There was a considerable swell rocking the boat, a parting gift from hurricane Eve. The experts had named it so, because according to their read outs Eve was a category five and had looked like being the mother of all storms. Thankfully though, Eve had not lived up to their pessimism and had passed over with wind speeds peaking at two hundred and thirty eight kilometres per hour which was more in keeping with a category four. That unfortunately was still more than enough to bury the area that we had been surveying for the last five weeks in a heavy layer of silt.
Up in the stern Ira checked the oxygen tanks once again, determined to avoid a repeat of last week’s incident when a kink in the hose had caused the oxygen supply in Gemma’s tank to be depleted much more rapidly than normal. If she hadn’t been so close to the surface we would have lost her for sure but as of yet only my team had begun surveying the ocean floor out in the deep water areas. Luckily she had just made it to the surface with seconds to spare but all of us regarded the incident as a reminder of just what one mistake could cost us.
“Did you get the lens fixed on that camera Jen?” shouted Dylan.
“Yeah, it’s ready to go,” I called holding up our new RedOne camera system.
“Good girl,” said Dylan winking roguishly. Then just as though he’d been practicing in front of a mirror he casually pulled off his shades and made a big show of taking off his shirt exposing his ripped physique and deeply tanned body.
I pulled a face at his exhibitionist behaviour and concentrated on pulling on my flippers instead. Next to me my diving partner Miguel reverently kissed the gold crucifix around his neck before zipping up his suit.
“Bloody boat’s full of nutters!” I muttered to myself.
“Ain’t that the truth!” laughed Gemma. She handed me a waterproof drawing pad and I clipped it securely onto my belt.
“Ok, you ready Miguel?” I said pulling down my face mask. He gave the universal thumbs up signal and we fell backwards simultaneously into the rolling waves.
Our heavy tanks pulled us down towards the ocean floor and soon it became obvious that the hurricane had obliterated nearly everything from view. The wreck of the Elenora May was nowhere to be seen but a few hours’ work from everyone with the giant vacuum hoses would soon put that to rights. Using my hand held GPS I set up new markers to pinpoint the location of the site while Miguel went back to the surface to fetch the hose.
The water was still quite clouded with sediment stirred up by the passing storm. It would take some time for it all to settle, but until then I would have to use the trench and the boat as landmarks and I always had my little GPS.
The others never liked working this close to the trench and I can’t say that I really blame them. Its waters are foreboding and dark, hiding all manner of creatures, many of which have never been seen by the human eye. The walls were immense, stretching for as far as the eye could see, dotted with a myriad spooky looking caves and crevices that harboured god only knows what. Clumps of seaweed waved about in the current anchored firmly to the rock.
If you hung around and watched for long enough, you sometimes caught a glimpse of the enormous eels that inhabited the smaller crevices, cutting their way through the water in a serpentine fashion, their hideous maws hanging open to reveal an assortment of wicked looking teeth.
Miguel seemed to be taking a very long time bringing back the hose. I toyed with the idea of going back up to see what was keeping him but I figured he’d probably appear just as I got there. So I decided to wait below.
It was while I was waiting that I began to explore a little after noticing something odd about one of the caves. This particular cave was set about fifteen to twenty metres down the face of the trench and periodically it seemed to suddenly emit some sort of strange glow.
Probably it was inhabited by some bioluminescent creature I thought. I continued to methodically map the area but as I did so I couldn’t help but notice that the faint glow from the cave was almost perfectly timed.
What did it mean? I tried to think of all the animals I knew in nature that were capable of producing light in perfect rhythmic timing like that. The lightning bug came to mind but that was a ridiculous thought given the fact that what I was seeing lived underwater. I almost laughed and lost my mouthpiece at the absurdity of it.
I felt drawn like a magnet to try to uncover the mystery. As I swam down a feeling of strange calm and determination swept over me. When I reached the mouth of the cave I peered in intently feeling rather like Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass.
It wasn’t immediately clear even then where the light was coming from. Half afraid that the light may suddenly disappear, I switched on my powerful hand held torch and swam a little further in. There was a sharp bend in the tunnel and on the other side I came across an astonishing sight. For no more than a few seconds I got a glimpse of a burning sword spinning and suspended in mid-air inside the stone passage. It blocked the way to an immense subterranean cavern. Stranger still the cavern was somehow empty of water and in the middle was an enormous tree; the biggest I’d ever seen.
I got the impression there was something hanging from the branches, possibly some kind of fruit. I felt like rubbing my eyes in disbelief but found my faceplate was in the way. None of this was making any sense to me. The scientific, analytical part of my brain kicked in and decided I should document it with as many photographs as I could get using my underwater camera.
