SUB-ZERO, page 1
Copyright © 2019 Matt James
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ALSO BY MATT JAMES
DEAD MOON SERIES
Nightmares are Born
Home Sweet Hell
Song of Sorrow
In Memoriam (Coming Soon)
DEAD MOON SHORT STORIES
Nightmare at the Museum
Scared to Death
The Cursed Pharaoh
DANE MADDOCK ADVENTURES w/David Wood
Skin and Bones
HANK BOYD ADVENTURES
Blood and Sand
Elixir of Life
LOGAN REED THRILLERS
For Greig Beck
Thank you for your support and friendship
McMurdo Station, Antarctica
Eleven Years Ago
Bleary-eyed, Gavin Kirk stared at his monitor, dazed, hoping and praying that it was time for his shift to be over. Being a radar technician inside an Antarctic research station was easy work because nothing ever showed up on his screen. Ever. But if a green blip did appear, it usually represented something they were expecting, like a supply ship dropping off and/or picking up cargo containers, or an incoming aircraft doing the same.
Checking his watch, Kirk sighed.
Still an hour left, he thought, rubbing his face.
He’d been at his station for eleven hours already and was deeply regretting his decision to cover for one of his fellow operators. Reflexively, his eyes flicked down to his wrist again, and he groaned in response. His shift was never going to end…
One more hour, Gavin. He thought. Come on, dude. You can do this.
At the moment, it was only Kirk and two of his CO’s on duty. The late-night, graveyard shift was the worst McMurdo could throw at you. Literally, nothing appeared on their radars since deliveries were never scheduled to arrive overnight when the weather was at its worst.
The sun was still up, and knowing it was so close to Christmas, it wouldn’t be setting for a long time, not until March. That’s how it was in the southern hemisphere. It was summer in December—the sun had risen in September and would be up until the end of February.
Antarctic summers were something to behold and something to loathe. The all dark winters were too. It wouldn’t have mattered much except that most of the people stationed here were Americans and they were used to the northern hemispheric life; Kirk included.
Leaning back in his worn, poorly padded office chair, Kirk yawned, blinking his eyes. For a second, they almost closed for good—but then, something caught his attention as it flashed across his monitor.
“Huh?” he said, getting the attention of one of his superiors from across the room.
“What is it, Kirk?” Commander Fredricks asked.
“I’m not sure, sir,” he replied, yawning again. “I think I saw something.”
“You think you saw something?”
“Either you saw it, or you didn’t. There is no ‘think.’”
Kirk rolled his eyes. Says the man who hasn’t had an original thought in years.
Fredricks was a hard ass, mostly because he hated his command. Only scientific type gurus were really interested in being at McMurdo. Men like Kirk and Fredricks didn’t belong here. They weren’t even scientists. They were a part of the security detail for the station.
He looked up at his CO. “I definitely saw something.”
Kirk ground his teeth, hating the game Fredricks was playing. He returned his eyes to his monitor, mostly because he didn’t want Fredricks to see how annoyed he was. “Yes, sir.” The man loved having his ego stroked.
Fredricks stepped up beside him. “What was it?”
Kirk did the math and knew it could be only one thing. The blip hadn’t come from the sea, its trajectory had originated from the sky.
“I believe it was a meteor splashing down off our coast.”
Fredricks laughed hysterically. “A meteor? Really? That’s what has your panties in a bunch?”
As mundane as it sounded, the relatively uneventful detection still needed to be recorded per McMurdo protocol. Kirk pulled a red binder out of his desk drawer but was stopped by the commander.
“Don’t bother with that,” Fredricks said. “It’s just a meteor. I seriously doubt anyone back home is going to care about another damned rock falling from space.”
“Look,” Fredricks interrupted, waving his hand dismissively, “if it’ll make you feel better, you can at least jot down the thing’s splashdown coordinates, but please, for the love of God, don’t file an entire report.” He turned and headed off. “I don’t have the time, or patience, for something as trivial as that.”
“So, what exactly am I looking for, Doc?”
Dr. Seth Donovan rubbed his forehead, wanting nothing more than to reach through his microphone and strangle the man on the other end. Donovan despised having to work so closely with “the help.” Those within his science division hadn’t gotten along with the Endeavor’s crew since the day they set sail for the Antarctic.
As the head of the team, Donovan kept his squad of forty moving toward one, unified goal: scientific advancement. They never stopped pushing forward. He had been told multiple times that his ambitions were unobtainable. The first time was while he was studying for the multiple degrees he had eventually earned. Then, he was reminded about it while applying for the Antarctic operation. Now, near the end of his detail aboard the Endeavor, it was being brought to the forefront again.
In return, he told them all to “kiss his ass.”
