The trench, p.1

The Trench, page 1

 

The Trench
 



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The Trench


  NO ESCAPE

  A strong swimmer, Kevin quickly righted himself underwater and kicked hard to the surface. More cold than scared, he looked up, waiting for someone to appear at the rail with a rope.

  “Kevin, hold—” Devon saw the end of the nylon rope tied off on the rail and started pulling in the slack, the life ring appearing from across the deck. Grabbing the flotation device, she tossed it overboard.

  The ghostlike demon had reappeared. Gliding gracefully on its side, it opened its mouth, its lower jawline moving silently across the surface.

  Kevin’s smile disappeared as he saw the expression of terror on his sister’s face. He turned around.

  The ivory head, lying on its side, was barely visible. A small wake closed, revealing a black hole in the sea, outlined by pink gums and sickening teeth.

  A rush of panic washed over him. Ignoring the life ring, he tried to swim away, but an overpowering current grabbed him, dragging him backward in the water.

  Dragging him into the Megalodon’s open mouth . . .

  Books by Steve Alten

  The Meg Series

  MEG

  THE TRENCH*

  PRIMAL WATERS

  HELL’S AQUARIUM

  NIGHTSTALKERS

  ORIGINS

  Single Titles

  DOMAIN

  GOLIATH

  RESURRECTION

  THE LOCH

  THE SHELL GAME

  GRIM REAPER

  PHOBOS

  VOSTOK

  THE OMEGA PROJECT

  *Published by Kensington Publishing Corp.

  THE TRENCH

  Steve Alten

  PINNACLE BOOKS

  Kensington Publishing Corp.

  www.kensingtonbooks.com

  All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.

  Table of Contents

  NO ESCAPE

  Books by Steve Alten

  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  Dedication

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  Deep Pressures

  Waking Nightmare

  Preparations

  Benedict

  Child’s Play

  Change of Plans

  Differences of Opinion

  Tokamak

  Unhinged

  A Magnificent Hell

  Propositions

  Feeding Time

  Bad Karma

  Trapped

  Awkward Moments

  Cape Disappointment

  Mediation

  True Confessions

  Kindred Souls

  Deep Terror

  Trapped

  Uninvited Guest

  Risky Business

  Mixed Emotions

  The Spider and the Fly

  Tigers of the Deep

  Seafood

  Solutions

  Bait

  Intruders

  Second Chance

  Mousetrap

  Ring of Fire

  Desperate Hours

  Revelations

  Devil’s Purgatory

  Epilogue

  PINNACLE BOOKS are published by

  Kensington Publishing Corp.

  119 West 40th Street

  New York, NY 10018

  Copyright © 1999 Steve Alten

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.

  If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  PINNACLE BOOKS and the Pinnacle logo are Reg. U.S. Pat. & TM Off.

  ISBN: 978-0-7860-1804-8

  eISBN-13: 978-0-7860-4685-0

  eISBN-10: 0-7860-4685-6

  For Mom and Dad,

  For always being there . . .

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  It is with great appreciation that I acknowledge the wonderful people whose time and effort led to the completion of this book.

  Once again, I must thank my manager and mentor, Ken Atchity, and his team at Atchity Editorial/ Entertainment International for their tireless efforts. To David Angsten, who worked so hard on the manuscript, and to Ed Stackler of Stackler Editorial, thank you both for your contributions. A special thanks to Robert Leininger, whose editorial suggestions and technical expertise were invaluable.

  Many thanks also to the great people at Kensington/ Zebra, especially Senior Editor John Scognamiglio and copyeditor Stephanie Finnegan. It is a pleasure to be associated with your team.

  Last, to my wife, Kim, and my parents, for their continued support during the challenging times; and to those who enjoyed “MEG” and felt compelled to write. This novel is for you.

  Steve Alten

  Deep Pressures

  Mariana Trench

  12 degrees North Latitude

  144 degrees East Longitude

  March 22, 2001

  Retired Navy deep-sea pilot Barry Leace wiped the sweat from his palms as he checked the depth indicator of the Proteus. Thirty-four thousand, seven hundred and eighteen feet. Nearly seven miles of water above their heads, sixteen thousand pounds per square inch of water pressure surrounding them.

  Just stop thinking about it . . .

  Barry glanced around the tight quarters of the four-man submersible. Racks of computer monitors, electronics, and a bewildering jungle of wires filled the pressurized hull. The watertight coffin barely had room for its crew.

  Below the navigation console, team leader Ellis Richards and his assistant, Linda Heron, stared out through tiny portholes in the floor of the Proteus’s bow.

  “See those animals with the furry green pelt?” Linda asked. “Those are Pompeii worms, capable of withstanding temperature variations from twenty-two degrees all the way to eighty-one degrees Celsius. The hydrothermal vents supply sulfur for bacteria to live off, which in turn are digested by the tube worms—”

  “Linda—”

  “—which are a source of food to all sorts of bizarre-looking life-forms.”

