Author’s note: This story was published in Kernel Magazine, part of the Daily Dot. Check out some wonderful artwork that accompanies this tale and find other stories at Kernel Magazine.
Thick, white steam billowed out of the Randolfus Mining Barge’s six-engine exhaust ports like breath out the nostrils of a sleeping dragon. The barge itself, a sleeker interpretation of an offshore oil derrick, was a monolith covered in scale-like metal plates, completing the image of a saurian monster lounging on the Alaskan continental shelf. Two respectably sized boats were moored to the barge, looking no bigger than Matchbox cars in relation to the megalith. Sharp cracks of ice fracturing in the late summer heat echoed through the Arctic wasteland, the only sound loud enough to be heard through the incessant drone of the Randolfus’s engines. Chunks of ice bobbed in the water surrounding the Randolfus and to the east, toward Cape Lisburne, ice clung to the rocky beaches like a protective armor coating, warning away visitors.
Heavy boots clanging on the yellow metal catwalks of the Randolfus, Philip Martzen dug a protein bar out of his breast pocket and anxiously looked back and forth between the open water and the LCD display on one of the HD cameras mounted around the railing, covering the sea from multiple angles. Countless steel chains, each link the size of an average man, hung from the slowly rotating metal beams high above Martzen’s head and extended into the sea. Days ago, the chains had stretched into the icy water farther than the most powerful halogen spotlight on the Randolfus could penetrate. Martzen had stared into the water, eyes fixed at the focal point where the chains seemed to come together into a single line and then vanish into the bluish green depths. Now, however, Martzen could clearly see the terminus of the chains – a long, sleek, black shape that looked, when the waves chopped just enough, like a new species of whale. Martzen clapped his hands, looking one last time into the water at the rising submarine.
Martzen turned to his daughter, who he had convinced to take a job as his camerawoman on this voyage, dressed in garish ski pants and a thick, pink hoodie. Martzen’s hand were shaking. If he was truthful with himself, he could feel his entire body trembling. He hadn’t been this nervous since he made out with Jeanine Barclay – who was at least three tiers above his league – under the high school bleachers. He had worked with superstar actors in picturesque locations, been under budget and far behind on his shooting schedule, and even once got embroiled in a dispute with a murderous band of rebels deep in the South American jungle. None of that had prepared him for this day. He could feel the historical gravity emanating from the water. “Ready, Molly?”
“Rolling.” Molly, however, was calm and focused purely on her job.
Martzen took a deep breath and looked into the camera. “1972. The world is a very different place; the U.S. has recently won the space race against the Soviet Union by sending a successful manned-mission to the moon. Concerns over oil availability are growing, leading to an economic downturn one year later. America and the Soviet Union have been embroiled in the Cold War for over 20 years,” Martzen recites, then looks at the woman behind the camera. “We’ll have some B-roll footage run over most of that voiceover. I’m sure NBC has something we can use. Let’s try to remember to email somebody about licensing the rights later tonight.”
Martzen turned back to the camera and counted himself down. “…two…one,” a pause, “Just like popular culture shows us, the Cold War was rife with spies and counter-intelligence. Secret operatives, spy satellites, and even,” Martzen gestured behind him, “maritime espionage. There is a legend among Russian sailors that the Soviet Navy lost contact with one of their subs in March 1972. It was presumed sunk, but no effort could be made to retrieve the ship, her crew, or the explosive ordnance contained within because it was inside American waters. Mounting any sort of rescue operation would result in an international incident – one with potentially deadly consequences.
“For years, the Russian sub was nothing more than a myth, a legend of the high-seas like the Flying Dutchman or the Bermuda Triangle. I traveled to Russia and interviewed several sailors, attempting to either confirm or debunk the myth once and for all. What I uncovered was astonishing. The myth pervaded the ranks of Soviet seamen who served in the early 70s, and details were as varied as the men I questioned. Several formerly high-ranking officers, however, had corroborating stories. A sub designated K-32, the Arctic Shadow, had been operating in the Chukchi Sea, surveying American coastal defenses and radar along northwestern Alaska. Then, without warning, the sub went dark.
“This information sent me on an undersea odyssey. I bought a research submarine and funded an 18-month search for the Arctic Shadow. I was about ready to pull the plug when my search team found what looked like a conning tower jutting out of some soft mud on the Arctic floor. I immediately took action to claim the salvage rights, which were not nearly as easy to obtain as they should have been since both the Russians and Americans wanted the claim. The agreement we’ve reached is for two Russian sailors and two American sailors to accompany my research team aboard the submarine. The bodies of the Arctic Shadow crew will accompany their contemporary peers back home to be put to rest, along with any personal effects. The U.S. Navy will dispose of the explosive ordnance and nuclear reactor that powered the sub. My team will chronicle and preserve the history of the Arctic Shadow and pay proper respect to the men who perished in the harsh waters of the Chukchi Sea. Join me, Philip Martzen, as I raise the Arctic Shadow.” Martzen raised his eyebrow at Molly.
