,
"It sounds like a good party. Are you sure you won't change your mind?" Professor Carlos Mendez was carrying his laptop, but his cellphone was clipped into a pouch near his collar and he touched it every few moments, anxious for further updates on the sharks. He shook his head, hesitated for a moment and then said,
“Nathan, my friend, I know you think that I am acting like a new father, but for you there is always another world to save. I may never have another Christmas like this one. Tell your crew I appreciate their efforts - tell them that I wish a merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night - but I must leave; I do not think that they will miss me.”
Captain Bridger could not resist asking him,
“If my crew do ask where you are, do you want me to tell them that you have decided to spend Christmas with your family?”
“Do that, and I will tell my staff that you have stayed to spend Christmas with yours. Vaya con Dios, my friend, until we meet again.”
Captain Bridger watched him leave before turning back to join the party. There would always be another world to save – but that was a job for tomorrow.