  “Linda, enough with the goddamn biology lesson,” Ellis said.

  “Sorry.” Embarrassed, the petite geologist turned back to the porthole, cupping her hands around her eyes to eliminate glare.

  Smiling to himself, the sub’s fourth crewman, Khali Habash, looked down from his control console at Linda. The girl loved to talk, especially when she was nervous, a quality the Arab never hesitated to exploit.

  Khali’s real name was Arie Levy, a Jew born and raised in Syria. It had been nearly ten years since the day Arie had been recruited by MOSSAD, Israel’s covert intelligence agency. Since that time he had led a double life, spending half his time in Israel with his wife and three children, traveling around the Arab world and Russia the rest of the time, posing as a plasma physicist. It had taken four hard years of sacrifice for the agent to infiltrate Benedict Singer’s organization, but here he was, seven miles beneath the Pacific, about to learn secrets that could change humanity forever.

  Arie checked the external temperature gauge. “Hey, Linda, can you believe the water’s seventy-eight degrees?”

  The girl perked up again. “Incredible, isn’t it? We call it hydrothermal megaplumes. The hot mineral water pumping out of these black smokers is seven hundred degrees. As it rises, it warms the freezing seawater column until
it reaches neutral buoyancy at about twelve hundred feet above the floor of the Trench. Ocean currents then spread the plume laterally. The floating layer of soot from the minerals creates a ceiling that acts like insulation, sealing a tropical layer of water along the bottom of the gorge.”

  “The layer never cools?”

  “Never. These hydrothermal vents are ‘chronic’ plumes. They’ve been active since the Cretaceous period.”

  Ellis Richards checked his watch again. As the project’s team leader, he was perpetually worried about falling behind schedule. “Christ, three hours and it seems like we’ve barely made any headway. Linda, is it just me, or does it seem like this pilot has no idea what he’s doing?”

  Barry Leace ignored the insult. He checked his sonar and cursed under his breath. They had moved too far ahead of the Benthos, Geo-Tech Industries’ (GTI) mobile deep-sea lab community and submarine docking station. The billion-dollar mother ship resembled a domed sports arena, with a false flat surface for an underbelly, dangling three mammoth shock absorbers for legs. Hovering just above the turbulent seafloor in neutral buoyancy, the 46,000-square-foot titanium structure reminded Leace of a monstrous man-o’-war as it followed them north through the most hostile environment on the planet.

  Barry Leace had served on three different submarines during his tenure in the Navy. He had long ago become accustomed to living in claustrophobic quarters beneath the waves. Not everyone could make it as a submariner. One had to be in tip-top mental and psychological shape, able to perform while knowing that drowning in darkness within a steel ship hundreds of fathoms below the surface was just an accident away.

  Barry had that fortitude, that mental toughness, proving it time and again during his twenty-six years of service. That’s why he was so surprised at how easily his psyche was unraveling within the Mariana Trench. Confidence that had been nurtured through thousands of hours of submarine duty had suddenly dissipated the moment the Proteus cleared its abyssal docking bay aboard the Benthos.

  Truth be known, it wasn’t the depths that unnerved him. Four years earlier, through man’s intervention, Carcharodon megalodon, a prehistoric sixty-foot species of Great White shark, had risen from this very trench to wreak havoc. Although the albino nightmare had eventually been destroyed, and its surviving offspring captured, at least a dozen people had died within its seven-foot jaws. Where there was one creature, there might be more. Despite all of Geo-Tech’s precautions and technical innovations, the submersible pilot was still a bundle of nerves.

  Barry pulled back on the throttle controls, slowing the main propulsion engine. He had no desire to get too far ahead of their abyssal escort.

  “What is it now, Captain?” Ellis asked. “Why are we slowing?”

  “Temperature’s rising again. We must be approaching another series of hydrothermal vents. The last thing I want is to collide with one of those black smokers.”

  The team leader squeezed his eyes shut in frustration. “Goddamn it—”

  Barry pressed his face against the porthole, eluding Ellis’s tirade.

  The submersible’s lights illuminated a petrified forest of sulfur and mineral deposits, the towering stacks rising thirty feet or more from the bottom. Dark billowing clouds of superheated, mineral-rich water gushed from the mouths of the bizarre chimneys.

  Arie watched Ellis Richards move menacingly toward the pilot’s navigational console. “Captain, let’s get something straight. I’m in charge of this mission, not you. My orders are for us to cover no less than twenty miles a day, something we’ll never come close to at this snail’s pace.”

  “Better safe than sorry, Mr. Richards. I don’t want to get too far ahead of the Benthos, at least not until I get a feel for this sub.”

  “A feel for . . . I thought you were an experienced pilot?”

  “I am,” Barry said. “That’s why I’m slowing down.”

  Linda looked up from her porthole. “Exactly how far ahead of the Benthos are we, Captain?”