“Looks good. We could do one more for safety. I didn’t like ‘undersea odyssey,’ though. And where you say, ‘As popular culture shows us,’ maybe you could just name some pop culture spies that everyone knows. James Bond, Simon Templar, Ethan Hunt. Sterling Archer, maybe.”
Martzen nodded, clearly not getting Molly’s joke. After nearly an hour, they had recorded a take that they both agreed on. He could tell Molly was just as nervous as he was; her inner perfectionist shone most brightly under pressure. He smiled at her. She had her mother’s looks – Martzen was happy Molly was spared his own sunken, tired eyes – but definitely her father’s mind. He fully expected her to make the AFI’s list of 10 best directors and would be happy to be bumped out of the list entirely to make room for her.
The rattling of an aluminum ladder caught the Martzens’ attention. They tuned to see four uniformed soldiers ascend to the Randolfus’s observation platform on which they stood. The pairs were almost comically matched: a tall, hulking soldier for whom any mortal uniform seemed too small and a thin, cunning-looking man of normal height made up both teams. It was almost as though the Russians had been able to identify the American officers assigned to this operation and send their Muscovite doppelgangers. All four waved and called morning greetings to Martzen and his daughter. Two began climbing ladders again, moving toward the top of the Randolfus where Navy seamen and Martzen’s hired crew were working on bringing the sub to the surface. Commander Rash and Captain Kubasov, the thin American and large Russian, however, approached Martzen.
“Director,” the Kubasov said, through a smile and thick accent, “this exploration, as you know, is not without risk. The missiles and the power plant haven’t been tended to in many years. There is something I must know before we begin. I couldn’t bear to die without knowing.”
Rash smiled and interrupted, “We’re finding it hard to balance our duties as soldiers with our duties as nerdy fanboys.”
Martzen smiled, not sure where this was going. The Russian laughed at his confusion. “Director Martzen, will there be another Legends of Alpha Centauri movie? It is my favorite I have ever seen. Better than Star Wars! I have to know!”
“I must have your information,” Rash said in a robotic voice, quoting one of the memorable lines from Martzen’s film.
Kubasov and the Martzens laughed, the Russian and Molly heartily and Philip just being nice. He had heard that line a million times. “Gentlemen, I’ll tell you this. The documentary we’re making here today is almost the only thing I’ve been able to think of for months. Almost. But I have to admit, I found myself wondering how Captain Nova would deal with finding an ancient starship buried in the icy remains of Mur-Yin. So…maybe it is time I revisit those characters.”
Rash and Kubasov gave each other a hearty high five, the slap sounding not unlike the cracking ice farther out in the Arctic Ocean. They shook Martzen’s hand and moved off to tend to their duties. Martzen thought back to the first day on the Randolfus when the American and Russian crews had scarcely spoken to one another. Martzen had been worried that his operation would be jeopardized by nationalistic pissing contests and, possibly, real physical fights. The recent tensions between Russia and the U.S. almost convinced Martzen to push the operation back until the Crimean dust had settled. And then Martzen had invited all four officers to his rented vessel one night and shared several bottles of wine and beer with them. The soldiers eventually pulled their own less-than-regulation spirits from their footlockers and brought them back to the party. There had been no problems since; in fact, it seemed that Rash and Kubasov had found kindred spirits in each other over science fiction and had even talked about renting a hotel room together for a future San Diego Comic-Con.
Excitement mounted as the sub neared the surface. All non-essential engineers crowded the observation platform and erupted into deafening applause when the conning tower finally broke the surface. From Martzen’s vantage point, the scene looked like a rectangular block of obsidian rising, under its own power, from an enchanted sea. Kubasov and his comrade broke into a Russian dirge as the rest of the sub was hoisted up, water sluicing from its curved surface like a teardrop falling in reverse. Molly fought to keep her attention and camera on the crowd, but glanced to the sub every now and then. The cacophony of the frigid water crashing back into itself melded with the applause.
Mobile catwalks and gantries were moved into place around the Arctic Shadow as it hung, suspended from massive chains, and dripped dry. The conning tower was the only area of the ship to be spared massive rusting; the curved torpedo of the hull was pock marked with brown stains of varying shapes and sizes. Martzen marveled at the rust pattern; it was not streaks along the side like those that marred the Randolfus and the two smaller vessels. That made sense, though, gravity didn’t dictate that path of water and, thus, of rust on a submerged vessel. Some of the Arctic Shadow’s square armor plates were missing, as well. A few had been forced loose by the clamps and chains used to bring it to the surface. Others. Particularly along the belly of the sub, may have rusted away entirely. Despite the lamentable state of upkeep, Martzen was still awed by the subtle power of the sub. Cold War submarines struck Martzen as particularly powerful; unlike their World War II counterparts, the later subs were built as much for intelligence gathering as for warfare. They defined the era: armed to the teeth but coldly calculating — mechanical sharks.