People didn’t like Seth Donovan very much—but nor did he truly care what others thought of him. He was quickly moving up the DARPA ladder, specifically in the field of genetics. His desires were the same as the people cutting his lucrative paycheck: Keep the country safe by providing them the means to do so.
Donovan, however, had a higher purpose. More than anything, he wanted the glory that came with success.
His guaranteed promotion, which he deserved, would finally earn him the respect from all of the people that had mocked him over the years. Even if it was fake admiration, he’d be in a position for people to have to actually kiss his ass.
Blinking away visions of himself winning awards and collecting monetary bonuses, Donovan turned his attention back to the sailor in the ADS.
The Atmospheric Diving Suit resembled a bulbous suit of armor. The men aboard the Endeavor called this particular variation, “Stay Puft.” Like the giant marshmallow man from the original Ghostbusters, the modified Newtsuit was mostly white and made its wearer look pudgy and c
The same could be said for a few of the captain’s men.
Donovan tapped his wrist-mounted computer and keyed up his microphone, speaking his instructions through a clenched jaw and gritted teeth. “You are looking for an ultra-rare species of octopus, one that emits low levels of light via natural bioluminescence—one that didn’t exist in this area until the last decade or so.”
“Uh…” the man muttered back. “So, let me get this straight. I’m snagging a glowing squid?”
Glowing squid… Donovan thought, closing his eyes. How on earth did I get saddled with these assholes? Even before boarding the ship, he knew the seamen were going to be a nuisance.
And yet, they’re so much worse.
“It’s not a squid,” he corrected, “it’s the highly venomous cousin of the deadly blue-ringed octopus.”
Donovan allowed himself the pleasure of a smile when the diver went silent. That made him feel in control. He didn’t give away that his statement, from a technical perspective, was false. Yes, the animal they were looking for now was exceptionally dangerous, but no, it wasn’t a relative of its infamous, blue-ringed cousin.
But really, just like humans are all related to one another, theoretically, ALL of these things are related too.
“Right…” the diver said, breathing more comfortably, “well, let’s get this show on the road, shall we?”
Donovan was coordinating the descent beneath the ocean remotely from inside one of his four labs, safely aboard the Endeavor. To his right was the pilot of a Remotely Operated Vehicle, and the man seated on his left was responsible for the ROV’s cameras, among other internal systems.
The four-foot-long, hot dog-shaped, unmanned submersible floated alongside the sailor in the ADS. Cameras mounted to eight different locations along the ROV would catch everything on video, documenting the groundbreaking event for all to see. Unfortunately, it could also document their failure—his failure—if they came away empty-handed and all of those in charge would see.
Can’t let that happen, Donovan thought, squeezing the table-mounted microphone stand harder. I won’t allow it to happen.
As the second technician powered on the cameras, the world beneath the waters of Antarctica bloomed to life. Even for a man as cold and as calculating as Donovan, he couldn’t help but hold his breath in awe. The lighting wasn’t enough though—he wanted more—but it was going to be an issue for everyone because they were so deep below the surface. As a result, the unmanned submersible was forced to use the lowest level of light, just enough for the cameras to see by.
The creatures living down here would likely scatter. The lowest level of light to us would be considered blazing to them—they’d never been out of the dark. It was going to be a slow process. To top it off, the weather outside was worsening. They needed to proceed with caution. Donovan and the rest of the Endeavor’s crew had just a day to finish what they started. Winter was nearing and their time in Antarctica was up.
“Um,” the diver said, “I think I’ve got something.”
Donovan’s right eyebrow raised in confusion. He had just checked the depth gauge and saw that they hadn’t yet touched bottom. Octopuses weren’t like their squid relatives. The former preferred to hide in whatever rocky crevasses they could squeeze themselves into. Squids were the exact opposite and loved the freedom of the open ocean.
“That can’t be…”
Donovan’s voice trailed off when he saw a pulse of light emanating from directly beneath the diver’s feet. He had a wealth of cameras attached to his suit’s hard casing. And right now, they were pointed straight down.
“Move back a little,” Donovan ordered, “don’t come down on top of it.”
“Roger that,” the diver replied. “Don’t squish the squid.”
Donovan ignored the smattering of laughter around him and focused his attention to the image on the screen. The octopus they were looking for was, indeed, bioluminescent, but it didn’t use it in a way like this.
The rapid succession of pulses he witnessed now almost reminded him of Morse code. Donovan knew that the species was intelligent—smarter than most life on Earth. He recalled researchers describing the animal’s DNA to be "alien-like" compared to the rest of the creatures. Their genetic profile didn’t resemble any other living thing that called this planet home.
Truthfully unique, he thought, leaning closer to the screen array.