  “Just over six kilometers.”

  “Six kilometers, that’s all? Benedict Singer’s going to flip.” Ellis Richards looked like he was about to have an aneurysm. “Look, Captain, the Prometheus and Epimetheus are expected to arrive topside early next week. Neither submersible can even begin its work until we complete ours.”

  “I know that.”

  “You should. GTI’s paying you a king’s ransom to pilot the Proteus. We can’t keep waiting for the Benthos to play catch-up every time we go out. We’ll add another thirty days or more to our timetable, which is completely unacceptable.”

  “So is dying, Mr. Richards. My job is to keep us alive in this hellhole, not take chances so you can earn your bonus for coming in ahead of schedule.”

  The team leader stared at him. “You’re scared, aren’t you, Captain?”

  “Ellis—”

  “No, Linda, I’m right.”

  Arie watched the dynamics unfold. In the few weeks he had been in the abyss, the MOSSAD agent had observed Ellis Richards to be an obstinate man who preferred the use of bully tactics rather than concede he might be wrong. Though mankind knew more about distant galaxies than about the Mariana Trench, Richards proclaimed himself an expert on the abyss, somehow knowing everything from its hidden geology to its mysterious life-forms.

  To Arie Levy, Ellis Richards’s pompous attitude made him a dangerous man.

  Captain Leace glared back at Ellis. “I have a healthy dose of fear inside me, if that’s what you mean. It’s obvious that neither one of you fully appreciates the dangers of working in thirty-five thousand feet of water. Try to understand, if something should go wrong, if we should accidentally hit something . . . or if something hits us, there are no watertight doors to seal and no standard operating procedures to follow. In the event of a hull breach, you won’t even have time to bend over and kiss your ass good-bye.”

  “Sounds to me like you’ve lost your nerve,” Ellis said.

  “What did you say?”

  “What do you think, Habash? Has our captain lost his nerve?”

  “Considering that the surviving descendants of Carcharodon megalodon are living somewhere within this gorge, I must respect the captain’s opinion,” Arie said. “At the same time, we have more than sixty thousand square miles of seafloor to search. Our surface ship’s towed sonar array was designed to alert us to any approaching life-forms in plenty of time to retreat back to the safety of the Benthos.”

  “Plenty of time?” Barry shook his head in amazement. “How the hell do we know the speed at which a life-form might approach? Besides, the Goliath’s in the midst of gale-force seas. Topside interference is disrupting communications.”

  “In that case, I suggest we collect our first samples here and give the Benthos a chance to catch up. Once the weather calms, I’m sure you can find a way to make up for lost time.”

  Barry shot Linda an exasperated look before returning to his control console. He double-checked the acoustic transponders, took another quick glance out his view port, then engaged the lateral thrusters. Maneuvering between several black smokers, the Proteus descended slowly, establishing neutral buoyancy just above a cluster of glowing tube worms. The entanglement of mouthless, fourteen-foot life-forms writhed in the current like the serpents on Medusa’s head.

  “I’m initiating our gas chromatography detectors,” Arie said. “We could cut our mission time in half if we can detect helium isotopes leaking from these hydrothermal vents.”

  “Fine, fine, just do it,” Ellis said, struggling with the laptop controls that operated the sub’s robotic arms. Using the sub’s underwater camera to see, Ellis began manipulating the two central control knobs, causing the twin robotic arms to extend from beneath the sub. Gingerly he directed the pincers of the left arms, snagging the isotherm sampling basket from its storage area.

  Captain Leace watched the robotic arms extend toward the seabed, their movements stirring the bottom into clouds of mud. He closed his eyes and t
ried to relax, listening to the hydraulic whine of the pincers.

  “Move to your left,” Linda said, directing Ellis from her view port. “Just beyond that tubeworm cluster.”

  Loud warning blips from the sonar caused the pilot’s heart to skip a beat. He grabbed the acoustical printout, then checked the sonar screen in disbelief.

  A tight cluster of objects had materialized. Large objects.

  The captain felt his throat tighten. The others continued working, not even bothering to look up.

  “Habash, we’ve got company.”

  Arie turned. “What is it?”

  “Sonar reports three unidentified objects, bearing zero-one-five. Range seven-point-four kilometers. Speed, fifteen knots and closing. Heading directly for us.”

  “Any word from the surface?”

  “I’m trying now. No response. We’re on our own.”

  “What do you suggest?” Arie suddenly felt a bit claustrophobic himself.

  Barry stared at the sonar console. “I say we get the hell out of here. Richards, retract the robotic arms, we’re returning immediately to the Benthos.”

  “You’ve got to be kidding.”

  “Captain, are you certain?” Linda registered a knot of fear in her stomach.

  “Look for yourself. Whatever these creatures are, they’re accelerating through the Trench in our direction. Richards, I said retract those mechanical arms.”

 
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