“Sirs!” a voice called from above. Martzen and the naval officers looked up to a seaman near the nose of the ship. “The ballast tanks are flooded, but I see no sign of internal breech. She might actually be seaworthy!”
“Oh, my God,” Martzen whispered. He almost sat himself down on the catwalk. A pristine interior was something he had thought of only once or twice, when he was dreaming big. It was almost infinitely unlikely. Why would a submarine with no internal damage sink?
“How is that possible, seaman? There’s no way the ballast controls and the emergency failsafe failed simultaneously,” Rash called up, sounding skeptical.
“Commander, the crew may have purposely dove and then gotten prevented from reaching the controls. This is a first generation nuclear sub; perhaps the reactor overheated or there was a buildup of carbon monoxide,” the seaman shouted down.
Captain Yakolev nodded. “There was an incident with carbon monoxide poisoning on one of the first submarines of this designation. One man sent the sub to surface and saved the entire crew. The design flaw was remedied on all subsequent vessels, but the Arctic Shadow may have had a different problem with CO2 venting.”
“Find a way to probe for CO2 and radiation, Evans. Preferable without drilling through the hull, though that’s an option if the only other method is irradiating us all,” Rash said to the soldier overhead, then turned his head to address the rest of the crew. “Let’s get this sub stabilized so we can send a few people aboard! Miller, get your people in position to remove the ordnance but do not start the procedure until we’ve had a thorough walk through. We don’t want to lose this discovery to an unstable torp before we get some pictures.”
Evans’ crew was able to probe through the ballast vent and found no evidence of a reactor meltdown. They were unable to test for carbon monoxide, but it was assumed by all assembled that any gas trapped inside would force itself out of most of the sub when the hatch was popped. The hatch itself was rusted shut and had to be opened with the aid of an acetylene torch. It finally came loose from the ship with a sharp rush of air that tugged on the hatch with the vacuum force. Once the pressure equalized, a strong stale smell emanated from the circular portal.
The American and Russian officers and the Martzens stood on a narrow gantry leading to the narrow hole. Martzen tried not to let his gaze fall through the slots of the metal walkway to the frigid water three stories below.
“Ready, Sir?” Lieutenant Commander Anawak asked, as if he were able to sense Martzen’s fear and wanted to shift his focus from certain death to the exciting discovery in front of them.
Martzen nodded to the soldier, then called to his daughter ahead of him in line. “Spotlight batteries charged, Molly?”
She gave a thumbs up, her face hard but eager, and followed Rash’s instructions to make a final check of their gear before stepping aboard.
The Shadow creaked unsettlingly with the weight of each person that climbed aboard. Martzen soon wished the two larger men had stayed on the Randolfus. His LED headlamp illuminated each metal rung as he climbed deeper into the sub, but the act of extending his feet and hand out of the light and into the black unknown to find each new rung made panic rise in his throat. He looked around to find the main control room illuminated by the spotlight on Molly’s camera. She was panning across the banks of dials and switches, most still immaculately painted. Martzen had the strong feeling of stepping into a walk-in time capsule.
Kubasov rounded the center console and entered the lower bank of workstations. “Captain here. Looks like he shot himself,” he said quietly, toeing the dead man’s service revolver.
Martzen motioned for Molly to move in Kubasov’s direction. She knew what he wanted; shots that hinted at the sacrifice but weren’t overly graphic themselves. She closed in on the dried brown blood that had splashed across the control panel, then slowly moved down, capturing boots and the skeletal hand, rubbery skin preserved by the cold and the briny air, laying limply near the wooden butt of the gun. Kubasov walked into her shot as he examined the captain’s Cyrillic nameplate.
“The captain’s name is Budarin,” Kubasov said to Yakolev, who scribbled the name down on his clipboard.
“Well, fork in the road, Sir,” Rash said to Martzen after they had investigated the room. “This is your sub; which way do you want to go first?”
Martzen suggested they head to the front and the group advanced that direction, ducking low to pass through each open watertight hatch. Most of the fore section held nothing but supplies; spare electrical and mechanical equipment, uniforms, a little food. The latter made little sense to Martzen, as he had expected the crew to have eaten through all the food after finding out the captain had committed suicide. In the torpedo room, the group found a scatter of papers and two books that had probably once been stacked on the coffee-ringed wooden table that sat near the reactor housing. Kubasov pawed through the mess, his large fingers and unhelpful headlamp making the task much more difficult than it should have been. He let a small sigh as he looked at one particular item.
