“Ready navigation!” I yell. The men of the bridge are silent, watching the rocking of the boat.
“What is happening out there?” cries Alain.
“Man the torpedo bay,” I tell him. “Flood all remaining tubes!”
“What are we shooting at?”
But I am not listening to him. I go to the helm. “Anton,” I say into the radio. “Prepare the engines.”
“Sir, I have told you the batteries have insufficient power to start the prop…”
“Just be ready, damn you!” I spin on Alain. “Fire tubes four and five. Snap shots!” Somehow, the Second responds. Two explosions ring out. As though the water has been ruptured, the submarine sways to a side. The cries of the men resound, as they try to understand what is happening. A moment later, we are free – and we are falling.
“Are we in the Trench?” says Alain. “My God. We are in it!”
The submarine descends, gaining speed. The hull contracts almost immediately.
“Captain!” cries Childs. “That sonar contact is right behind us! It’s moving in pursuit!”
“Anton,” I say into the radio. My breathing is hard in my own ears. “Anton, give power to the engines now.”
He doesn’t acknowledge. Instead, a hum starts in the boat as the engines come alive. The submarines lurches forward as we soar into the Trench. “Bring us up!” I shout. But the Trench is not so easily escaped. There is a grip on the boat now, as of cold black water, and the ghosts that lie within – or perhaps it is something else that has us now, determined to prevent our escape.
“Captain, the sonar contact is on top of us!” screams Childs. He is standing, pointing with his one good arm towards the rear of the boat.
“More power, Anton!” I scream at the radio. “Everything you have!”
The boat lurches. The metal constricts and starts to buckle. Dear God, I whisper. Are we indeed forsaken to this depth? Is this indeed our ending? I think of the unfinished note in my pocket – what becomes of that if we are lost? A thousand years from now, will someone recover it from the sea and understand what I felt when I lived, as I dreamt of the things I must not do?
The boat lurches, and an explosion rings out. “What was that?” I demand.
“I fired the after-battery!” replies Alain. “God knows why, but I’ve done it!”
As he says the words, the boat soars forward. The engines hum and the nose comes up. “Depth!” I cry, and a man reads from the repaired gauge. One moment, we are within the gulf of the Trench itself, threatened with slipping into its endless maw; the next, we are above the sea bed and moving upwards.
“Childs,” I say. “The sonar contact – where is it?”
The young man is staring at me. He is listening into his headphones, then glances at his screen again. “Gone, sir. I think – I think it went into the Trench.”
“Take us up, helm,” I say. Then I lean against a console. I close my eyes, wondering when the last time was that I slept.
As we ascend, someone reminds me about the destroyer that had hunted and nearly sunk us. I shake my head, and tell them that whatever happens to us in the future, today is not the day that we are taken by the enemy. No, not today. Today – we see the sun, the light where we should hope to find it, the wind as it is meant to blow.
The hatch opens to admit sunlight. It is a Wednesday evening, a gleaming one at that. I drop to the hull of the boat and walk its length. The sea is empty. It is calm. Beneath me is a depth that I cannot imagine.
“She’s near wrecked,” comes Anton’s voice. The stubby man is staring at the hull. “I’ve hardly seen a Captain treat a boat worse!”
I sit on the hull. “But she has treated us well, engineer. That she has.”
Alain is nearby, with a crew that begins to assess the damage. A man is winding a radio, putting in a call for help.
“Why did you fire that after-battery, Second?” I ask the man.
He turns to me. In the sunlight, he looks shriveled and small, but he doesn’t answer me this time. He just glances at the water and carries on with the repair work.
I stare at the sea. It is endless, and stretches to all the corners of my life. I breathe the air and wonder what I should do next. Out of my pocket I take the letter I have been writing. I scratch a few more words, something about what it means to be redeemed, and what you should do with such salvation, even if it means knowing what you must not do – and doing it anyway. I dip my hand in the water. All these hours at the bottom of the sea, not a drop of water touched me.
“It’s massive,” says Childs. He is standing, staring at the sea. I remember that he has never seen the open surface before.
“Get the doctor to attend to your arm.”
“No, sir,” he responds. A wry smile, something only a young person would do. “Other men are in more need of the doctor just now.”
I nod. “What do you think you saw on your sonar, Childs?”
He pauses. “It was like a bird.”
“An underwater bird?” I ask him. “That could hardly be, could it?”
“No, sir. How far does it go, this ocean?”
I stand up and face him. I think about Arnold. My letter is finished, and God willing, I will see it delivered to him, and in time, perhaps see him again. There is so much to talk about. So many secrets to divulge, in private whispers on the dark side of life. “Further than you could possibly imagine,” I tell the young man with the broken arm, and then, for no reason that I can define, I salute him.