I reached down for my camera and instantly a huge shock wave of light, sound and energy burst forth from the spinning sword hurling me forcefully against the wall behind me. I felt something break and that was the last thing I knew until Gemma and Miguel hauled me bodily up onto the boat.
Someone was coughing. I think it was me.
“She’s got a couple of broken ribs there I think,” said Dylan looking up at the others. He looked down at the decking smeared with a gaudy red blood stain and realized I had a laceration to the back of my head. He frowned and rolled me over roughly to examine me as though I was some archaeological find of negligible value.
“Pass me that med kit. She could do with a couple of stitches in there,” he said waving a hand impatiently to Gemma.
There was a sharp nip as the anaesthetic went in and then lots of tugging as he sewed me up with all the finesse of fisherman fixing his nets.
Finally he had finished.
“So what the bloody hell happened down there?” he asked washing his hands briskly with disinfectant.
“Nitrogen narcosis. Occupational hazard I guess,” said Miguel throwing him a towel.
“Supposing you ask me what happened?” I complained groggily. “Even better take a look at the camera , I think I got at least one shot.”
“You mean this camera?” said Dylan holding it up so that the water could pour out.
“Well that doesn’t matter, because it’s all in here,” I said pointing to my head to indicate that I still remembered everything.
“Yeah?” snorted Dylan. “Well if it was nitrogen narcosis baby, that’s probably where it all came from in the first place. Just a bad trip that’s all.”
“Let her tell us what happened,” said Miguel holding up his hand.
“What did you see Jen?” he asked looking at me intently. Perhaps he could tell I’d experienced something extraordinary, who knows.
“I saw a light coming from one of the caves. Not constant. Intermittent,” I said sitting up painfully.
“Told you it was depth induced psychosis,” crowed Dylan.
“Let her speak, Dylan!” cried Gemma.
“Go on. We’re listening,” she said.
I felt extremely tired and pain flowered in my ribs every time I spoke. But somehow it seemed to me that their faces reflected a hunger to hear about what had happened and try as I might I could not ignore it.
I told them everything and when I had finished they all sat back and stared.
“Wow! Sounds like something from as movie,” said Gemma drawing her knees up to her chin.
“Like hell it does. Sounds like a freaky nitro trip, just like I told you,” sneered Dylan.
“You’re all wrong,” said Miguel looking round at them. “I know what she’s describing. It’s the tree of life from the Garden of Eden! Hold on! Just wait there a minute and I’ll show you.”
When he came back he was clutching a bible. Holding it flat on the palm of his hand he read out the verses from Genesis that described the tree of life and how it is guarded at all times by a flaming sword. Then he turned over to the next page and held it up so that I could see the artist’s impression.
“That’s it!” I said pointing emphatically. “Only much bigger. It filled the whole cave and its branches were spread out across the ceiling.”
“Yeah? Well me and Miguel swam down to that cave and the only thing we saw there was you, lying in a heap against the wall,” said Dylan.
I knew when I was beat so I let the issue drop. Arguing with him would just take up too much energy. Gemma and Miguel carefully helped me out of my suit and Dylan went to examine the thermal imaging scans of the wreck.
“Just be careful when you take off that head piece Jen,” called Ira. “Here, pass it to me.”
I handed it over carefully, noticing that he’d added a few extra devices. One of them was strapped to the main flash light and looked suspiciously like a tiny camera.
“What is that exactly?”
“That? Oh that’s a live webcam feed. It’s a new idea I came up with. Everything you see down there goes straight to the on board computer where it’s stored and filed away to be examined at a later date,” said Ira focusing on unscrewing the unit.
“You’re joking right?” said Miguel.
“No. Why would I be joking?” he said fixing them with his calm green eyes. “I stored all the footage on this pen drive. Haven’t watched any of it yet but I’m sure I’ll get round to it at some point. Why do you care? I’m the tekkie round here.”
“Because what you have there is either proof of Jen’s depth induced madness or proof that God is actually exists,” said Miguel.
“I guess there’s not much point in keeping it then,” said Ira looking at it and then casually tossing it over the side. Everyone but me ran to the other side of the boat but the flash drive had already sunk beneath the surface.
“Why did you do that?” yelled Miguel.
“Well when you put it like that I didn’t see any point,” said Ira calmly. “Religious folks don’t need any proof of God’s existence, not when they’ve blind got faith. And as for Jen…well I know her well enough to be able to say she’s not crazy.”
He picked up his gear with brazen indifference and went to the back of the boat.
“It just a pity we couldn’t say the same for you Ira,” groaned Miguel looking into the ocean.