“I found the captain’s journal. This might tell us what happened with the ship if he remembered to update it while they were dealing with the crisis,” Kubasov said. “But it’s too dark in here. I’m going to go topside and read through these,” he hefted the stack and shook it slightly. The rest of the group followed Kubasov back to the control room.
The path aft wasn’t as easily traversed as to the fore; each hatch going this direction was locked shut, as if the crew was worried the main hatch might give way and fill the sub with water. As the remaining five explorers passed through the second hatch into the crew quarters, a strong, dank, slightly metallic odor wafted out. Martzen knew the smell from his days working in a butcher shop.
Bodies were sprawled across most of the open floor and lying peacefully in bunks. Small arms littered the ground, dropped by limp hands. Yakolev and Anawak spot-checked several of the bodies while Molly shone her light slowly across the entire eerie scene. The shadows cast on the wall looked to Martzen like the trapped souls of the mariners clawing at the walls of the sub to get out. Or maybe the ghosts were trying to ward off the living, to prevent them from further disturbing their final resting place.
“I feel like we’re desecrating a crypt,” Martzen said.
“No,” said Yakolev, “these men died in a time when religion was discouraged back home. My father has told me of times when he would cry at night because it was too hard to balance the demands of state-sponsored atheism and the religious truth he could feel inside him. You will be allowing these men to have the last rights they may have wanted, but couldn’t have gotten. They will also return home as heroes instead of unknown casualties. You are doing right by these men.”
Anawak chimed in, “Looks like these are all gunshot wounds. Like the captain.”
Rash nodded, “They were probably scared of starving to death and decided to end the misery early. That’s probably what I would do.”
“How many do you think are in here? Perhaps 30?” Yakolev asked. “Then, unless there are 70 men in the deck below us, they didn’t all die here.”
The group descended, one by one, through the portal to the second level sleeping quarters. Martzen knew it was his imagination, but this deck felt even colder than the previous. He watched the white plumes of breath leak out of the parkas of the others in front of him. Were they more pronounced?
“Looks like the same number down here,” Molly said, sweeping the cabin with her light.
“Sirs,” Yakolev half-shouted, startled. All lights focused on Yakolev and the hatch he was inspecting. Where the previous hatches had been slightly convex, this hatch had been dented severely inward. It looked like someone had taken a medieval battering ram to it but failed in breaking it open. The metal clamps that held the hatch in place, however, were far too misshapen to retract into the hatch housing at the turn of the center wheel. The hatch was, unless they wanted to bring in the acetylene torch, blocked. They would have to go back up and through the first level hatch into the engineering rooms.
“What should be beyond that door, Captain?” Rash asked Yakolev.
“I do not know. Kubasov should have a schematic with him if-,“ he was cut off by Martzen, who had his eyes closed, thinking hard.
“Officer suites,” Martzen said. He had studied every document about November-class subs he could get his hands on. “And a few less-commonly tended engineering components.”
Rash screwed up his mouth in confusion. “I was going to suggest that whatever caused the sub to sink also did this damage,” he gestured to the ruined hatch, “but that doesn’t really make sense.”
The team headed back to the operable hatch on the first deck. All traces of earlier excitement had been replaced by solemnity at the sight of so many wasted souls and the mystery surrounding their suicide. Silence seemed to press against Martzen’s ear drums with oppressive force.
Something crunched under Rash’s boot as he ducked through hatch into the engineering deck. He raised his hand to his headlamp and aimed it more directly down. A brown crust coated the metal floor. Rash gasped and jumped quickly back through the portal, afraid the deck had rusted and would give way at any moment. He stood in the doorway, trying to control his breathing, and caught sight of his own boot print in the brittle substance. Where the covering had stuck to his tread, he could see the painted metal floor looking every bit as structurally sound as the one on which he stood. He shone his light further into the engineering deck and stopped when the circle of illumination fell on a severed hand. The floor was covered in blood.
Engineering was a massacre. The severed hand Rash first noticed was among the more tame bits of anatomy strewn across the floor, some still inside bits of uniform. Pink tendrils that might have been intestines were draped over a control panel, bits of flesh and teeth clung to the ceiling, cemented there by dried biological fluid. It was impossible to discern the number of men who lost their lives in engineering, but the gore that clung to every surface suggested it was numerous. The officer suites below were no better off. The thin wooden panels that separated each room were splintered, bodies impaled on the sharp, splintered remains. The body of one man lie on his bed, torso ripped open and hanging to the sides like a primitive autopsy had been attempted. He was naked save for the uniform pants that bound his ankles together.
It had been minutes since anyone in the party had spoken, each member taking in the scene and processing it in their own way. Yakolev was the first to break the silence, “What in the name of God happened down here?” No one had an answer, so they continued on.