Each camera had its own display, and all of them were currently trained on the happenings beneath the booted feet of the diver—and each showed the magical light show. One of the many advantages they had aboard the Endeavor was government funding when it came to anything military. Donovan knew for a fact that their “budget” didn’t actually exist. Yes, the ship’s purpose being out at sea was public, but the exact costs involved were hidden.
Even as the head of the science division, Donovan wasn’t privy to that information.
Neither is the captain, for that matter…
“Sir?” the ROV’s pilot asked, his voice laced with concern.
Donovan saw it, and he didn’t like what he was seeing.
As the diver moved away from the dome-shaped, rocky outcrop—and their prize—the creature’s incredible display softened, and it began a low canine-like growl. It wasn’t prepared to attack but warning them to stay back.
“How far is he from it?” Donovan asked, glancing over his shoulder.
“Thirty feet, sir,” a woman, whose name Donovan never bothered to learn, replied.
He keyed his microphone. “Move in closer.”
“Say the magic word…” the diver sarcastically responded, earning yet another chortle from the gathering mass of people.
The crowd was a mix of his people and the captain’s crew. While not one to back down from anybody, Donovan understood rule number one on board the Endeavor. Don’t piss off Captain House. So, he kept his mouth shut.
“Moving in another ten feet,” the diver announced, instantly silencing the room.
The room, Lab 4, was, in reality, one enormous space split up into several large areas. The Endeavor was a recently decommissioned T-3 naval oil tanker. Soon after it was retired from active service, the US Navy and DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, signed an agreement to build the floating research station.
Unfortunately, Donovan had to share his personal space with the ROV and ADS operators. Having them close by was imperative to the success of their mission here in the Antarctic. It was the only reason he allowed the sailors access to ‘his’ space.
Otherwise, I wouldn’t let the Saltines in.
It’s what he called the captain’s men. If for no other purpose, it made Donovan feel better about being there and more in control. He hated the open ocean with a passion—everything about it irked him. But his own goals superseded his discomforts.
The cramped living quarters.
Donovan preferred the company of his laboratory equipment to that of living things. People, for the most part, were awful to be around. Some called him a “douchebag,” but his like-minded colleagues thought of him as a genius.
The ADS was slow-moving, and when the diver finally got into position, the first thing out of his mouth was, “Uh oh, I think I made it mad.”
The electric-blue flashes turned into a deeper shade of the same color. Donovan was shocked at what he saw. Whatever they had here was displaying its feelings like a mood ring on steroids.
A soft chime in Donovan’s ear caused him to growl. The only person that could override his communications was Captain House.
“We have a situation above deck,” House said.
“What is it?” Donovan asked, aggravated.
Likewise, House sounded irritated too, grumbling something incoherently. What he said next boiled Donovan’s blood.
“Bring our boy up ASAP. Our storm is rolling in fast and ahead of schedule.”
“What!” Donovan shouted, turning all heads toward him.
“Now, Seth,” House ordered, “or I’ll come down there and do it myself.”
Donovan walked away from his post. “You can’t do this, Sebastian! Not after all we’ve been through. Not when we’re this close.”
“The hell I can’t!” House replied. “This is my boat, Seth. If you don’t bring my sailor back up—immediately—I’ll arrest you for negligence. I am in sole command when it comes to the safety of everyone on this ship—not you!”
Donovan winced. He may have just broken rule number one.
Without answering the incensed captain, Donovan logged off and begrudgingly relayed the man’s order. There was no way in hell that he’d transmit the message as his own.
“We’re aborting,” he announced. “Sorry, everyone, Captain’s orders. Bring up the diver. Storm is coming in fast.”
“Uh, Dr. Donovan?” the ROV’s pilot said. “We have contact.”
Contact? He thought it was a strange way to word a simple sighting.
Donovan turned and looked up at the main screen which was attached to the forward wall. There, floating ten feet away from their diver was an octopus no bigger than one you’d find inside someone’s home aquarium. But it wasn’t the creature’s size, or even its shape, that caught everyone’s eye…it was the animal’s vibrant, cracking blue veins that pulsated beneath its inky-black skin.
Usually, things at this depth would evolve some type of translucency in their pigment, not requiring it in the darker depths of the world’s ocean. And yet, the one hovering before them had the dark skin.
“What do I do?” the diver asked.
Before Donovan, or anyone else could reply, the animal shot forward at an incredible speed, latching itself onto the sailor’s protective helmet. After years of studying the species, Donovan had never seen one act so aggressively to something so much bigger than it. All it had to do was retreat back into its hiding spot, and it would’ve been safe. Instead, it went out of its way to drive the diver away.
Other author's books:
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