Island Among Elsewhere

I

We were two miles south of the Heath-Adams Atoll, and the water was smooth as a planetary oceanic body could be; that is to say, riddled with waves of heights not quite approaching five feet, though Howard and Sylvanus were quite a long time in returning to the craft. What could account for their tardiness was beyond my impatient mind to comprehend as they strapped their diving gear to the netting that lined the survey craft and prepared for lift. I watched them scramble to ready themselves for the jerky and somewhat ill-developed ride of the tractor lift, and couldn’t help notice an undefinable rapidity to their movements. It was a difficult sensation to accurately describe, being more than a hundred feet above them and looking through the open bay doors of the Expeditionary-039, the ocean currents dancing with the atmosphere and the atmosphere swaying in turn, which would invariably punish the stability of our vessel in its state of suspension over the water.

“Howard! Get a move on! Our fuel reserves are dropping!” I shouted, but the alien world carried my words away over its churning waters before they reached his ears. The two went on with their packing and stowing, and finally threw up their thumbs for the tractor lift. But it was too fast. For Samuel or Johnson, or even Victor, an accentuation of action with enthusiasm was their modus operandi. But not Sylvanus, and definitely not Howard. These men were the cool heads, the deep thinkers, temperate and stubborn and abidingly slow. Yet they were hopping around their cramped vessel like scared rabbits. I grabbed the lever which would activate the invisible hand of energy and draw them and their conveyance from the roiling planet surface and into the underbelly of Expeditionary-039. The switch actuated, I became a spectator to the supernal phantasm which was to me an accustomed monotony, and the survey craft rose into the sky.

Sylvanus looked over the side of the boat as its very bottom finally receded from the grasp of the ocean. From his mouth issued a noise I shall never forget, not as long as I am allowed to continue life in this universe of terrors. It was much like a shriek, but brutish, primal, as though he had suffered a hundred-thousand year devolution in the span of several seconds, and the faculties of reason of two men – myself and Howard – were reduced to apish grunts of ambiguous half-meanings. It was the cry of the prey in sight of the predator. And when the shriek climbed finally to its height, another overwhelmed it. The ocean was calling them back.

The survey boat was halfway to the Expeditionary-039, some fifty or sixty feet above the water, when the sucking began. Howard and Sylvanus began to drop. I cried out to them, but they were both impossibly out of reach. Searching the controls of the tractor lift yielded no method to increase the rapidity of their ascent, and that Victor had all the practical necessities such as rope be removed for the purpose of “instilling absolute assurance in the latest advances of the Corporation.” I now bitterly wished to use his own intestines as rope.

“Samuel! Johnson!” I shouted into my wrist-communicator. “If you can read this, get down to the launch bay immediately. I repeat, get down to the launch bay immediately. We’ve got a major – “

But the roar from the waters was too great. Directly beneath Howard and Sylvanus and their boat was a swirling maw of blackness. Deeper it pulled them, the tractor lift struggling valiantly with every foot to break the invisible hold on the men from the Thing below the rushing waters, but the certainty of its failure became increasingly evident as the moments passed. The two men stared desperately into the launch bay, where I looked back, but I could do nothing, and they knew it. That monotonous task which was mine to perform had here once more been filled with mysterious awe, but not of the handiwork of man, for his own device was sparking and shuddering with the futile effort of saving its charge, and I could feel our vessel begin to lean into the match of tug-of-war, though slightly down and to the left from my vantage. No, the wonder came from Below, the Thing which came up just beneath the waters, which frightened steady Howard and temperate Sylvanus into madness, which hid its hideousness from our view, which even now was exerting its unseen and ineluctable influence on the two men and their conveyance beyond its physical self for a purpose all too clear to the three of us witness to this ghastly event, though only myself would survive to speak of it.

And I wish I never had to, but as it has been forced from me for the purpose of the “exploitation and capitalization of alien worlds and their resources, spatio-temporal locations, and inhabitants,” I have been given no recourse, save for the elimination of my occupation in the Corporation and possible elimination from the universe altogether. They are very thorough.

Nevertheless, there was I, helpless as an ant who watches his brothers flail with what remained of their crushed limbs and abdomens after a bipedal callously smashes them on the edge of its shoe. One final blast, and the electronic gadgetry was revealed as the facade it was, and they sank with heart-stopping speed into the blackness of the maw and disappeared forever. I could never know for certain, but before the swirling of the waters were washed by the onslaught of ensuing waves, I thought I caught the barest glimmer of an eye very near the surface, and its size intimated a beast of impossible magnitude. This alone has caused me many a nightmare since.

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