Back on the Randolfus, Kubasov whistled while he sorted through the documents he had collected. He had made several piles: one for orders from North Fleet Command, one for technical documents, and one for personal communications. The tallest stack, by far, was the personal communications. Kubasov had read through a few and found each one typical to soldiers of the era; lamenting the distance from their family but proud to serve Mother Russia. Kubasov pulled another sheet from his unsorted stack. It was a sheet ripped from a manual on the backup battery generator. Over the technical diagrams had been written, in a large, scrawling hand, “DO NOT OPEN ENGINE ROOM.”
Fearing the author of the note knew of a potential problem with the reactor that might doom everyone aboard the Shadow and, possibly, the Randolfus, Kubasov scrambled to grasp the radio he had set down on his workstation. “Rash, come in. Do not open the engine room!” He waited for a response, each second like a belt pulling tighter around his chest. “Rash, Yakolev, come in!”
“I copy you, Kubasov,” Rash said, sounding exhausted. “We’ve already opened the engine room. What’s wrong?”
“There was a note warning against opening the door in the papers I have. You saw nothing out of the ordinary?”
“We’ve seen plenty out of the ordinary, Kubasov. Something bad went down on this ship. Maybe a mutiny, maybe… cabin fever or something. I don’t know.”
“Nothing in the engine room? No Geiger spikes?” Kubasov asked.
“Nothing. There were two bodies locked in the room, one in a fur coat. We’re not sure if that one was crew or not, since there was no uniform. It’s possible the engine room was used as a temporary brig. Maybe they caught a spy or two. But that’s far from our main concern. See if any of those documents tell you what the hell happened in the engine room and officer suites,” Rash said. “We’re going to finish cataloging the names of crewmembers we can identify and then come topside for a while.”
Kubasov skimmed the sub’s orders, hoping something about the Arctic Shadow’s mission might lend a clue. The most recent set of instructions he found was a simple surveillance order, with direction to pay particular attention to any new sensor arrays on American destroyers. That told him nothing. He hit himself in the forehead with the palm of his hand – the captain’s journal from the torpedo room! That was his best lead. He grabbed the small book and flipped through it, almost dropping it from his large hands, before he reached the last few entries.
March 15, 1972
Our four month stay in the Arctic has been extended to a full six. I received orders from the North Fleet today that we are to watch American ships for advanced detection equipment. When I asked for clarification and description about the equipment, I was told the information was out of Cuba and that no further specifications were available. How can I do my job effectively when I’m not given the intelligence to do so?
I will break the news to the men after our midday meal. They will take it in stride as they always do and put on pacified faces, but I know the thought of two more months stuck under the ice will crush them inside. I’m going to order a temporary shore leave after I tell them about the new assignment. Shore leave if you can consider sheets of ice thicker than concrete a shore. Still, it will be nice to see the sun and stars again. To stretch my legs and not crouch through these damned holes.
March 16, 1972
About halfway through their soccer game, kicking a partially deflated ball into goals marked by life vests, I spotted a figure coming toward us through the blustery white haze. Polar bears are common in this area, but are easily scared off by a few gunshots fired into the air. I ordered my first mate to stand watch over the incoming figure and to fire his warning shots when it was within range that the shots wouldn’t be carried away on the icy wind. Scant minutes later, as I made notations to our set of orders, the first mate informed me that the figure was, in fact, human.
Fearing an American patrol, I pulled the crew back aboard the Arctic Shadow and sent my mate and three lower-ranking officers out to make contact. The returned with a beautiful young girl in a sealskin coat, tears frozen onto her cheeks. I was able to communicate with her in English, a language we both partially spoke. She told me she had been out with her tribe hunting but had become lost when the wind picked up and shrouded the world in a cloud of snow. She begged me to return her to solid ground. She seemed frightened of the ice.
I explained that returning her directly was not possible as it would take us within American waters. I offered her the option of moving our sub closer to American waters and then radioing the American Navy. My first mate looked at me in shock and pulled me to the side. He asked if that course of action might hinder our chances of completing our mission. He was of the mind to turn the girl away and let her die on the ice. I knew his course of action was pragmatic to our orders, but I couldn’t let the girl die. She may have been in her mid-twenties, but something about her seemed much younger and in need of protection. I told my mate we may actually be greeted by one of the new destroyers if they are concentrated in northern waters away from the troubling Caribbean and South China Sea areas. I did agree, however, that we should run slowly and silently to a rendezvous much further south. The journey would take a week, and I ordered one officer bunk cleared so the girl could have privacy.
March 20, 1972
This will be my final entry. I have sent the Arctic Shadow to the bottom of the Chukchi Sea in order to save countless lives. I can’t help but blame myself for the fate I have forced upon my crew, even though I can’t think of any way I could have foreseen the coming storm.
I returned to my cabin from the control room earlier today to hear the obvious sounds of lovemaking coming from the Inuit girl’s cabin. I was furious. I had ordered every man on the boat to leave her alone. I did not want her presence to cloud their judgments, nor did I want them forcing themselves on the innocent Native. I burst into the room to find the girl atop First Mate Anatolyevich. I bellowed an order and, when neither the girl nor Anatolyevich ceased their writhing, I strode toward them. I stopped when I saw Anatolyevich’s chest. It had been opened, organs torn from within and guts spilling onto the bed. The girl looked into my eyes, her mouth and chin dripping with Anatolyevich’s bright blood. I was frozen. She continued staring at me, reading my soul, as she slowly lifted some bloody organ and sank her teeth into it, smiling with sensual pleasure as the flesh tore.
I pulled my service pistol and fired multiple times. Several bullets made contact with her, but none seemed to have an effect aside from brief winces of pain. She crawled over Anatolyevich’s lifeless body and moved toward me. I backed away, firing round after round until my hammer fell on an empty chamber. At this point, I had backed into the hatch of the crew quarters. I called inside for men to arm themselves and fire upon the girl. In the moments it took for the first man to begin his torrent of bullets, the girl had shaken off all the effects of my own and was sprinting toward us.
Bullets fell on her just as she was able to lay a hand inside the hatch. She began to scream a high pitched wail that rang in my ears well after it had ended. I order men to lock down the upper deck. Once that task was complete, I ordered the lower deck hatch closed, as well. The girl pounded furiously against the locked hatch, alternating between attacks that made a horrible metallic screech and those that made small indentations in the steel. The force it must have taken to cause that kind of damage was unbelievable. Superhuman. By the time she had given up, the hatch was deformed to an unusable state.
Temporarily safe from her onslaught, I organized a group of seamen into an advancing force. We had armed ourselves more adequately and were going to press into the girl’s temporary bivouac and either kill her, or force her into a smaller, more controlled space. We opened the hatch and moved in, finding no trace of her. We moved back up to engineering, prepared to capture her near the auxiliary generator when she attacked. I saw her grab one boy by the arm and throw him toward another with such force that the shoulder joint tore and separated, leaving her with the bloody appendage. She used her fingers like claws to tear open the throats of men I had seen box for ten rounds without giving up. She taunted the crew when they were able to maintain distance from her, opening her coat to give them glimpses of her breasts, mutilating corpses of their dead comrades. I signaled for the backup force to move in, firing incessantly. The second group managed to push the Inuit girl back into the engine room, one poor soul volunteering to pull the door shut from the inside. She ripped him apart while we watched through the tiny viewport.
The girl’s furious efforts to escape her new confines echo through the ship now, as do her unnatural shrieks. I ordered a head count after the chaos. Seventy-one men alive out of one hundred six. In a few short minutes I had lost thirty-five men, most them a mess of biology all over the engine room. Of the living, many are injured and might not live to receive medical attention.
Surfacing for anything – including medical services – strikes me as a supremely risky move. If the girl were able to escape the engine room and leave the Arctic Shadow, what carnage would she bring to the surface? I can’t allow that to happen, not even to our American enemies. She must be stopped. I’m filling the ballast and taking the Shadow to the depths. The girl will not live to bring further attack to anyone.
My one regret is that my men will have to sacrifice themselves. I know some secretly adhere to their old religions and view what they are about to do as a sin. I have no way around that. I was raised with those traditions, as well. All we can do is hope that God has mercy on us for stopping a force of pure evil.
On the Arctic Shadow, the Martzens had finished discussing how they would set up their shot; Molly wanted to get a single shot of the entire length of the sub. Now that the hatches were all opened, she could get that shot without pausing to unlatch a door. Martzen reiterated to her that he wanted to avoid gratuitous gore to preserve the historical flavor of the documentary. As the father-daughter pair walked slowly forward, Molly panning right to capture the impressive rows of torpedoes, she asked how they were going to avoid gore in the engineering deck.
“Just walk through it. Don’t do any panning. The second we bring in that horror show, our rating is going to jump up to a PG-13 at least,” Martzen said, looking at his watch.
As they neared the end of their walkthrough, Molly let out a soft grunt of confusion. “Weren’t there two bodies in there before?” she asked, gesturing at the engine room.
“Yeah. One had a neat coat on.” Martzen pulled his radio from his belt and spoke into it, “Commander Rash, did you guys move one of the bodies already?”
As soon as Martzen released the talk button on his radio, Kubasov’s voice crackled through, “Sirs, I found the captain’s journal. It’s confusing, but I think you may want to see it.”
There was no response to either message for 10 full seconds. Then, from the room farther aft of where the Martzens stood, four loud pistol blasts exploded into the silence followed by a scream that bled into a loud gurgle like a ripe tomato caught in a garbage disposal.
Martzen grabbed his daughter by the shoulders and shouted, “Go!” then ran in the direction of the shots. An emaciated woman with dark hair down to her calves and sealskin coat held Captain Yakolev by the throat. His head lolled to the right, the last three fingers on his left hand twitching unnaturally. With a wet crunch, the twitching ceased. The woman but into Yakolev’s neck just below her grip and tore away a large chunk of skin. She lapped up the thick blood that gushed from the wound, making the same sounds Martzen remembered hearing from hungry sows in his youth.
Rash drew his weapon, aimed, and let off a single shot into the woman’s head. She backed away, dropping Yakolev’s body, talon-like finger protecting herself from another blast. Martzen thought she looked like a person shielding themselves from bright sunlight after waking up with a hangover, not at all like someone who had just been shot. Rash fired two more times, these hastier and less precise. Bullets tore into the woman’s arms, but she paid them no mind. The ripped skin seeming to reveal nothing but another layer underneath.
“Move! Move!” shouted a voice behind Martzen. He ducked out of the way, seeing Kubasov dashing toward him with a large automatic shotgun in his hands. Kubasov fired twice, sending the woman to her knees. The four men backed out of the sub, covered by Kubasov’s constant blasts from the shotgun. The blasts seemed to enough to keep the woman back temporarily, but not enough to permanently injure her. Anawak slammed the hatch of the control room shut and turned the wheel, keeping his body pressed against it for a few moments, lost in thought. Everyone else broke into discussion at once.
“What the hell was that?” Martzen shouted, noticing his daughter was still filming and pushing the camera out of his face. “Get out of here, Molly! Get back to our ship!”
“We need more men in here. Anawak, what are our specs on weapons and ordnance on our ship?” Rash asked the petrified man.
“That won’t work, Rash! Listen, I read about her in the captain’s journal,” Kubasov shouted.
“The engine room, what you wanted me to look for, it was her. She tore the submarine crew to pieces. Shredded them. All the rifles they had on board did nothing more than push her back.”
“You’re telling me she lived at the bottom of the ocean for 40 years? That’s nuts!” Rash said, shaking his head.
“What other option is there? A woman survived the crash and has enough strength after that many years without food to rip Yakolev’s Adam’s apple out with her teeth? It doesn’t make sense to me, either, but the captain of this ship killed himself to keep her locked down there,” Kubasov explained, shoving a handful of shells into his large gun. He told the group an abridged version of what he read in the journal.
“She’s wechuge,” said Anawak.
“She’s what?” Martzen asked.
“Wechuge,” Anawak said, louder. He lifted his head to look around him. “Or atshen. They’re these legends I heard about from my grandmother. You know, ‘Be good or the wechuge will find you and eat you.’ I thought they were bullshit. My brother was convinced the early tribes in the area had used the term to refer to polar bears that they mistook for more evil creatures.”
“That’s a legend, though, Lieutenant Commander. That’s like me saying she’s a banshee,” Rash said, running a hand nervously over the top of his head.
“But she’s not normal, Sir,” Kubasov said. “She’s not human.”
Anawak shook his head in agreement. “I doubt Kubasov is strong enough to kill a man like she killed Yakolev. And did you see how thin she was?”
Martzen answered. “She looked like a wire-frame diagram of a person wearing a fur coat.”
“When I looked up the legend later, in my teens, I read stories that my grandma didn’t tell me. Like how the wechuge pose as normal people until they get inside a village. Or that their fingers can turn into claws. I listened to a recording of a tribal elder from the thirties who told a story about a wechuge who wanted a child. This wechuge was male, but it was able transform itself into the handsomest, fiercest warrior in Alaska. Every woman had a crush on this wechuge. He had his pick, got with some ladies, and left. Months later, the wechuge returned to steal his child away as the woman gave birth.” Anawak took a breath. “You said the captain caught her doing the mate?”
“Maybe she was trying that. Trying to have a child. If she wanted to kill and eat those men, she easily could have done it while the sub was surfaced in the ice. She got onto this boat for some reason and reigned in her hunger until she was alone with the first mate,” Anawak said.
Kubasov shrugged. “Maybe. We can’t let her get off this sub. Whatever the case, that is the main point.”
“Can you blow the reactor?” Martzen asked.
Rash shook his head. “No, that’s way too dangerous, Sir. Everyone on the Randolfus would be exposed to lethal levels of radiation. We can’t blow the torpedoes, either. One explosion would ignite the rest and the Randolfus would probably be damaged, which might end with a few fatalities.”
“You could lower the sub back to the water and blow it there,” Anawak suggested.
“That would probably still damage the Randolfus. Her legs go pretty damn deep. Maybe if we lowered it and filled the ballast again. While the sub sinks, the Randolfus gets her big ass in gear and starts moving away,” Rash suggested.
Kubasov nodded. “That should work.”
“Ok, let’s all go topside, then. Mr. Martzen, please radio your boat and have them return to the nearest port. Anawak, same for our ship. Kubasov, please have the helmsman get the Randolfus ready to move,” Rash ordered, already climbing the rungs out of the Arctic Shadow.
Rash tasked a contingent of seamen to keep their weapons trained on the Shadow’s egress hatch with orders to fire on anything that attempted to exit. With Anawak’s help, Seaman Evans rigged the submarine’s torpedo tubes with plastic explosive and affixed a wireless detonator to the interior of one tube. Evans was worried that the range of the trigger would be severely hindered by the water and attempted to jury rig a signal booster.
Though they worked fast, it was a quarter hour before Rash gave the clear to begin preparations to lower the sub. One question still lingered in Martzen’s mind, but it was Kubasov who voiced it.
“How will we trigger the ballast to fill?”
Rash looked at him a long moment and unhooked his holster, handing it out to a uniformed soldier. “Manually.”
“What?” Kubasov bellowed. “There has to be a way to do it remotely?”
“The captain blew the fuse after he sunk the Shadow the first time,” Rash said. “We can’t tie into a control that has no power. The emergency manual controls are still intact, but are unpowered. Someone has to go down with her.”
“I will go, Rash. These are my countrymen.”
“No. That’s exactly why you won’t. Enough of your countrymen died to prevent what we let loose today. Over a hundred of them forty years ago and Yakolev today. No more Russian blood needs to be spilled on the Shadow. Besides, buddy, you have that beautiful wife and son waiting for you. I have nothing. A dog that likes my ex-wife more than it does me.”
“No,” Kubasov said, voice strong with determination. He attempted to walk down the gantry to the sub. “I will not let you do this.”
“Seamen, arrest this man!” Rash ordered.
Kubasov was instantly surrounded by several smaller soldiers, each one shorter than him by at least a foot. They restrained him, pinning his arms behind his back but leaving him standing.
Rash walked to face Kubasov. “It was an honor to serve with you Captain Kubasov. I’m truly sorry we won’t be able to see Legends of Alpha Centauri 2 together. Go see it once for me.”
As Rash walked down the gantry, Kubasov broke free from the soldiers’ grip and again attempted to stop him. As the seamen tried to reign him in, he turned violent striking and pushing several, clawing his way down the gantry to Rash. Eventually, enough bodies had their hands on Kubasov that he was forced to stop struggling. He allowed the soldiers to lead him back to the observation deck of the Randolfus, tears flowing freely from his eyes.
The Arctic Shadow descended to the sea much faster than it had risen. The moment the sub was suspended in water, small explosive bolts loosened the clamps and the engineers in the catwalks began retracting the enormous cables. Anawak radioed the helm of the Randolfus Mining Barge and the six massive propellers began to churn below him, the entire vessel shuddering like a waking beast.
In the water, the Arctic Shadow bobbed beautifully, the charred, open hole where the main egress hatch had previously sat the only obvious flaw. Inside, Rash had sealed the hatches that provided access between the three decks of the control room. He sat huddled in the cramped bottom deck, cradling a radio and the trigger for the plastic explosive in the torpedo tube. He fumbled for the emergency ballast mechanism, which spun freely once Rash had broken through a thin layer of rust. He wasn’t religious, but he tried to recite the Lord’s Prayer that he remembered his mother saying before she tucked him in when he was a child. He pondered death and the nonexistence of consciousness, each creak of the sub a nail in his coffin.
And then a thought shot to the forefront of his mind like an electric shock. He picked up the radio, willing the signal to be strong enough to reach the Randolfus.
“Anawak, come in.”
Rash let out a sigh of relief when Anawak’s voice crackled back to him, distorted but present.
“What if she gave birth?”
“Say again, Commander?”
“The wechuge. You said maybe she came aboard to have a child. After she killed the first mate, she didn’t seem to care about keeping anyone alive or remaining hidden. What if she conceived?” Rash spat out, talking faster than his mouth would let him.
Rash heard a loud clatter from the opposite side of the hatch to his back. He moved away from it, staring into the darkness at nothing. A blow shook the bulkheads around him and deformed the hatch. She had found a way to break into the crew quarters and was trying to get to him, trying to stop him from blowing the sub.
“Listen, Anawak, I have to go, but you need to do a roll call and check everyone against the crew manifests! All three ships!” Rash shouted to be heard over the deafening pounding.
“Sir? Say again?” Anawak said into his receiver. There was no answer. Moments later, the expanding gas from the underwater explosion shot to the surface, displacing hundreds of gallons of water in a surprisingly elegant sphere. The sphere seemed to hang weightless for a moment before the gas burst through its exterior in black plumes.
Anawak, Kubasov, and the Martzens watched the displaced water rain back to the surface of the now churning sea. None of them had heard Rash’s final warning.